I know that you have history in the industry and have worked with some pretty big names. How did those experiences aid you in starting your own brand?
It’s interesting because when I worked with those brands, I was on a different side of the industry—I was a visual director. Working with those brands is just seeing how they navigate and move creatively in the retail space and how they present a certain type of setting especially on a luxury level. That helped me because I'm all about aesthetic, I'm all about the visual communication being that that's part of my background. It has definitely blessed and helped me being able to connect with certain people within those companies. You know, things of that nature, the whole visual communication aspect on a luxury level. I think it definitely added value to what I bring to my brand.
How would you describe the ethos of Cotte D’Armes? What does it represent?
The English translation is “coat of arms.” The French term means a symbol or a piece of clothing that represents you or your affiliation. I thought that was important because when people get dressed, they’re getting dressed in a way that’s representing them, their personality, or how they feel in the moment. Overall, I think it’s a brand about unisex. It’s about positive change and creating things that’s going to make you think outside of the box. That’s our motto: think outside of the box, but through fabrication and through clothing. We have subject matters behind each collection that really make you think, how can I move forward as a better citizen? What can I do for our world for the generations to come? I believe fashion is a hub for communication that connects to sports, music and a little bit of everything.
Tell me about your journey to becoming a fashion designer.
It’s been such a journey. I would say I’ve known that I wanted to be a fashion designer since middle school. When I was in elementary school, I would create art and my art teachers were blown away. So they would start to submit my work into competitions and then from there it was taken to galleries and then museums.
I started getting into magazines and looking at fashion magazines like Ebony, Essence and Vibe magazine. I was seeing brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Polo, Chaps, Ecko and Sean John and it started doing something to me where I'm thinking I could take my artwork and I can actually make things that people are actually wearing.
I did my first two years of college at Katherine Gibbs and my last two years at FIT. But going into the work force when you talk about design is where I hit a wall. As a Black designer, I felt that it was very hard to get in the door. So naturally, I needed to do something—I needed to make money. So I started to get into visual presentation and saw great success with that. My talent started growing and I continued to build from there. I ended up being the visual director at John Varvatos, who eventually became my mentor. He asked me every time we met, what is it that you want? And I said I want to be like you, I want to have my own brand. He told me that I have to live breathe and move in that. In that moment it became apparent that I’m going to have to take the biggest chance in my life and after a few months I put in my resignation there and fully pursued my own brand. I had to force the will in order for people to see me. I had to go out on a limb and start from the bottom up. I had to make the space for myself, for people to look and be like, oh wow, you're actually doing something. I couldn't go through the normal traditional way of getting a design job. I had to create that space for myself, so that’s how it came about.
I understand that you work a lot with denim. What attracts you to that medium?
It’s interesting because my goal was never to be in the denim industry. My mindset was that I wanted to be able to use any fabric to communicate, building collections based off of any fabrication. After I sold my first brand, Modern Chimp, and figuring out my next move, I was actually approached to do a denim line. While I was working as a visual director, I was working on multiple projects, some of which included some denim pieces. One of the investors loved the denim pieces so much, so he approached me and told me that I should really consider doing denim pieces. He said if I did it, that he would come in on it, so I had to think about it. It took me five or six months to really think through if I were to do a denim line, what would it look like? And I created the DNA what of what Cotte D’Armes is today. I also had to think about what it would look like and why I would do denim. What could I offer to the world of denim that I thought was bit oversaturated and what would be unique to me and what I’m bringing to the table? And that’s what you see at Cotte D’Armes today.
When the opportunity opened up to do a collaboration with The Standard, it was a no-brainer to do a varsity jacket to bring something very classic and a staple that can represent both brands very well.
What has your experience working with RAISEfashion been like?
RAISEfashion has been an extreme blessing. RAISE has this mindset of giving resources, but number one, educate, which I think is most important. You could be given so much money as a resource, but then what are you going to do with that money if you're not educated on what to do with it? Especially when there's so many elements to having a fashion brand and staying afloat, and being consistent. Their approach with the brand fellowship was genius. Making direct connection between the designers and the buyers, or the designers and certain organizations that can feedback into your brand and where you're trying to go. The mentorship has been insanely crucial for me. I’ve gained three mentors through RAISE fashion and they all work together on my benefit. So, it’s almost like having an extension of a team. I’ve never had that in my life.
Can you speak on what you’ve created in collaboration with The Standard?
We came together and decided on a varsity jacket, one of the things that my brand specializes in. When I won The New Legacy Challenge a year ago, one of the key pieces in my collection that I presented to win was a varsity jacket. When the opportunity opened up to do a collaboration with The Standard, it was a no-brainer to do a varsity jacket to bring something very classic and a staple that can represent both brands very well.
What does the future look like for Cotte D’Armes?
I want to continue the mindset of challenging people to think outside the box. Let's create a better environment, not just for us, but for the future generations so they can continue on and build something maybe beyond and better than us–I think is the key. Are we going to do that through communication? Through inspiring collection? Challenging people how they see and wear denim. It's not just about a denim jacket, but denim can be used in so many different ways. Another way for us to do that is through collaborations, which are really important for my brand. Right now we’re in the middle of four collaborations, including The Standard, with a couple of them dropping next year. We’re a luxury denim brand and that’s the market we’re targeting. So in that, we have to be very selective on who we align with, and who we partner with that believe in the same thing and go after the same market.
Photos by Shawn McCarney