Waiter Saves Tips, Funds Own Collection

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Last night we wound up not at the Tent for the big Rock & Republic show, but at a loft on West 26th Street. Once there, though, we were heartened to discover the kind of fashion story we don't hear about enough. In a sparsely populated room, designer Levon Samoniantz of the label Levhon was showing his first collection. His only other public showing had been a presentation for buyers at Henri Bendel last year. What transpired sounds a bit like getting kicked off of Project Runway. After the buyers told him his clothes were too dark and they didn't like his sportswear, Samoniantz went home crushed. Then he started having dreams about models turning into cars (really), inspiring his current collection of candy-colored eveningwear.

"I started going to car shows, the big one at the Javits Center," he said. "I'm fascinated by the sleekness, the angles, the workmanship, the way the color is put on, and the different design techniques. But mostly what I like is how cars all have the same sort of rigid structure, but a different soft exterior." And that's the same way Samoniantz made the clothes. "They all have an internal lining," he explained. "Some have ruffles underneath that lift them up. Some have pat stitching. Some are hand-painted silks I lined two or three times to make it stiff." He chose only bright Crayola and M&M colors, like those of new cars, and styled the girls by painting their faces. One had a tire mark, one was a crash test dummy, one wore the silhouettes of mud-flap girls on her cheeks. All in all, the project cost him $20,000 to $25,000. Samoniantz earned the money by waiting tables at Capital Grille in the Chrysler Building. "A steak house is a good job; those guys never complain and they leave 20 percent, minimum," he said. "I save all my tips, and I don't go out." No buyers had come to the show, but he said a few art galleries who help out young designers wanted to talk to him. If that doesn't work: "I'm just going to wait more tables, and try again."