Interview with New Orleans Fashion Week Top Design Contender, Brik Allen
With only two weeks until the start of New Orleans Fashion Week, ten candidates are sketching, sewing, and undoubtedly working countless hours, all in the hopes of being named top designer. Felicity was lucky enough to catch up with one of these talented contenders, Brik Allen. He dished about how he got his start in design, his hopes and dreams for the future, and even left us with some great advice about avoiding life's obstacles (including the Kardashians). The line he is preparing to showcase at NOFW was inspired by the cultural and architectural diversity of New Orleans.
“I think of my runway show as a walk through the streets of this beautiful, historic city. The funky color palette and variety of textiles are my nod to the eclectic salad bowl of New Orleans architecture. I like to think that the stylistic elements of my designs represent the melting pot of ideas, similar to the spirit behind New Orleans culture. I aim to answer the question, ‘If New Orleans were a woman, what would she look like?’”
Describe your early days as a designer. what initially got you involved in fashion?
My interest in fashion began shortly after I came out of the closet, at 16. It was a time in my life when self-expression was a priority. I got a job at American Eagle and built a new wardrobe. After a few weeks, I got bored with the menswear options available so I started drawing the outfits I envisioned. Instead of paying attention to lectures, I spent most of my time in high school drawing menswear and daydreaming of a store with my brand name on the door. By the age of 18 I knew that I wanted to be a fashion designer. I was 20 when I took my first sewing class as a freshman at LSU. As soon I learned how to cut and sew a tailored shirt, I was obsessed with garment construction. Iremember going for a walk one day and thinking to myself, “I'm going to be one of the best tailors in the world.” With each new design course I raised the bar for myself in terms of pattern design and construction difficulty. Menswear design wasn’t part of the curriculum at LSU. I bought a male dress form and told my instructor, “I’m going to do menswear for my final collection.” I checked out menswear books from the library and taught myself drafting.
Why did you decide to apply to be a top designer with New Orleans Fashion Week?
My friend and fit model, Ashley Fruge, sent me the post calling for designers and said, “you should apply!” I’ve wanted to put on a runway show for some time now, but had no idea how to afford it or where to start. New Orleans Fashion Week seemed like the perfect opportunity with all of the resources in place.
What about the fashion in New Orleans sticks out to you?
The fashion in New Orleans is all over the place. I love this city because people come from around the world and feel a sense of freedom. It’s a place where you can drink on the streets, throw cheap plastic beads at people, and wear whatever the hell you want. There’s not a singular fashion style in New Orleans. Each individual expresses a unique style. At least that’s what I see.
What do you think sets you a part from the other competitors in the competition?
I have no idea what the other designers are bringing to the competition. All I know is that I’m bringing a level of design sophistication that won’t be easy to match. I’ve spent countless hours researching and experimenting with some of the most meticulous construction techniques. On top of that, I have fabulous taste in textiles and can cut a pattern like nobody’s business.
Describe your design process. How do you turn your inspiration into the final product?
My design process always starts with my sketches. for this collection, I’m translating historic architectural elements I’ve admired throughout the city into modern, wearable garments. when I’m ready to start a new garment, I look through my sketches and pick the next idea that I want to create. then I find the perfect fabric. I spend the bulk of my time creating, perfecting, and cutting the pattern.
What is the hardest part of the design process? The most satisfying part?
The pattern is definitely the most difficult part of the process. If anything is wrong with the cutting, no amount of sewing can fix it. The most satisfying part of the design process is that moment when I see my finished look on a model. I spend countless hours working from a 2-dimensional sketch, manipulating fabric, and draping onto a lifeless torso. To see my design come to life on a person is truly a moment of bliss.
Over time, how have you seen your design aesthetic evolve? Where do you see your designs going in the future?
When I was in school, my aesthetic was more along the lines of fantasy and futurism. It’s now evolving into a style that’s much more current and reality based. I’m creating looks that I think people will enjoy wearing out into today’s world. I’m embracing the traditional idea of clothing and adding my signature touches. In the beginning all I cared about was creating works of art with no regard for practicality. Now I’m creating artistic pieces that have practical, wearable functions. In the future I’d like to venture back into menswear, perhaps show a collection for both sexes. I’d also like to see my designs become more romantic. There’s a side of me that I hide from everyone, including myself. I’d love to see what I could create if I let go and show that vulnerability through my art.
In five years where do you hope to be in your career? How do you think the fashion industry will be different in New Orleans?
I see myself working at an atelier in Paris five years from now. I dream of learning the art of haute couture first hand and gaining the knowledge I need to take my craft to the next level. I hope to one day be the creative director for a couture house, and eventually open my own atelier. As far as the fashion industry in New Orleans, I hope that it will continue to grow. There are so many talented designers that come from the South, but they think they have to leave in order to find a job in the industry. New Orleans is filled with talent and inspiration; it would be great to see more investors utilizing those important resources.
Who would be your ideal client? Who is that one person you dream about wearing your designs?
Lady Gaga is my ideal client. Not just because of her fashion sense, but because of her confidence. She’s not afraid to be herself and that intimidates a lot of people. I love that.
What tips or words of advice do you have for the next generation of young designers?
Paying rent is an obstacle, finding a job is an obstacle, pretending you care about the Kardashians is an obstacle, and going to bed hungry is an obstacle. If you’re an artist, none of those obstacles will get in your way. The only obstacle that will get in your way is yourself. If you want to be a fashion designer, you need to believe in yourself and fight for your dream. You don’t already have an atelier? You can’t find a job as a designer? You’re tired of eating bologna sandwiches? So what. Keep sketching, don’t stop sewing, and keep your momentum. Focus on mastering your craft, developing your point of view, and building your portfolio. this is a highly competitive industry and it will be difficult for you to find a job without several years of experience. Get a job, ANY JOB, and draw sketches on your lunch break. Don’t stop being inspired. People may think you’re crazy. You may, in fact, be out of your mind, but if you have a dream don’t you dare give up on it. It’s just like in that movie where Kevin Costner goes crazy and builds a baseball field in his back yard: “if you build it they will come.”