Rheagan Sutton: Living a Fashionable Urban Life
Louisiana native Rheagan Sutton has two very diverse roles at the headquarters of Nha Khanh Designs, a luxury women’s apparel company in Dallas, Texas. Her primary position is that of marketing professional, promoting the haute couture of the design house’s signature clothing line. Yet it is not unusual to find her at a photo shoot, modeling a gown from the latest Nha Khanh collection.
Established in 2010, Nha Khanh Designs quickly became a leader in the fashion industry. Nha Khanh’s distinctive designs are frequently donned by celebrities and appear regularly on Hollywood red carpets and runways. Shoppers can find Nha Khanh’s popular evening gowns and party dresses at upscale department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. With a view toward providing glamorous but simple clothing options for women, the company’s founder and creative director, Khanh Nguyen, developed a style she describes as “feminine elegance with a modern edge.” A classic example is Nha Khanh’s signature “Milace” dress, a flattering lace dress with a mini tulle skirt.
In her position with Nha Khanh, Sutton is charged with promoting the designer’s label through the use of multiple media outlets and promotional events. “What I do is fashion PR,” Sutton explains. “I handle all of Nha Khanh’s Instagram accounts and Facebook accounts. Anything that has to do with social media or events, I am in there.” Sutton says that she is in the process of developing the company’s internal Public Relations department. In the past, Nha Khanh has outsourced its PR work. With Sutton’s help, Nha Khanh is growing its brand awareness in-house.
Sutton grew up in Sterlington, Louisiana, graduating from the same high school that her grandparents, parents and only sibling attended. Until she was 22 years old, Sutton lived with her parents, never venturing far from the community that has been home to her family for generations. She commuted to University of Louisiana at Monroe, studying Business Administration and Marketing.
After graduating from ULM, Sutton easily convinced her parents to continue her education with a master’s degree. They assumed she would apply to a master’s program somewhere in Louisiana, but instead she applied and was accepted at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, California. Sutton left her close-knit family and the small town of Sterlington and moved to downtown Los Angeles, where she lived for two years while earning a Master’s degree in Visual Communication from FIDM.
While her parents and brother still live in Sterlington, the place she has always considered home, Sutton is glad that she dared to veer in another direction. Her bold move has taken her places she never dreamed she would discover. Sutton now lives in Irving, Texas with the two loves of her life, Alex Tarnoczi and their one-year-old son, Liam. Sutton met Tarnoczi, who is from Denver, Colorado, while studying at FIDM.
Shortly after the couple relocated from Los Angeles to the Dallas area, Tarnoczi’s cousin introduced Sutton to Khanh Nguyen. Meeting the talented fashion designer was a major turning point in Sutton’s professional life. Sutton says she has learned so much working for Khanh Nguyen.
The daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, Nguyen spent her childhood surrounded by fashion. Her mother was a dressmaker who specialized in bridal gowns. After graduating from the University of North Texas, she landed an internship that took her overseas to Paris to study under renowned seamstresses and fashion designers, including bridal expert Madame Gres. While in Paris, Nguyen met the man who would become her husband. Out of Nguyen’s designing and sewing her own bridal trousseau, Nha Khanh was eventually born. Nguyen’s combination of talent and work ethic have propelled her company to the status it now enjoys.
Fortunately, Sutton’s background in marketing coupled with her interest in the fashion industry was a perfect fit for Nha Khanh Designs. Sutton points out that she is the only person in her company who does not have a degree in a fashion-related field. She does, however, have some firsthand experience from which she has been able to draw.
Sutton actually received her introduction to fashion marketing while working in Monroe. Sutton worked for K-Sera, a local women’s clothing boutique, during college. In her final year at ULM, Sutton worked with BayouLife Magazine, first as an intern and then as the magazine’s office manager. She assisted in producing content for the magazine’s website and helped promote the magazine and its advertisers through various social media outlets. Sutton also modeled for the magazine’s fashion spreads showcasing clothing and accessories from local boutiques. She would take this experience with her as she moved to Los Angeles to study at FIDM.
“For the longest time, I thought I wanted to be an event planner,” says Sutton. With this goal in mind, she took courses at FIDM in event planning as well as marketing. Realizing the growing role of social media in the business world, Sutton also elected to take additional social media classes. “Thank goodness I did,” she says, noting that promoting Nha Khanh’s image through social media is an essential part of her job.
“Since I have been with Nha Khahn, we have gotten into e-commerce, and started our own website where we are able to sell online,” Sutton says. E-commerce was something Sutton had direct experience with, having worked for a boutique in West Monroe that utilizes e-commerce as part of its business model. “I knew that we could sell online,” says Sutton of Nha Khanh. “We got the ball rolling and started selling our designs to customers directly online.”
At some point in the midst of her marketing duties, Sutton began taking on another role at Nha Khanh—that of a fashion model. Petite and beautiful, Sutton models Nha Khanh designs for the company’s website as well as their lifestyle shoots. Sutton has been modeling since she was 16 years old. “Modeling has always been a dream of mine,” says Sutton. “That dream sort of died off at one point, because I got turned down by modeling agencies when I was 18. They said that I needed to lose weight.” Not overweight by any reasonable definition, Sutton says that the modeling agents, based in New York, suggested that she shed several pounds and then re-apply, advice she declined to follow. That experience was very discouraging at the time, but Sutton says that God made it possible for her to find several modeling jobs and opportunities soon after. In addition to modeling for BayouLife and local boutiques while at ULM, she picked up modeling jobs in Los Angeles during her time as a FIDM student. With that background, she ultimately became a model for Nha Khanh, one of the top fashion designers in the country.
Sutton says her job with Nha Khanh is also a great fit for her as a mother. “I want to spend as much time as I can with my child,” she emphasizes. “Although I do love my career, motherhood comes first. I am thankful that this company is so family oriented. They are amazing. They allow me to have that time with my child and be there for important things in his life.” Sutton feels fortunate to have found the coveted “happy medium” between family life and career that she always longed for.
As she takes on new projects at Nha Khanh, Sutton continues to learn and grow professionally. She says that the fashion industry is very fast-paced, and always focused on the future. The designs and promotions that are currently in production are for the next year’s collection. “It is all about keeping up with the times and knowing what is going to be in style a year from now,” she says. “There is a lot of trial and error,” admits Sutton. “It is challenging but fun.”
Article by Kay Rector and Photography by Christina Finkel