This month Clutch talks personal style, fashion for a cause and what’s really to blame for the lack of black love in the industry with designer extraordinaire, Malcom Harris.
Q: How did you get started in the industry?
I actually started in the fashion industry by interning in Paris at legendary houses such as Yves Saint Laurent, Paco Rabanne and Jean Paul Gaultier. Soon thereafter I became a fashion stylist working with fashion magazines and high-profile/celebrity clients.
Q: How is your brand executing the slogan of “Changing the world one dress at a time”?
Every season we design one single dress within our collection and donate approximately 25 percent of the profits to our charity of choice. As our company grows, our goal is to be able to design a group of dresses and donate 100 percent of the profit to charity.
Q: What did you set out to accomplish with your Designers for Darfur initiative? Do you feel that it has been a success?
Initially my goal was simply to spread the word amongst the fashion industry that the genocide in Darfur was taking place. This stemmed from several discussions with people in the fashion industry that had no idea what was going on in Darfur. Fortunately, the universe had bigger plans and Designers For Darfur has gained an international following. Recently designers in the U.K. banned together to form their own Designers For Darfur group and collectively we are attempting to stage an international DFD show in Paris or Milan. I truly don’t believe that our efforts can be considered a success until the genocide in Darfur ends.
Q: How would you describe your personal style?
My own personal style is “urban warrior.” My uniform consists of a pair of army fatigues, a charitable slogan t-shirt, my black army cap and an overcoat or jacket made of confidence and purpose.
Q: You seem to have a solid sense of who you are as a person and a designer. Do you feel that this has been one of the keys to your success?
What I love about this question the most is that it actually holds the oxymoron that has become my life. My solid sense of self as a person as well as a designer is due to the fact that the word “success” is something that is not a part of my journey. My journey is simply that – my journey. The only way I am able to quantify and qualify my life is via the words of people that tell me how the story of my journey has helped them to live their dream or to become a fearless person. If this is what the world considers success, then I have surpassed their definition a million times over.
Q: So many talented designers, especially black designers, continue to fly under the radar. Why do you think that is?
This is a question that can not be sugar coated and/or edited for the sake of being politically corrected. We have not pooled together our power and/or resources to make a difference in the arena of fashion. We are outnumbered in the boardrooms where the financial decisions are made – We are under represented in the editing rooms where the fashion magazines are churned out – We are ignored in the advertising meetings that continue to reproduce the same old Lilly-white images. And most importantly, we have no one to blame for it but ourselves. We have to begin to train our young people that are interested in entering the supposed “glamorous” world of fashion that there are many more positions to be had in this exciting industry besides being a super model and/or celebrity designer. Had I known what I know today, I would have never become a fashion designer – I would have definitely become a fashion editor turned designer.
Q: You’re quite accessible via your blog site, Cut, Sew, and Blog (which we love!), YouTube and MySpace. What made you decide to be so open about your journey as a designer? What has the response been like?
I have purposely/intentionally made myself accessible and real via my online presence because I never wanted people (especially people of color) to misunderstand and/or misinterpret the price that one has to be willing to pay in order to participate in this game of fashion.
As a kid growing up that always knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life (thanks to the movie Mahogany starring Diana Ross), unfortunately I never got to see the faces of any black designers growing up. Therefore, I have made it my goal to make sure that youngsters of color coming up have a tangible person that they can use as a blueprint to improve upon in their own journey. By the overwhelming response that I have received from blog and the various social networks, I would say that everyone knows by now that “Malcolm Harris is young, gifted and black.”
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
The best piece of advice that I have ever received came from my dear friend and supporter Madonna. Madonna always told me, “Never stop being you. If you love everything that you are and all that you are made of, eventually they will love you too… And if not, fuck’em.”
Q: What motivates and inspires you?
I am actually inspired and motivated by real life. Nothing inspires me more than the thought of a woman doing simple things. The thought of a woman reading the morning paper, chatting with friends or day dreaming in quiet corner motivates me to design clothes for those real yet simple moments.
Q: How would you describe your point of view for Mal Sirrah’s spring 2008 collection?
The Mal Sirrah Spring 2008 collection was based on the silhouette of one single dress and dubbed “One Dress – All Women – One World.” I really wanted to design a dress that could be made in many different fabrications, sizes, colors and/or dimensions. I love the fact that this dress can be belted, accessorized or jacketed to give the wearer her own individual look and style.
Q: What are a few of your must have pieces for spring/summer?
The ONE Dress. The One Dress has a complete modern feel and an amazing charitable component (25 percent of the profit goes to the ONE organization dedicated to ending world hunger).
Q: What would you like our readers to know about you?
That I have made more mistakes and experienced more disappointments than I dare to count; but the one thing that I have never done and refuse to do is to give up the fight. I will never give up the fight.
Q: Fill in the blank: “Fashion is
…whatever you want it to be.”