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The University of Alabama

UA Alumna Wins NBC’s ‘Fashion Star’

UA alumna and New York-based fashion designer Hunter Bell won NBC's "Fashion Star."

UA alumna and New York-based fashion designer Hunter Bell won NBC’s “Fashion Star.”

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — University of Alabama alumna and New York City-based fashion designer Hunter Bell’s perseverance and passion finally paid off — to the tune of $3 million and the opportunity to debut her collection with three of the nation’s largest retailers.

The 32-year-old Florence, S.C., native successfully showcased her fashion skills and business acumen during the second season of NBC’s “Fashion Star” and walked away with the prize of a lifetime, $3 million in orders for capsule collections in Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Express stores.

“This competition is all about perseverance, listening, challenging yourself and being challenged,” Bell said. “Throughout the competition, I just kept reminding myself to run the race with fierce endurance and press on toward that goal. And, in that final moment, when I crossed that finish line … there was just an amazing sense of accomplishment and feeling of acceptance in this industry. It’s very surreal to have all three buyers say ‘We want you.’ That’s what all designers want to hear on a daily basis.”

Competing against 12 other designer contestants, Bell experienced her share of ups and downs during the six-week journey to becoming the next “Fashion Star.” Working with design mentors, the contestants were given a weekly challenge to design clothing with a certain look, feel and function. Their designs were then presented to buyers from the three retailers, who would decide then and there to purchase and carry the designs exclusively in their stores.

There were definitely moments that were more challenging than others, particularly when designing the men’s wear garments. Bell had never really thought about who her “man” would be; her focus was always on her female customer, she said. The long hours, time restraints and strenuous work also made for stressful moments, but Bell formed strong bonds with some of the other designers and she enjoyed working closely with her mentor, Jessica Simpson, who not only had great advice, but really cared about what happened to her design team, Bell said.

“She embraces her sexuality, and she taught me to embrace that woman who has curves and wants to show them off,” she said. “Watching the finale for the first time and seeing Jessica run to me before the fashion show and give me a hug, that was real. She was really so genuine and loving and giving.”

Bell had weeks where she sold to all three stores, some even ending in bidding wars for her designs, which she said “set the tone for the entire season” and gave her a “sense of worthiness.” But there were a couple of weeks when her designs did not receive the same enthusiasm from the buyers.

“I was battling a lot of insecurities. I kept feeling that my business was about to close and wondering what I did wrong,” she said. “This wasn’t to prove to the world or buyers, but prove to me that I have what it takes to make it in this industry. There is a vision there. You see so many brands and designs out there, every fashion designer wonders if their voice is unique enough.”

Bell does not need to wonder that anymore. Now looking toward the future, she plans on making 2014 her best year yet. Her focus is on evolving her line, increasing her online presence, telling her story and making her brand relevant, she said.

“I want to keep moving, keep the customers excited and stay true to who my customer is,” she said. “I like to say she’s a Southern belle with a New York state of mind — true and sophisticated, with a touch of dark and edgy.”

Bell studied fashion design and studio art at The University of Alabama’s College of Human Environmental Sciences and graduated in 2003.

Shortly after graduation, she left Tuscaloosa to explore her dreams in New York City. In 2006, she launched her fashion line Hunter Dixon with then roommate Jennifer Dixon. Self-described as a women’s contemporary fashion line with feminine flair that is recognized for its whimsical and flirty designs, each collection is filled with bold colors, unique detailing and abstract prints. It’s a brand where “sensible simplicity meets metropolitan style.” Dixon is no longer with the company, and Bell will be changing the name of her clothing line to Hunter Bell next spring.

Based in New York City, the Hunter Dixon collection is available in nearly 200 boutiques worldwide, Anthropologie, other specialty stores and on  Hunter Dixon has been featured in numerous publications including ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, Lucky, Marie Claire, People, People Style Watch and WWD and has appeared on “The Today Show,” “The View” and “Fox News.” All garments are produced in the United States, and Hunter Dixon proudly supports the Manhattan garment district.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.