FROM WILLIE HALL’S 2013 FALL COLLECTION
(NEW YORK CITY)—For fashion designer Brehon Williams, it all started with rollercoasters.
“I always wanted to grow up to become a mechanical design engineer, designing rollercoasters,” said the 23-year-old Virginia native. “As I began to delve into fashion, all of the research—as far as architecture goes—started to be infused in my design aesthetic. Riding a rollercoaster is an experience, and I want whomever wears my clothes to have an experience in them.”
Williams’ fall 2013 collection of menswear and womenswear was a pleasing experience at the Rogues Gallery Presents show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week last month. Rogues Gallery Presents, created and produced by Black stylist Ron Cooke, provides a platform for emerging designers to get some of the spotlight during New York’s fashion weeks each February and September. Like most other fashion events staged during the week, although not officially part of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, RGP is a chance for designers with talent but perhaps less money, connections, or clout to get their work in front of some of the many editors, bloggers, buyers, celebrities, industry insiders, and everyday fashion-lovers who converge on The Big Apple for the nation’s biggest fashion fest.
Williams and three other Black designers were among seven designers to watch who presented collections in the show at Hotel Pennsylvania. His designs are always influenced by menswear, and the looks he showed for next fall and winter were contemporary with creative color-blocking and exotic prints.
The line, he said, “was inspired by Africa—the tribes, the animals, and the color. I wanted to present a collection that was deeply inspired by my heritage without it becoming a joke and looking like a costume party.”
While Williams designs from his home in Chesapeake, Va., Mikasa La’Charles is based just north in downtown Norfolk. Her “Navajo Meets Hollywood” fall collection was full of young and sexy looks for women. She incorporated faux leather and a patchwork motif throughout the line, along with a dramatic cowl feature on several dresses.
La’Charles studied marketing at the College of William and Mary before studying fashion design and business at Parsons Paris School of Art and Design. She also studied in Europe, interned in New York City, worked with design brands such as Laundry by Shelli Segal and along the way taught herself to sketch and sew the designs she visualized.
“I’ve been dreaming about it since I was 5,” and began drawing women’s clothes at her childhood home in Philadelphia, she said.
Pursuing her passion is paying off. She debuted collections at VA Fashion Week in 2010 and 2011 and at Charleston Fashion Week in South Carolina last year, where she was named among the top 20 emerging designers on the East Coast.
La’Charles’ designs are sold in her online boutique, http://www.mikasalacharles.com. With an interest in every aspect of fashion, she also works as a stylist, teaches sewing classes and does freelance design work for two fashion companies – all while being a single mother to a 2-year-old son.
Becoming a recognized name is much more difficult for designers and usually takes much longer than the public realizes. Although Willie Hall of Brunswick, N.J. has been designing fashion for 30 years, she is still emerging on the scene.
She staged her first fashion show at the age of 18 and was passionate about creating prom gowns for girls who couldn’t afford retail prices. She soon began a 30-year career as a medical assistant, all the while continuing to design. In 1998, heeding her father’s advice to focus on doing what really makes her happy, she left the medical field and in 2003 returned to fashion school.
Hall volunteered for 19 seasons at the official New York Fashion Week, now Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, and has shown collections at Rogues Gallery Presents since its inception in 2008. Her chic fall womenswear collection featured elegant and edgy dresses and sportswear, from shorts and skirts to jackets and wide-leg pants.
“My inspiration came from my closet of fabrics, sourcing what you have already in front of you,” said Hall, 50. That meant a strong foundation of black and white with an infusion of vivid color. She said her philosophy is that “a woman should look elegant no matter what she is wearing. I design for women who are confident within themselves wearing a pair of pants or a gown.”
Her tailoring is impeccable, honed as a former assistant to design icon Andre Van Pier, whose creations in the 80s were worn by superstars such as Diana Ross, Elizabeth Taylor, Madonna, Prince, Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson.
Designing for celebrities is a joy Diane Linston of Cleveland has experienced. The 44-year-old Alabama native recently designed two outfits for actress Jazsmin Lewis and said she designs for “jazzy yet sophisticated women age 25 and up.”
Linston’s aesthetic is young and hip. Her strong fall womenswear collection included bold overcoats and denim separates, with creative surface detailing on every look for extra pizzazz.
She began sketching and designing at the age of 14, later graduating from the Virginia Marti College of Art and Design in Lakewood, Ohio. She was installed in the school’s Wall of Fame in 2001. Two years prior, she launched her brand, Styles of Imagination, and sold her designs at two stores in Cleveland.
Linston closed the stores in 2005 to launch her own brand, N.G.U. Designs. She showed a collection in 2009 at a show in Atlanta presented by stylist Dwight Eubanks, who since has had recurring appearances on The Real Housewives of Atlanta.
All of the designers are working toward establishing a retail presence with their designs, which is no simple feat. Williams, who won the Virginia Fashion Award for up-and-coming designers in 2009, said he “would love to get in a few small boutiques just to get my name out there.”
Linston wants to diversify into accessories and housewares and has designed plus-size blouses that she plans to pitch to department stores and the Home Shopping Network.
“My plan,” she said, “is to have the N.G.U. Collection in as many boutiques and specialty stores as possible.”