Now Playing

Her Designs on DC

Kendra McCullough is set to take Washington’s fashion scene by well-sewn storm. 

Designer Kendra McCullough says the inspiration for many items in her upcoming collection comes from reveries.

It’s only a matter of time before Michelle Obama shows up in an original Kendra McCullough. After all, the fashion-forward first lady has a keen eye when it comes to spotting up-and-coming designers.

And in the case of McCullough, the runway has Beltway ties: The DC native is the newest, brightest star in the city’s homegrown fashion scene. Take note: This is what the precipice of stardom looks like.

At 23, McCullough is designing with perspective and style that is attracting attention from fashion insiders around the world, including Vogue Italia. A finalist to appear in the upcoming season of Bravo’s Project Runway, the recent graduate of Marymount University’s fashion design program has drawn and designed all her life, creating costumes for plays and musicals in high school before shifting to a professional track in college. “I feel like I knew I was supposed to be designing before I actually realized it,” she says.

One year out of school, the designer has found her niche in cocktail attire and eveningwear, with a focus on showcasing the back, shoulders and neck. Citing the purpose and commitment of the late Alexander McQueen as her greatest influence, McCullough goes beyond simple sewing to create a narrative that inspires each new season. “My inspiration comes from different stories, whether it’s movies I love or books and short stories. Some I make up on my own, because that’s how I started design—with costumes—so I had to decide where these characters were and what they were doing.” Her most recent collection employs dark fabric, straps, high necks and the occasional feather to hint at the shadows, claustrophobia and elegant suspense of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, including The Birds.

For her spring 2014 collection—to debut this fall—McCullough explores dreams, attempting to capture the wild and surreal through her edgy-classic work. “Everyone has wild and crazy dreams, but there are elements that are the same, like different phobias and fears. I want to bring that to life,” she says.

Still working on a small scale, McCullough custom-creates her pieces, selling the line through her own site, kendramccullough.com. The young entrepreneur also plans to host local trunk shows and organize an event this fall to formally introduce her pieces.

Though industry icons in New York and around the world have taken note of the newcomer’s daring contemporary designs, McCullough is happiest building her line here in DC. “There’s a future for fashion in DC,” she says. “All the resources are here—and the people. It’s not a fashion capital yet, but it can be. I love it here.”