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Designer brings characters to life, gives character to fashions

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, 8:49 p.m.
Local fashion designer Jen Rocket from Highland Park with some of her designs at her studio on Thursday Aug. 9, 2012.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Local fashion designer Jen Rocket from Highland Park with some of her designs at her studio on Thursday Aug. 9, 2012. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Local fashion designer Jen Rocket from Highland Park with some of her designs at her studio on Thursday August 9, 2012.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Local fashion designer Jen Rocket from Highland Park with some of her designs at her studio on Thursday August 9, 2012. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Local fashion designer Jen Rocket from Highland Park with some of her designs at her studio on Thursday Aug. 9, 2012.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Local fashion designer Jen Rocket from Highland Park with some of her designs at her studio on Thursday Aug. 9, 2012. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Some of the corset designs by local fashion designer Jen Rocket from Highland Park on Thursday August 9, 2012.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Some of the corset designs by local fashion designer Jen Rocket from Highland Park on Thursday August 9, 2012. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review

From bear costumes to bridal gowns, every piece of fabric that designer Jen Rocket touches is stitched to perfection.

This amazingly creative artist from Highland Park brings garments she fashions to life, her colleagues and clients say.

“When I met her, I recognized that her portfolio showed all different kinds of things,” says Scott Simmons, creative director of The ScareHouse in Etna, for whom Rocket has designed for nearly a decade. “Most creative people tend to have a similar look in their work, but not Jen. She can get inside the head of the character you are trying to convey and make it come to life. She is really a master of materials. She is like a modern-day DJ making a mashup.”

Rocket, 29, has been sewing since she was 5. She and her identical twin, Jessica, who is a textile designer for 4moms, a company that designs high-end baby products in the Strip District, are fourth-generation seamstresses.

“I haven't stop sewing since,” Rocket says. “I am driven to do this, and I can't stop. I love all fabrics and believe they all speak to you. They all need attention.”

It's Rocket's attention to detail that's evident in the work she's been contracted to do for Specter Studios in Sharpsburg, where she worked from 2004 to 2008. She is helping to train the company's sewing coordinator.

“She is an incredible multitasker,” says Eanna Holton, business manager for Specter Studios. “She is doing a bazillion projects at once, which is the way I work, so I really appreciate someone who does that. She is very precise, and she is spot on at being perfect every time. She takes serious pride in what she does, whether it is working on a monkey or bear costume or a wedding dress.”

A bear character she created was featured recently in a Mike's Hard Lemonade commercial.

Rocket has the ability to work on a variety of materials — denim, fur, leather or lace. With a tape measure as her most-treasured accessory, she uses this tool to help custom-design pieces that feel like a second skin.

She and husband, Joey Rocket — who designed the company's website, handles its maintenance and works as business manager and design-room assistant — officially launched Jen Rocket Studio in January.

Rocket's repertoire includes up-cycling, custom designs, garment copy, alterations and resizing. Party dresses start at $200, and wedding gowns at $3,000.

“Jen loves the challenge of each garment, and she even trusts my advice and help at times,” says Joey Rocket, who also does freelance web design and other art projects, such as sculpture. “There is rarely a day that she doesn't sew, maybe on a holiday. But then, I see her sketching something. She is so passionate about this.”

The two met at Specter Studios before moving to Los Angeles and back to Pittsburgh a little over a year ago. In L.A., he was business manager and web designer for Schell Sculpture Studio, and she worked there part-time, and freelanced in the fashion industry and in the entertainment industry for Custom Characters, Inc.

The couple also designs and produces handmade corsets through www.tritethings.com.

“I think we work well together, because we started off in a working relationship,” Joey Rocket says. “We have developed a trust level, and we can be critical in a positive manner where we can both handle it.”

His wife agrees.

“We have mutual respect for each other,” Jen Rocket says. “I have always respected the way he worked when I met him, and I was always impressed with him. And then, there was a time I realized he was ‘the one.' He is so supportive of my love for the challenge of fashion. Every time, I want the piece I am designing to be 100-percent perfect.”

Rocket believes in making sure a garment looks as good from the front as it does from the back. When she meets with clients, she says, she can read body language in terms of helping to know what they like in terms of fit of clothing and styles. She often watches TLC's “Say Yes to the Dress” to see how the people on the show help brides make such an important fashion decision. She created a wedding dress for her twin.

Rocket saved the day for bride Natalie Hendrickson from Ohio Township, who was in tears because a dress she bought at a bridal shop was not altered correctly — with only two weeks before the wedding.

There was a lot of intricate detail to the gown, but Rocket was able to correct the original alterations and create an amazing neckline, Hendrickson says.

“I was in tears this time because I was so happy with what Jen did,” Hendrickson says. “She was very detailed and meticulous. She also altered three suits for my fiancé. You can tell she has a passion for what she does.”

Rocket took an old wedding dress and added zippers and colors and other material to create not only a scary character, but also one that comes to life, Simmons says.

She embraces ideas and concepts and helps develop characters you don't expect to see in a haunted house and not just someone in a creepy outfit.

Rocket has good business sense, too, Simmons says, in terms of breaking down hours and material costs. And, she hits deadlines. Rocket is in the process of designing a giant, killer gingerbread man and scary snowman for this year's Christmas-theme haunted house for The ScareHouse.

“There will be something creepy, but also something very fashionable about these characters when Jen is done with them,” Simmons says. “You will be drawn to them, because she will add something iconic and interesting. It is very rare to find someone who can handle all those different kinds of skill sets, but she does.”

Details: 412-862-5459 or www.jenrocket.com

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at jharrop@tribweb.com or 412-320-7889.

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