Creative people have to satisfy their passion even when rough economic times and pragmatists suggest that frugality and financial security is the order of the day. Though creativity can be tempered with measured caution, contracting markets and fear mongering cannot silence its voice. Artists have to scratch that itch and satisfy their muse.
Carmelita Martell is doing just that. Though the road to finding her muse has been circuitous, like many emerging designers, Carmelita has discovered that scratching that proverbial fashion itch is yielding far more than material gain. Now don’t get me wrong, Carmelita is riding a wave of success. Features in Japan Elle, WWD, and Paris Spring testify to that. And having hot celebrities such as Paula Abdul, Mya and Katherine Graham flaunt your designs certainly bolster sales. But for Carmelita a career in fashion is much more than dressing celebrities and magazine features. Bringing a life-long dream – Carmelita Couture – into fruition is providing its own measure of personal satisfaction.
While working on her Fall/Winter 2010 Collection, Carmelita Martell took time out of her busy schedule to speak with the Fashion Spot about her love of fashion, her Spring 2010 Collection, and the niche she carving in the fashion industry.
How did you first get involved in fashion?
Carmelita Martell: I am originally from Detroit and I got my first taste of fashion by being involved in the Midwest urban fashion scene. I was heavily influenced by R&B, pop music, and rock and roll. As a child, I watched Elsa Klensch on CNN and was just enchanted by the beautiful clothes and creativity. My parents were very frugal, so from their perspective, fashion as career was not really an option for me. So I went to business school and became a financial consultant. But my true passion was always fashion.
How long has Carmelita Couture been in existence?
Carmelita Martell: The company was randomly created in 2007 while I was living in Miami. On a whim, I entered a fashion design competition during Art Basel in Miami, and created several looks for that show where I took vintage clothing and updated the looks, mixing in new fabrics and materials. I won the competition and kind of got the designing bug. I started participating in more Miami-based fashion events. I quickly realized that I really wanted a career in fashion as a designer, so I did my homework, found a great pattern maker, and subsequently launched my line.
When you first started your collection were you influenced by the nightlife, art deco scene in Miami?
Carmelita Martell: I was influenced by the Miami nightlife. In Miami, most people go out almost every night. We express our individuality in our clubbing clothes. When I first started my line, I was doing a lot of reconstruction of vintage clothes, but now my clothes have my own distinct point of view.
How did you come to be based out of Philadelphia?
Carmelita Martell: I met my husband in Miami, and his career moved our family to Philadelphia, which has been great for my business because Philly is so close to NYC. Miami didn’t offer the resources that NYC does, so it has been a good move all around.
Let’s talk about your aesthetic. You seem to be tapping into art culture combined with a sexy glam street culture. Could you expand on that?
Carmelita Martell: I think it is important to make things wearable, so I bring in an urban edge to my garments but still maintain feminine silhouettes. It is a mixture of hard and soft elements. For example, I have a dress in my Spring Collection that is made from a soft pink vinyl with a floral appliqué. I love crafting modern shapes from materials like vinyl, and mixing in pastel colors from the sixties and incorporating softer, more feminine fabrics combined with structured silhouettes. These combinations add a couture quality to the garment.
Could you talk about your textile choices?
Carmelita Martell: I love animal prints and colorful fabrics, which you see a lot of in Miami. When you are working with harder fabrics like vinyl and plastic, you really have to understand the malleability of the fabric in order to work with it successfully.
Your current collection mixes zebra and leopard prints with black vinyl and plastic, gold lame genie pants, kind of a downtown, club sex vixen look. What was the inspiration for this look?
Carmelita Martell: My Spring Collection is wearable art. We try to create collections within the bigger collection. White is a big trend for spring, so we have worked that into our collection with white vinyl embellishments. We thought a lot about the difference between soft and hard, and incorporated that contrast into our spring line. So we try to contrast the harder fabrics like the vinyl and the plastic against the softer animal print fabrics.
I see some sixties references, could you talk about that?
Carmelita Martell: I don’t focus on just one fashion period, I merge various periods referenced in my collection. It wasn’t really thought out, it was just an organic response to looks that have influenced me. Because of my love of vintage clothing and fashion history, I absorb all these influences and incorporate those images into my line, but in a modern way.
Would you say your clothes are for the rebel fashionista?
Carmelita Martell: You could say that, but perhaps it is more for the fashionista that wants to make a strong statement with her clothing choices. I believe my current collection has a lot of range, but is definitely for the confident women who is adventurous and loves fashion.
Could you expand more on the type of women who wears your clothes?
Carmelita Martell: A very confident women who is probably creative in her personal life as well as her career wears my clothing. My clothes are great for the business women who wants a night look that is very different from her 9-to-5, primetime look. My look encompasses young women who are on the dating scene and love to go out, to more mature women who are creative and love fashion. I make quality garments in my collection, so I attract women who are looking for quality that can be in their wardrobe for more than one season.
What stores are carrying your clothes?
Carmelita Martell: My clothes are in Patricia Fields in NYC. In Englewood, New Jersey we are in That Look. In California we are in J L Marks, Bond 19, Bell Jar Boutique, and Ame Mi. In Las Vegas we are in Annie Creamcheese. And we are in Fluert Boutique in Dubai, Garage Boutique in Bermuda and Social Royalty in Australia.
So, you are global.
Carmelita Martell: [Lots of laughter] Well, I do see the line as a global line. I travel a lot, and I make garments that are adaptable to different cultures. I have dresses in my collection that I would want to specifically wear in different cities. A lot of young women look at garments and assume that they wouldn’t have anywhere to wear a particular look. What they don’t realize is, if you purchase the garment, you will ultimately find somewhere to wear it.
What do your clothes retail for?
Carmelita Martell: My clothes retail between $195 and $500. We do have pieces that are couture and more expensive, particularly some of our red carpet garments.
How has the economic downturn affected your business?
Carmelita Martell: People are buying at lower price points. Consumers are not buying as much, and they certainly are not giving the younger designers much of a chance. Some boutiques are even asking designers if they will sell their clothes on consignment because they can’t take the risk of carrying collections that might not sell. So the environment now is tricky. You really have to know your customer and strategize around what your customer wants to purchase.
You seem to have tapped into this celebrity, fashionista, red-carpet phenomenon. Could you talk about that?
Carmelita Martell: Because my garments are statement pieces, a lot of stylists and celebrities seek my brand out because my garments have an eye-catching appeal and get them press on the red carpet. There are so many beautiful women in Hollywood that in order to get attention, you need that dress that is going to make the light bulbs go off. Camelita Couture has been able to provide those types of eye-catching garments.
Which celebrities have worn your designs?
Carmelita Martell: Paula Abdul wore one of my designs on her last show with American Idol. Mya has worn some of my clothes to award shows. Katherine Graham from Vampire Diaries was featured in Elle Japan wearing my designs. And Kelly Osborne also wore my clothes on Dancing with the Stars.
What’s next for you?
Carmelita Martell: We are completing our Fall Collection, working with appliqués and embroideries. We are trying to develop more focused, tighter collections.
For more information about Carmelita Martell’s collection, go to carmelitacouture.com.