Friday, February 27, 2004

Ad dress fame swirls around local designer

By Joy Kraft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

It was no big deal. "I didn't think anything of it," says Patrick Howell of Covington.

The self-taught needle-and-thread master had stitched up costumes for TV commercials before, "but they aired in different parts of the country so I never saw them."

Not this time.

The swirling cream-colored dress that Trading Spaces hostess Paige Davis wears twirling across the screen before whacking through a hunk of drywall in a new series of Fifth Third Bank commercials was different.

The ad airs frequently in Greater Cincinnati, and life-size and countertop cardboard versions of the DIY diva in the dress are in Fifth Third banks around town.

"It airs more than I ever thought it would," says Howell, the waiter-turned-designer, 38, who picked up his late sister's Viking sewing machine and instruction book to figure out how to make a T-shirt about 15 years ago.

In addition to his reputation as a top drag queen dress designer, drawing clients from all over the country, Howell makes costumes at Schenz Theatrical Supply in Camp Washington.

Mary Murphy, a costumer contact he made while working on a local indie movie Three Barbecues last year, called a few months ago.

"She was actually the wardrobe stylist for the commercial," he says. "They wanted a dress for Paige to dance in that flowed nicely and Mary brought me pattern envelopes and sketches."

He drafted a pattern from Paige's measurements, ("She's pretty tiny," he says) snipped away and produced two identical dresses, using about six yards each of a stretch crushed velvet fabric from Theatre House in Covington.

What makes the dress sweep so flawlessly?

There's not much underneath.

Howell built in a leotard and designed it to be snug across her chest so everything would stay put, with a touch of elastic - and no fittings.

"I just turned (the dresses) over to Mary and she got them to the shooting site," he says

End of story.

Not quite. He's hearing about the dress a lot from friends and family ... and some of the impersonators, especially after he used some of the surplus fabric on one of their costumes.

And if Paige needs another dress, Howell's in the wings.

"I still have the pattern at home," he says.


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