Meet the Speaker: Merline Labissiere

Author: Arkansas Arts CenterFiled under: Art of Fashion, Events, Meet the Speaker

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ART OF FASHION: March 29, 2018
Becoming a Fashion Designer: How Merging Architecture and Fashion Impact the work of Merline Labissière

Merline Labissiere. Photo by Cedric Smith.

Merline Labissière, a designer from Project Runway All Stars Season 6 and an alum of Project Runway Season 14, has utilized her creative talents to establish her own fashion line and launch a non-profit, Provoke Style Fashion Camp Corporation, which utilizes fashion-filled curriculum to instruct inner city youth in Miami, Florida. Labissière holds an Associate of Arts in architecture from Miami Dade College and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Fashion with a minor in Architecture from the Savannah College of Art and Design. We asked Labissiere a few questions before her talk.

How would you describe your current role?

My current role – I would describe it as half fashion designer and half business owner. For me, I’m always juggling both and trying to find a balance. I can’t be 100 percent fashion designer because then I’m not running a business, and I’m not making a profit. But at the same time, I’m not just a business owner – I’m more than that. Merging both of those are really important as an creative person – and in understanding the customer and why I’m designing what I’m designing. There’s different levels and the creative aspect where I get to just design things that are simply for the purpose of creativity. As an artist, I’m constantly juggling being a part of knowing my product and knowing who I’m targeting that product for.

How did you first become interested in fashion?

I think it started with growing up from a immigrant family and knowing that we were different because our clothes weren’t “cool.” My parents would dress us like how kids in Haiti would go to school. So I’d wear church dresses with ribbons in my hair and tennis shoes and church socks, and I would go to school and get picked on. So I would imagine how I’d dress if I had money. What would I look like? How people would perceive me! I dreamed this at a very young age. That seed  grew every year. I was always creative at school – I was in drama, band and art classes. Creativity has always been a foundation for me. And I think in my senior year of high school, I designed my own outfit for Haitian flag day, and just the feedback I got from my other classmates in that moment was the first time I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer.

How do art and architecture influence your work?

Architecture influences my work in so many ways. It’s the foundation and the lens that I see fashion. It’s given me a platform to think outside the box in ways that I could never imagine. It’s empowered me as a fashion designer to articulate certain elements that couldn’t do if I just studied fashion.

Where do you find inspiration for your designs?

I’m inspired by everything, but not ”everything.” When I’m designing a collection, there’s so many things that the foundation of architecture has given me. I’m also influenced by a very Pride and Prejudice aesthetic, like 1800s garments with the sophistication of the fashion in that era. The last element I would say is the couture wedding industry and combining all those elements, which basically shows my journey as a designer, mixing Avant-Garde, ready to wear, and architecture all in one collection. I’m constantly combining these elements to make something new and innovative in the industry.

Can you tell us a little bit about Provoke Style Fashion Camp Corporation?

Provoke Style is a non-profit that I started right after college. It started because there was a teacher that took the time to teach me how to crochet. I think that was the foundation of me as a creative artist, and that spoke volumes in my life. I really wanted to give back to students that didn’t have a voice or the same opportunities as me growing up. I wanted to take my whole experience and go back and provoke the next generation to think big that they can do exactly what I do. I go into the inner city and my students do everything I learned in school. They create garments and showcase their designs and then use it as a portfolio to go to college. I’m just giving the next generation the voice and tools for them to go after their own dream and beyond.

What advice would you offer young people who are interested in fashion?

The first advice I would offer someone young that wants to be in fashion is do it. Go after it very passionate and hard. I believe that education is ongoing, so you should seek out resources to get to the next level. Create even if you think you’re not where you think you should be. You just need to create and keep getting better at your craft. I think as artists, we’re always waiting for that perfect moment, that perfect collection, or timing. Just by creating we grow from that creation and the next creation we grow. Just keep growing. One of my favorite quotes is  “20 percent talent and 80 percent showing up.” It’s less with having the talent –it’s putting that work in, and that’s what makes the difference.

The Arkansas Arts Center’s Art of Fashion series is presented by Little Rock Soirée magazine.

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