Madison Waldrop, 13, might just be one of the next hot designers, and she's barely a teenager.
Madison, an eighth-grader at Girls Preparatory School, was featured in a Feb. 24 New York Times article about "kiddie couturiers," teen and preteen clothing designers.
"I think I've always had an interest in clothing," she said in an interview. "All that girly, fashion-type stuff, I've always been that way. I've never been overly obsessive with it but always had a like for it."
Madison said she admires the work of designers Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang and Tommy Hilfiger.
"They always stayed true to what they believed is a good design," she said. "That is really good inspiration."
Last spring, the Waldrop family was waiting in an airport when Christine Waldrop noticed her daughter sketching dress designs. She took the drawings to a designer friend who encouraged her to have Madison continue her efforts.
"I saw [Madison's dress drawings] and said 'I would wear that,'" said Waldrop, who, along with her husband, Mark, breeds champion toy poodles.
With her parents' help, Madison is creating an eveningwear collection, Designs by Malyse (Mal-Eese), named for her first initial and middle name, Alyse, also the name of a beloved aunt. She enjoys creating "bold, confident" pieces designed to make her customers feel beautiful and self-assured."
"[The wearer] should be completely comfortable with herself and feel like she's the most gorgeous woman in the room," Madison said. "Not in an arrogant way, but, you know, she should feel good about herself."
Each dress is custom-made, and there are only a few of each. Exclusiveness, she said, is important.
She begins with inspiration, which she said she draws from nature and objects, such as peacock feathers or root beer. Yes, root beer.
"Me and one of my really good friends, we have always loved drinking the fizz off of the top of root beer," Madison said. "I was inspired by the fizz on top of the root beer to design an evening gown with a straight bottom in a smooth fabric, but the top is just like the fizz of the root beer because I love my fizz."
Following the inspiration period, Madison and her mother shop for fabric with their seamstress, who creates a prototype. Then Madison tweaks.
Each dress is named, such as "Celebration," a silver halter mini-dress with a large orange and teal rosette at the neck. "Degas" is a black strapless creation with a fluffy skirt, inspired by Madison's favorite artist.
Waldrop acts as her daughter's business manager for now, but said she expects Madison to run Designs by Malyse on her own one day. Madison has been privy to the more practical side of the project, including attending meetings with lawyers and working with a publicist.
"My approach has been 'let's teach her how (running a business) is done," said Waldrop, "Let's teach her from the beginning, so she will be able to effectively operate the business on her own one day."
But before she can run her own business, Madison's first priority is school.
"School is first and foremost," said Waldrop. "Nothing can replace education. Education is the priority. She knows that. Her grades have to be maintained."
Madison spent time sketching designs over the summer to create a backlog of sketches. Trips to New York to get fabrics have taken place over school breaks. The same focus, her mother added, has been applied to her studies, a certain point of parental pride.
"I have a passion for everything I do. I make sure I make it happen. I'm not the type of person that will let something stop me. I'm very determined," Madison said. "I will make sure my grades are high."
Another priority, both say, is keeping operations as local as possible. Waldrop said that no work will be sourced out, and both mother and daughter agree they want their business to contribute to the local and national economy, whether that's hiring area models or shopping for fabrics in the United States.
A portion of each sale - Christine estimated $500 per dress - will go into KEYS (Kids, Education, Youth and Service) a charity foundation the family is establishing.
Madison hopes to help other children achieve their own dreams.
"What's happened to me does not happen every day," she acknowledged. "I want to make sure it happens more and more for children just like me. I've always been taught the house you live in, the bed you lie on, that doesn't all just, like, pop into existence. People work to make that. There is always somebody behind what you have. It's a blessing, and you should never take that for granted. Never ever ever."