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Fashion Diary: Fifth-grade fashion designer Cecilia Cassini

Cecilia cassini Her idol is Coco Chanel. She has a taste for vintage fabrics. She has her sights set on the runways of Paris. And she's 10.

While other children were reading "Cinderella" and watching "Dora the Explorer," Cecilia Cassini was polishing her reading skills by flipping through Lucky and Vogue, and preparing a third-grade book report on "The Devil Wears Prada." And now, what started with a birthday gift of a sewing machine has blossomed into a fledgling fashion business with the help of manager Pilar DeMann, the woman who plotted the Kardashians' path from C-level obscurity to branding juggernaut.

Cecilia, a spunky fifth-grader from Encino, is selling her collection of one-of-a-kind girls' dresses at Lifesize at Fred Segal Santa Monica, where she will have a trunk show Saturday.

Her look is homespun but sassy, with simple dresses constructed from a skirt in one fabric and a bodice — strapless or tank-style — in another. The pieces are quirky cute with sequin, fabric rosette or bow details.

Billed as "the youngest fashion designer in the country," she has already been a guest at New York Fashion Week (trailed by a German TV crew), launched a slick e-commerce site and garnered corporate sponsors and interest from several TV producers.
DeMann thinks she is an ideal role model for young girls. Cecilia is a wholesome kid who doesn't want to watch TV and play video games all day. "She just wants to sew dresses and inspire other kids."

Cecilia-cassini-1 The modeling world has long put a premium on youth, with L.A.'s Gerren Taylor strutting the catwalk for the first time in 2003 at the tender age of 12. But now, the fashion industry is courting pint-size tastemakers too.

Last year, 13-year-old blogger and muse Tavi Gevinson was hired to promote the Rodarte for Target collection, while 17-year-old blogger Jane Aldridge was tapped to design shoes for Urban Outfitters. Russian designer Kira Plastinina was just 15 when her fashion empire expanded to the U.S. (and 16 when her company filed for bankruptcy protection), and Brazilian designer Pedro Lourenco just 19 when he showed his collection of high-end leather dresses on the Paris runway last October. Up next, 13-year-old Lourdes Leon and mom Madonna are designing the Material Girl line debuting at Macy's for the back-to-school season.

"The bar is so much higher today in terms of shock value," says Kit Yarrow, chairman of the department of psychology at Golden Gate University, and co-author of "Gen BuY: How Tweens, Teens and Twenty-Somethings are Revolutionizing Retail." "An 18-year-old starting a company is not that interesting anymore. Now you have to be 8 or 10 to be newsworthy and captivating."

As for the psychology behind the trend, "kids today have more influence and stature in the family and they are more empowered," Yarrow says. "When a kid gets an idea, you might imagine on an episode of ‘Leave It to Beaver' that the mom would say, ‘That's nice, now go out and play.' But now, a kid gets an idea, and the parents take it seriously, and ask themselves if they should help develop it."

On a recent afternoon at the Lifesize boutique, Cecilia checks herself out as she walks past a mirror. She's perfectly styled in one of her strapless dresses with a matching bow in her hair.

She sifts through a rack of her creations like an expert, pulling out a dress sewn from gold vintage Giorgio Armani fabric. "I got this at the fabric store that sponsors me, International Silks & Woolen," she says, as the 1980s bubblegum pop song "Mickey" plays in background.

Cecilia finishes her homework during school hours so she can sew in the evening. Each dress ($62 to $150) takes about 15 minutes to make on her Singer Confidence. (Singer is another sponsor.)

 "At New York Fashion Week, what really inspired me was all the taxi cabs, so I made this," she says, referring to a gold-and-black diamond print dress with a stretchy gold jersey bodice.

Her parents are as baffled as anyone about where the young designer gets her fashion sense. "When she was a baby, before she could walk, before she could talk, she was pointing to the outfits she wanted," says mom Michelle Cassini, a yoga instructor who doesn't own a single piece of Chanel. "As soon as she could use scissors, she was turning clothes into something new."

At age 5, she cut up her older sister's Betsey Johnson dress when no one was looking, cinched it with ponytail holders, folded up the hem and taped it, customizing the design to her taste. "I have always loved fashion since I was little," Cecilia says. "I was painting my nails when I was like 2."

