Suited to her work A fashion designer in Del Paso Manor sews up a career in couture.

By J.D. Sparks -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 a.m. PDT Thursday, September 11, 2003

In the rarified world of high society, where women do more than gaze longingly through the shop windows of Armani and Hermes, the name of a local designer has been whispered among A-list mothers and daughters of Sacramento.

Carole Kenney of Del Paso Manor for years has made original bridal gowns, cocktail dresses, suits and upscale imitations of designer lines. "It's important to anyone who comes to my studio to know they're getting a one-of-a-kind outfit," said Kenney, 44.

From humble beginnings, Kenney built her reputation on solid craftsmanship. Two years ago, she expanded her focus from bridal gowns to the world of couture. The move sent her career skyrocketing. Kenney caters primarily to professional women, including local politicians and newscasters who want and can afford high-end fashion. Cheri Regan, a sales manager for JTS Communities -- builder of exclusive custom homes -- said she loves clothes, shoes and making a dramatic entrance, which she does when she steps out of the company's Hummer dressed in a $3,500 Akris suit and a pair of $500-and-some-change Dolce & Gabbana pumps. Style is everything to Regan. "I'm presenting a package to customers," she said.

Standing before a full-length mirror wearing the mock-up shirt Kenney designed to match a Donna Karan skirt, Regan nodded approval. "It often happens that the clothes wear the woman instead of the other way around," Regan said. "Every woman should feel like a million bucks in her clothes." Kenney started sewing when she was 10 years old. In a few short years, she was creating entire wardrobes. "I took sewing classes in high school and had to relearn everything," she said. "I made clothes that were beautiful on the outside and horrible on the inside."

After graduating from the nowdefunct Bauder College in Sacramento, a vocational school that offered courses in fashion design, Kenney landed a job at a uniform shop. There, she learned fitting and designed choir robes. After five years, she applied at Canfield's clothing store. She wore her application for the job -- an outfit she had designed and sewn, which helped land the job.

During her stints sewing uniforms and performing alterations at Canfield's, Kenney continued to sew on the side. She was beginning to venture into bridal work. One day, after making sleeves for a debutante dress, she looked at her creation and nearly cried. "It was art," she said.

That experience led her to take a chance and start her own business -- Carole Kenney Design. That was more than 15 years ago. "I never looked back," she said.

Kenney buys fine fabrics from around the world that cost $180 to $500 a yard. The price for one of her original three-piece suits -- slacks, jacket and skirt -- runs about $2,500.

Kenney said that with the advent of bridal outlets, she can no longer offer competitive pricing on bridesmaid dresses. However, she can offer the discriminating patron a $4,000 Vera Wang-style wedding gown for half the price.

"I'm back into the throes of fashion," she said. "It's fun, fun, fun."