Erin Johnson captured the top prize at Fashion on the Shore event by showing that stylish women can have their cake and wear it, too. Her deliciously fashionable dresses were inspired by some of the cakes served at a coffeehouse where the Western Michigan University student works part-time.
“Cakes are always used to mark a special occasion, like a wedding or a birthday or an anniversary,” says Johnson, 23. “So I thought why not extend that special occasion idea to formal wear?” She laughs. “I’m kind of an unusual person. I could see design elements—bead work, pleating, tucking, layering and construction—in the cakes.”
For her Red Velvet dress, Johnson went for a tall, sleek image, using a mini-pleating technique. Her Lemon dress, with geometric shaping on the bodice and in the trumpet hemline, accentuated curves by following the inspiration of a lemon wedge. For her Chocolate dress, she used latticing to invoke a bar pattern. And her wedding dress was inspired by a cupcake. “I wanted to capture that same sweet preciousness in a dress.” Her fifth piece, a taffeta plaid design, was inspired by legendary British designer Charles Worth, long considered the father of haute couture.
Johnson had shown a ready-to-wear line in 2013’s FOTS. “But I wanted to push myself this time into more elaborate formalwear,” she says. The judges praised her exquisite detailing and the intricacy of her embellishments.
She was born in Florida and grew up in Dexter, Michigan, near the Ann Arbor area. When she was 12, she started sewing. “That’s when my mother refused to do it any more for me,” she says. “ I always had bigger, crazier ideas for Halloween costumes, so she told me I had to take over.”
Infatuated with the bold power of fashion, Johnson thought of being a costume designer. “But I decided to channel that into clothes that more people can wear. I definitely took more of a fashion turn.”
Still, Johnson admits that her own personal style leans more toward an off-the-beaten-path look: mesh inserts, high-low hemlines, and assertive use of patterns and colors. “Vivienne Westwood’s work is inspiring to me,” she says.
In August, Johnson will spend her senior year at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. “You know the Metropolitan Museum has an extensive Charles Worth exhibit now? I can’t wait to take it all in. ”