Style Stars: B Michael Talks Business and Fashion Week
A New York Mercedes Benz Fashion Week favorite, B Michael is one of the most prominent African American designers in fashion.
Some people spend a lifetime carving out a dream career for themselves; B Michael knew what he wanted to do since grade school.
To say the highly coveted designer (and one of just three black Spring 2014 Mercedes Benz Fashion Week presenters) was destined for a career in fashion would be an understatement, though even B Michael himself needed some convincing.
After a stint on Wall Street working as an account executive, B Michael became exceedingly interested in the more creative world of fashion and design, landing prominent jobs alongside Oscar de la Renta and the late Louis Feraud before launching his first couture collection in 1999. Now, more than a decade after B Michael debuted his line, the designer's commitment to creating classic, memorable pieces has garnered him legions of famous fans and a deal with Macy’s to create affordable, luxurious pieces under the AMERICA RED label.
The only thing more impressive than his resume is his clientele: B Michael has dressed everyone from Cicely Tyson and Phylicia Rashad to Halle Berry, Beyonce and the late Whitney Houston in the film Sparkle.
With New York Mercedes Benz Fashion Week just days away, we turned to the Connecticut-born clothier to find out how he got his start, what he looks for in an employee and the must-have items every woman should have in her wardrobe this fall.
Loop21: When did you know that you wanted to work in fashion?
B Michael: I knew that at an early age. As a child I would sketch and read all of my mom’s magazines, so I was doomed for fashion. I always knew it.
Loop21: Walk us through your preparation for Mercedes Fashion Week. What is the process like for someone who has never been a part of it?
B Michael: I will say that it takes a team. My primary responsibility is to stay in my lane. I focus really on the collection. So my team and I are in the atelier, which is our fashion think-tank, and really building the collection. In other lanes, (B Michael co-founder and CEO) Mark Anthony focuses specifically on logistics, which has to do with the production side of the show and then there’s the public relations side of the show. So all of those wheels are moving at the same time for a 23-minute show.
Loop21: How long does it take to get ready for a Mercedes Benz Fashion Week presentation?
B Michael: Well we start the collection about two months before the show and it depends. If we’re working on embroideries and developing fabrics we might even start a little farter out, but no matter how far out you start there’s still that last minute creative frenzy. In terms of the logistics, I would say that some of that is down to a science and they probably work about two months out as well.
Loop21: What can you tell us about your upcoming Spring 2014 collection?
B Michael: I’m excited; each collection is like you’re doing it for the first time. I’m really grateful to still have that feeling. I will say that because we are now doing ready-to-wear, it really gives me the opportunity to take the couture over the top, so you can at least expect a much more extravagant couture collection from B Michael.
Loop21: What do you think will be the must-have items this fall?
B Michael: I’m about classic styling; I am not a trend designer. So I think it’s always important to have that great, chic daytime dress that you’re wearing to meetings or to lunch, and that you also should have that go-to cocktail dress. Of course in New York I would say it’s black, but that depends on where you live. And then the one-piece ball gown for your big night for the fall/winter season. I think each season you add to those pieces and you build a collection. But I love when my clients wear a gown they bought last year because I think it’s about having timeless clothing that you should make a part of your lifestyle.
Loop21: The B Michael brand is always expanding, so what's next for you?
B Michael: We are working on launching another ready-to-wear brand. We will be showing it early this season and it should be in stores for Spring 2014. It’s a bridge line, which will be between the AMERICA RED collection that we launched in Macy’s around the country last year and the couture collection so that will be a great opportunity for us. It should be in stores in January or February.
Loop21: When it comes to your business, what do you look for in someone who wants to work for your brand?
B Michael: I think we look first for someone who has a passion for the business of fashion. Not everyone needs to be a fashion designer; there are so many components in the industry that are very important. So I think it’s about having a clear idea. Are you on the business side? Are you on the creative side? No matter what, we look for someone who has a passion, who is a self-starter, and who is ambitious. Off the cuff they just know the things that are important.
Loop21: What are some tips or advice you have for budding designers who want to break into fashion?
B Michael: I would say coming out of school the first thing you should do is work for someone else so you can really see behind the scenes. Understand that it is a business and learn your way around. I think that’s very important. When the time comes to branch off on your own, the most important part is to find the right business partner. That’s almost as important as finding a person to marry because that’s the dynamic that determines the success.