On the fringe of downtown Delray Beach, Project Runway contestant Amanda Perna has set up her first studio, House of Perna.
The studio, in an area called Artist's Alley, looks like a typical warehouse — except for the well-dressed mannequin at the door. But step inside, and you find yourself in a brightly colored swirl of clothes and jewelry, reflecting Perna's South Florida-influenced designs.
"Color makes you feel alive. It's like a ray of sunshine," said Perna, 28, who who said she opened the studio to have more interaction with customers.
She said she loves to see a woman "light up" when she tries on her designs. "When a woman puts on a dress that she loves, it transforms her," Perna said.
The clothing designer has had a loyal following since her appearance on TV's Project Runway in 2011. Earlier this year, Women's Wear Daily — the bible of the fashion industry — named House of Perna an "emerging brand."
Perna works mostly in silk and chiffon. Her most popular item is what she calls her "jet setter pants," made of flowing silk of her own graphic design, with an elastic waist for comfort.
She grew up in Coral Springs, the daughter of local business owner Frank Perna and fashion stylist Lee Ann Perna. Her parents are business partners in her new studio, as well as her fiance, Solomon Strul, whom she will marry next month.
Perna graduated from the University of Alabama's apparel design school in 2008. Even then, she was working toward her own clothing line.
"Amanda is a leader," said Sue Parker, one of her professors at University of Alabama. "She's driven to be prepared."
Those qualities will help her as an entrepreneur, Parker said.
Perna was hired as an intern at Oscar de la Renta and later full-time at Calvin Klein, which gave her a work leave to appear on Project Runway. While Perna didn't win the 2011 season, she's glad not to have the winner's five-year commitment.
After moving back to South Florida, she chose Delray Beach for her studio because it was a place she loves. Her clothing line is made in Miami and New York.
Her couture clothes — one-of-a-kind designs made for a customer — start at $1,200. Perna's ready-to-wear line is sold on her website, thehouseofperna.com, with items ranging from $220 to $675.
Perna said she designs for customers typically in their 20s to 40s, but local women in their 60s and 70s have bought her designs.
Barbra Spielman, 60, of Boca Raton bought her travel pants and has six pieces on order.
"The colors are so vibrant — very South Florida," Spielman said. She also likes that the clothes travel well.
Customer Joanne Meyers of Lantana, who has a retail background, said Perna's challenge will be getting the word out about her studio and clothing line. "I know clothing. This young girl is doing a fabulous job," she said.
One of her current projects is getting her spring line ready for the Delray Beach Fashion Week show in January.
House of Perna holds an open house at her studio, 350 NE 4th Ave., every first Friday and third Thursday of the month. Look for the mannequin.
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