CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It’s hard to miss effortless elegance and luxe fabrics with an attention to detail on a fresh color palette of green, ivory and Carolina melon — a signature hue. Or classic silhouettes and covered buttons down the back.
These are just a few of the elements that make up the Jane Summers spring fashion collection — one you can experience at Bellissima, a high-end women’s fashion shop at The Greenbrier, as well as at select Neiman Marcus stores, Halls Kansas City and assorted boutiques on the East Coast.
The line, designed by Charleston native Lori Cunningham, is named in honor of her grandmothers, both gifted seamstresses.
“When I first started thinking about launching my own line, I knew I wanted a family name for the collection and ‘Jane Summers’ seemed like the perfect fit,” Cunningham said.
Learning to sew under her grandmothers’ watchful care at a “very young” age, she has fond memories.
“When I would visit my grandmothers growing up, especially during the summer, we would spend hours sewing. I loved sketching a dress, showing it to my grandmother and together figuring out how to make it. I remember sitting out on the front swing in the evenings, under the willow tree, drinking sweet tea and flipping through magazines looking for ideas for the next day.”
Cunningham became passionate about fashion and said it sometimes “feels like I’ve always known that I was going to be a designer.”
With supportive parents and inspiration from Louise Palumbo, Charleston’s iconic fashion director at the landmark Stone & Thomas department store, she set out to earn an art degree at Wake Forest University followed by a master’s in clothing and textiles at Virginia Tech.
She moved to New York soon afterward and spent the next decade or so designing for Tommy Hilfiger, where she learned “about the importance of beautiful fabrics and quality workmanship” from Hilfiger himself.
Cunningham’s first pattern drafts for the Jane Summers collection came shortly after she left Tommy Hilfiger. The designs received awards in the 2013 Belk Southern Design Showcase, an annual competition sponsored by the department store. (To read more about the contest, visit belkdesigncontest.com.)
Her designs are inspired, in part, by The Greenbrier, where her spring collection is already available and her fall collection debuted during an exclusive trunk show last week.
“When I first began working on the spring collection, I remember walking through The Greenbrier with my sister and it was pure, unfiltered eye candy,” Cunningham said.
“Everywhere I looked was an unexpected color combination, a unique pattern mix and/or an exquisite textile. Whether it’s an iconic upholstery fabric, the marble checkerboard floor or the gorgeous melon ballroom, [interior designer] Dorothy Draper’s sense of style is unbelievably inspirational.”
The ballroom, in particular, caught Cunningham’s eye. That’s where she came up with the idea to line her pieces in a Carolina melon-colored fabric.
“The distinctive mark of each Jane Summers dress is our signature melon-hued lining,” she said.
Jane Summers is meant to be the epitome of classic style — sophisticated — like another of Cunningham’s fashion inspirations, actress Audrey Hepburn. “‘Funny Face,’ ‘Sabrina’ and ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ are three of my favorite Audrey Hepburn movies,” said Cunningham. “In each movie, I couldn’t wait to see her newest look from one scene to the next.”
Modern classics, including her own personal favorite, the Carol shift dress, “a basic little black dress in a beautiful silk with a modern shirttail hem, French darts with hidden pockets, double covered buttons at the back and our signature melon-hued lining,” are the “perfect canvas” for so many social occasions, she said.
It can be paired “with a statement piece of jewelry and a stylish stiletto for a cocktail look or with a metallic flat sandal and a modern clutch for brunch dates or wedding weekends.”
While the life of a fashion designer can be filled to the brim, Cunningham manages to make it back to Charleston, where her parents still live, from time to time.
“Charleston was a wonderful place to grow up and will always have a special place in my heart,” she said. “I love coming home as often as I can, although since launching Jane Summers, it’s not quite as often as I would like.
“One of my favorite summer events to attend is the YWCA’s Girls Night Out — so wonderful seeing so many stylish women coming together to support such a great cause. And I always love seeing the Boulevard decked out in her holiday best at Christmas.”
For more information on Jane Summers, visit janesummers.com.