Five days after the death of her father, Long Beach State alumna Criseida Serpas showcased her dress collection at the third Sanctuary Fashion Week at the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles.
It was Serpas’ father, Adolpho Serpas, who inspired her to become a fashion designer. A sign and banner painter, he always encouraged her creativity, complimenting the design and color choices of her outfits.
“I had plans in place for him to attend,” Serpas said. “It was in his honor really. I wanted to cancel [the show] and back out, but that’s not what he would have wanted.”
Despite Serpas’ loss, the busyness of the fashion show allowed her to take her mind off her father’s death. Serpas said she would be going on a hiatus from big fashion shows for the time being to focus on her online sales.
While the fashion designer’s journey still has a ways to go, how Serpas arrived to where she is now was a matter of discovery.
In the fall of 2017, Serpas mailed her dresses to newscasters, one of them being Fox 11’s Christine Devine. From there, Devine connected Serpas to Ivan Arce, a freelance show producer and model manager who knew founders Kenn and Korrie Gray Hayes of the Sanctuary Fashion Week show.
“It’s not your traditional way of getting into the [fashion] industry,” Serpas said. “I’ve been working for different fashion companies as a designer assistant trying to do my own thing. I got my degree. I did [the] intern thing [and] that just wasn’t working. So, it was time to think outside the box and so that’s what I did.”
The goal of the Sanctuary Fashion Week showcase is to feature emerging talent, whether that be artists, designers or singers, a description Serpas fit.
Outside the cathedral and in front of the red carpet during the fashion show, a row of metallic-looking sculptures shaped like body parts stood, gradually evolving into people.
“The Sanctuary fashion show was themed off of religion and the evolution of the model,” said Ray Mroczkowski, artist and business owner of Ray’s Ironworks. “I had under two months to come up with these [sculptures] from nothing…It’s inspiring to be able to do such a big thing for people that are appreciative of it.”
The female sculptures were designed heartless and blind with her back facing the church to represent that she is blind to religion, he said. The male sculpture, which resided closest to the church held a cross to symbolize that he found religion.
Inside, Serpas was the first designer to present her collection on stage. Her pieces ranged from off-the-shoulder to classy bodycon pin-up style dresses.
“Growing up, I really liked watching old movies, a lot of Marilyn Monroe movies and I just loved how they dressed, she said. “[It] was classy and it was conservative and still so beautiful and feminine. I was going to Catholic schools…My dad always told me you don’t need to show skin to be beautiful. That’s one of the things that drives my designs, is keeping it classy [and] keeping it covered up a little bit while still showing your figure.”
It is important for her to keep the price of her dresses low for people of low incomes as well, she said. Serpas said she tries to sell her dresses for a maximum of $125.
“I remember growing up poor, going to thrift shops, going to church donation boxes, just making the best looks, making the best of what I came across,” Serpas said.
Besides being a fashion designer, Serpas is also a full-time bartender to help make ends meet.
“I gave up a lot of my savings when I started,” Serpas said. “I still continue to do that because…everything’s going back to the buying fabric to paying the sewing contractors to [paying] fees for the fashion show. Every spare dime I have goes into it.”
Serpas found one of her models, Jessica Hennessy-Phillips, through the non-profit organization Pin-Ups for Vets, which is a community of women who dress up in pin-up style outfits and support veterans through hospital visits..
She grew a soft spot for veterans after taking care of her father who was a veteran.
“My daughter is not a model,” said Leah Phillips, a nurse. “She’s a combat veteran. She’s a stay at home mom. She’s been out of [the military] service for a while. She was so nervous [about the fashion show]. I [tell her] ‘you know what Jessica, you can be in the military and be in Iraq and be under fire. That’s much tougher than it is to do this. Enjoy this [and] have fun with it.’”
Check out our video coverage of the event!
Video by: Joy Rowden
Edited by: Joy Rowden