The color red in design can mean several things─fiery, passionate or fierce. But for emerging designer Borris Powell the bold color symbolizes why he decided to create couture evening wear.
“If I look back on my life, I was being groomed or mapped out to be what I’m doing right now,” he said. “But I had no idea what that was.”
Powell talked about how as a young child, he spent many evenings “consulting” with his mother Sara about attire to wear whenever she was about to head to church, go on a date, meet girlfriends for lunch or check out a nearby club. But one day when Powell was 10 or 11 something seemed to change. After the pair did their usual consulting for Sara’s evening out, she walked out wearing a red dress. And it was then Powell fell in love with his mother as a fashionista, the color red, with the way the color looked on her and dresses. “I will always have a red dress no matter what,” Powell said, who launched his line just four years ago. “It’s a dedication to my mother. She had no idea she was grooming an aspiring designer. That’s how I fell in love with fashion.”
While Powell definitely liked to help his mother dress her best, he never shied away from doing the same for himself. As a teenager in Piedmont, Ala., he vowed to never wear denim because “it wasn’t dressy enough” and denim “didn’t look classy enough.” Also in high school, as a freshman Powell sparked a dress up day wearing button downs, slacks or khakis every Friday which started with him and his cousins. He said that each person had to wear something new or it had to be “really really cool.” By his senior year the idea to dress the best on Fridays later included the entire school. Powell added that he had to win every Friday and that’s one of the reasons why he landed a job at 13. The other reason was because he had expensive taste, which his mother couldn’t afford. Since Powell was 17, his ideas about denim have changed and he has embraced the fabric. “Baby, I think I fell asleep in a pair last night,” he laughed.
FINDING HIS PLACE
Despite all of his interest in fashion, it wasn’t until he was in college and as a member of Drum Corps International, a music and dance driven major marching band activity for high school and college students, that he began to fall in love with the art of clothing design–which was in 1995. Powell said that he watched intently as the designer sketched and measured each person for their uniform. “Then it hit me,” he said. “What I have wanted to do, subconsciously, throughout the years I just put a title to it. There is a person who designs costumes or designs clothing.”
Powell then moved to Chicago because he felt there were more opportunities to explore his design dreams. So for the past 13 years, he has called the Windy City home and opened an 1,100-square-foot showroom in 2010 several years ahead of schedule. In addition, he’s creating a line for Strut Boutique in Lakeview. He said he has plans to open four more stores once the Chicago store becomes successful ─Amsterdam, Milan, London and then Paris. Powell, who is self taught, said he hopes his name will become synonymous with high end luxury dresses like Christian Dior’s name has become with influential fashion and Valentino with evening gowns. Dior was a designer who is deemed the most influential post World War II. Dior’s designs helped usher in an hourglass silhouette dubbed the New Look, which had not been seen before.
“Christian is my all time favorite designer. If I’m having a really weak moment or if I just can’t get something out of my head, I say to myself,” Powell said, “‘What would Christian do?’ And it comes together.”
Creating a mystique like Dior and Valentino is incredibly important to Powell. He said that since immersing himself with all things fashion, he began to really identify with both, especially Valentino because he wants to produce award-winning dresses that make women feel beautiful.
“That’s how I want people to look at me one day. Borris Powell, the ultimate dressmaker,” he said.
Powell may be well on his way to being known for creating luxury couture. Producers from London invited him to be part of their spring fashion shows because people are talking about his gowns. And while good things are happening for him, he said the goal for this year is to have a celebrity like First Lady Michelle Obama, Nicole Kidman, Alicia Keys or HalleBerry don one of his haute dresses. He said that he has a $36,000 gown with handmade and hand stitched dupioni silk rosettes of varied sizes, which was inspired by his mother, that he thinks would look great on the First Lady.
For more information, visit borrispowell.com.
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