The young "Dream Team" members include Jephson Robb, an artist and an art director at Bernhardt Design; Taylor Pemberton, the creative director of wantful.com, a design-driven gifts site; and Victor and Sarah Lytvinenko, the founders of Raleigh Denim. Though their crafts and backgrounds vary, they all shared equally charming stories about meeting Jerry Helling and how he encouraged their passions.
Tuesday's panel began with a slideshow visualizing the work of each young artist. The group then discussed their beginnings in their respective industries, their career directions, and the great challenges they faced along the way. It was clear that these young designers hadn't relied too much on Jerry Helling, though he provided a pivotal leg up to their businesses.
Helling first encountered Jephson Robb at an airport oversees after Scottish-born Robb approached him out of the blue and said, "I'd like to ask an American a question, do you mind?" Robb was bored with his newly-acquired economics degree and turned to design instead, eventually heading to the Royal College of Art to study design in London. He creates large-scale art installations shared with the audience a massive bronze sculpture of a broken chain, titled Change. Robb also designed a chair for Bernhardt Design, which he dubbed "a big challenge" since he was designing primarily for comfort over style.
Taylor Pemberton first met Helling when he was in high school mowing Helling's brother's lawn. After hearing about Pemberton's work, Helling flew out to speak with him further. Pemberton showed a layout design for Wantful, illustrating the site's goal to curate gifts for different customers and make them easily accessible. Pemberton also founded Cavalier, an American outfitter of handmade and vintage products, back in college before he was picked up by Wantful.
A mutual friend introduced Helling to Victor and Sarah Lytvinenko. Soon after, Helling quickly went to visit their workspace in North Carolina and eventually convinced them to set up shop in New York City. (Raleigh Jeans just opened on Elizabeth street in Manhattan's NoLita neighborhood.) The Lytvinenkos shared images of their classic jean design, made on vintage sewing machines after hand-drafting the patterns and cutting in their Raleigh workshop. They also showed their full collection for Spring 2013, which includes shirting and outerwear. The duo started making jeans as a hobby, visiting obscure places to learn the craft. Eventually their friends asked if they could buy what they were making, and, through a few connections, Barneys put in an order for 114 jeans. When Barneys said it wanted the couple to come out to New York in just two weeks time, Victor and Sarah borrowed a minivan and $300 from Victor's father, drove overnight, and crashed on a friend's floor in Brooklyn.
One of the most interesting points of discussion that emerged between the panelists was the struggle many young designers faced leaving design school and knowing how to promote themselves and their work. "Young designers must articulate what it is they are trying to accomplish," urged Helling. Victor Lytvinenkos said his time in business school (his father wouldn't pay for art school) helped with the details of owning a business. But these were the designers and entrepreneurs that didn't lose their way after moving into the real world. They approached the real world with a focus on energy that Helling had obviously long ago picked up on. "Get a look at these guys here," Wendy Goodman told the crowd. "Because they're all going somewhere. You just got to catch them at the beginning."
Emily Nonko is a writer living in Brooklyn. She specializes in real estate and architecture coverage at Brownstoner.com. You can also find her on Twitter @EmilyNonko.