Cecilia-cassini-2 For her sixth birthday, she asked for a sewing machine, and she took a few lessons. "But the teacher wasn't so nice and told me something didn't match when I thought it did." The budding designer wanted total creative control.

At 7, she wrote her first letter at school to Coco Chanel. By age 8, she had designed a logo based on the Eiffel Tower. But her big break came last year at Tough Cookies, a children's shop in Sherman Oaks, when Michelle mentioned to the owner that her daughter made dresses. That led to a trunk show where Cecilia sold 50 pieces.

Then the fashionista-in-training met DeMann through a friend. "She fell in love with me and became my manager, and things started happening," says Cecilia, who wants to have her own fashion show, stores all over the world and "to inspire little girls to follow their dreams." (DeMann is hoping for a collection at Target or another mass retailer, and a line of branded sewing machines, fabrics and patterns.)

 "If the kid's creative, why not?" says Ira Mayer, publisher of the New York-based Youth Markets Alert newsletter, adding that 8- to 14-year-olds have $43 billion in annual spending power. "Hopefully, she has a sense of what's going to appeal to other people her age."

But first, she has to finish fifth grade.

"Education is still first," says Cecilia's father, Lionel Cassini, a photographer whose background is in the computer business. "At the same time, if she can start on a career path so that she already has something when she's 20, why shouldn't we encourage it?"

Cecilia Cassini trunk show, Saturday, May 1, noon to 4 p.m. at Lifesize by Ron Robinson at Fred Segal, 500 Broadway, Santa Monica, (310) 458-1160. RSVP at [email protected]

-- Booth Moore


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Top Photo: Cecilia Cassini, 10, seen here with her designs, is having a trunk show Saturday at Lifesize in Santa Monica. Bottom photos: More examples of her work. All Credits: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times
Comments () | Archives (42)

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These clothes are hideous.

I know that whenever a kid uses his or her imagination and creativity they get an A+. So I give Cecilia A++ for creativity.

But let's pretend that I did not know these clothes were designed by a 5th grader, I would give the designs an F. Leopard print and sequins. Oh my! Oh my eyes that is. These clothes need a makeover. Bows everywhere and glitter. Perfect for kids. Her clothes are going to sell like hot cakes. Therefore I look forward to going blind soon from seeing all the kids wearing these ugly clothes.

Congrats Cecilia you are officially a designer since the hallmark of every great designer is having their ugly, unwearable clothes make it to the LA Times. I see a Vogue cover shoot in your future.

Sorry but they are stupid and gaudy and definitely looks like something a 5th grader made. Too many kids are just idol rejects but no one but Simon had the heart to tell them all the years they were irratating their parents and friends.

I smell a moneyed and pushy parent.

I thought this was a joke. I thought this was a performance art piece of someone impersonating an 11 year old girl (with wealthy indulgent parents), who is really into fashion, the Eiffel tower and everything and etc. etc.

I wanted to know if she's related to the famous designer Oleg Cassini. I guess not, but I wish it had been mentioned in the article.

im sure the sri lankan kids who sew my forever 21 clothes can do just a great of a job.

and i have two words for you fred segal: opening ceremony.

Why is it a good thing that a girl is worried about adult fashion as a ten year old? Where are the parents?And the clothes are very ugly.

I CAN'T believe some of these comments! I own the yoga studio where her mother used to teach and I have know this girl since she was a small child. She is an intelligent and creative human being who has always had a passion for design. I guess because it's "fashion,"-automatically we have to label it as wrong! while most kids sit in front of the TV playing Wii... I guess that would be okay? She has ALWAYS been into her studies, yoga, and fashion every since I have know her. The best part of it all she is being raised in a loving family with two very grounded, loving parents that have always taught her that the best part of her gift (and it is JUST that) is that she has the ability to give back! This child has donated countless dresses to girls living in shelters (and other organizatios).. . just because she knows it's the right thing to do. WHY are we so quick to make judgmental comments without really knowing someone? It's sad that our society has become so jaded.

Kudos to Cecilia for her creativity and initiative.
Kudos to Elizabth for defending Cecilia and her foray into fashion.

I like these clothes, they are for children and are supposed to appeal to them. I hope she continues with her dream.

