designer_series | meiling
“Truly, I’m very young at heart!”
Happy Monday all,
It’s the beginning of a new week…and the second post in my designer_series.
Admittedly, things have been a little weird lately…
The international fashion at large has recently been a little less than inspiring, but I’ve been fortunate enough to find local projects to keep me creatively occupied.
And after an overwhelmingly positive response to my interview with accessories and lifestyle designer Sanian Lewis, I decided to next interview Meiling Esau – otherwise internationally recognizable as Meiling – who lately, has become somewhat of a mentor to me.
The timing seemed right as just last week, Meiling’s “Moth” designed in collaboration with fellow Caribbean artisan, Vanessa Winston*, for the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange exhibition at Buckingham Palace, was one of 20 looks showcased at the Caribbean Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London.
*Vanessa Winston is a leatherwork artisan from Dominica, who has contributed a handcrafted leather belt to Meiling’s “Moth” garment as seen below.
In starting this series, it has been my intention to not only document the progression of the local fashion industry but also to share insight into the challenges experienced so that the new generation of creatives can better prepare themselves for any obstacles they may face.
And with such a strong body of work behind her, and a highly decorated and longstanding career, who better to give advice than Meiling?
So…tell me a little bit about your brand?
My brand is 40+ years old, but back then it was a different world. The timing was right – because unlike today, there wasn’t much competition.
There were not many designers or boutiques and I was bringing a fresh approach to fashion.
I believe in the phrase ‘less is more.’
My aesthetic is minimal.
I love working with black and white – a very monochromatic palette. This is probably because of who I am and how I see the world – things are either black or white – there are no greys.
“…there are no greys…”
And although black and white lends to a clean slate and can allow for defined silhouettes and structured pieces, consumers like color and so I try to integrate color into my offerings.
So if you had to describe your brand with emojis, it would be?
Who would you say is your ideal client?
My consumer is a woman who is confident in her own skin.
She doesn’t jump at every trend; she knows who she is.
She dresses to suit not only her lifestyle but also her body and her age.
She is definitely NOT a fashion victim and believes in the principles of quality over quantity, and style over trend.
What is a major misconception about you or your brand?
For some reason, there is a myth that both myself and my clothing are not accessible, and that my products are out of people’s price range.
I think that most people are surprised that when they come to 6 Carlos – my atelier, that they, for one, see and interact with me, and two, can just come and browse the shop.
They seem surprised that I have a range of pieces spanning various price points – from bandeau tops [as seen below] that start at $150 TTD to shirts for $1500 TTD.
But usually, I am very flexible when working with clients, and I am happy to work with them in terms of budgets or other constraints.
…and the industry?
Currently, there is a perception that local designers’ garments are not as good as international labels. People seem to prefer purchasing foreign, fast fashion to locally produced The Cloth, Lisa See Tai, Willow & Oak etc.
And while this belief that local being inferior is not true, unfortunately, I think that it will only make it harder for emerging talents in the future.
Do you have any current frustrations you face within the industry?
Well, I must say that reality TV has really hurt the industry. The young girl now is so driven by social media that she’s afraid to take risks and be individual.
Millenials now need to be guided into finding a style that suits them instead of trying to recreate what they see on television.
But also on the designer side, I feel like everyone is leaning toward the same style and producing what they perceive as ‘resort.’
Yes, the Caribbean is resort – but resort is a full season, with shirts and pants and jackets… not just caftans and flowy dresses!
“…no one wants to be individual…”
And that’s why I don’t like when people refer to me as a Caribbean designer.
I am not a Caribbean designer. Of course, some of my work is inspired by my environment, but really I am a designer who just happens to live in the Caribbean!
I have said this before and will continue to say it. We must look outside of what we know. The industry is a lot harder now [due to globalization] and so our competition is the world.
And finally, do you have any advice for young creatives in Trinidad, hoping to break into the fashion industry?
Well, I think most importantly, one has to have some degree of education and training, especially if one wants to be a designer. Having knowledge of technical skills – fabrics and construction – is essential.
Nowadays, it is also very difficult to find dressmakers. No one wants to sit at machines anymore, and so emerging talents will find it challenging to produce.
I also think it is incredibly important for designers to constantly read solid business fashion news. What is going on internationally? Are people shopping online? What are consumers gravitating toward?
You have to keep up! You can’t be insular.
And while not everyone may agree, I believe in researching and knowing about global trends. You must be able to compete with what’s going on abroad!
The world is not stopping for me!
“You have to keep moving!”
Trinidad is too small a market for so many designers.
Focus on being sold regionally and eventually internationally.
You must constantly push yourself to do better.
With every collection I put out, I try to be more efficient in every aspect – from fabric usage and design to production and client delivery.
I always say you are only as good as your last collection and so it is important to not stop pushing yourself when you receive a good review, or conversely, a bad one!
Be open to constructive criticism.
Consider the source of the opinion – both the compliments and the critiques!
Be open to collaboration.
It can happen overseas – much like how I collaborated with Vanessa Winston from Dominica.
Once you are secure in what you do, share!
I believe in an open exchange of ideas, and at 6 Carlos, that is what I try to foster. You come here and at times you see anyone from Anya [Ayoung-Chee], who is also a fashion designer, to jewelry and textile designers, bloggers, people in the music industry – all part of who constitutes the creative industry. This is how I stay relevant and connected to what is going on.
Once a client asked me how I know about Chronixx, and I told her, “it’s because I’m curious about what’s current; about trends, not just in fashion, but music, art – all of this inspires my work!”
Unity is the only way this industry – and the creative industry as a whole – will move forward!
And, if you can’t make it on your own, be open to forming a design collective much like Vetements which was formed of SEVEN designers!
You have to collaborate with each other!
In the 80s, there was a high level of patriotism. Trinidadians were proud to wear locally designed clothing.
Everyone was wearing The Cloth, Heather [Jones], First Chapter Adam…even me!
Then came cable TV and the introduction of foreign trends and Americanization, and people moved toward that.
And with the introduction of Instagram and Facebook, it has gotten worse!
We have a new breed of people who think they can design, but can they do a cohesive collection? And do they really know about construction?
They seem to be more socialites than anything, but one must remember that ‘likes’ do not necessarily translate into dollars.
This is why the industry is viewed as it is today. They think it is entertainment.
And that is why young designers are not taken seriously by investors.
And now, although I see the social climate shifting back to an appreciation of local talent – our designers need to be able to deliver!
models; Aaliah De Gale (@a.degale), Isabella Thomas (@beellaaa), Iyepha Biggot (@iyepha_biggot), Monique Rodriguez (@moniquejane97)
photographers; Jabari Quashie (@jabari_quashie), Matthew Creese (@matthewcreesephoto), Marlon James (@moderndaycaveman)
creative direction & styling; Yannick Gibson [with the exception of “Moth” images] (@yarnes08)
assistant styling; Safia Ali (@safia.elena)
*Meiling has recently been handpicked by the UK government to sit on the board of the newly formed Commonwealth Fashion Council. She will represent the entire Caribbean and will lobby on behalf of the industry.