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Designing Woman

Miracle worker: Rollerblading designer succeeds in making women look taller and thinner

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Fady Armanious and Designer Laurel Berman at the WOW Summer Soiree August 2014
Tootsies creative director Fady Armanious and Black Halo designerLaurel Berman. Photo by Daniel Ortiz
Models Kristin Qualia, from left, Suzie Ford, Katelynn Denney and Cora Uwajeh at the WOW Summer Soiree August 2014
Models Kristin Qualia, from left, Suzie Ford, Katelynn Denney and Cora Uwajeh. Photo by Daniel Ortiz
Black Halo Devi sheath from Black Halo fall 2014 collection
Davi camel sheath from Black Halo fall collection, $390. Courtesy photo
Designer Laurel Berman at the WOW Summer Soiree August 2014
Designer Laurel Berman. Photo by Daniel Ortiz
Black Halo Marett knit Dress from fall 2014 collection
Marett two-piece knit dress from Black Halo fall collection, $375. Courtesy photo
Bethany Buchanan, left, and Laurel Berman at the WOW Summer Soiree August 2014
Bethany Buchanan, left, and Laurel Berman. Photo by Daniel Ortiz
Fady Armanious and Designer Laurel Berman at the WOW Summer Soiree August 2014
Models Kristin Qualia, from left, Suzie Ford, Katelynn Denney and Cora Uwajeh at the WOW Summer Soiree August 2014
Black Halo Devi sheath from Black Halo fall 2014 collection
Designer Laurel Berman at the WOW Summer Soiree August 2014
Black Halo Marett knit Dress from fall 2014 collection
Bethany Buchanan, left, and Laurel Berman at the WOW Summer Soiree August 2014

Designer Laurel Berman has a great motto: "Two inches taller and five pounds thinner."

"When you put a dress on, if you look frumpy or dumpy I haven't done my job," Berman said during a recent interview at Tootsies where she was the featured designer at the Women of Wardrobe party. "So we like to nip it in at the tiniest spots to be a little more forgiving in our curvier spots. I want it to be flattering in the hold-you-and-mold-you dresses."

 "When you put a dress on, if you look frumpy or dumpy I haven't done my job." 

With a philosophy like this, it's no wonder Berman has attracted a fierce following, ranging from celebrities to everyday women, for her Black Halo clothing line because her figure-flattering designs are comfortable to wear and look darn good. 

Just about every celebrity, including Scarlett Johansson, Kelly Ripa, Kim Kardashian, Mandy Moore and Tyra Banks, has worn her big seller, the "Jackie O" dress. In 2006, the Los Angeles-based designer became frustrated because her blouse wouldn't stay tucked into her high-waisted pencil skirt, so she stitched the two pieces together to create a dress.

It remains the most popular item, at $345 in sizes from 0 to 16. While she features it in different colors and prints,  the basic black version is still the most sought after.

"This is one dress there evidently can't be enough of. It's good for every occasion. It's good for every age," she said.

Name that dress

Berman gives each of her creations a name — one collection was named for famous burlesque dancers, including Gypsy Rose Lee. "Why do we give them names? Because they have their own personality," she said. "Hopefully they become iconic women.

"What's funny is we came up with (Jackie) because the dress was very ladylike. We had no idea it would be almost iconic as she is for us."

During the interview, Berman is wearing her newest favorite, the Sanibel, a full skirt and crop top from her fall collection. The skirt has a high waist that covers the midriff, so the wearer can showcase the crop top craze — a big trend for fall — without showing too much skin.

"This has been the year of two-piece dressing. A top and a skirt that kind of look like one piece in a way," Berman said.

Other cool looks for fall include jumpsuits (she has designed a smashing-looking black strapless evening jumpsuit) and blouses with dolman sleeves. "My customers love sleeves so we're always coming up with new ways to do (them). And it's great with a pencil silhouette, so you can have the volume up here and then keep it lean on the bottom. We're doing it in novelty sweater type fabrics, so it's kind of more cozy. It's still very polished but cozy."

Fresh perspective

Berman has also branched out into evening gowns at the request of store buyers. "At first I thought, 'What do I know about evening wear?' But when I went into stores to look at it, there wasn't anything I would wear. It's all beaded and lacey and sparkly and embellished. It's all too much for me."

 "I love Rollerblading, which I know is super out of date, but it's fun. Rollerblading around the world is what I want to do." 

So she created a line of gowns with her aesthetic — clean silhouette, great fit, architectural styling and draping — "details that remain true to our brand as it is today and elevate it into evening. It's like a light bulb went off. I have a fresh perspective," she said.

With her business growing by leaps and bounds, Berman admits she doesn't have much spare time, but she is determined to fit regular yoga classes into her busy schedule. "I do it mainly for my head. When you get on the mat, you set everything else down. No matter what it is, it will still be there in an hour and a half.

"And I love Rollerblading, which I know is super out of date, but it's fun. Rollerblading around the world is what I want to do. I've Rollerbladed in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and, of course almost every other weekend on Venice Beach. I actually shipped my Rollerblades to Manhattan and, when I got there, jumped into my blades and headed out the door and up the Hudson Parkway right along the river."

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