Article by Jon Lee Cope
Photos by Ted Tarquinio
If you go to the website for Alicia Hardesty’s clothing line, Original Tomboy, you will see the tag “For the Modern Huckleberry.” This reference to Mark Twain’s most freedom-loving character perfectly encapsulates what is so brilliant about her line of apparel. Like Huckleberry Finn waxing about a big river, Hardesty’s garments can make you “feel mighty free and easy,” but if you dig deeper into the philosophy of her design, it becomes clear that, like Twain, she is delving into the ideas of inclusiveness, equality and independence.
The 30-year-old designer, a finalist for the 10th season of the fashion reality show Project Runway in 2012, grew up in Brandenburg, Ky. Her father was a plumber and her mother worked in an office. While her parents were grounded, Alicia was a dreamer who was “always looking at the stars.” Early on, she became fascinated with the pages of Vogue magazine. But being a self-described tomboy, she found that clothes she wanted to wear weren’t reflected within the pages of any fashion publication. “I have always had issues with the restrictions of women’s wear,” Hardesty says, “but men’s wear had its restrictions too. I don’t want to look like a man because I am definitely not a man. I have hips.” What she was looking for was something in the middle.
Designer Alicia Hardesty poses in her new line of clothing for men and women.
Androgyny is a word that gets bandied about a lot these days. Men looking like women. Women looking like men. But androgyny is not that simple; it has to do with a combination of both masculine and feminine characteristics. “The idea of androgyny is to me the most modern concept; it is like looking into the future,” Hardesty says. “And in my clothes you can see that philosophy in the details. The pieces are based on men’s wear, but the cut, fit and the fabrication make them so any person can wear them, man or woman.”
In fashion design, this is a pretty revolutionary concept: clothes that can fit literally any body. Traditionally, a woman’s garment had to be cut around the bust and the hip, but Hardesty threw out that rule book, bringing the waist down and elongating the body with traditional men’s wear details, epilates and suspenders and patches. The use of “tails” — tuxedo-like openings at the back of shirts, jackets and vests — allows for freedom within the fabrication. These clothes are made to fit whether you have hips or not.
The line really is all-American — and made in the USA. The textiles call to mind Hardesty’s Kentucky roots: denims and cottons, gingham and checks that play in harmony with the designer’s androgynous tomboy point of view. The collection is also urban, with umbra T-shirts that are velvety soft and hand-dyed by the designer herself. The garments are sexy and suggestive on a man or a woman but never vulgar. The line has a few anchor pieces, such as the “Huckleberry” jacket and the “Roadie” pant that define the collection, but, like all the separates that make up Original Tomboy, these can be worn with just about anything in your closet. Hardesty rounds out her line with “boy”-style hoodies and sweatshirts, tanks and caps. The entire collection is clean, comfortable, easy and erogenous. “I wanted it a little rough around the edges,” the designer says, “but relatable enough that anyone would want to wear it.”
After Project Runway, while living in Los Angeles, Hardesty says, she had many offers but few outlets for her own expression. “Whenever you work for somebody else,” she says, “they are going to want to take from you what is your best stuff. But I became a professional designer. I learned production and fabric, buying and merchandising and selling your own brand. I knew that if I did not make a move, I would never be able to express my own point of view.” After finding love with her partner Ashley (they were recently engaged), the couple came back to Kentucky, hoping Louisville was the place to start a business. A Kickstarter campaign and a modest investment from her father allowed Hardesty to go into limited production. The line is now available in stores in three countries, online, and in Louisville at the Gifthorse boutique.
Hardesty’s dream is to see a clothing store with no men’s department or women’s department but well-designed clothes for all. “You have to remember,” she says, “that I am always designing for myself. I am the original tomboy.”