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How an Aspiring Designer Plans for Life After Fashion Week

Welcome to A Year in the Life, a series where we follow Bay Area entrepreneurs through the highs and lows of the fashion business.

Paulina Romero's collection on the runway at NYFW. Photo: Getty
Paulina Romero's collection on the runway at NYFW. Photo: Getty

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"It was an honor. Really, it was a great opportunity— just to be there."

After months of sketches, sewing, and late-night embroidery, Academy of Art grad student Paulina Romero presented her New York Fashion Week collection at Lincoln Center on Valentine's Day. When we first met Paulina last year, she admitted that she was only sleeping about four hours a night because she was always working on her designs. Surprisingly, her schedule became more forgiving as big day approached. "I did not just sleep four hours," she laughs. "I added two more hours to the sleeping mode. It was really nice. I could sleep six hours and actually have the rest of the day to complete everything."

In the weeks before the show, the hardest work was behind her, and Paulina was focused on putting the finishing touches on her garments. Unlike what you see on Project Runway, there were no last-minute catastrophes or lineup changes; just model fittings and minor adjustments. It was still a lot of work, but nothing drastic. "I don't know if I was lucky, but I think that I was prepared," she tells Racked. "In case it got to that point, I knew how I would handle it and how much time it was going to take me."

Then there was the actual show: Though it only lasted a few minutes, Paulina says it was magical. And while there wasn't a buyer trying to claim all of her looks straight off the runway, there were several reporters who inquired about purchasing pieces.

Beyond the thrill of the runway, it was also an emotional moment for both Paulina and her ever-supportive mother. When Paulina called home last year to say that she would be going to fashion week, she discovered that her mom already had a plane ticket to attend the show. "It was really nice because she is proud of me, but now the thing that brings the most sentimentality is that I'm done with another stage of my life."

Amid all the sentiment, Paulina is practical about the collection. She says that she would consider selling pieces after her work is photographed for a portfolio lookbook,  but she's trying to gauge how much she should charge for her demi-couture work. (After all, hand-embroidered leather pants don't come cheap.) "I'm trying to decide whether to go really high or really low," she explains. "I don't want to diminish my work, but I'm not a recognized designer."

With fashion week behind her, Paulina's next move is to figure out where she will be working after graduation. She's interviewing and applying to internships, and she's weighing an apprenticeship offer with a designer based here in the city. "Truthfully, I don't want to leave San Francisco...I want to work at a company that has brand recognition, but my end game is to have my own company."

Of course, there's still one more dream in play—the one that started Paulina down the path to becoming a designer in the first place: working at Valentino. "I have not given up on that," she says. "I've actually sent them three emails with updates, CVs, resumes, and portfolio. That is something that I would never give up. It's like a shooting star moment. You know that it's a huge company and they might never look at your things, but you've got to keep trying for things that you aspire to."