Tara Skelley is launching her 2016 spring clothing line under her label the Dilettante Collection — a giant leap forward from just a few years ago, when she was working as a certified public accountant and designing clothes for herself as a hobby. A volunteer for Memphis Fashion Week since its inception in 2011, Tara entered MFW’s Emerging Memphis Designer Project and won the Audience Choice Award in both 2013 and 2014.

Soon Tara was ditching spreadsheets for dress forms and pattern paper, designing clothes that are not only pretty and stylish, but utterly wearable. Tara never formally studied art or fashion before her MFW experience. “Everything I’ve learned has been via mentors, classes, online resources … and plenty of experimentation and learning from my mistakes,” she says. A native Memphian, Tara shares her design studio with her “kids,” cat Paisley June and pooch Bennett Basile Fitzwilliam. Today, we’re thrilled to introduce her as our FACE of Memphis!

tara skelley rocks the fuschia

Tara Skelley, today’s FACE of Memphis, models one of the pieces from her Spring/Summer 2016 Del Sol collection. The two dresses shown are also from the collection, which celebrates the colors and warmth of Central America — and the whimsy of tassel detailing.

How does one go from CPA to fashion design? Tell us about your journey.

When working in finance, I filled my creative void by spending my free time pursuing artistic hobbies. From dance lessons, cake decorating and event planning to costume designs, cooking or interior design projects, I explored it all! When Memphis Fashion Week offered an emerging designer program, it was the perfect opportunity to challenge myself to learn more about fashion design. And I discovered that the more I created and sewed, the more I loved it. Around the same time, I was seeking to transition in my career, so I began learning more about fashion design in earnest. Positive feedback I received from the MFW experiences provided me with the confidence and motivation to pursue my dream, and shortly thereafter, I launched my web store.

Why the name Dilettante for your company?

You mean, aside from making it extra difficult for people to remember, pronounce and spell correctly? A dilettante is defined as “an admirer or lover of the arts; a person who takes up an art, activity or subject merely for amusement.” As I mentioned earlier, if there’s a creative hobby that exists, I’ve probably dabbled in it at one point or another, so the brand name is a nod to that joyful curiosity that started this creative journey.

tara works on a design

Tara is the two-time winner of the audience award at Memphis Fashion Week.

Where do you find your design influence?

Anything can spark inspiration! I’ve created collections that were especially evocative of a particular time or place, as well as a collection influenced heavily by dance, movement and natural elements.  My most recent Spring/Summer16 Collection, Del Sol, was inspired by traditional woven textiles from South America and their unabashed mixing of a broad spectrum of color. Using that as a starting point, I attempted to capture an atmosphere of endless summer and a carefree gypset attitude by including whimsical tassel detailing, a sugar skull motif, elements of embroidery and an original, hand-drawn tassel Signature Print.

Is there a particular designer who resonates with you or has inspired you?

Recently, I’ve been fascinated by Alexander McQueen. He managed to combine impeccable craftsmanship with boundary-pushing theatricality while melding fashion with other forms of art and technology; drama and fantasy met innovation and rebellion during his shows. I’m currently working on a personal challenge project that involves recreating one of his origami-inspired pieces.

Bennet, best studio assistant ever!

Tara’s pooch, Bennett Basile Fitzwilliam, is ready for his close-up.

How would you describe your clothing?

I have an affinity for silhouettes that are classic and feminine. So I pair effortless shapes with luxe fabrics in one-of-a-kind prints and unique textures to create pieces that are hopefully wearable, but with a twist! Fashion shouldn’t be something that’s overly serious — it’s a chance to convey a part of your personality without using words, so I always incorporate an element of fun and whimsy. I’m also a stickler when it comes to quality, so the fit and construction of a garment is paramount.

Who is the woman you design for? Can you describe her?

The woman I design for is independent minded. She appreciates originality, avoids the overly fussy and projects a devil-may-care boldness in her style and life.

Do you see Memphis as a creative city?

Absolutely! I am privileged to know so many creatives in this city that continue to create and pursue their craft, even when it requires a LOT of hustle and grind.

del sol designs

Tara’s Del Sol collection is all about color and texture.

What are your hobbies, and how do you unwind?

Nothing helps me to unwind more than getting outside and basking in the sunshine, whether it’s just taking my pup for a walk around the neighborhood or going on a Greenline bike ride. I also enjoy trying out new dishes in the kitchen, embarking on (usually overly ambitions) interior design DIY projects and attending arts events throughout the city.

Where’s the first place you take an out-of-towner when they come to visit you in Memphis?

I’ll be honest: about 90 percent of my travel bucket list items revolve around food! So an out-of-towner better arrive hungry and be prepared for a progressive meal featuring only the finest of BBQ nachos, cupcakes, fried chicken, sno-cones, ribs, Soulburgers, breakfast sandwiches and … wow, now I’m officially starving!

Tara's studio and workroom.

Tara’s studio and workroom in Cooper-Young

What’s your favorite Memphis attraction, and why?

I love the Mississippi River. It’s powerful, hypnotic, dynamic … and the sunsets are unmatched perfection.

Finish this sentence: If I had a superpower, it would be _____________.

If I had a superpower, it would be the power to halt time. Not only would I be able to astound folks with my insane abilities to get things accomplished, “tardy” would never again be in my vocabulary! But also, who hasn’t ever wanted to just freeze those moments of pure and simple perfection?

What one word describes you?

Curious

Tara's pooch, Bennett Fitzwilliam, is ready for his close-up.

What’s your best piece of advice for others?

If you are passionate about something, stop thinking and start doing. As a default perfectionist, trying something while knowing the outcome will most likely fall short of the expectations is always a challenge. But trying (and oftentimes failing) is the best way to grow. Small, intentional and consistent efforts can add up to big accomplishments, over time.

What are three lighthearted things you can’t live without excluding faith, family and friends?

Sunshine, my travel hammock and Coconut LaCroix garnished with a lime. (Bonus points if you can swing all three concurrently!)

Learn more about the upcoming Memphis Fashion Week, April 4 through April 9, by clicking here. And special thanks to Micki Martin for today’s wonderful photos of Tara!

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