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Real Life Stories
By: Chito Michaels
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Audry Marie is the new couturier in Town positively representing the woman of colour. From her base in the United States, Audry Marie (aka Enuma Duhu) spoke to DivaScribe.

DivaScribe was given an interview with this trendy fashionista and we were ready to unashamedly grovel for a delectable piece of her fashion. If any were to be thrown our way as a charitable donation, you won’t hear us complaining.

From what we have seen from your collection, your passion for fashion knows no bounds, how did you get into this field?
AM: Well, I have always loved fashion as a child, and as an adult I had a way of putting clothes and accessories together, making what one would think wouldn’t work, work. This led to some of my girlfriends asking me to put a look together for them, be it for a date, party, anniversary, red carpet…you name it. They must have taken me seriously and believed in me, because they took me up on that offer (laughs).

So at what point did you decide to move from styling to actually creating your own pieces?
AM: That started as a result of my passion of fabrics—okay, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here. In 2000 I decided to start taking sewing classes once a week locally, where I lived. I also read books and pushed myself a lot to come up with complicated styles. I made some mistakes but they were learning curves. This evolved into my offering friends my services to sew for them if they saw something they liked and wanted replicated. In America, most tailors normally sew with patterns which they adapt to suit a particular body type. I wanted more than that, I set challenges for myself and grew from that. Also, a trip I made to Africa in 2009 [Nigeria] helped hone my skills.

That is truly remarkable, when did you decide to turn it into a paying trade?
AM: Ahh..…(nostalgic sigh). That was after my trip [Nigeria] which was where I apprenticed with a fabulous designer in his workroom. He showed me the errors of my ways when it came to cutting fabrics and appreciating that different fabrics spoke different languages (notices the puzzled look on interviewer and laughs). I know—that is fashion speak for you. In a nutshell, not all fabrics will suit every style or cut. For example, you can’t make a winter jacket with just a light cotton fabric with no under layers; it may be best to do it with wool or wool blend. Okay, going back to what I was saying, we had the same passion for fabrics, so it was very easy for me to learn and adapt a few of his techniques. However, I’m still growing and I learn something new everyday.

From what I’ve seen from your collection, you are a genius. For example, the three-piece houndstooth coat that you’ve got in your showroom is pure couture. It could very well easily be mistaken as a Chanel or Marc Jacob piece. So where do you get your inspiration from in terms of the actual design?
AM: Once again, it is fabrics—I am very much into them. The line that I did last year was more plain colours but I also love colourful floral prints. I go to this great textile show in LA, called the ‘Los Angeles International Textile Show’, held twice a year in the spring and fall. The fabrics I buy is seasonal: if it’s spring/summer I go for cottons and silk, fall/winter I go for something thicker like wool or wool blend. I usually don’t design stuff until I find “the” fabric to work with.

If I see something I love, be it the print, the texture, the colour of the samples available, I order swatches. And when I receive them it may take a while for me to decide what sort of design will work best with what fabric. I sometimes spend sleepless nights drawing sketches of what I envision, but when inspiration strikes it just comes - zoom – and a design is birthed. From there, it’s just a mad frenzy of cutting patterns, accessorising, sewing, etc.

In the fashion world, most designers tend to favour skinny models to showcase their designs. What is your take on this and who is the Audry Marie lady?
AM: I strongly believe in dressing real women. Yes, skinny models are great clothes horses, but in reality the majority of women on this earth are not naturally that skinny. We all come in different sizes and shapes; I cater up to an American size 18. The important thing is that the woman wears the cloth and not the cloth wearing them. If I have a client who wants something bespoke, I study her figure and decide on the best way to enhance her positive attributes. The fabric has to drape right and accentuate her figure. From there I talk to them about what they want it for and make a sketch. Once they are happy, we start the fitting process which will carry on until she gets that final product. With regards to whom the Audry Marie lady is? It is every woman who is in tune with her body, sexy, comfortable in her own skin, self-assured, with that extra zest for life in her. I would love the opportunity to dress Michelle Obama…she is an Audry Marie woman.

Going back to year 2000, was there any designer out there [fashion world] that added to your inspiration and desire to take up the sewing classes? Who are the designers that you look up to and why?
AM: I love the American designer L’Wren Scott. Her designs accentuate the female body; clean lines; effortless, classically chic; and timeless. Her show at the recent New York fashion show was great. Her designs are a staple in my wardrobe; apart from mine of course (the latter said with a mischievous chuckle). Oh, and Diane von Furstenburg, she is good too. To the first part of the question, I took up the classes because I am naturally a very creative person, and fashion is something that I have a natural flair for.

