Fashion designer spins ideas nonstop - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Fashion designer spins ideas nonstop

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Posted: Friday, May 9, 2008 9:21 pm | Updated: 10:07 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Galina Mihaleva wasn't supposed to be here. Not "here on Earth" here, but here in a Marshall Way arts district boutique dressed wall to wall with couture garments. This inviting, loft-style space wasn't supposed to bear her name on its window.

SLIDESHOW: See Galina Mihaleva and some of her designs

Galina Mihaleva wasn't supposed to be here. Not "here on Earth" here, but here in a Marshall Way arts district boutique dressed wall to wall with couture garments. This inviting, loft-style space wasn't supposed to bear her name on its window.

SLIDESHOW: See Galina Mihaleva and some of her designs

"In Bulgaria it is already decided what you are going to go to school for," says the curly-headed 44-year-old from the European country that borders the Black Sea. "I was supposed to go to a math program. But my aunt brought a brochure for art school and said, 'Look at her, she is always drawing, she is so creative.' Finally my mother agreed to let me go."

Mihaleva was 13. By then, the family had been hiding scissors and pencils from her for years, foiling her efforts to clip squares of fabric from her mother's dresses and sketch pictures on any available surface.

"I loved textures, from the earliest age. I always loved to feel fabric," she says. Her grandmother taught her to sew, she says, "before (I) learned to read."

Today Mihaleva is a prolific fashion designer, fabricating dresses, tops, pants and coats for clients at her Scottsdale boutique, Galina Couture. She has presented collections to Oscar de la Renta, Nicole Miller, Neiman Marcus, Liz Claiborne and Henri Bendel. Last year, she won Spanish-language television's "Project Runway: Ecuador," a fashion-design contest similar to the hit Bravo series of the same name.

Mihaleva will demonstrate how she creates her one-of-a-kind garments Thursday at a reception at the boutique. Reservations are required.

Standing among racks of colorful clothing in her shop, Mihaleva points out garments with the same shiny-eyed enthusiasm of the little girl who adored her mother's clothes.

"I painted this in my hotel room at night," she says, fingering a leather bustier pieced together for the Ecuador competition without the use of patterns, pins or dress forms - torso-shaped figures that help designers properly size and proportion a garment. Like many of her pieces, and the boutique itself, the bustier is painted with ethereal, sumptuous images of the female form - inspiration Mihaleva takes from the late Austrian painter Gustav Klimt.

Other items include a "power" dress made entirely of neckties and a red, flare-skirted gown bearing reproductions of script by Leonardo da Vinci.

"I always have ideas, so many (that) I don't know what to do first," says Mihaleva, who designs costumes for ASU's Department of Dance and teaches fashion courses at Phoenix College. She nods at a stark geometric shadow falling across the gravel outside. "Even that - it will give me an idea."

Her purse overflows with them, thoughts captured in quick pencil sketches on scraps of paper in the middle of meetings or at the market.

She's had opportunities to work in New York, but Mihaleva has a soft spot for the Valley, even if top-of-the-line textiles are hard to come by and fashion statements revolve, most months of the year, around flip-flops and tank tops.

"My first few years here, my eyes were still set on New York," she says. "I thought, 'There is nothing here! New York is the place I need to be!' But I realized with time that I am not a New York type of person, everything fast, fast, fast. I like for people to stop in here. I like talking to them, giving them green tea, the human things. This is the place for me."

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