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By David Nathan

When her busy schedule permits Nara Paz '09 to reflect on the arc of her career  - from a young girl in a small village in southern Brazil making clothes for her only doll to an internationally known, high-end fashion designer - her time at Lasell stands out as a life-changing learning experience.

"I had some knowledge when I came to Lasell, but I was very raw," she remembers. "I had talent, but the faculty polished me, refined me, and made me what I am."

The 47-year-old has been called the "Oscar de la Renta of Boston" for her use of non-traditional textiles, opulent fabrics, and exotic flourishes in her designs. A-listers wear her evening gowns to the Oscar, Grammy, and Emmy awards shows. Once, in just four days, she created a gown for the wife of a U.S. senator for the White House Christmas ball.

A strange confluence of events brought Paz to Lasell. While working as a graphic artist/swimwear designer and studying industrial design in Brazil in 2002, she traveled to New Zealand for a vacation. There she met her future husband, Dennis Gain, a native New Zealander who lived in Boston. Determined to pursue a full-time career in fashion, she met with Lasell professors Richard Bath and Lynn Blake to create an academic plan that would simultaneously advance her knowledge of fashion and improve her English. She enrolled in Lasell's School of Fashion in the fall of 2006.

Paz took five classes each semester and a few more in the summer. She immersed herself in fashion history, design, production, merchandising, marketing, and management. She grew close to many faculty, particularly professors Jill Carey, Emily Stoehrer (Paz designed her wedding dress), and Blake. Just two and a half years after she started,  Paz graduated summa cum laude in 2009.

"Everybody at Lasell was so knowledgeable and supportive," she recalls. "I was blessed."

Soon after graduation, Paz and her husband opened Nara Paz Design Internationale. She stepped away from the design house and atelier for two years after giving birth to her "miracle baby," daughter Sophia-Jean, following several unsuccessful in-vitro fertilization cycles.

"I could always come back to fashion," Paz explains. "I wanted that time for my family."

The time off was reinvigorating and allowed her to rethink the business so it would operate more profitably and efficiently. Between games of hide and seek with her "little fashionista" in the studio, Paz is enjoying her work as never before.

"I can't imagine doing anything else," she says. "I feel a great sense of pride helping someone look their very best at a special event."