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Friday, April 18, 2014

Designer Rebecca Simpson’s ‘comfort zone’ is Old Town

By Bonnie Bing

People have teased me from time to time that I was born in Wichita, I grew up in Wichita and I went completely through school in Wichita.

Let them laugh, because I get to see the good things that happen to people I’ve known a very long time.

Here’s an example: Rebecca Simpson. I knew her when she wore a green gym suit and I was her physical education teacher in the ’70s at Pleasant Valley Junior High. I don’t bring this up because she was and is an outstanding athlete, but she is a person who can make a garment that is a treat for the senses. And the really good news is she was called by a casting person who works with TV show “Project Runway.” As you may have read in Carrie Rengers’ Have You Heard column recently, Rebecca was invited to send in some photos of her work and a bit of information about herself. She laughs when she tells how she is not anything like the designers who are on the show, which airs on the Lifetime channel.

“I hadn’t really watched the show until I got that call,” she said. “But let’s remember this is the try-out phase.”

A friend had suggested she be invited to send some photos.

“I was very, very excited and stunned to get the call, and I’m hoping I get it. It’s been exciting here in the store, really fun.”

Her store, Rebecca’s, is in Old Town Square at Second and Mead.

The back wall is floor-to-ceiling fabrics arranged in colors. Fabric, Rebecca says, is what it’s all about. She designs a piece, she makes a pattern if necessary, she chooses a fabric, hand-dyes it if necessary and makes the garment, complete with hand-sewn embellishment. After doing this for 15 years, she says she never tires of working with fabrics.

“I love the rawness of fabric. The fabrics talk to you,” she said, explaining that the fabric she gets from many sources, including estate sales, dictates what will be made from it.

She has high hopes of getting a call telling her to get on a plane and get to New York so she can be on the show. But she admits to having a few reservations.

“I’m so unorthodox. I love vintage looks. I love to dye fabric myself, but I don’t want them to know how I do it. It’s a secret method. I guess I’ll have to go in the restroom or somewhere I can lock the door to dye fabric,” she said, chuckling about what could happen if she makes it to the show.

She said that a teacher at Heights, the late Mary Jabara, and a fellow designer, Pat Landis, have been instrumental in her success.

“I learned so much from both of them,” she said. “Good life lessons.”

(Hmmm, no mention of her junior high physical education teacher having a positive impact on her life, but she reminded me how traumatized she was when I put her in the dance program.)

Rebecca’s fashions and her bedding are sold in nearly a dozen stores nationwide. An example of the bedding is in her store, along with pieces of her fashion collection and art by several local artists.

Sitting in her store, she is surrounded by her work, hundreds and hundreds of luxurious velvets, diaphanous sheers, textured cottons and beaded embellishments waiting for Rebecca’s creative hands.

“I love my little comfort zone in Old Town. I love Old Town. If I get to be on ‘Project Runway,’ that will be way out of my comfort zone, but it would be fun,” she said.

But whether she goes to compete in New York or not, she’s happy where she is.

“I love what I do. It blesses other people and it blesses me,” she said.

Reach Bonnie Bing at 316-268-6246 or bbing@wichitaeagle.com.

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