Fort Jackson drill sergeant-turned-fashion designer debuts spring bridal collection

Sgt. Candice Saxon can be found most days lacing up her boots to prepare to lead her unit as an Army drill sergeant at Fort Jackson. But in her spare time, Saxon picks up a needle and thread to develop her budding women’s apparel line.

Saxon will debut her spring bridal collection today. It is the second collection she has designed since completing an associate’s degree in fashion design at the Art Institute of Charlotte.

Candice Saxon says her spring bridal collection is inspired by love. (Photo courtesy of Candice Saxon Design Co.)

Candice Saxon says her spring bridal collection is inspired by love. (Photos courtesy of Candice Saxon Design Co.)

“I do believe if you’re confident enough to pull something off — doesn’t matter what shape you are — you can wear it,” she said.

Saxon, 30, says her desire to control her wardrobe came when she was in fourth grade after her mother’s boyfriend helped her get dressed for picture day.

“He put me in the ugliest fleece vest and leggings,” she recalled. “I rolled with that outfit because he was really funny. From then on, I told people to stop buying me clothes for Christmas and my birthday because I didn’t like it.”

Saxon grew up in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, just outside of Chicago, and her family didn’t have much money. She said there wasn’t anything keeping her in the small town, so she graduated high school early in 2004 and left home to serve in the U.S. Army as an active duty firefighter at Fort Rucker in Alabama. She shifted her career path to the Army Reserves in 2007 and lived in Seattle until about two years ago when she moved to Columbia to attend drill sergeant school at Fort Jackson.

She said joining the military was a natural choice, as her mother and father served in the U.S. Navy. Her uncles even chose military careers, with one serving as a Navy Seal and the other flew Black Hawk helicopters for the U.S. Army.

“I guess I’ve always looked up to my dad and uncles. It was the mystery of what they did,” Saxon said.

Saxon also admits that heading to college was not an appealing option.

“I did not want to go to college,” she said with a laugh. “So the only other thing was being a beach bum in California or go to the Army.”

Reigniting her passion

Saxon admits her creative passion waned over the past 10 years, but she said settling in Columbia helped renew her interest in fashion. She initially attended the Art Institute of Seattle in Washington and wrapped up her studies in Charlotte in December.

“Columbia is my home base,” Saxon said. “I don’t need to be in New York. I don’t need to be anywhere else just to pursue this.”

She attributes the personal growth she experienced in the Army as the driving force that led her to pursue her dreams to work in the fashion industry and develop Candice Saxon Design Co.

“I’m a person that can’t stay stagnant. So many people in my life are doing the same thing every day, and that’s good because we need those people, but I can’t do that,” Saxon said. “I don’t need to be at the top, but I need something new. I need to keep growing.”

Tailor-made fashion

Saxon said her line is tailored for shapely women. She wants women to experience that “first day of school” feeling when they try on her apparel.

“I love bodies,” she said. “For a woman’s body, it’s the curves. We were meant to have those curves.”

Candice Saxon Design Co. features a mix of mid-length and maxi dresses, skirts and fitted tops she says are designed to hug the body and can go from day wear to night wear.

Saxon's said dresses that show off the legs is trendy at the moment.

Saxon’s said dresses that show off a woman’s legs are trendy at the moment.

“You can wear it to work, on a Friday night or Sunday brunch with the girls,” she said.

Saxon said her bridal collection will include dresses and skirts, as well as some knit fabrics and hand-sewn appliques. While the collection is marketed for brides, Saxon said women could wear the pieces for any occasion.

“These are staple pieces,” she said. “Wear it more than once.”

Saxon also gives a nod to love, which inspired her new collection.

“Love is something that just truly makes you really happy,” she said. “Love between two people, love of a hobby, love of a pet, family, or how you feel after you get your hair done — Anything that can make you happy.”

And folks can get a peek are her new designs tonight as Saxon hosts her fashion show at Carolina Haven on 807 Bluff Road across from Williams Brice Stadium. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the show starts at 6:30 p.m. A pop-up shop, cash bar and desserts will be available after the show, and local musicians Ashley Deahl and Watson Village will perform.

Saxon said she hopes the show will gain interest from local boutique owners, fashion buyers and investors to support her work.

“The only thing I can see in front of me to do is just to design, and the only way to do that is just to keep making clothes and showing them and networking,” she said.

Tickets for tonight’s show can be purchased at Eventbrite.

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