Mar 6, 2014
10:35 AM
Style & Shopping

ESPN's Sage Steele Wears Connecticut Designer's Dress on 'NBA Countdown'

ESPN's Sage Steele Wears Connecticut Designer's Dress on 'NBA Countdown'

Jean Anne Boccaccio, right, with "Project Runway All Stars" winner Mondo Guerra, center, and Maryanne McLafferty (her model/sister.)

West Hartford fashion designer Jeanne Anne Boccaccio got in touch with Connecticut Magazine last Friday to report some progress since we wrote about her last September: ESPN's Sage Steele "will be wearing my design on national television this weekend on ABC’s NBA Countdown (Sunday)!," she wrote. "I am designing a few additional pieces for her as well, and feel so honored and grateful that she will be wearing one on TV!"
The "NBA Countdown" show on which Steele wore a dress by Boccaccio aired at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, before the NBA doubleheader that started with NBA Champion Miami Heat and LeBron James visiting the Chicago Bulls. Steele teamed with Doug Collins, Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons on "NBA Countdown."
Boccaccio tweeted a shot of Steele wearing her dress:
And Steele tweeted a thanks to the designer:
Meanwhile, here's our story on Boccaccio from September:

ESPN’s Sage Steele got a major boost this fall when the juggernaut sports network announced she was joining the “NBA Countdown” shows on Fridays and Sundays, starting Nov. 1, to team with Jalen Rose, Doug Collines and Bill Simmons, and that, as part of a multiyear contract extension, she will also continue to be a “SportsCenter” host and play a role in on-site coverage at the NBA Finals.

That’s like the equivalent of a basketball triple-double (double-digits in points, assists and rebounds in a single game).

The fashion triple-double this season is claimed by Jean Anne Boccaccio of West Hartford—she’s parlaying an early career in law, followed by a stay-at-home-mom role, into a new narrative as a fashion designer, she just won a Connecticut “Project Runway”-style event, and that exposure has her in the process of creating a look Steele will wear for all the world to see during an ESPN on-air appearance. (Below, Sage Steele, left, with Jean Anne Boccaccio.)

Steele was one of the judges for the Oct. 19 “We Can” fashion show competition and fundraiser for AIDS Connecticut. She was joined by Connecticut style guru Debbie Wright, MaryEllen Fillo of The Hartford Courant, WNPR talk show host Colin McEnroe and Mondo Guerra, a “Project Runway All Stars” winner.

Boccaccio impressed the judges with a classic dress emboldened by fluid symmetrical lines, creating an overall effect as sleek and luxurious as a high-performance sports car, and as eager to embrace and flatter curves.

“One of the really great things, in addition to meeting Mondo … was I was able to meet Sage Steele,” Boccaccio said. “Right after the show, she came over to me and said she would definitely like to wear my designs on the air. That really thrilled me; she really epitomizes my ideal customer.”

The connection came in part through celebrity make-up artist Tiffany Hall-Scarmana, who worked her magic at the competition, has worked on “Project Runway” and does makeup for ESPN. “She does Sage’s makeup every day,” Bocaccio said.

The We Can (Women End the Course of AIDS Now) event featured 22 talented designers vying for the title won by Boccaccio, and the victory included a special Project Runway edition sewing machine signed by Mondo, other prizes and use of a Mercedes-Benz donated by New Country Mercedes.  

The design competition was sponsored by Mercedes-Benz and held at New Country Motor Cars in Hartford. The stage was set a few months earlier, when the designers competing were asked in a July meeting “to create a design based on the Mercedes AMG high performance car,” Boccaccio recalled.

She called the challenge “a perfect match,” saying, “My garments lend themselves well to the Mercedes look,” with quality and luxury being hallmarks.

The 22 designers in the Connecticut competition were narrowed to 10 after the models showed off the designs for the judges. And then, in true “Project Runway” fashion, the 10 finalists were sent back to the workroom to come up with some type of complementary piece for their look in 20 minutes—using masking tape.

“They had colors and prints, and golds and silvers. It was sort of fun. We were all scrambling,” said Boccaccio, who made a big, bold cuff bracelet covered in gold masking tape, and a necklace as well.

The lift from the competition win has Boccaccio getting new pieces together for Steele, and working on a collection to offer to interested clients and higher-end boutiques—which is exactly where she aspired to be at this point after her “kind of a crazy, convoluted background.” (Above, Maryanne McLafferty wearing the winning design. Photo by Jay Sottolano;


She was an English major at Fairfield University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, and then received a law degree from Villanova University. “I stopped working after my oldest was born,” she said of a son who is now 14. At the time, was clerking for federal judge in New Haven.

Another son followed—now 12—and after being home with the boys, she “decided it was time to pursue her dream of bringing her design ideas to the marketplace,” her bio says. “With exhaustive research and an entrepreneurial spirit, she put together a line that was picked up by a showroom in New York City and sold in some of the finest boutiques in the Northeast.”

Boccaccio explained that after solidifying her design ideas, she then found a talented pattern maker in New York City and did a trade show with the pieces she had designed and constructed, which was when they got picked up by the showroom in New York. (Above, Jean Anne Boccaccio with her sewing machine, and Maryanne McLafferty wearing the winning design; note the gold masking tape 'jewelry.' Photo by Jay Sottolano;

“So I did that for a couple of years. It was thrilling to me,” she said, remembering balancing her roles as fledgling fashion designer and full-time mom.

“My husband and I had a long talk,” she said of their desire for a third child—a girl who just turned 8. And so she decided back then to put the business on hold for a few years.

“But I missed it and was trying to figure out how to get back into this,” she said, but more locally somehow. “So I went back to school and got yet another degree.” She took patternmaking and other technical classes at the now-closed Gibbs College in Farmington, and earned a degree in fashion design and merchandising.

As a result of that experience, Boccaccio was chosen for a design internship in New York City with the Donna Karan Collection, which, she said, “was beyond thrilling to me, because I absolutely love her designs.”

With her children a little older and the technical skills to create some of her own designs, Boccaccio is pursuing her passion for design once again, her bio explains, saying, "Her aesthetic focuses on highlighting and flattering the female form—providing elegant yet edgy styling with clean lines, luxurious fabrics and an optimal fit.”

“I feel that design should never really overshadow the person wearing it,” she said in a chat on the phone. “It should highlight and accentuate the person.”

She likes clean lines, as part of designs that are rich-looking, and says the feminine form is so naturally beautiful that too much embellishment only detracts.

What separates her from others?

 “I really am a big believer in not owning too many things, including garments,” she said. “The ideal is to own less but really love the things you have. … I think it’s just important to kept things edited, including your wardrobe.”

In moving forward with her fashion design business locally, Boccaccio has been able to link up with a “very talented pattern maker who’s right here in my hometown,” Rebecca Reinbold. And she’s in the process of building a website.

“I’m fueled by my passion for design, but I’m very much fueled by my desire to use my designing as a platform to do good things,” Boccaccio said, expressing a desire to use her fashion business in some way to benefit the fight against cancer. She lost her mother to cancer, her sister-in-law is going through chemo, and she underwent two surgeries last year for a cancerous ovarian tumor.

However her business evolves, the designs of Boccaccio—who also created the dress she wore to the Connecticut competition—will soon go worldwide when Sage Steele takes them before the bright lights and big (NBA) cities of ESPN.

To connect with Boccaccio, see her website under development.

ESPN's Sage Steele Wears Connecticut Designer's Dress on 'NBA Countdown'

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