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In our survey of fashion designers on the North Shore, we put a twist on Freud’s famous question: “What do women want?”

By Laura White

Photographs by Sadie Dayton

Our North Shore has long been home to creative and innovative designers. Who hasn’t had Sigrid Olsen dresses, sportswear, or bags in the closet? Now, after decades of designing clothes, Sigrid is moving from garments into painting and other new design projects. She’s opened a shop on Gloucester’s Rocky Neck to market her new work. But her change of field has hardly left the North Shore devoid of fashion designers.

Jacalyn Bennett, of West Newbury, for instance, is an entrepreneur and designer who started a lingerie company in 1989. Her company has grown into a $30 million global intimate-apparel business. She designs for Victoria’s Secret, Frederick’s of Hollywood, and others. Our local talent provides fashion savvy so we can dress distinctively and join the fashionistas.

In our survey of fashion designers on the North Shore, we put a twist on Freud’s famous question: “What do women want?”

“Every woman wants and needs a pair of great-fitting black pants in her wardrobe,” says Harper Della-Piana,

designer of SEAMS, now in Wenham. “With the appropriate top, the pants will take her anywhere and make her look good.”

The key for designers is “great-fitting.” Della-Piana designs and makes pants custom fit to the individual

woman’s body. A great tailor is just as important to a woman’s figure as is her personal trainer. Women are also eco-conscious. Many are recycling clothes through custom design, says Della-Piana. She’s taking vintage jeans and redoing them in her SEAMS Like New line and admits she would outlaw low-rider

jeans, if she could.

Both Della-Piana and Virginia Motroni, of Peabody’s Custom Bridal Gown Salon and Alterations, see more young women restyling their mothers’ and grandmothers’ wedding dresses for their own weddings. “Especially women in their 30s,” says Motroni.

The vintage silk fabrics and laces are delicate, desirable, and too beautiful to discard. They also carry a

legacy. Motroni’s brides prefer simple straight or A-line designs, strapless gowns without embellishments.

“They’re forgoing tiaras and crowns for simple veils,” she says. For brides with “edgy” tastes, the latest is a red wedding gown, says Della-Piana. (In India, red, not white, is the traditional color for a bridal gown.)

Color is an important fashion component for designer Kate Seidman of The Art Room in Gloucester. Seidman wants every woman to feel good about her body, to look good and be comfortable. She designs to enhance each woman’s figure and play down its flaws with luxurious fabrics and unusual color combinations. “I use silks, crinkly, shimmering, metallic, and stretch fabrics in a palette of striking colors,” she says. Jackets are a specialty of hers and the combinations of various fabrics, patterns, and colors make each piece a unique element of any outfit.

Bennett knew what she wanted when holding important management and fashion positions at The Limited Corporation. She wanted her own business, and glamorous lingerie. “I remember my mother always had beautiful silk and lace lingerie,” says Bennett, explaining that from the1930s through the 1950s, American women had access to luxurious lingerie. “Just watch movies from the ’40s. Then the American lingerie industry changed.” Underwear became underrated.

Bennett used to trot the globe in search of sportswear merchandise for The Limited’s stores. While on the road she would shop for underwear for her own wardrobe: luxurious handmade silk and fine cotton, from France, Italy, and Asia. Intimate apparel is empowering, she firmly believes. “Under the corporate suit uniform, I wore a silk camisole or lacy slip,” Bennett says. “I felt more confident. Luxurious lingerie was my little secret, and it strengthened my personality.”

Bennett’s fashion sense and business acumen told her other women would feel that confidence, too. “Women are multitaskers. They can still feel beautiful beneath the different roles of their uniforms whether at home, work, or the gym. I’m designing for middle American women, of all sizes, who want unique and affordable intimate apparel,” she says.

She now has four eco-conscious factories and l,800 employees producing l50 million pieces of apparel. She

uses soft laces for appliques to silk and cotton fabrics. From the fashion archives, she takes classic designs

and creates new pattern adaptations. She designs so seams sculpt the body without adding bulk.

“The new trend is feminine Victorian-style white cottona nd lace undergarments,” Bennett says. “Garden floral and pastels are back all for an innocent look. Beneath whatever a woman wears, she can feel beautiful and confident.”

At Chulamama’s in Salem, Heather Roman and Noelle Moreno offer moms-to-be and children trendy duds in bright colors and bold prints, with social comments and whimsical messages. Among their designs are maternity tees emblazoned with a Joan of Arc quote, “I’m not afraid, I was born to do this.” Little girls’ tees say “President, not princess.”

Designer and fashion merchandiser Marissa Fondots recently added Newburyport to her Nicole Marie Fashion boutique locations of Concord and Nantucket. Named for her daughter, the shops carry well-known designers such as Missoni Sport and Cynthia Steffe, as well as her own collection of women’s dresses, skirts, and blouses in kid-proof fabrics.

“Mothers with young children need clothes that look good and stand up to kids,” Fondots says with a laugh.

Most of her designers are easy to care for; they can go in the washer and save on dry cleaning. She says today fashion is about the layered look.

“I design the first layerÂ…the dresses, blouses, skirts that are soft, comfortable,” Fondots says. These can be

topped with layers of costlier and special-care fabrics. Whatever the layer-from the top outside layer the

world sees to the lingerie next to their skin that only some see-women want clothes that make them look

good and feel special.

Hear that, Dr. Freud? North Shore designers do.