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Military vet Duane Topping uses fashion to help combat PTSD

When you first meet Duane Topping, the last thing that comes to mind is high fashion.

When you first meet Duane Topping, the last thing that comes to mind is high fashion.

Topping looks like that friendly dude at the biker bar down the street, rather than the guy who’s showcasing his designs at fashion shows.

But when you ask him what he’s most passionate about, he’ll tell you with that unapologetic smile -- it’s fashion.

“In order to carry on in anything you do, you have to have that passion, and I love everything about fashion,” Topping told 9NEWS.

He’s not only good at designing clothes, he’s one of the top designers in Denver right now.

“It’s funny because people are like, ‘He’s so happy because he’s such a success,’ but I’m actually more happy that the models didn’t fall down,” he laughed.

Topping works out of his studio in Wheat Ridge, which is not only his office, it’s his escape.

You see, he’s not just a tough-looking dude who’s got a knack for sewing, he’s a Military veteran who served three tours in Iraq.

Topping had to medically retire from the military in 2012 and has struggled with PTSD ever since.

“Adjusting for me was tough,” he admitted. “I would find myself at the bar at 8 a.m., and for me that was late in the day.”

Topping found the distraction he needed in fashion. He decided to teach himself how to sew, and hasn’t stopped creating since.

“It became the only outlet that really allowed me to function,” Topping explained.

He's well aware that he’s not the “typical” looking fashion designer, but he doesn’t care.

For him, creating designs for women of every shape and size allows him to let go of his past, and put his energy into something beautiful.

If you look closely, he even paints his nails as his own form of feminine artistic expression.

“To be in touch with my feminine side doesn’t mean that I have some sort of alternate view of the world, but this is the way that I express myself,” Topping said. “That’s the soft side under the hard core that you see.”

The designer is busy finishing his last semester of school, with a double major in creative writing and women’s studies.

In his spare time, he’s putting the finishing touches on his next project happening on May 20th. It’s a fashion shoot on the 16th Street Mall, which he hopes will highlight the unity and diversity of the Denver fashion community. He wants anyone who’s interested in being a part of the photo shoot to stop by and see what it’s all about.

As for the future, he hopes to eventually open up his own boutique.

Until then, Topping wants to inspire other military veterans to find their true passion.

“For vets like myself, they are always corralled into sort of specific things for PTSD, and I think the key to it is to do something that you love,” Topping said.

For more information on Duane and Topping Designs, visit toppingdesigns.com.