Nashville is on its way to becoming its own kind of fashion capital, a term typically used to describe locales like New York and Paris. While that might suggest that the city is teeming with fresh talent who are driving the local industry forward (which it is), it's also attracting seasoned professionals who are settling down in the South and opening new career chapters right in Tennessee. Some of the best examples can be seen within the faculty of the O'More College of Architecture, Art & Design.
About a year ago, O'More — which offers the only BFA Fashion programs in Tennessee — merged with Belmont University and moved its home to Nashville. It was around that time that several new team members joined, as well. Today, some of the professors who lead classes on technical design, textiles and portfolio development represent some of the city's most recent transplants. And as a result, they're bringing with them decades of experience from the most respected fashion capitals worldwide. Nashville's ability to attract such top-tier talent is great news for its student; and, according to the three professors below, working in this city is a mutually beneficial experience.
For someone like Lacie Thorne, moving to Nashville might feel like a natural step in one's life. As a Nashville native, Thorne moved away when she went to college — first at Southern Methodist University, then Parsons School of Design. "I definitely worked my way through a myriad of experiences and opportunities in New York but ultimately found my niche in celebrity clothing design," Thorne says of her post-graduation experience. In 2010, she was the first person hired for the Jennifer Lopez collection for Kohl's and traveled from her then-home in New York to Los Angeles in order to translate Lopez's personal wardrobe, taste and vision to a mass retailer. "It was my responsibility to take [Lopez's aesthetic] to the New York design team and implement it in a very hands-on way," she explains. "I had the opportunity to go and basically do the same thing for the Nicki Minaj and Adam Levine lines [through Star Branding], as well."
After 10 years in New York, Thorne relocated to Hong Kong. There, she shifted gears and focused on art directing and styling jobs with luxury clients. "By happenstance I fell in with a fashion photography company that was based in Hong Kong but represented photographers around the world who would come to Asia and shoot major luxury ad campaigns," she explains about the work that led her to collaborate with Van Cleef & Arpels, Shangri-La Hotels and a breadth of international talent. Five years later, following the birth of her two children, Thorne and her family decided to move back to Nashville to return to their roots. This past August, she took up a position at O'More.
"Ultimately, I found my niche at Belmont teaching the Fashion Portfolio Development class," Thorne says of her new, yet familiar, home. Even with her impressive resume, "when I landed here in Nashville, it took a bit of career counseling to figure out what I was good at," she says. "I'm really interested in fashion, but I have a unique interest in [nurturing] career development in individuals."
Today, Thorne has tweaked the curriculum in her class to connect with her own experiences. It covers everything from networking and interview skills, to developing a resume and LinkedIn profile, to assigning students to create a photo shoot of their own designs. "The development the students have made in such a short amount of time is incredible," she says.
While Thorne's path brought her full circle back to Nashville, for designer Laura Horner, it was a work opportunity that led her to the city. A North Carolina native, Horner's resume includes impressive stints at Urban Outfitters and with the original team who launched the now-shuttered Marc by Marc Jacobs label based in New York City. "I loved the job, loved the product, and ended up staying there for seven years, rising up through the design department," she shares. Horner went on to cross the country for a role as the design director for Juicy Couture in Los Angeles and then eventually landed in Nashville thanks to a role at Draper James.
"I worked with O'More as a mentor and sat in on some of their critiques and advisory sessions since I moved here five years ago," says Horner. It was just this past semester when she joined the staff officially, teaching Fashion Technology I and II. "It's been nice to work with the students and bring my industry experience to the table and teach them what they might be using in a more day-to-day manner when they graduate."
While there's some clear differences between Nashville and the coastal cities Horner’s lived in, she sees tons of positive growth occurring. "There's a lot of creative energy here," she says. "People are very nice. People are open to working together and building a sense of community."
Despite having lived in fashion capitals, Horner doesn't insist her students follow the same path. "The fact remains that there are more opportunities in major fashion-central cities — New York, L.A., parts of Europe — but just with the increased presence of lines on the internet, there are opportunities everywhere. Students shouldn't feel pressured to relocate; I think it's more about what kind of path they want to pursue."
Like Horner and Thorne, Yasha Morehouse also felt welcomed and empowered by Nashville's creative community. "What really appealed to us about Nashville," she says of her and her family, "was the creative energy. I knew coming into it there was a willingness and openness to creative professions. I felt like it would be a place where people understand that I'm in a non-traditional job and support it."
Prior to her move to Nashville two years ago, Morehouse's career focused on the intersection of fashion and technology, including a role at San Francisco-based Stitch Fix. "The companies I ended up getting involved with really have shifted my thinking in traditional tech design and product development," she says. "It's definitely a different angle than when I came out of school." As an example, she references retail companies in the U.S. who are struggling to reduce their returns. One major solution that she's addressed in her career is "improving fit to their client base."
Today, Morehouse is still a freelance fit consultant but has also applied her background to her role leading O'More's classes in Textiles and Fashion Forecasting. Like her fellow professors, Morehouse draws from personal experience when it comes to guiding the students she works with today, including how she advises them on what to do after they graduate. "If you're going to go off on your own business, you need to have some experience," she says, recommending students learn from bigger companies when it comes to large-scale production, even if their eventual goal is coming back to Nashville to continue to be a part of its fashion scene. In her experience, many students do. "It's about Nashville and… Bring that local sense and global information back to what you're doing here."