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Malibu 12-year-old channels creativity through fashion

Rachel DeAngelis inspects a garment in her sewing machine. Chris Bashaw/22nd Century Media
Rachel DeAngelis prepares to sew a section of fabric. Photos by Chris Bashaw/22nd Century Media
Rachel DeAngelis sews a piece of fabric.
Ashleigh Fryer, Senior Editor
1:58 pm PST November 10, 2014

Twelve-year-old Rachel DeAngelis has had an eye for fashion since age 4.

“I actually wanted a dress that would match my Barbie doll — it was a pink smocking dress with green and yellow flowers,” DeAngelis said. “My grandma and I went to Jo-Ann’s and we bought the fabric and kind of sewed the dress together. But it was mostly her.”

Although DeAngelis started out with a helping hand, she has since developed independent sewing skills and fashion instincts. Having sewn 60 separate pieces, ranging from pillows and blankets to ball gowns — the most recent being a blue satin gown with 20 pleats and an invisible zipper for her Halloween costume — DeAngelis’s hobby has grown into a full-fledged artistic pursuit.

“It gets me going and keeps me busy,” DeAngelis said. “Whenever I have a new pattern, I don’t read from the instructions because I want to learn how to do it by myself so that when I don’t have those patterns, I know what to do. Instead of opening up a little piece of paper and saying, ‘Oh I need to do this and I need to do that,’ I don’t read the instructions at all.”

DeAngelis’s thirst for learning about fashion has extended even further, with her attending Saturday workshops at Los Angeles’s Fashion Institute of Design and Marketing, where she learns from college professors about the history of fashion and past and current trends. 

“I’m honestly running out of classes to put her in,” said Jennifer, who said her daughter has already outgrown sewing classes at Jo-Ann Fabrics and other such places. “Even if I put her in a sewing class, she’s going to be bored — they’re too basic for her. So that’s why I put her in trend classes and drawing classes because she can use those tools and transfer them over to the sewing she does on her own.”

Although Rachel enjoys the freedom she experiences in her FIDM workshops, she said she wasn’t always so comfortable. Sitting next to full-time college students or fashion industry professional in a college-level environment was both daunting and exciting for her.

“It’s just kind of scary to experience that because I’m 12 years old and they’re probably in their 20s or 30s, and I’m learning things that they wouldn’t have learned at this age,” Rachel said. “A lot of kids my age want to be fashion designers when they grow up, but they think going to fashion college is a waste of time. I actually think it’s quite educational for you to go to a fashion college because you actually get to learn what’s in fashion.”

Rachel has taken that knowledge and applied it to her own creations, hosting a runway show as part of Our Lady of Malibu’s talent show when she was in sixth grade there last year. She also tried to organize the children in her neighborhood to attend a fashion camp she’d create, with mixed results.

“They weren’t too interested in sewing,” Rachel said, laughing.

But, of all the pieces she’s created for others and for herself, the ones Rachel enjoys most are the ones that present a challenge or invite her to expand upon

“The purple mermaid dress is my favorite,” Rachel said of a satin lilac dress she created for a school dance. “It was kind of a little big of a problem solving thing. It was just a plan mermaid dress, but then I added sparkles to it — it actually looks pretty amazing.”

Her interest in problem solving also relates to her academic life, where she says math and science are her favorite subjects. 

“I really like my science and history teacher because she thinks outside of the box,” Rachel said. “She even had us do a report on why art and science tie together.”

For Jennifer, who admits that she’s never been much of a seamstress, her joy comes from watching her daughter use her imagination to create something concrete. Rachel, a fourth generation Malibuite, had a great-grandmother who was a seamstress, in addition to the grandmother that helped her create the dress that sparked her interest in sewing.

“It skipped a generation — I’m just the supplier,” Jennifer said, laughing.