It's that time: The pride-filled moment at the end of a fashion show when the designer emerges to soak up the appreciation of the crowd.
White folding chairs fill the atrium of the Hunter Museum of American Art. A hot-pink runway carpet zigzags through a row of seats and down the middle of the room. Girls and women, from ages 7 to 51, stand in front of the crowd, dressed in colorful cocktail dresses and eveningwear.
Eyes turn expectantly toward the staircase leading down to the first floor. A young teenage boy, dressed in a tuxedo, waits on the landing.
Katy Perry's "Firework" plays over the museum's sound system. "You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine, just own the night like the Fourth of July ..."
And here she comes. Blond hair done in waves, dressed in a black dress with a fabric cut to look like petals. The graduated hemline shows hot-pink lining, matching the evening's color scheme. She takes the boy's arm, and he escorts her down the steps.
This is the star of the evening, designer Madison Waldrop.
She is 14 years old.
* * *
Flashback: An hour earlier.
Madison, dressed in another one of her creations, works the crowd with her public-relations director, Lynne King, by her side. She greets guests, happily thanking them for coming.
The night, after all, is a big deal. It is the debut runway show for Madison and her line, Designs By Malyse. She has already been featured in a February 2011 New York Times story about tween designers, but this is her true coming-out party.
Madison, a ninth-grader at Girls Preparatory School, is learning to balance her dreams with her obligations. The night before the show, she says, she stayed up until 11 studying for a biology quiz.
"It's tough, but it's a goal," she says of finding time for both school and designing. "I'm doing what I love here, but school is definitely a priority."
* * *
In a curtained-off room, the buzz of last-minute preparation is in the air. Ash Orzol, a stylist from New York, touches up the long blonde hair of Mary Rylee Dickert, 9.
"You look beautiful," Madison exclaims, greeting Mary Rylee, who is wearing a purple trapeze-style dress with a brightly colored tulle flower at the neckline.
"I love this dress," she says. "It's the color of my room."
Meredith McKenzie, 10, is wearing an identically styled dress in bright turquoise.
"I'm nervous," she admits of her impending modeling debut, but her dress makes her happy because it's her favorite color.
* * *
The evening is focused not just on fashion but on efforts to better the community.
"My sister volunteered at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, and she was told there was a huge need for shoes and socks," Madison says.
So together Madison and her sister, McCall, who, at the tender age of 12, is Designs By Malyse's executive director of philanthropy, formed SHOCKS CAUSE to collect both footwear and financial donations.
Designs By Malyse has a mission for kids, education and service, dedicated to inspiring young people to make a difference.
"I'm hoping to show that yes, you can follow your dreams at an early age," Madison says. Her hope, she says, is that her designs can inspire a feeling of confidence, beauty and boldness.
"It's a mystery to everyone that someone her age could do something like this," says Christine Waldrop, Madison's mother and the president of Designs By Malyse.
As the company president, Waldrop says, she is proud to be able to help fulfill Madison's vision.
And as a mother, her point of pride is "[seeing] my daughter doing something she loves to do and she's passionate about."
Tonight, her daughter's passion will be formally introduced to the world. Or, at least, to this little corner of it.
* * *
Jazz music plays on the speakers.
Deep pink orchids line the stage, matching the night's color scheme of hot pink, black and white.
The introductions begin. Adera Causey, curator of education for the Hunter, discusses the Beverly Semmes textile collection, now on display. Barb Edens, Madison's godmother, along with one of her teachers, sing her praises. Several videos play, featuring Madison, her collection, the philanthropic efforts of Designs By Malyse and the importance of being a positive role model.
"Inner beauty is the greatest accessory a woman can have," Madison notes on the video.
And then there's a moment where her youth shines through.
"I think it's part of my brain called the design part of my brain," she is recorded saying. "It's not like math; it's just there."
During the remarks, Meredith, Mary Rylee and three other young girls are perched at the bottom of the staircase. Sophie Bell, 13, stands guard in a black cocktail dress, ready to tell each one when to go.
New music plays: David May's "Superstar." The girls set off on the runway, one at a time.
* * *
Madison's collection, Naturally, was named for the manner in which the inspiration designs came to her, she says.
"This has come from nature and its beauty, as well as art, music, people and other great inspirations I have been exposed to over the years," the program reads.
Indeed, some of the dresses have names like "Rose," "Seaside," "Van Gogh" and "The Monet." One of the dresses is called "Semmes," inspired by the collection upstairs.
* * *
Myra Brown Dooley, owner of Miss Myra's Role Models, is escorted down the steps by her husband, Dr. John Dooley.
Bessie Smith croons, "Summertime, and the living is easy."
Brown Dooley is wearing "Rose," a red taffeta gown with a graduated hemline and a cascading train. The dress, the program notes, was "inspired by the velvety rich petals of roses and their delicate, curved edges."
The music changes to an uptempo beat, and more models come down, one at time. "Seaside" is a teal shantung silk cocktail dress, the neckline sculpted to resemble a wave. "Van Gogh" is navy on top, with a ruffled orange and yellow skirt, reminiscent of "Starry Night."
Seth Edens, 14, escorts McCall Waldrop down the steps. She is dressed in a chartreuse gown with a bow at the back. The design, "McCall Amelia," is named for her. According to the program: "It evokes her personality that is fun and carefree."
* * *
In October, Madison will debut her bridal collection at Couture: New York Bridal Fashion Week in Manhattan. Tonight, there is a preview -- one flower-girl dress and a bridal gown, "Picasso."
"At Last" plays on the speakers. Hunter events coordinator John Post escorts model Brooke Waddell down the staircase. The dress, a silvery silk shantung, has a corset bodice and long train. Swarovski crystal accents decorate the gown.
Waddell traverses the runway. Luke Nelson, 15, goes from the base of the steps to the landing. The models re-emerge.
The music changes again.
"Do you ever feel like a plastic bag, drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?"
And here comes Madison.
Luke escorts her down the stairs, to applause and cheers. He walks her to the edge of the carpet runway, and she continues alone from there. When she reaches the front of the room, she pauses to hug each model before taking the stage to thank her guests and sponsors, as well as everyone who has helped with the show and with Shocks Cause.
And then there is a special thanks.
"There is one woman here who has done absolutely everything for me," Madison announces. "That woman is my mom."
Christine Waldrop arrives onstage and embraces her daughter.
"You've made all my dreams come true tonight," Madison tells the crowd of guests.
And the show ends with a final music cue.
"Celebrate good times, come on."
Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...