In December 2009, Jude Drakeford—already a self-taught artist at age 12—sketched a drawing of a towering flower wire basket at The Getty Museum in California. Little did she know where that picture would take her.
Struck by inspiration, the Fredericksburg, VA, resident, now 14, decided to create a handmade gown based on the design, though she had no formal training in dressmaking. The garment, which she named "Rose" and is composed of 1,200 handmade organza flowers, placed fourth in a fashion contest which awarded the winner $50,000. She declined to name the competition because she was too young to enter at the time and hadn't expected to place so high.
"We have no idea where her talent came from," said Aileen Drakeford, Jude’s mother.
In July 2010, Drakeford started taking lessons from Ella Pritsker, in Timonium. She learned of the fashion design school through an article she read about Pritsker in Baltimore Style magazine while visiting her grandmother in Maryland.
"I try to take a new technique that Ella's trying to teach and incorporate it in each new design," Drakeford said.
One of her favorite techniques is hand-painting fabric, which she did for a cloak she calls "Raven." In this design, she painted out the words to Edgar Allan Poe's well-known poem.
"I try to challenge myself," she said.
Pritsker said she is impressed with the level of talent her pupil—who travels to Maryland on a weekly basis to attend classes—has been able to display at such a young age. She has also given Drakeford private lessons to hone her abilities.
"Jude is a fantastic student; every teacher's dream," she said. "She is a very talented young lady, and quick study. Almost every class she comes with a 'surprise,' another completed gown."
Drakeford said she derives inspiration for her creations from her favorite authors, photographs, musicians and paintings, but cites "Mother Nature" as her primary muse. The dress "Butterfly" was created after she had petted one that landed on the ground.
"The alpaca [fabric used] felt just like the butterfly," she said.
But Drakeford doesn't just make clothing, she also fashions accessories like purses, necklaces and hats. Her work has been featured on runways at Baltimore's "Fashion's Night Out" and the , among others.
"Jude creates the whole ensemble," Aileen Drakeford said.
One added bonus is that the slender 5-foot-9 Drakeford is able to don her own garments, which are made to fit most professional models.
In addition to fashion design, she is also an accomplished student who has skipped two grade levels in her home school program and is now in 10th grade. After graduation, she hopes to travel to Europe to apprentice with couture houses, which are high-end fashion design brands such as Chanel and Christian Dior.
"I want to learn shoe-making in Italy," she said.
Ultimately, Drakeford hopes to open her own couture house, and Pritsker said the budding designer, who she deems a prodigy, is off to a promising start.
"I love [Drakeford's] fearless attitude," Pritsker said. "She just creates from her heart and puts her designs out for everyone to enjoy. She inspires me. I am blessed to have the opportunity to work with her."