By Amy Wenk

amywenk@reporternewspapers.net

Like most little girls, Sandy Springs resident Vanessa Vinci loved to play with dolls.

But instead of conducting tea parties, she spent hours wrapping, tucking and taping tiny dresses onto her favorite toys.

“Design started for me when I was pretty young,” said Vinci, a Rhode Island native who began fashion experimentation on her Strawberry Shortcake figurine. “The more fashion-forward stuff definitely I made for the Barbie dolls. The Barbies had great clothes.”

Her fondness for fashion flowed into high school. It was the ’80s, and ruffled skirts were all the rage.

“I was making my prom dresses and my holiday dance dresses and wearing them to all these parties and events,” said Vinci, a fan of home economics class.

It’s not a surprise that today she sells her own line of clothing (vanessavinci.com) featuring flirty, feminine dresses that she custom-designs from her home studio. She even has a staple design she calls the Barbie dress, which is a V-neck garment with a high waist.

Ranging in price from about $185 to $475, the dresses are available at Range Clothing Boutique in Buckhead Village and Wish 4 in Sandy Springs’ Fountain Oaks Shopping Center and could soon appear at Allure on Dresden Drive in Brookhaven.

“I try to carry things that are out of the ordinary, and she’s got a lot of flair,” said Range owner Sabrina Davis, who befriended Vinci during a jewelry-making course she held at her store Brina Beads years before opening the boutique in an adjoining space. “I used to have her clothing on the mannequins to show my jewelry, and people always wanted to buy her clothes.”

A Vinci dress fits “women in a sexy way,” Davis said. “It’s very figure-fitting, and it extenuates femininity.”

The dainty designs from time to time appear in the spreads of Jezebel magazine and most notably on Corinna Allen, lifestyle and entertainment reporter for “Better Mornings” on CBS 46.

Models strut her style down 15 to 20 runways a year, including a June 3 fashion show sponsored by the Sandy Springs-based Art Institute of Atlanta that was held at the Courtyard Marriott Atlanta Perimeter Center on Peachtree-Dunwoody Road.

Vinci also participates in many charity fashion shows benefiting such organizations as St. Jude Children’s Hospital and Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

But her entrepreneurial success has come only in recent years. Vinci spent some time backstage before stepping onto the catwalk.

She entered cosmetology school after graduating high school and worked as a hair and makeup stylist for about 10 years.

“In the midst of all that, I was doing a lot of wardrobe consulting for my hairstylist clients,” Vinci said. “They would have me come to their home, do their hair and makeup, and help them put them together for special occasions and special events.”

After marrying her husband, Eric, eight years ago and moving to Sandy Springs around 2003, Vinci decided to return to school. She enrolled in the fashion design program at American InterContinental University in Sandy Springs and finished the degree in less than two years, thanks to credits she had accumulated.

“Finally, at 34, I had my college degree,” she said.

“After school, I looked around a bit for a company to work for. There was really nothing here that was going to interest me. Little by little, I started creating my own concept.”

Out of her sketches came a clothing line focused on easy-to-wear dresses in bold prints and colors.

“Really it was about ‘What do I want to wear that when I go shopping I can’t find?’ and those are the pieces that I started to create,” said Vinci, who is inspired by designers like Roberto Cavalli and Tory Burch. “I think being comfortable is the key.”

Made of a Lycra-blend cotton material, which she procures in biannual trips to places like New York City and Coral Gables, Fla., the “go-to” pieces are wrinkle-resistant, washable and comfortably stylish.

“You know you can always throw this on, and it’s going to look great,” said Vinci, who encourages clients to maximize a garment’s use with different accessories. “I look like I spent all morning getting ready, but I get ready in five seconds.”

Her line has evolved and now includes jumpsuits and swimwear. She still relies on the Lycra blend for her designs but has branched out to silk jersey fabrics.

Now Vinci is looking to mass-produce her designs for boutiques near and far.

“The challenge is for me now to go into a new phase of business,” she said. “I think being based here in Atlanta is great for me. There is definitely a want for some sort of fashion industry here in the city.”