Southern girl makes ‘Big Apple’ new home

Published 10:33 pm Friday, February 26, 2010

Christi Carlisle had no reservations about moving to the Big Apple.

While some young women might have been hesitant, even fearful, of moving from rural Pike County to New York City, Carlisle found the prospect challenging and exciting.

She’s not exactly sure what in her background gave her the confidence to make such a move. She just knew it was the right thing for her to do.

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After graduating from Pike Liberal Arts School in 1999, Carlisle went away to college. Auburn University was a big change from the familiar surroundings of a small private school, but she quickly adjusted and enjoyed meeting new people and learning new things.

When Carlisle made apparel design her choice of majors, she realized that she was going to have to locate somewhere other than home and perhaps, not even close around.

“I knew that I was going to have to go somewhere else to work in my field, so I decided that I might as well try the most popular place for apparel and fashion – New York City,” said Carlisle, who grew up about equal distance from Springhill and Troy, depending on the road taken. “I knew it would be a big adjustment but that’s what I wanted to do.”

In 2003, Carlisle was offered an internship with Kay Unger New York, a producer of women’s wear in New York City. The internship would provide her with an opportunity to use her talents as an apparel designer and also give her an opportunity to test the water in a big pond and swim with big fish.

“Of course, New York City is completely different from Pike County – from all of Southeast Alabama,” Carlisle said. “It’s multi-cultural. There are so many different ethnic groups and so many different religions and the lifestyles are so different. I knew it would take me a long time to become a part of a big city, of New York City.”

A semester isn’t a long time to become immersed in a foreign culture. But, as Carlisle was learning about other people, they were learning about her.

“Even though I had not gone to school up there, they realized that I was not naive and that I’d had a good education,” Carlisle said laughingly admitting that she was different. “But the people that I worked with didn’t prejudge me. They just thought I was a sweet Southern girl.”

Being a “sweet Southern girl,” Carlisle received a lot of attention, and she had many opportunities to share her pride in the South and especially in her home state, Alabama.

Her internship at Kay Unger New York was just as challenging and exciting as Carlisle had anticipated. Her talent and hard work were so appreciated that she was offered a fulltime position with the apparel company.

There are several division of Kay Unger including dresses, evening wear, suits and jackets and skirts for special occasions and a lower priced, more contemporary line.

Carlisle designs primarily and dresses and jackets, which are the most “novel” part of a set.

“My inspiration comes from runway shows and store shopping,” Carlisle said. “Not just the top-line stores. It’s important to be in the market. Inspiration comes from many places, and I interpret it for my work. Shopping has become my work.

“I live in the Village near the campus of NYU, and that’s a great area. The lifestyle in New York is work, work, work and after, the long work hours, I do a lot of walking, and I’ve picked up running. There are so many great parks. I especially enjoy the trails along the river.”

Living the rat race life in the fashion world of New York City is far removed from the slow-paced life of Pike County.

And, as much as she enjoys city life and has become a part of it, Carlisle said there’s always a tugging in her heart toward home.

“My family is really important to me and my friends who are still around home,” she said.

“I try to get home two or three times a year, and it’s always good to back home. I love seeing everyone and the many changes that have been made.”

Carlisle said from such a vantage point as the Big Apple she has a greater appreciation for her hometown of Troy.

She views it as a place where people are genuine and genuinely care about each other and where life is lived at a pace where people can actually smell the roses.

“I really appreciate home and the people because they are the greatest people anywhere,” said Carlisle, the daughter of Gilbert and Jackie Carlisle.

“I’m always proud to say that I’m from Alabama. Being a Southerner sets me apart, and I’ll never forget my roots, and I don’t ever what to change. I want to keep my Southern accent, and I always want people to think of me as a sweet Southern girl.”