Alumna Patrice Gentile Creates a Fashion Career Piece by Piece
Patrice Gentile '07 knew she wanted to be a fashion designer when she enrolled at Radford University. What she didn't know was where that choice would take her. Near the halfway mark in her college career, she knew she wanted to start her own business. Out of that revelation was born Aliceanna clothing.
The Pasadena, Md., native's high school guidance counselor recommended Radford to her. "I applied because the fashion design program sounded well-rounded and focused," said Gentile, who lived in Annapolis after graduating from Radford and started Aliceanna there. She now lives in Los Angeles.
Every designer's mark on the fashion world is unique. Gentile's is that she makes each piece by hand.
"I sew the prototypes and a sample of each design," she said. "Once I have the samples, I show them to boutiques and see what pieces they would be interested in carrying. For example, at Nana boutique in D.C., they chose three pieces to carry in a range of sizes. I've sewn those pieces by hand along with custom orders I've received. For my upcoming collection, I plan to only sew the samples and then have the rest produced with a manufacturer here in L.A. This will be costly but will give me much more time to focus on building the brand."
Gentile said her biggest challenge when she started was money.
"Starting a business is costly as well as time-consuming," she recalled. "I waitressed for three years and saved enough to move out to L.A. to focus on Aliceanna full time. It was a struggle at times but worth it in the long run. Since I sew every piece myself, it doesn't leave much time for other important aspects, such as marketing, social media and designing new pieces. Time management is a key skill that I'm still working on."
The sewing classes offered in the Radford fashion design program gave Gentile a jumpstart on her career. What she learned there were skills she still uses every day. It was not only in the fashion design lab that she found keys to her success. Her course in public speaking was crucial, she said, admitting she was—and still is—shy. Gentile said when you are passionate about a topic, it's exciting to talk about it with others.
Gentile's parents were her biggest supporters, always encouraging her and never questioning her decision to take an unconventional career path, she said. "I always dreamt big because they allowed me to,"
Gentile's grandmothers Alice and Anna, for whom the company is named, were accomplished women, each in her own sense, and major influence on her. "Throughout my college years and after, I realized I was becoming a fusion of my grandmothers, noticing traits and characteristics in myself that were a reflection of them," Gentile said. The Aliceanna line pays homage to them by presenting clothing that is "feminine and pretty as well as practical and tailored."
Gentile's mentor at RU was Kathy Mitchell, associate professor of design. Gentile refers to Mitchell as "the kindest woman I ever met, and she has the patience of a saint." She remembers Mitchell as always being available before and after class to offer help.
"Dr. Mitchell genuinely cares about each of her students, and it reflects in her teaching," Gentile said. "I am not sure I would have survived if it wasn't for her."
The friends Gentile made at Radford became Aliceanna's biggest fans, having tracked her success from the onset. "They are friends I made for life," she said.
As orders started coming in and online publications began asking about Aliceanna clothing, Southern Living contacted Gentile for an interview, an affirmation that she was doing something right. That story is in the magazine's May online edition.
Gentile said her personal motto is "Stay humble, stay hungry, stay happy."
"I'd love to see Aliceanna in the pages of Vogue," she said. "I'd love to see the clothes on someone I truly admire, like the first lady. Once I set a goal, I'm pretty hard pressed on making it a reality."