This girl may be onto something! I'm 14 and have wanted to be a designer since I was 7. Sure these clothes don't scream chic but does your closet? She is 10! I actually like the dress on the right in the top picture. I have been into fashion since the day I was born, exactly how her mother describes this girl. I have never expressed my interest in being a fashion designer very much to my family, because I know they think the fashion is frivolous and impractical on the long term scale. As long as she can stay focused in school (which probably isn't hard for her now but it will become harder as she gets older) and leveled this could work out! I'm still not sure what demographic she's aiming for here because the dresses look for someone her age but the way the article speaks it could or could not be.

I'm sorry, but it looks like Sweet Valley High exploded. Coco Chanel would not be amused.

I cant believe some of the comments from can you be soooo negative?! I think its great that a 10 yr old is so creative and knows how to work a sewing machine! ha! I wish her the best of luck in everything she does and hopes she accomplishes everything she wants in life. And one day all you people who had something negative to say will be wanting to wear something she desinged!

hi my name is Luisa and my moms name is Cecilia ur dresses r soooooo kool im hispanic my mom was born in argentina but i was born in arizona and i speak english and spanish i am 10 years old in 4 grade i go to california a lot cause my grandma lives there i would really like to meet u sincerely Luisa Robins

These clothes look cheap and gaudy.Cecilia is WAY to young to look fashonable.CECILIA CASSINI GET YOUR CHILDHOOD BACK!! Why not play WII,why not write a letter to santa clause,why not have fun with your siblings,why not play toys,why not watch TV all day,why not wear clothes like a normal child??!!SEE ISN'T IT FUN???????????!!!!!!!!JUST GET YOUR CHILDHOOD BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!AND THROW YOUR STUPID SEWING MACHINE AWAY!!!!!!

I LOVE her work. It's funny because I have had the same dream and started sewing at the age of eight. I'm now thirteen and working on my first ad. I live on the east coast and i think it would be awesome if me and Cecilia Cassini could team up and work together as a fashion design team. My aunt taught me how to sew purses and pillows and I started teaching myself dresses and clothing. I have had three fashions shows since 2008 and working on my next one in June.

People, give the kid a chance. Does any of your children have the drive that this young lady has?? She will be somebody someday. She has to start somewhere and getting your style and name out there is the correct way to do this. I think its awesome that she has a sewing ability, not many children have that. So go ahead girl and show your stuff and never let anyone get in your way of a dream!!!!

GO girls,great job. I would like to know when is your next trunk show. SO I will not miss it

Dear Cecila my name is Alecia and i am 11 too and was on your web site and i just want to say you have tremendous skills.

i think it is really cool that you became a fashion designer.

CECILIA YOU ARE A IDIOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! GET YOUR CHILD HOOD BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! FASHION IS BAD FOR GIRLS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IT"S ONLY GOOD FOR WOMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! THROW YOUR STUPID SEWING MACHINE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AND WATCH OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I"LL BE THE WORLDS FAMOUS FASHION DESIGNER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YOU"LL BE THE WORLDS HORRIBLE DESIGNER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! STUPID SPOILED SNOBBY CECILIA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! BU HA HA HA

hey ive wanted to be a designer too
im also ten but i was born in 1999
i think cecillia is very talented and i wish i could meet her but i live in Texas

wow your designs are so cool i am 11 and i hope to be like you some day

I'm 13 years old and I was looking up some fashion design classes and I came across this story. This is amazing......the amount of fashion sense that cecilia has! It kind of inspired me to sew more and think up of my own dress designs.
(I have some pretty good ideas!) By the way, I love your dresses Cecilia!

This is just the boost I needed! Let me explain.....I am a cadette Girl Scout and to earn my fashion design project I have to set up a fashion show for 5 girls. I have to design what they wear myself, so now that I've seen this I feel like I can get them all made! I have to sew all of outfits (preferably dresses) so This story was perfect for a confidence booster. By the way I love your dresses Cecilia! I am 13 so this makes me feel like I should have started designing long ago! Cecilia Cassini = awesome inspiration!

SHELLY, YOU ARE SO SICK. Go to a psychiatrist. Shouting at a young kid like that.

Personally I thought the designs showed creativity and taste, and were just right for kids her age.

