It’s the start of prom season when teenage girls begin scouring department stores in search of the ideal dress. Most want something that reveals a little cleavage, flatters the shape, and complements skin tones. But imagine going through the trouble of finding the perfect dress only to enter the ballroom wearing the same one as your archenemy?
Some girls don’t have to face that possibility: they are lucky enough to have Shawn Reddy to turn to for a one-of-a-kind prom dress. This 17-year-old Newton North High School senior, who has been obsessed with designing women’s fashions since middle school and aspires to be a famous fashion designer, is now completing seven original prom gowns and one semi-formal dress for his classmates.
“He’s just amazing,” says Darla Courtney, 17, a senior at Newton North, as are all the dress recipients. “I know it will turn out great because everything he makes is really hot.” Her dress, still on Reddy’s fitting mannequin, is black satin draped with a sheer purple fabric. It is full length and backless. “It fits to my body, so what can be better than that?” she adds.
Each dress takes about 10 hours to design, fit, and sew, he says, and although he’s making the dresses free for these friends, he’s willing to be commissioned by others.
This venture began when a close friend, marveling over scores of outfits Reddy created for a course last summer, asked him to make her prom dress. When word got around, others asked him to make theirs, too.
“Of course, I love it.”
And so do the beneficiaries. “We had three or four fittings,” says Soba Nejatian, 17, about an above-the-knee black deep-V-neck dress Reddy made her. He designed it for casual-wear as well as to dress up for the upcoming semi-formal by adding a “really cool necklace and stiletto heels,” she says. Reddy met with her several times to discuss the style and fabric and perform multiple fittings. “It’s really beautiful,” Nejatian says, beaming. “I never had a dress that fits me so well.”
“It’s nice to make something they really like that fits their body and is unique,” Reddy says, adding that a bonus of his designs, of course, is they won’t see it on anyone else.
Reddy’s passion for fashion began at age four when he found himself enjoying “matching my socks to my shirt,” he recalls. He soon noticed that when meeting new people, he would forget their names “but I remembered what they were wearing.”
By seventh grade, he was creating clothes and doing “fashion shoots” of friends modeling his early T-shirt designs. He’s also been painting, drawing, and sculpting as long as he can remember, and his fashion “sketches” today are actually complex drawings with expert detail, color, and form.
Still, he recalls the precise moment when there was no turning back to anything but a career in women’s fashion design. It was last summer, at a premiere fashion show of 24 of his creations–the final project for a course at Rhode Island School of Design’s pre-college program. Reddy says he felt “such a rush” as classmates modeled the clothes he had designed and sewed.
Each of his designs is different from the next: some have lace, ribbon, sequins; some are rock-n-roll edgy. “It’s me just experimenting,” he says. Many are quite revealing, but tastefully so, with his favorite, so far, a full-length low-cut blue and taupe paisley silk wrap-around prom gown.
In addition to the prom dresses, he is also busy sewing another 30 dresses for an upcoming fashion show held at his parents’ home on May 14.
Reddy, who gave up participating in swimming, track, volleyball, and soccer for this avocation-turned-vocation says, “I want to leave Newton with something to remember me by; I want to leave on a big bang.”
Come fall, Reddy heads off for Parsons School of Design in New York to study fashion design and further his dream.
So, what will he be wearing to the prom ? “Everyone keeps telling me to make my own tux, but it’s too much work. It’d be better to just get one instead of having to make it.”
But Reddy is making the dress his date will wear.