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Criseida Couture: Making way for the runway

Cal State Long Beach alumnus comes into her first year as a successful fashion designer.

Criseida Serpas finished her first couture gown, a black and blue sequined dress.

Criseida Serpas finished her first couture gown, a black and blue sequined dress.

Kevin Colindres | Daily 49er

Kevin Colindres | Daily 49er

Criseida Serpas finished her first couture gown, a black and blue sequined dress.


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There are many steps that go into making a dress. It starts with an idea. Then comes the fabric picking process, drawing out patterns and creating samples. Once the dress is made it goes onto a model or a dress form and is picked apart and primed to perfection from there.

The idea

Criseida Serpas had her first idea when she was five-years-old and paired a cream top with dark burgundy sweatpants. It was then she knew she wanted to be a fashion designer.

“I think that’s one of my first memories…my dad telling me, ‘You know you can be a fashion designer,’” Serpas said. “He watched me put together an outfit and he liked the way I mixed the colors. I think that’s when the seed was planted.”

After that, she became engrossed in clothing. Pairing clothes with accessories to fit whatever style she felt that particular day; punk rock one day, goth or girly another. Tagging along with her mother to thrift stores during the weekend, she learned how to take a store full of miss-matched items and create something new and spectacular each time.

Other than her father who painted window signs for stores, Criseida felt the gap of fashion role models in her life. Searching for inspiration, she latched onto designer and pop star Gwen Stefani who has been a fashion icon by sporting and releasing eccentric clothing since the ‘90s.

Once she was old enough to realize she could have a job in the fashion world, she decided to become her own role model.

Samantha Diaz | Daily 49er
A black cocktail dress made for Gwen Stefani sits in Serpas’ living room.

Choosing the fabric

Choosing the right fabric is very difficult. There’s a million ways to go wrong and only a few that will go right, depending on the shape, cut and fit of the dress. Once the fabric is chosen, there’s no going back, no matter how difficult the creation process is. There’s a sense of commitment, if you will, considering the amount of time and money that goes into this step.

This usually takes her to the Los Angeles fashion district, where she’ll barter prices with merchants and search for inspiration for her next project.

The 33-year-old is used to this process now. She can spot unfair prices and unique materials among the nearly 200 wholesale and retail stores — but she wasn’t always accustomed to the ins and outs of the fashion designing world.

When Criseida went to Cal State Long Beach to study fashion merchandising, it was something long planned out. By that time she had been drawing her own dress designs and going to thrift stores for inspiration.

While college provided a playground for Criseida to try out new ideas and grow in her talent, she began to bloom in fashion merchandise in her job as a product assistant at a clothing manufacturer. This is where she made most of the connections she has now and learned from skilled designers.

“I would tell college students to get a good internship and then keep those contacts you make,” Serpas said. “Get an internship where you’re doing more than just making coffee runs.”

Creating the pattern

The bulk of the dress’ design comes into fruition in the pattern phase. Unlike many designers, Criseida creates her own patterns from scratch. There are countless directions she can go with each dress, and she has to narrow it down to one design, one idea. Whether it’s bright pink floral prints in a pinup fashion or a fitted black cocktail dress, each one of Serpas’ ideas are different from the other.

A little over a year ago, Criseida worked as a waitress during the week, would bartend during the weekends and take care of her father who came down with dementia. Then last March, she decided to take the leap of faith, quit her waitressing job in order to launch her company, Criseida Couture.

“I feel like there’s no going back,” Serpas said. “I said, ‘No more, I need to focus on my line.’ It’s been difficult to give up that financial security but I do have more time so that helps, it puts the pressure on to keep going.”

Courtesy of Criseida Serpas
Yellow and purple summer dresses fill Serpas’ sketchbooks before coming into realization.

Producing the sample

Once the theoretical work is finished, the physical dress comes into realization. All the ideas that were once lightly colored sketches become vibrant items, ready to be shown to the world.

The months since creating the company have consisted of Criseida getting her name out in the world as much as possible. She runs her own online shop, sends her dresses to celebrities and news anchors in hopes of getting worn, and works with other creatives to promote herself any way possible in order to keep afloat.

Her instagram is filled with local fans of the line, donning the fitted and floral dresses and praising Criseida for her work.

“I think one of the best feelings is when people want more,” Serpas said. “When they buy a dress and they want another one I’m always surprised.”

While she has boxes full of cocktail dresses ready to wear, she wants her line to focus on couture clothing, hence the name of her company. She recently finished her first couture gown, a feat that takes considerably longer than the “ready to wear line.” The end result is an elegant black and blue sequined gown long sleeves and a bottom that just grazes the floor.  

Serpas has also designed a black dress for Gwen Stefani and is trying to figure out how to get the dress to her, saying that it would be a “dream come true” to have Stefani wear one of her items.

Perfecting the product

While receiving a physical product is exciting, oftentimes it still requires some final changes before it’s ready to hit the racks. Fabric has to be trimmed, seams need to be cut and the dress has to go through constant modifications until it’s just right.

For Criseida, at this point in her career, she’s still undergoing changes and sacrifices to get where she wants to be.

“You have to give some stuff up,” Serpas said. “I’ve given up going out, having beers with my friends or going to brunch. But I’d rather try now than later, rather not live in regret.”

She has given up a steady income and night-outs as she works each day in her kitchen, her table cluttered with various fabrics and a small cream colored sewing machine her mother gave her, which is named Betty. While she can’t go out as much, she is able to spend more time with her father who lives with her.

Kevin Colindres | Daily 49er
A single sewing machine named Betty sits on Serpas’ kitchen table which doubles as her workspace.

“He has dementia so he kind of comes in and out,” Serpas said. “I showed him a picture of myself in the local newspaper and he lit up. He was like, ‘Wait, that’s you!’”

The company is still in its baby stages, but Criseida has big dreams for it in the coming years, including LA Fashion Week and one day having a shop on Rodeo Drive. She has even considered starting her own streetwear brand and branching out of the couture line and returning to her Compton roots.

Her next goal is to make a couture line of 10 items to be able to put on the market.

“I don’t need to make a million dollars, I just want to be able to eat off of this job,” Serpas said. “The more I do it, the more I realize this doesn’t just happen overnight.”

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