I think it's wonderful that someone so young is so focused and concentrated on pursuing a dream. I have nothing but admiration for Cecilia, give her my full encouragement, and wish her all the best in her pursuit of her ambitions.

Also, while I believe everyone is entitled to an opinion, the grossly negative comment, by some one named Shelly, offends me greatly. There's a lot I can say about her and her asinine comment, but I won't belabor the obvious.

Suffice it to say, that regardless of what you think about how worthwhile or realistic or achievable or even advisable a dream or a goal or an ambition or an aspiration is ... you do not arbitrarily snuff out the flame of anyone's dream, let alone a young person, out-of-hand ... especially in so aggressive and hateful a manner.

that is the most pretty out fits i ever saw in my life and wat is killeing me is that it is by a 5 grage and i am in the 8 grade .


omg nice dresses

i think she is really good i don't like the dresses she has up there but she is good.

I love your clothes and I would love to meet you,that remindes me i'm turning 11 next month,i am inspired by your
designs and i want to start sewing!

well the people giving you bad comments are just jeluois and if they were like you they would know better i wish i could talk to you or have your email adress because i am 11 and need someone who would help me get a little spunk in my fashion i sew to please send me out a email go girl

that girl has some serious issues. she can't design. all she does is put some glitter and bows on some "dresses" and all of the sudden she's famous? and she acts as if she owns the world. you want to get famous for those...things? well good luck. because you're going to need it.

My biggest problem with this is the price of the clothes. She's 10. She doesn't have the talent, experience or taste level of a seasoned designer. Maybe she will be a CEO one day, but right now she's flipping burgers. She spends 15 bucks on supplies, 15 minutes sewing the items, then some genius marked the clothes up to 100 dollars. Absolutely nothing about these items warrants that kind of mark up. You're just paying for the novelty of the little girl designing and sewing the clothing. Her elite entourage is laughing all the way to the bank because of the idiots that buy her clothes at those prices.

Additionally, I think prissy little girls are cute, but I saw a video of this one, and her ego needs to be kept in line.

I could use a sewing machine as a small child too. /eyeroll

This kid's going to be awfully embarrassed in a few years.

Sewing a rectangle of fabric into a tube, then sewing it to the bottom of a pre-made tank top, racerback, or another tube of fabric, isn't exactly couture. Nothing here is tailored, and much of it is crooked, and not in a way that's intentional. I looked on her site, and am ashamed to be considered in the same league as her (I'm a legit couture designer, all custom, professionally made and tailored to fit properly). Calling her work "couture" is an insult to true designers.

Any true designer also knows you never presume to know it all, as she thinks she does. A true designer needs to be willing to learn from others and accept constructive criticism.

Kudos to her creativity and determination to create clothes. She can only get better from this point... if she decides to listen to those that will teach her. It's already a bad sign when a student decides to take "creative control" at this age. There's also her team of "experts" who have chosen to mark up the prices of her Paris Hilton-esque creations. They certainly aren't couture or alta moda. And I didn't write this to be intentionally negative. If she reads this, I hope she will take my advice and continue to pursue this, including her studies to "perfect" her art.

Forget the clothes, this article is hideous... It's bad enough that some adults act like this; do we really need/want to start training our kids to?

Dear Cecilia, Have you had time to publish ideas or publish a diary? I am eleven and have recently '''''''''''DISCOVERED""""""""""" sewing........ my sister and I have always loved art and music and sports......this completes things...... please write back to me! I am fashionably inclined too.........eliza in North Carolina.................

I love this girls little ambitious mind, and why on earth would she need to throw her sewing machine away? Its not up to you giys to decide what she does/likes with her child hood! However, I don't think any of these clothes are genious, Cecilia is certainly not some genius kid, and finally, if I ever have children I would never EVER buy something that looks like this and costs almost $100 from C.Cassini...
Of course, I think if she likes designing so much she should continue :), maybe her clothes will be actually chic in the future.

WHOAH all I can say is that your a very talented girl! Im only 14 but i LOVE fashion :D Keep making cool dresses and do you mind making tshirts also?And to all the critisizers : She's only 11! imagine what you were doing when you were 11! She's amazing and she's got huge potential so just give her a chance to show everyone how amazing she really is!


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