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R.I. fashion designer Jessica Abernethy returns to the runway

“After this past year, this whole collection was about spring and a re-awakening,” she said

Providence designer Jess Abernethy, in black, smiles to the crowd at the end of her runway show at the StyleWeek Northeast fashion show at the Capital Grille in Providence on June 10, 2021.
Providence designer Jess Abernethy, in black, smiles to the crowd at the end of her runway show at the StyleWeek Northeast fashion show at the Capital Grille in Providence on June 10, 2021.Matthew Healey for The Boston Globe

PROVIDENCE — When seasoned designers showed off their spring collections this year, it was for an exclusive audience. Christian Siriano debuted his latest collection outside at his Connecticut home last September. Invitees had to fill out health screenings days before. Viewers wore masks and sat in lawn chairs with their heels likely sinking into the grass.

Jessica Abernethy, however, debuted her first collection in nearly three years in front of a mostly maskless crowd of Rhode Islanders who have spent the better part of the last 15 months in their homes.

A model walks down the catwalk while showing off a design by Providence designer Jess Abernethy at the STYLEWEEK Northeast fashion show.
A model walks down the catwalk while showing off a design by Providence designer Jess Abernethy at the STYLEWEEK Northeast fashion show.Matthew Healey for The Boston Globe

On Thursday night, StyleWeek Northeast returned for its 19th season with a “micro-fashion” event at The Capital Grille in Providence. The restaurant’s outdoor patio was transformed into a runway where local notables including Colin Geoffrey, the owner of G Hospitality; Kristen Adamo, chief executive of Go Providence; real estate entrepreneur Michael Sweeney; Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea; and designer Kent Stetson were among the crowds and the judges.

People sat close together in rows (likely pleased to be out of their homes and dressed in something other than pandemic yoga pants) to see designs by Abernethy and Boston-based designer Melina Cortes-Nmili for Lalla Bee, who takes classic dresses and gives them a modern edge.

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For Abernethy, a Providence-based designer, the show was marked her return to Rhode Island’s fashion scene.

A look by designer Jess Abernethy.
A look by designer Jess Abernethy.Matthew Healey for The Boston Globe

“I have missed the excitement of the shows, the pre-show jitters, and seeing everything come together in the end,” she said prior to the show.

Abernethy has shared her designs on many of StyleWeek Northeast’s runways in the past.

In 2017, she designed looks that resembled chic streetwear with geometric patters, pops of neon yellow, off-the-shoulder tops, leather-looking pants, and, no matter the outfit: black-and-gold platform sneakers.

For several years, she designed looks for the StyleWeek SWIM shows. Her 2014 offering included retro-looking hot-pink and silver one-piece swimwear.

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She’s made political statements in her designs, such as sending models down the runway wearing gas masks with futuristic looks, purposefully showing what could one day be “the norm” if climate change continues to get worse.

But after a three-year hiatus, which included a more than a year of pandemic downtime, she was ready return to the runway.

A look by Providence designer Jess Abernathy.
A look by Providence designer Jess Abernathy.Matthew Healey for The Boston Globe

“After this past year, this whole collection was about spring and a re-awakening,” she told the Globe.

She incorporated her usual clean lines, contrasting patters, and what she calls a “straightforwardness,” but this year, she said, everything was a “little more kooky” than what she normally designs.

“People have been home wearing sweatpants and yoga pants for the last year-and-a-half,” she said. “Nobody wants to get into a skin-tight shirt. Everything is a little more loose, flowing, and boxy.”

A look by designer Jess Abernethy.
A look by designer Jess Abernethy.Matthew Healey for The Boston Globe

And with contrasting patterns combined in a single outfit, she admitted, “It can be a little over the top.”

She used freeing fabrics such as cotton and linen, soft pastels like avocado green, rose, and raspberry cream. Each model wore bright, white tennis shoes.

She designed knee-length, Bermuda-style shorts in a dramatic print, hot pink track pants, collared short dresses with balloon sleeves, full skirts in a dark-green checker-board pattern, and soft trousers.

Nearly all of the fabric used had been stored away upstairs in her two-family home. They were scraps and spools that she hadn’t yet finished using in the past.

“I did this technique where I pieced a lot of the scraps together to make a new piece of fabric and cut out the pattern or piece of clothing from that. It was kind of fun trying to use all that I already had,” she said. Because of that, she said, the number of pieces she has are limited — and in most cases, she just has one per design. She will be offering them for sale through her Instagram in the coming days; sizes will start at a size 4 and work up to about an 8 or 10.

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“I’m definitely back,” she said. “I think I’m hooked on shows again.”




Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz.