The following article by Margaret DeWees '06 appears in the 2014 issue of
The Bulletin. Read the full issue here.
When we graduated from Tower Hill in 2006, Audra Noyes ’06 was just a wide-eyed, curly haired blonde with a set of well-used oil paints and a knack for breaking the dress code. When she walked out the doors of 2813 West 17th Street as a new graduate, no one, not even Audra herself, imagined she would be sharing the Paris fashion stage with designers like Dior, Lanvin and Givenchy in just
a few short years.
Audra began her love affair with fashion design as a girl, constantly playing dress up with her parents’ clothes. As best friends, we grew up discovering new outfits to play with and new Halloween costumes to create. Audra’s play time slowly evolved into a mature and eclectic style. She paired Tower Hill-approved clothing with retro and vintage finds from her mother’s closet. Even as a young girl, she had an eye for styling and a desire to express herself through clothing—completely untethered to the trends and expectations of her peers. As the younger of two daughters, Audra has always marched to the beat of her own drum, which at times, beats so loudly it can seem like her very own parade.
While at Tower Hill, Audra was a strong student and dove headfirst into her passions. The daughter of a doctor and a nurse, she had a passion for science—especially biology—and enjoyed making herself available to help her classmates, particularly me, get through difficult algebra problems. As a three-season athlete, Audra consistently led her teammates with laughter, strength and confidence, even against insurmountable odds.
In Upper School, Audra took classes with her beloved art teacher and mentor Kirby Smith, who exposed her to new techniques, mediums and artistic styles and encouraged her to blend concepts, textiles, paints and mediums together. In the structured environment of academia, Mr. Smith gave Audra a safe environment to stretch her creative expression. By our junior year, Audra was determined to pursue her dream of going to an art school. Many people—myself included—pressured her to change her path in favor of a more traditional college experience, but in true Audra fashion, her mind would not budge. She was accepted to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and began her new journey south of the Mason-Dixon line.
While at SCAD, Audra enrolled in the fashion program and spent countless nights studying fabrics, styles and trends—harnessing her skills in preparation to work in the fashion industry. She often slept in the fabric bins in the studios, just trying to catch a few winks before another long day of designing began. Her work ethic was clearly well-recognized, when in 2010 Audra won two prestigious national fashion competitions—YMA Fashion Scholarship and the Cotton Incorporated Scholarship. She was also mentored by famed designer Zac Posen during her senior year. Her first collection of work was shown in Savannah in May 2010 and proved that Audra was a talent worth watching. Her 1930s elegant and “haute couture” collection caught the eye of Andre Leon Talley, former fashion editor of Vogue America. Talley was so impressed with her work that he wrote a letter of recommendation to several Parisian couture houses, opening the door for her to pursue her dream. Audra was soon accepted as a “stagiare,” or intern, at the renowned French luxury fashion house Jeanne Lanvin. Even today, my ears still ring from the high pitched, squealing phone call I received when she told me the news. She was moving to Paris and her dreams were coming true!
With hopeful hearts, I helped Audra pack her bags and move to Paris for the greatest adventure of her life. I remember countless late-night Skype dates with my best friend, intently listening while she detailed the confusion of trying to work in an environment where she couldn’t understand anyone and how she got lost numerous times on the Metro. On the other hand, Audra was most definitely loving all of the pastries.
While at Lanvin, Audra worked under two designers, allowing her to grow her draping, embroidery and concept development skills. She was chosen to draw the collection imitating the famous hand of Lanvin’s Creative Director, Alber Elbaz. This allowed her to explore the workings of the “atelier,” or studio, discuss construction with the pattern makers and try her hand as an illustrator. Upon finishing her time at Lanvin, she joined John Galliano, where she assisted the head designer in all aspects of design from concept development to styling the lookbooks.
After three years of working under world-renowned designers and learning the ins and outs of French luxury fashion, that “Audra drum” started beating once again—loudly and incessantly telling her it was time to stretch her creativity, just as it had in the art studios of Tower Hill. In the spring of 2013, the company AUDRA became a reality. She began acquiring a team of talented and dedicated employees who are still by her side today, and together, they created, organized, styled and launched a breathtaking collection of 37 looks, which she debuted at Paris Fashion Week in September 2013.
On a warm fall day, our families arrived in Paris in support of our glowing “golden girl.” I knew Audra had been working hard the last few weeks building up to the show, but I had not expected to see a sleep-deprived zombie. Her new collection was like a newborn, and she was its doting, ever-caring and exhausted mother. Finally, the day had come for Audra to stake her claim in the luxury fashion market. One by one, the room filled up with bloggers, photographers, journalists and fashion editors. A gorgeous, white-walled warehouse with 50-foot ceilings and rooftop skylights that smelled faintly of macaroons and café was buzzing with anticipation of the big reveal.
As the music started, the models paraded Audra’s garments onto the catwalk—ethereal, haunting and effortlessly graceful. Audra’s show consisted of three sections—Caterpillar, Cocoon and Butterfly—designed to reflect the seasons of growth that a young woman experiencesas she matures from a girl into a woman. The garments showed Audra’s personal experiences: the times she played dress up, too small to fill her dad’s over-sized shirts; her awkward season of growth as she put mismatched pieces together seeking self-expression; and finally, her season of glory, coming into herself and blossoming as the beautiful and confident woman she is today. To me, the meaning behind Audra’s designs adds another layer of brilliant creativity; they are not just fascinating works of art but an expression of who Audra is and the story of how she became that person.
Seeing Audra’s show come to life was the experience of a lifetime for both of us. We have shared countless experiences through our years at Tower Hill and beyond, and I could not be more proud of the quirky, curly-haired, paint-smudged girl I befriended all those years ago. If there is one thing I have learned from my dear friend, it is to follow the beat of your own drum, for it’s actually the beating of our own hearts and will always lead us where we are destined to go.
Audra’s collection is sold at Peter Kate in Greenville, Delaware. Visit www.audraofficial.com
for more information.