Runway to Heaven

He's been toasted by Vogue and Wom-en's Wear Daily and creates clothes worn by Madonna, Mary K. Blige, and Erikah Badu. The latest kid to flick the fickle Bic of the fashion world is Anand Jon, a graduate of the Art Institute of Fort Laud-erdale. The 24-year-old is returning on April 9 to the scene of his first success -- designing popular "I Survived Hurricane Andrew" T-shirts -- to exhibit some of his latest clothes and discuss an industry known for its mother-devouring degree of competition.

So how did Jon get from Kerala, India, to Fort Lauderdale, where fashion is often shorts and flip-flops? In a word: karma.

"For some reason it just felt right," Jon explains during a phone interview from New York City, where he now lives. It didn't hurt that there was an art school here, either. "It was destiny," he says.

Jon sounds more spiritual than your average Calvin Klein sound bite, and he is. The self-described "backwater baby" was born into a religious Cuisinart: Christian father, Hindu mother, and a "Jewish influence long prevalent" in the family, he says. His Heinz 57 spirituality seems to have produced in Jon a sense of balance rare in someone his age.

"I am disturbingly calm," he says with a laugh. "I think I can bring to this industry, which is so often driven by desperation and numbers, a different sort of lifestyle, one that is spiritual and transcendental."

His talent for transcendence goes back a long way. While growing up in India, Jon escaped the earthly plain by drawing figures and scenes on temple walls. "I lived in my daydreams," he says, "getting triggered into whatever special universe I could invent."

Jon's grandmother encouraged him to find a more purposeful form of self-expression, and he came to the United States in late 1991 and enrolled at the Art Institute, from which he graduated in 1993 with an Associate of Science degree in visual communications. He left that year for New York's Parson's School of Design, where he obtained his bachelor's in 1996.

Along the way he also apparently picked up something far more useful than transcendental thinking in terms of promoting himself to the jackals of the fashion press.

"In New York, I learned the value of competition," he admits, "I was put into an environment where there's so much fashion on an everyday level -- on the street, everywhere -- that I saw the importance of having a functional edge, even a slightly commercial edge, to what I do."

Tempered by his natural cool, commercialism has served Jon well. He's known for combining metal and fabric -- especially silk -- in long, draped skirts and for blouses and scarves in vivid colors. The exotic cut and color are enhanced by a carryover from Jon's days as a freelance jewelry designer during the mid-'90s: 24-karat gold-thread embroidery and embedded uncut rubies and diamonds. Such materials explain the rock-star prices fetched by his designs, which are now showing in South Florida exclusively at Galleria Della Mora in Palm Beach.

"My cheapest item is $250," he says. That's for a tank top. Prices skyrocket to $10,000, and the high dollar amounts are just one indication of Jon's current cachet. He's opened a showroom on Manhattan's tony West 36th Street, developed a Website (, and produced his first fashion show last December. The show's title -- "Flesh, Metal & Fabric" -- underlines his design ethic.

"It's my Trinity," vows the designer. "I work on the canvas of the human body. It's the challenge of editing fabric and metal to make bodies more interesting that really engages me."

-- D.B. Tipmore

Anand Jon presents highlights from his collection on Friday, April 9, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, 1799 SE 17th St., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-463-3000, etx. 680, for details.

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D.B. Tipmore