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Fashion Week Dreams

By's Christine Lagorio.

It's a Fashion Week cliché. One after another, twig-legged models emerge from behind the curtains and stomp down the runway in long gaits, one barely distinguishable from the next.

But Shakara Ledard comes out dancing.

She has every reason to shake her frizzy black hair and swivel her hips. In this show, Ledard not only models clothes, she makes them.

Ledard made the switch from clothes hanger to fashion designer last year.

"I've always believed that modeling was going to be a transitional tool into something else, I just didn't know what that something else would be," she told backstage before her debut runway show on Monday.

Her new label, Roxs, was spotlighted at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Manhattan. Ledard shook it down the runway in what was just a test run, 30 minutes before the official start time for a fashion show called The Venue, which features independent designers.

"We've been able to do something a little bit more creative, a little bit more relaxed, a little bit more low key than going to the tents, which is … hectic," said the show's co-creator Ron Smith.

"The tents" was a reference to the big time. New York's winter Fashion Week is the annual North American unveiling of more than 100 designers' spring collections, held in venues across midtown Manhattan, including the exclusive "tents," a 65,000-square-foot temporary structure set up in Bryant Park.

An invitation to a show is a rare and exclusive commodity; the rule of thumb is if you aren't a designer, friends with a designer, uber-rich or an A-list celebrity, you're not getting in.

Although dozens of blocks from Bryant Park, the Metropolitan Pavilion was beyond bustling mid-day Monday. Its first-floor showcase room was nearly busting to its seams with models, Aveda stylists, spectators and goodie-bag grabbers.

"I am so excited I cannot even describe it," Ledard said. "We've been working so hard on this collection."

Her second collection, School of Roxs, is a playful mix of prep and punk rock, with items pieced together from leathers, herringbones and plaids. The fabrics are stacked and meshed — one herringbone piece is printed with plaid.

Smith describes Ledard's new style as "fun, young downtown girl" and admits that in The Venue show, which featured established lines such as Sean John, Akademiks and Destination U, Shakara is "most definitely" his favorite.

The odds against a young designer attempting to break into the fashion world are staggering, and the costs extremely high. Even for top designers like Carolina Herrera and Marc Jacobs, sponsorship is generally necessary to score a spot in the tents. For most start-ups, it takes years to build up favor and buzz (and funding), but for Ledard, those seem to come easy.

Born and raised in Nassau, Bahamas, Shakara began modeling 16 years ago when a schoolmate told her "you couldn't become a model if you tried."

"That's all I needed to hear," Ledard said.

She sent photos to 10 agencies and had offers from nine of them within two days. Ledard made her first big waves in the fashion scene in the winter of 2000, when she appeared in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.

Three more appearances in Sports Illustrated and countless movies and music videos later, Ledard seems to have found an entrepreneurial sense that matches her style.

"Music, film, even fashion is transcending into the underground movement," she said. "It's a tapped in market that is a billion-dollar industry that we are just starting to branch into now, and I think it's going to be far more profitable than mainstream."

Staying out of the spotlight is tough when you've got style, spunk and beauty like Ledard's. But when designing, her head is in charge.

"They wanted me to open the show, but I'm such a control freak that I wanted to make sure all the girls look perfect before I send them on their way," Ledard said.

She opted instead to close the show. At first, she embraced the typical runway saunter, keeping her excitement bottled under an expressionless facade. But when she reached the end of the runway, Ledard let it go. Her arms pumped up in celebration. She struck a pose.

By Christine Lagorio