Fashion Star season two winner Hunter Bell—the designer behind ready-to-wear label Hunter Dixon—may be a South Carolina native, but her sensibility (and the rapidfire, no-holds-barred way she answered our questions!) is definitely 100 percent New York. We caught up with the University of Alabama grad to talk to her about her experience on the NBC fashion reality show, her brand, and where she hopes to go from here.
StyleBistro: Congratulations on your Fashion Star win! What did it feel like when they called your name as this year's winner?
Hunter Bell: It was such a phenomenal experience. I just kept telling myself to run the race with serious endurance—and then, you've actually crossed the finish line. It's six weeks, seven days a week, and it's endurance. You're up early in the morning and you're working until late at night. You have less than two days to finish a challenge before you're onto another. You're constantly juggling and battling emotions. You're battling a lot. So when they called my name, it felt like I'd crossed a finish-line. I've done it. I've run the race.
(NBC) Hunter Bell on episode 9
StyleBistro: As a designer who was already commercially successful—your clothes are stocked in more than 200 boutiques worldwide and celebrities including Rose Byrne, Sophia Bush, and Emma Roberts are fans—why did you want to do Fashion Star?
Hunter Bell: We'd had success, and I'd been in Saks, I'd had my name on the wall in Saks, and all the press, and all the celebrities. We'd reached a level where we weren't properly capitalized, and the business just wasn't working anymore. We had all the sales, we just didn't have the capital to support the sales. It created a lot of challenges for me in 2012, to the point where I was exhausted and I was starting to re-evaluate—if this business isn't supposed to be in this world, I've given it a good whirl, but the capital just isn't there, so we might need to close the business. I was considering doing that when the show contacted me. I was definitely in a state of vulnerability and confusion—and they told me, 'Here's a great opportunity for you.' It couldn't have been at a more appropriate time.
(NBC) Hunter Bell on episode 7
StyleBistro: What's happened to your business since you've been on the show?
Hunter Bell: Definitely recognition. Definitely people who might have known the brand are now able to connect with the brand on a deeper level. I'm very businesslike on the show—I wasn't on the show to create drama or become famous. I was really on the show to work hard, tell my story, and really challenge myself. It was an opportunity to really grow. I think that resonated with people. And I think people love the clothes because they're not hard to understand. There definitely are items that are wearable. I think the story resonated with people.
StyleBistro: What is the shooting process like? Six weeks!
Hunter Bell: They don't tell you anything! You show up and you arrive. There's no script, there's no, 'This is what we're doing tomorrow.' If you knew what you were doing tomorrow, your reaction wouldn't be real. I'm such a planner in my business and my life and having to toss any form of calendar out the window? It's a unique experience.
StyleBistro: Did all of the contestants live together?
Hunter Bell: We lived in a hotel and we each our own hotel room. The cool thing is that we had the necessary tools and resources we needed. Before we arrived, they contacted us and asked what type of pens and what type of sketch pad we wanted. They're not trying to knock you down—we were given all the necessary tools and resources in order for us to be successful.
(NBC) Episode 4
StyleBistro: What do you think set your work apart from the other contestants'?
Hunter Bell: It's knowing how to be global. You've got to keep that in mind and sometimes contestants had a hard time with that. I've got two sisters and four girl cousins—and all of us are shaped differently and have different aesthetics. My younger sister is 26 and Bohemian. My older sister is a working mom. And it's just understanding that there are different shapes and sizes out there, difference price points. There's definitely a time to be creative, and there's definitely a time to pull back and say: This is mass, this is for mass appeal.
(NBC) The season finale
StyleBistro: You interned at Nanette Lepore and Rebecca Taylor and later worked for Jones Apparel Group and Vineyard Vines. How have all these iconic American brands influenced your work today?
Hunter Bell: Well, they're all so different. When I arrived in New York ten years ago, I was basically wearing a bright yellow dress and carrying a parasol. Now I wear head-to-toe black everyday. Nanette Lepore definitely taught me about the feminine, girly world I loved. During my second internship at Rebecca Taylor, I was sitting in a fitting one day and the sun was going down and I got teary-eyed. This was the moment I knew I wanted to have a clothing line in New York. Jones Apparel Group was a big corporation. Working there taught me about communicating in China and overseas, how to communicate with factories, how to mass produce. Vineyard Vines taught me about technical design.
StyleBistro: What advice would you give a designer who's thinking about competing on a fashion reality show?
Hunter Bell: You know, I don't regret it, but my personality—because I'm a serious person, but I'm also fun—I'm not as serious as I am on the show. I'd say to balance the two. Definitely put your head down and come on the show to work hard and be very focused, but don't neglect having fun and having the moments. It's kind of like when you get married and people ask you what to do at your wedding—don't forget to take a step back and look at it. Make sure you enjoy it as well, because it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
This is my passion. I don't want to be rich and famous. I just want to create jobs and give back to the people who are dedicated to me now.
To check out more of Hunter Dixon's clothes, go to HunterDixon.com—and if you missed any episodes of NBC's Fashion Star, check out the show's website!