Ryan Conover turned 15 last month, and although he's too young and inexperienced to take his birthday present for a spin, he's enrolled in professional lessons. No, he didn't get a car; he got a brand-new Baby Lock sewing machine.
Spring Fashion 2006
Style Goes Pop
What you watch is what you wear. (Slide show)
Forget about young Hollywood. Meet Sammamish's brightest young star.
Two local bands talk shopping, chic, and inspiration.
Local designers and boutique reps tell us what, and who, they're watching.
"Some kids his age are only interested in driving," his mom, Amy Conover-Cole, says. "But we don't want Ryan driving. Everyone's safer this way, with him interested in fashion."
Ryan adds, "[My dad] took me out in the car the other day, and he asked if I'd adjusted the mirrors." Pausing to flick his side-swept bangs out of his eyes, he answered his father, "Yup, I can see myself perfectly in all three of 'em."
World, meet the next Isaac Mizrahi, the next King of Couture. Ryan, a lithe ninth-grader at Inglewood Junior High, has already shown his first collection—albeit a miniature one. He designed and built a Barbie window display based on Bravo's hit television show Project Runway for lingerie shop Zovo in University Village. While Ryan's designs were on display during the month of February, at least three shoppers went in each day offering up to $500 for different Barbies, according to store owner Victoria Roberts, who is a Conover family friend. A representative from California's Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising left Ryan her business card.
"It's just a part of me," Ryan explains. "High fashion. Runways. Beautiful people around me. That's what I want. That's what I've always wanted."
Maybe Ryan was born with a Chanel spoon in his mouth. Consider: Ryan began redesigning his older sister's Barbie clothes and taping fur to their dresses when he was 4 years old. His mom discovered a doll in the basement with a conical paper bustier suspiciously soon after Ryan saw his first Madonna video. As a toddler, Ryan almost swooned from excitement when he met the costumed princesses at Disneyland for the first time. As recently as last summer, he knocked over little girls to get to Ariel.
But Barbie fashion is not kids' stuff. "I had no feeling in my thumb or pointer finger when I was done designing the window," Ryan said. Everything had to be perfect. He selected My Scene Barbies (bigger faces), then erased their eyes with nail polish remover and repainted them, putting Swarovski crystals in the outer lid crease. He used a whiteout pen to brighten their teeth and conditioner, hairspray, a crimper, and ChapStick curlers to style their hair. He colored their fingernails. And he spent hours and hours hot-gluing and pressing individual fake eyelashes in place—hence, the burned fingers.
Ah, but the clothes: Now that was really painstaking. Ryan always sketches beforehand, and if the finished product deviates from his mental creation, it's not done. He pieced together tiny necklace chains, extravagant jeweled headdresses, mermaid tails, tasseled tambourines, and even a feathery white dress made from his grandmother's old stockings.
"God, they're beautiful, aren't they?" Victoria Roberts said, pointing to Ryan's Barbies poised in thick gilded shadowboxes in her store's front window. A lightbulb literally went off above her head in December when she noticed Ryan's use of duct tape and flashlights to backlight the Conover Christmas tree. She'd just seen the Project Runway episode in which aspiring designers outfitted My Scene Barbies, and she put two and two together. It paid off. "I'd say it increased traffic in my store, like, 20 percent," Victoria said.
Ryan's now on to life-size challenges. "Everyone's been asking me to design their prom dress," Ryan sighs. Then, whispering, "But I can only do, like, one or two of them; but they don't know that. I'm so in demand."