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Knockout Fashion

Nellie Partow. Photo courtesy of Nellie Partow.Nellie Partow is a fierce competitor in the fashion
world as well as in the ring. Photos courtesy of Nellie

When Nellie Partow (B.A., '02) was a little girl with a sketchpad and big ideas about becoming the next Donna Karan, her dad gave her some advice: Go ahead and chase your fashion dream, but along the way stop off for a business degree.

Father knew best. Partow credits her undergraduate business coursework at SF State with helping make her the savvy and self-confident entrepreneur she is today. Her eponymously named Nellie Partow line of women's clothing sells at high-end boutiques around the country, including Dish in San Francisco and Berkeley, and McMullen in Oakland, and has been drawing nice reviews in the press.

"Fashion is an art, but in the end it's still a business," Partow said during a phone interview from her studio in New York's SoHo district, where she was preparing for a private showing of her spring 2009 line for editors and buyers at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. "Everything, from marketing my business, to writing and communication skills -- I feel really fortunate to have that foundation."

After completing her degree at SF State, Partow, who grew up in the Los Angeles area, hopped on a plane for New York and started classes at Parsons the New School for Design. Karan's design team noticed the California transplant's work almost immediately, and Partow was soon juggling classes with part-time design work for the venerable fashion maven. After completing her degree, Partow landed a plum job designing for Calvin Klein.

But the SF State grad had bigger things in mind for herself (the entrepreneurial spirit, she says, runs in her family), so she got busy working on her own line. The Nellie Partow brand launched with her spring 2008 collection. Today some pieces sell for upwards of $800.

Photo of model wearing a Nellie Partow design. Photo courtesy of Nellie Partow.Partow says her design aesthetic is all about making women feel comfortable while looking effortlessly chic. While that's a mantra parroted by a lot of designers, in Partow's case, it fits. She favors muted colors like dusty rose, and loose styles in shimmery silks that fall easily on a woman's body.

Some of Partow's designs, such as her flapper-like sheath with a racer back (at right), reveal the sporty side of the designer, who is also an amateur boxer. In 2007, the 5-foot-2-inch Partow took the 106-pound women's championship at the New York Daily News Golden Gloves tournament at Madison Square Garden. Partow first strapped on boxing gloves when she got involved in the martial art Muay Thai while a student at SF State, and switched to traditional boxing when she moved to New York.

These days, boxing is taking a back seat to Partow's spring 2009 collection, but either way, she packs a big punch.


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