Designer Liz Russell fights debilitating disease to create the perfect mix for her fashions.
Liz Russell is not your average fashion designer. Known for her unique, classic and comfortable pieces, Russell has managed to land some of her original designs in the hands of several celebrities. From modern, chic evening wear to custom floral handbags, her vision remains a fascination to many. However, stretching her role to serve as a spokesperson for Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a disease she was diagnosed with 30 years ago, has allowed Russell to be inspired both on and off the runway.
At the ripe age of 12, Russell began sewing and creating original pieces. By 16, she was certain that she wanted to be a designer. The universe immediately responded to her desire. Russell’s mother had a friend who owned a tailoring shop, allowing her to work there for two years. It was during this time that Russell realized she was living her dream. She was creating costumes and a variety of other pieces that she describes as “unreal.”
To seal her fate in the world of fashion, Russell went on to formalize her knowledge of the industry at both Mesa College and Brooks College where she focused on fashion design and fashion merchandising. It was her entrepreneurial spirit that would take her to the next level.
Having already established relationships with a few celebrities over time, the savvy and intuitive Russell was very aware of the positive impact these connections could have on her business. She would often send customized pieces and personalized letters to these individuals. As soon as the VIPs showcased her items, it was only a matter of time before the general public was brought into the fold. One of Russell’s most memorable moments was receiving a phone call from Gayle King after sending her a handbag. “Never in a million years would I have thought she’d give me a personal phone call,” says Russell.
People soon became aware of the designer whose pieces related to the slightly image-conscious woman who also desired to look gorgeous and feel comfortable at the same time. This was just the beginning.
Due to her husband’s military service, Russell and her family moved throughout the country on a frequent basis. While some might consider this to be a challenge to their business, Russell turned these experiences into opportunities. “I’d meet different people and gain clientele so I became the designer that created a lot of unique, wearable, comfortable pieces,” says Russell.
Her most rewarding and humbling triumph, however, has been turning her experience with Guillain-Barré Syndrome into an opportunity to fight for other patients. After being hospitalized for four and a half months when she was initially diagnosed, Russell had to learn how to walk and talk again. Not having advice from anyone else, the transition back to the fashion industry was difficult. Her faith kept her going and she decided to become a liaison for others who were suffering from this very rare disease. “It was very clear to me that my job was to encourage, inspire and uplift other patients who are going through this,” she said.
Russell’s obstacles serve as reminders that anything is possible. She continues to design classic clothing and handbags, as well as serve as a voice of hope for patients with Guillain-Barré Syndrome. She takes pride in remaining motivated and passionate about what she does. “My daughter asked me, ‘When are you going to retire?’ I said NEVER. I love what I do. I’m just going to keep going,” says Russell.