You are well travelled, are there any cultures that inspires you with your designs?
AM: Actually I do like Ankara [African print] a lot; it’s been very popular in the last three years, maybe not so much in the states compared to the UK. Ankara is 100% cotton and cotton is very versatile, it’s not like silk or wool that you have to be very careful with when working with them.

What is your take on the advances in fashion in Africa by African designers? Do you think they have a long way to go to meet up with their western counterparts?
AM: No, no, no (empahtically)…African fashion has evolved and moved on so much. In particular, Nigerian fashion designers are great at what they do—they push the envelope. For example, as a young girl growing up in Africa, if I wanted a new dress, I would get the fabric from the market and take it to a tailor who would then make an original design for me. Majority of fashion worn in Africa is bespoke, not store bought. So yes, in answer to your question, Africa has a lot to offer on the international fashion platform. We are now holding fashion shows in New York around fashion week. And for my next spring /summer 2011 collection, I will be working with Ankara fabrics; the print and the feel of the cotton are divine.

As a creative person, it is to be expected that once in a while the creative juices will stop flowing, sort of like a writer’s block. How do you handle this and do you have a mentor who takes you through the dark clouds and gets your mojo [creativity] back?
AM: I joined a group last year called the Fashion Group International based in New York. They have branches in most states in America. What I get from them in terms of creativity is immense; you can seek advice whilst you are going through a difficult design process and also get a flavour of what everybody else is doing. At their events you get shown what the summer, spring, fall or winter trends will be. Having that information on tap when needed helps me a great deal.

I attended their DVD show on the 23rd of April. It was fun. I found that regardless of all the crazy styles, silhouettes and all, it all boils down to a wearable style. Colors are in this fall, camel was a popular color, used mostly for great coats (Marc Jacobs) and pants (Michael Kors). Turquoise, purple, orange will also be in for fall 2010. Pencil skirts will no longer be popular as the full skirts will be in this fall and dresses as well. As for fabrics, velvet for evening wear, plaid for coats and dresses, and lace will be seen. Regardless of what is shown this fall, when buying, make sure you buy what will last long and what you can wear with other pieces, like a great coat.Generally though, when I get a creative block, I take a break and do something totally different to free my mind and be inspired again.

Do you retail in departmental stores?
AM: Umm… tricky one. Yes, I did do some research and was in talks with a production company about getting my designs in stores. If you are trying to get into market production, you will need a production company that will do the selling, etc for you. After my research I was advised to have my own little online store by my management team. We have got plans to launch that next year, but in the meantime, I get my clientele from referrals and people who go to my website and contact me. In saying that though, there are a few boutiques locally who are interested in stocking my line, so watch this space. However, if I were to have a change of heart and go into store retailing, I will probably aim for Macy’s.

You produce originals, which must take a lot of work. Are your prices affordable or exorbitantly expensive?
AM: With the current economic climate, I am doing my bit to make sure that my clients can still afford to look good. Pretty much everything is under the $100 mark, with the exception of my princess shift dresses which are slightly higher.

I have seen the shift dresses and they are divine, very Audrey Hepburn–y. So how do we get a piece of Audry Marie if we are not living in the States?
AM: Usually I work on referrals as I work on a one-on-one basis. And sometimes, to make it easier for my clients, I get them to send me their measurement and a photo via email and we work from there. Truth be told, I love making clothes one on one with my clients; that’s where I started and it’s something that I hope to continue doing for the foreseeable future.

But for my ready to wear lines, I will be stocking them on from June this year. The company is here in the States and they specifically stock only handmade products and if one were to buy from abroad, their orders can be shipped to them.

You are also a milliner, is that something you are looking to diversify into?
AM: Oh my gosh…let me tell you, hat making is tricky and hard. I take my hat off—no pun intended—to designers such as Philip Treacy who do it day in and day out. The design process is so intricate and requires a lot of attention to detail—not that we don’t do that in clothes fashion. But in answer to your question, I took up hat designing by attending an intense week-long course and apprenticed with a milliner which led to the creation of my hats for Audry Marie, but that is not something that I am looking to get heavily involved with at the moment. But I am looking into designing for children soon.

What advice would you give to someone who wishes to get into your line of business?
AM: I have known people who went to the FIT [Fashion Institute of Technology] in New York. Once they come out of it and saw what it entailed, they very quickly choose a different career path. You really have to have a passion for it, and embrace all aspects of fashion designing, be it the designing, cutting, sewing, accessorising, and sourcing fabrics. To be successful in it, you have to live, breathe, and understand all aspects of it. Be ready to make mistakes when you first start off, but don’t let it deter you. See them as positive learning curves.

Audry Marie, it is has indeed been a real pleasure having this chat with you. Looking at your collection, no one can question your talent or deny you the stratospheric success you will achieve when you retail. Thank you so much for this interview and we wish you the best of luck for the future.
AM: Thank you so much, the sentiment is returned.

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