The St. Bernardine’s Woman’s Club is hosting their annual fundraiser fashion show with the theme Under the Tuscan Sky on April 21 at the Crystal Sky Banquet Hall, 7941 W. 47th St., McCook, Ill at 6:30 p.m.

For 40 years they have provided benefits for parishioners and the community to socialize in style by asking boutiques to provide the threads for the fashion show. However this year, they are using a fresh new format.

Patty Moskos-Mullin, the coordinator for the last 20 years, along with 12 chairs of the committee, invited 25-year-old Heather Byrnes, a parishioner and local designer, to be the sole designer and to showcase the event with her original pieces.

“We wanted to try something different than the previous years, and since Heather’s family have been long-time parishioners, it was a perfect match,” Moskos-Mullin said.

Byrnes’ first clients were Barbie dolls. As a child she would cut and glue fabric and sequins to make outfits for the dolls because she was unsatisfied with the clothes they came with. When she got older, her mother and aunt bought her a sewing machine and taught her some basic lessons.

In high school, she took more sewing classes and her teacher, Ms. Gallagher, at Immaculate Heart of Mary, recognized her talent and urged her to look at design schools for college.

She was accepted to Dominican University and majored in Fashion Design and Business Administration graduating in 2002 in the top five of her class and voted the Best Up-and-Coming Designer.

After graduation she looked for jobs in fashion in the city but found that most places wanted someone with more experience. So that is exactly what she set out to do”to freelance and build a clientele.

One of her first clients was Karen Balsavich, a parishioner at St. Bernadines. Byrnes designed purses for Balsavich and her bridesmaids. The purses, used at the wedding, had the young women’s initials embroidered on them.

Jennifer Espinosa, daughter of former Plan Commissioner and Park Commissioner Michael Espinosa, also hired her to design a dress to wear at her reception in Mexico.

“When it comes to my friends I have two traditions: for weddings I make money bags to hold the envelopes and for baby showers I make baby outfits,” Byrnes said.

She really enjoys designing costumes for Halloween as well, which is also her busiest time of the year.

Word of mouth really paid off for Byrnes when she was approached by the Women’s Club to premier her designs for this year’s social.

“At first I thought they only wanted a couple of pieces and then they told me they wanted me to do the entire show,” she said.

Byrnes began sketching in her tiny sewing room where she says all the magic happens. Inspiration hit to name the line of outfits “Becoming” due to the support of her friends and family who have helped her to where she is today.

“I came up with the idea of Becoming first”and then how I was going to do some of the pieces”[I] thought about each friend”sketched out a bunch of things and then, working from my sketches, I went from there,” Byrnes said. “I sketched everything out in one night. I like to work under pressure.”

Twenty new pieces will be featured at the show along with six pieces she designed while in school, all of which she completed in less than three weeks.

Byrnes is doing the show for free.

All the proceeds go to the parish and to the school. Many of the models are friends of hers who volunteered to help her. She has also recently taken young parishioner Patsy Dunaway, an aspiring designer, under her wing so she can learn the ropes.

“I’ve had a hard time getting help and the help that I have received I appreciated and I would love to help others to their paths of success in anyway I can,” she said.

She wanted to create diverse fashions for young to mature women.

“I thought about how I would like other people to feel in my designs and I would like them to feel unique, fabulous, and to feel that they are wearing something that is different from everybody else,” she said. “Something fun, funky, eclectic, and represents a little bit who they are.”

The designs range from casual outfits and contemporary professional, to a night-out-on-the-town and whimsical artistic pieces stemming from her costume experience.

“My friend Tara is a teacher so I wanted to create an outfit she could wear to work that was still fun, yet conservative,” Byrnes said. “I made a fitted button down top with flared sleeves and the pants have wide cuffs at the bottom.”

Byrnes likes to dress funky herself, anything with rhinestones or sequins, bright and bold, fun handbags, and “crazy” shoes.

During the week Byrnes works at the upscale Old Town boutique Etre which carries some of the most posh independent designers as recognized in Lucky Magazine, the sassy and savvy shopping guide for women.

Etre is the perfect environment for Byrnes as she learns the boutique side of the fashion industry.

Her dream is to one day own her own fashion design business and the boutique end appeals to her greatly.

“They are really supportive of me and have taught me so much,” she said.

On the weekends she works at Ed’s Way Food Mart, the local grocery store to support her craft. For now, her one major but reachable aspiration is to get a bigger sewing room.

This year the St. Bernardine’s Women’s Club is expecting over 300 people to attend.

“It makes me nervous to think how many people will be there, but I am so excited too,” Byrnes reveals.

Along with the fashion show, there is going to be a grand raffle, dinner, and live piano music.

“There are so many hands that go into this event: the club, the parish, the community, everyone comes and you get to see people you haven’t seen in a while and familiar faces,” said Chris Dunaway, a parishioner who has contributed for the last five years. “We are really excited and lucky to have someone from the community like Heather to help us.”

The Byrnes family is no stranger to the community either.

Heather’s father, Joe Byrnes, is a retired Forest Park police officer and a current Park District of Forest Park board commissioner. Her mother Sandy Brynes works in town and is very active in the community.

So what fashion trends does Heather see hitting the runway this year?

“A lot of what the stars wear inspires us ‘regular’ people,” she said. “Music, TV, and film play hand-in-hand with fashion.”

She says the housewife dress with a twist is popular””Desperate Housewives” ring a bell?”and the Bohemian look; long skirts, and ruffled tops, and the Rock-n-Roll look; lots of shirts and accessories with skulls and jeans with holes will be prominent.

However when it comes to your own personal fashion taste, Heather advises “dress for yourself and not to impress anyone else … what you’re comfortable. You know your own body and if someone tells you not to wear it”but you like it”then wear it. My motto is ‘Who cares what anyone else thinks.’ It should represent you and who you are”and your personality.”

Reservations for the show, which costs $30, can be made by calling Lisa or Patty at 848-6454.