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Her Future Could Be In The Bag

Hartford Designer Plans A Locally Produced Line

August 15, 2005
By ASHLEY L. BATTLE, Courant Staff Writer

For Adrienne Davis, the dream of being a designer started early.

Each year, her mother, Gwendolyn Knowling, gave her and her siblings $100 each for back-to-school shopping. Once she hit middle school, Davis started to feel self-conscious about her clothing - the $100 wasn't enough to buy the brand-name clothing that she craved. Instead of asking for more money, Davis re-created her jeans by looking for the style that she wanted in a magazine. Then, she would sew the jeans until they resembled the pair she wanted.

"[The stitching] was never clean on the inside, but it had to look good on the outside," she said.

Davis, now 30, has moved on to creating fashion for others. In the spring, the Hartford resident hopes to launch Adrienne Gwen, a line of handbags. Davis designs and sews the bags herself for now, but hopes to have them manufactured in Hartford when the line gets established.

"Everything I do, I do with my mom in mind," Davis said. "She did a wonderful job raising me. She wouldn't let us give up."

One style would be a dressy version for high-end stores and one would be a denim design for stores such as Target or Wal-Mart, she hopes. The name of the line comes from a combination of her first name and that of her mother, a tribute to the woman Davis counts as one of her biggest supporters.

Davis graduated from A.I. Prince Regional Vocational-Technical School in Hartford in 1993, where she studied the technical aspects of fashion. On the weekends, she went to New York, where she took weekend classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology, in fashion design. When she graduated in 1993, Davis began attending classes at the design school full-time.

Because she went to a predominantly black high school, Davis had never been around a diverse group of people. Going to New York was culture shock, she said. As a result, she found herself on academic probation after her first semester.

The following semester, her mother gave her $20 and dropped her off at school, with the understanding that Davis now had to pay for college herself. By working at a movie theater, Davis did just that and earned a 3.0 grade point average the following semester.

Davis transferred to Parsons School of Design, also in New York, after one year at FIT. She worked during the summers and, soon, the lure of gaining recognition in the design world was a distraction. She kept putting school off, even though she had only one year left, because she kept getting job offers. After a while, she realized that she had to finish school; because she hadn't completed her final year of school, there were still aspects of design she did not know how to do.

In 2001, Davis returned to Parsons and graduated the following year.

Davis would spend until 2003 living in New York, visiting her family in Connecticut often. Davis worked her way to the level of head designer at a design company called Ananda's in New York, after starting as an intern, but found the drive from Rocky Hill into the city to be draining. She tweaked her schedule so she would have to be in the city only a couple of times a week, but that presented other problems: Davis had a hard time controlling her staff.

After quitting Ananda's in 2004, Davis moved back to Hartford for good, determined to base her handbag line in Connecticut.

"There was this sort of pull for me to come back" because her family is in Connecticut, Davis said.

Using Connecticut as her base was proving to be difficult until Davis ran into an old friend - Ed Johnetta Fowler-Miller, an artist who lives in Hartford.

After being referred to the Greater Hartford Arts Council's Neighborhood Studios program, Davis walked in and found Fowler-Miller there. Fowler-Miller promised Davis that she would help her with the launch of the handbag line.

"Adrienne is `Little Ed Johnetta.' Hopefully, she will carry on my torch. I know that she will be a force to be reckoned with," said Fowler-Miller, who has known Davis for years.

This summer, Davis served as the program coordinator for the textiles studio that is part of the Neighborhood Studios program, working alongside Fowler-Miller. The program selects teens to participate in a summer apprenticeship program that immerses them in various forms of art. In the fall, Davis will begin teaching courses at the Intertwine Studios in Hartford, alongside Fowler-Miller.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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