Two and a half years ago, Lauren Leonard turned down a handful of New York design jobs to launch a women’s clothing line from her parents’ Tuscaloosa home. Today, the twenty-five-year-old lives and works in a Buckhead loft and hopes to round out a list of sixty-plus boutique clients with a department store chain. Leonard declined a turn on TV’s Project Runway three times to focus on her company. Leonard also custom designs bridesmaid dresses and, for college-town clients, game-day dresses. “I was trying to tap into a market that New York designers don’t get and don’t want to get. Dresses to football games in school colors? They would never stoop to that level,” she laughs. “But I will!” Leona is available locally at Tulipano, 2140 Peachtree Road, 404-351-3220, tulipanoboutique.com, and at shop.leonacollection.com.
Shari Gray had a fetish for footwear out of her price range, so she developed a line of avant-garde but accessible shoes, priced between $150 and $300 and sold at boutiques around the country. “I take pictures of art. I go and pick weird things off the ground and go, ‘This would be kind of cool on a shoe,’” says Gray, who travels between Atlanta, New York, and China, where her shoes are manufactured. Her spring collection featured playful, Parisian-themed designs, and her fall collection features crushed-leather knee-high boots and a sleek ankle boot in cobalt-blue suede. Find Shree Moni at Seven, 2140 Peachtree Road, 404-367-5333, and at the SoShoelite Shoe Lounge, 240 North Highland Avenue, Suite C-1, 404-525-2103, thesoshoelite.com.
You can’t accuse Uche Ude of not aiming high. “I hope to go farther than Chanel,” says the Nigerian-born designer, a former accountant for British Petroleum. When her women’s wear line, Uccé, debuted in August with a runway show at the St. Regis, it was the culmination of a lifelong obsession with fashion—from childhood doodles to design courses at SCAD. With tailored suits, dresses, and sportswear, Uccé is geared toward the sophisticated career woman, though it shines in the playful details—exposed zippers, asymmetrical lines, coquettish ruffles. Ude, who for now works out of her Dunwoody home, plans to add accessories and a men’s line. “We’re thinking big. This is just the beginning,” she says. Visit ucce.com for a list of retail locations.
Photographs by Joe Martinez