"This is one of those unconventional stories," says Brittany Allen, the creator of the clothing line Brittany Nicole.
Typically, she says, when you ask a designer when they knew they wanted to go into fashion, they'll tell you they came out of the womb knowing it.
That was not the way with Allen. During her first year in college at the University of Arkansas, she failed her anatomy class — a tough road for someone who was planning to be a nurse. Her college counselor encouraged her to find something new that interested her.
She began taking sewing classes. "I discovered my passion as an adult," she says. "I tried other things, but nothing ever compared to this."
Allen continued on to get a degree in fashion merchandising at Arkansas and then a fashion degree at Savannah College of Art and Design.
Allen, 29, who now lives in Austin with her husband, Derek, will be showing her latest Brittany Nicole collection as part of the Celebrate Texas event Feb. 22 at Fashion X, the weeklong Austin fashion festival. It's her third year to show at Fashion X.
She describes her aesthetic as "very, very loud, very feminine."
"I like the idea of empowerment for women through clothing," she says. "For me, I really can't do anything simple. I tend to overdesign."
That means she's big on prints, big on color, but the silhouettes are more feminine and flattering.
She says she's not afraid to mix stripes and polka dots. It's more about how the shapes of the separate pieces work together rather than if the prints do.
She'll do a leopard sequin bomber jacket with a striped skirt. Or polka dots with florals. She uses all kinds of prints, though she's not a fan of plaid.
"I'm on the verge of tacky, but it's a fun tacky," she says. "It's girly but powerful."
"If Dolly Parton and Betsey Johnson had a baby, I would be it," she says. "It's a little tacky, in a good way."
Fashion, she says, "is one of the last existing ways we can express ourselves."
"If people hate what I'm wearing and I love it, I don't even care," she says. You could ask three different people and get three different opinions on an outfit, she says. "If it makes you happy, you should wear it."
In years past, her collection has had tent dresses and other classic shapes. This year, she's going a little bit out of her comfort zone and making each piece have some intricate detailing. The pieces aren't ready-made patterns, which means she's having to draft the patterns and drape the fabric.
She's also using a lot of embroidery in her pieces, from putting golden flies on a black trenchcoat with white hearts to her signature piece — an organza white circle skirt with large black polka dots and embroidered butterflies tacked on each dot.
She describes this collection as a "pop art garden party." "It's Andy Warhol-meets-'Secret Garden.'"
The personal battle she's going through is to not play it safe. "This year it's, what can I do to bring it to the next level?" she says. "If I was going right the past two years, I'm going left."
Allen doesn't tend to wear her own stuff. First, she's not a sample size, and by the time she's done a collection, she's ready to move on and try something new.
In addition to designing her own line, she takes commissioned projects such as wedding dresses, including for Fashion X's Kylie Bollwitt, for whom Allen designed a crushed white velvet mermaid dress with iridescent accents, cutouts along the neckline and an encrusted rhinestone belt. "I've done simple and elegant and classic ... and I've also done things like that, that are really fun and different," she says.
On commissioned pieces, she says, she has to take their idea and add to it to still be something that fits her brand. "Remember, when we make something for a client, our name is on it."
Allen also takes work designing for others such as Cirque du Soleil, Country Outfitter, Revolve, Free People and Between Ten.
"I don't do anything I don't put 110 percent in it," she says.
In addition to her own line and work for others, Allen is getting her doctorate in apparel at Iowa State. She's working with mechanical engineers on things like using biosensors in clothing to detect cortisol or lactic acid or heart rate that can help people know when a climber on Mount Everest is in distress or a woman running around Lady Bird Lake needs help.
In her class on biosensors recently, she was the only female student and the only non-mechanical engineer in the class. "I nearly cried in the first day of class," she says. "None of this is English. I don't know what in the world you are saying."
She passed with a B-plus.
"I want to learn everything," she says. She found the research interesting and loved the idea of creating something new that people actually need or want.
But first, she has butterflies that take 35 minutes each to embroider for Fashion X. "It's going to be like, 'What?!'" she says of the circle skirt with a butterfly flying out of every polka dot.
RELATED: Find more about Fashion X at Austin360.com