Fashion doesn’t happen solely in New York, London, Milan and Paris. Some designers, such as Mechanicsburg’s Sheila Frank, are making an impact from well outside those global hubs of the industry.
“When I first applied for fashion design [in college] … this is gonna sound really silly, but I didn’t really know how to sew,” said Frank.
But Frank has certainly come a long way since then. Today, she has her own line of custom-made gowns, some of which are showing up on red carpets, worn by celebrities at major events.
Chrissy Metz, star of the series “This Is Us,” recently appeared at an Oscars party, hosted by the Elton John AIDS Foundation, in one of Frank’s gowns. And last week, Frank supplied a gown for model Miranda Kerr that she wore to this year’s White House Correspondence Dinner – an appearance that drew a profile from Vogue.
“It’s such an interesting world, the fashion/art/celebrity world,” Frank said. “I’m gonna say this out loud: I’ve always wanted to work with celebrities. To see my work in print is the most exhilarating feeling ever. I don’t care if my face is known, I want the name known. I want to see [my work] on somebody.”
Frank came to the fashion world in a roundabout way, starting out by studying fine arts at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design in Lancaster. She switched to fashion studies after drawing praise for her work in printmaking, and went on to Moore College in Philadelphia to pursue the field further.
“I was contemplating quitting in my junior year, just because it was really difficult,” she said. “I was very intimidated. It took a long time. I did struggle in school. That’s one thing I want to tell people, too – do not give up.”
Encouraged by a few award wins after returning from winter break that year, Frank pressed on to finish her degree and graduated from Moore in 2007. While the logical next step may have been to move from Philadelphia to New York City, she instead began building a portfolio back in central Pennsylvania.
“I just kept making collections,” she said. “That was also the time when the internet was really starting to make things more achievable and attainable for emerging designers like myself, who weren’t in [New York]. MySpace was still pretty popular at the time, and I used that a lot for my marketing. Facebook has been incredible, and then of course Instagram. It sounds so crazy, because it’s very grassroots, like, how this has all happened.”
As she had a passion for retro swimsuits, Frank began in swimwear, and by 2008 had her designs in several boutiques.
“That happened really fast, and I will say I had no idea what I was doing,” Frank said. “It was great. But from there, I wanted to do more.”
She next shifted to ready-to-wear fashion, but without a large inventory for people to buy such everyday pieces directly off the rack, she had to switch gears once again. By 2013, after a friend has requested a design for a wedding gown, Frank started pursuing a market for custom-made formal wear, with fittings held in her old bedroom at her parent’s house
Frank said that it took “a lot determination and drive, no sleep, and working a bazillion jobs to make it happen,” but eventually she set up shop at her own location in Mechanicsburg by 2016.
The world of ordering clothing online had only grown since Frank had graduated from college, and hit a particular peak during the pandemic, she said. That led to the stylist for Chrissy Metz reaching out last April for a gown. It’s a career shift that, until recently, would have seemed unlikely for a designer based out of central Pa.
“I’ve had little dabbles, I would say with different celebrities [before then],” Frank said. ”I was able to dress Lindsay Lohan’s sister, Ali Lohan. That was a while ago. But I was finding myself, and kind of figuring out, ‘do I want to dress celebrities and have that just be it? Do I want to work with real people?’ But now I feel like I finally found the balance.”
So while her gown worn by Miranda Kerr turned heads among the celebrities and politicians at last week’s event in D.C., Frank will still be producing custom designs and off-the-rack pieces for people who aren’t walking down a red carpet any time soon.
Her work will be seen in a Horizon Bridal trunk show starting this weekend in Bethlehem, and will run from May 6-27. For more information on her work or details on the Mechanicsburg location, visit the Sheila Frank website.
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