Childhood friends hit the runway with unique designs

Published 11:00 pm Friday, August 16, 2013

The two designers from Pike County attended a Kay Unger fashion show in New York where Christy Carlisle Smith was a senior designer.

The two designers from Pike County attended a Kay Unger fashion show in New York where Christy Carlisle Smith was a senior designer.

Stephanie Carter, founder of Judith March women’s clothing line, announced the formation of Southern Fashion House, a new company to serve as the parent brand for her various fashion lines on Aug. 7, 2013.

Carter also announced Christy Carlisle Smith, former senior designer with Kay Unger fashion brand in New York City, as chief executive officer.

The storyline was Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, August 7, 2013 and the article hit newspapers nationwide. But, perhaps, nowhere will that article be of more interest than in rural Pike County in Southeast Alabama where Carter and Carlisle Smith are native daughters.

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Neither of these “fashionable friends” ever believed that the two of them would be working together to design fashions for the “now” generation.

“The only person I ever considered and trusted to be my CEO was Christy but I just never thought it was a possibility,” Carter said. “I was so excited when everything worked out for her to come on board and work with me.

“Christy saved me from making fashion mistakes in seventh grade and now I’ve created this brand from my own personality and taste level. We want young girls and women who shop DéJà Vu and wear Judith March to feel confident, beautiful and appropriate.”

Carlisle Smith’s dream was to be a fashion designer in New York City. Never did she think that she would achieve that dream and then leave the Big Apple for a design cottage on the Gulf Coast.

“Stephanie and I have been friends for so long that I can’t even remember how we met,” Carlisle Smith said. “I know she backs up every decision that I make and I do the same for her. There’s something very comfortable about taking risks with someone you trust so much.

“Stephanie and I took two very different career paths and we never dreamed that both paths would lead us back together. The sky is the limit when we get on a roll.”

Carlisle Smith graduated from Auburn in 2003 with a degree in apparel design and an international minor in human sciences. She moved to New York to do an internship with Kay Unger and was hired as a fulltime employee before her internship ended. She moved through several divisions of the company and was given her first collection to design at age 25.

“After eight years with the company, I achieved my dream job to design the evening collection of Kay Unger New York and Phoebe Couture,” said Carlisle Smith.

While Carlisle Smith was working to achieve her dream, her close friend and former schoolmate at Pike Liberal Arts School, Stephanie Carter, was following her dream. Carter graduated from Troy University in 2004 with a degree in marketing and continued selling via trunk shows, which she started in college.

In 2005, Carter opened a 100-square-foot Deja Vu kiosk in Seacrest beach and quickly began to understand the demographics of the customer that vacationed in that area.

She expanded Déjà Vu retail brand to Pier Park in Panama City in August 2008 and Seaside in March 2009.

I wasn’t finding from the supplies that I needed for success in my store,” Carter said. “So,

in 2009, I decided to fill a void for production in my stores by launching my own collection, Judith March.”

Neither Carter nor Carlisle Smith could have known but that was when the foundation of Southern Fashion House was laid.

‘I helped Stephanie connect with a manufacturer with an agent in New York,” Carlisle Smith said. “Stephanie designed her first collection of Judith March out of my junior one bedroom apartment in New York in June 2009.”

Carlisle Smith helped Carter do the technical requests for her first samples and encouraged her to hire a past colleague, Megan Crane, who had worked at Kay Unger.

Carter and Crane picked up with production of that first collection. Carter and her team attended her first apparel market in January 2010 to debut the Judith March collection at FAME in New York City.

Carter was off and running and has not slowed down. Carter views the world as one great runway and she’s got designs to show.

Now, with Carlisle Smith as CEO of Carter’s Southern Fashion House, the sky is the limit for the fashionable friends.