CFSTYLE talks to the designer Keishel Williams of Jlehsiek who is set to debut her collection to jump start NewYork Fashion Week 2011 .
1. Who is Jlehsiek?
Jlehsiek creates high-end ready-to-wear couture and resort pieces that reflect the inner desires and lifestyles of women who seek to have a unique contrast of their everyday lives.
2. What does Jlehsiek represent and who is its target audience?
This line represents a lifestyle that is exclusive, trendy yet comfortable. With a new focus on resort wear, I pay careful attention to natural fabrics especially fabric I can do hand painted designs on. We target women mainly 25 and older; the working woman with a steady income that loves to take the time out to treat herself to the finer things in life.
3. What inspired Keishel to get into fashion?
Art. I come from a family that loves art and I was able to transmit this love for art into clothing. My dad is a painter and did a lot of work on clothing for friends and clients in Trinidad before he moved to NY.
4. Describe your journey into fashion and the process of putting together your current collection.
My journey into fashion was difficult. I started designing gowns for local pageants in Toco when I was in form one and had my first fashion show a couple of years later with the assistance of Christopher Nathan. Fashion started to take over my life much to the dismay of my grandparents who I lived with down there. But by form 6 I had designed for a few people and a lot more pageants and put together a big fashion show with Christian Boucaud in Sangre Grande right before I left for New York to pursue my dreams. It was fun. But a dream like this takes time and money, and of course, knowing the right people helps. The fashion industry is oversaturated with people who want this just as much as I do. So I have been working extremely hard to build the right foundation for my career and I am now entering a new chapter with this upcoming show.
Putting together the collection was fun but challenging. One thing people need to understand is the gritty side of the industry. It’s not always a glamorous life and I have to roll up my sleeves and hit the pavement, as my grandmother would say. The most difficult part of putting together any collection is acquiring financial support and with the current state of the economy, it is a bit more difficult, especially being an “unknown” designer. However, I have gotten very positive feedback from persons who have had the chance to preview the collection so it is all worth it.
5. What is the theme of the collection set to debut around New York Fashion Week?
The collection is called Sunday in the Park and is inspired by French artist Georges-Pierre Seurat’s painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte 1884. So the show is going to reflect a 19th century atmosphere.
6. Who are some of your mentors in Fashion?
Susan Taylor of Essence Magazine. I’m also a fashion and entertainment writer so she has helped shape some of my decisions in my career. One of my first internships was at Essence Magazine. I really like Zac Posen’s eye for intricate architectural details in his designs and Alexander McQueen’s flare for drama. You can find a little of both in some of my work.
7. Being from the Caribbean which Caribbean designers do you admire?
I have always admired Claudia Pegus since high school. She is a very strong designer. I also now admire Christian Boucaud. We went to high school together, 6th Form, and we always talked about making it as designers. Most recently I’ve had the chance to see how her work has grown and I love it! Very clean lines.
8. How do you feel about debuting at New York Fashion Week?
It is both exciting and nerve-wracking. In the recent weeks I’ve met some very seasoned individuals in this industry who has given me sound advice about my debut and I feel like I have to really bring it. As someone from the Caribbean, as a Trinidadian, I’ve always tried to be sure people know that I’m from there and we can represent and we are talented just as anyone else who has made it through the jaws of this industry. After boasting about being a Trini so much I can’t fail now.
9. What are the future plans for Jlehsiek?
Within this year I hope the line gains more exposure both internationally and throughout the Caribbean. I have already started selling pieces from my limited edition Carnival inspired collection called “Masquerade” for T&T carnival this year. However, by the end of the year I hope to be fully prepared for seasonal activities in the Caribbean while working parallel on the international market.
10. What type of support do you need in order to take Jlehsiek to the next level?
That’s a great question. I need the support of my own people really. It is hard enough being out here as a young, black, Caribbean woman trying to penetrate such a vast industry when sometimes my own people here in NY are not as supportive as they should be. And this is not just for me, but for many other talented individuals I know that suffer the same fate. Caribbean people fail to stick together and support each other anywhere they go. This is why I am working on creating a fund for young individuals from the Caribbean or of Caribbean descent, who are interested in the arts (fashion, painting, writing etc) and would like a financial boost. I understand the frustration of having a dream and no backing. I would like to support someone else’s dream as much as I can and I would like my people to do the same.Date: Monday February 7, 2011 Time: 7pm-9pm
Location: Foley Art Gallery in Chelsea, on Monday February 7, 2011 at 7pm EST