Creative people are an extremely unique group. No matter how we express ourselves—through art, fashion or the written word—we’re all attempting to tell a specific story, hoping that we make a special connection with at least a few individuals who actually get us. With our soul’s work laid bare to be judged by others, we’re often sensitive and, for us, letting go of a creation is like giving birth; I do it every time I write a feature for this site. So when I had the opportunity to sit with Amanda deLeon to talk about her Fall 2013 Collection, I was interested to tap into her creative process, sources of inspiration and to see if she was a perfectionist like me…like I expected, she’s that and more.
I met with deLeon a week before her show at New Orleans Fashion Week and although she still had a lot of sewing to do to complete her collection, if she was at all stressed, it didn’t show. Her shotgun home is a unique combination of modern design and a distinct element of warmth, which is rare. Her spacious design studio is in the back, complete with racks of samples, works-in-progress, a sewing machine, ironing board and a full wall of hanging patterns. I immediately got the feeling that she spends more time there than in the rest of the house.
deLeon grew up in a very small town in northern Louisiana. “We didn’t even have our own postal code…there was like one stop light. Across from my house there was a chicken house and a cow farm,” she joked. “My graduating class was really big for our school and it was like 40 kids.” She married Kevin deLeon, an accomplished photographer, and lived in North Carolina and Texas for a while, but she always longed to live in New Orleans. “The moment I got here, I knew that this is where I wanted to be…it’s unlike anywhere else…you can’t compare it.”
Although she loves it here, deLeon realizes that her personal preferences and design style are definitely not in sync with traditional Southern dressing. “I hate summers here but I still think you can dress better even when it’s hot. You just have to chose things that fit a certain way,” said deLeon. “People here are so obsessed with ‘Southern’ and I don’t get it! It’s such a small world here, especially with the internet, that [why] are you not inspired by anything other than Mark Twain?" She understands that the heat and humidity require light fabrics but shakes her head at the thought of why so many women here choose to wear the same flowy dresses.
I couldn’t help but agree since, having lived in Manhattan for over 20 years, I had an immediate appreciation for deLeon’s classic modern cuts and geometric designs. I was surprised to hear that she’d only been to NYC once since her clothes are more indicative of that metro than New Orleans. “I love classic shapes and tailoring, especially with my coats and staple pieces because those will last you forever and still be in style because there’s not really a certain trend to them.”
When asked about her inspiration for her fall collection, deLeon was more honest than I expected. “For the past year, I’ve been having all these intense nightmares with things recurring in them…bits and pieces…maybe color or things that happened to me,” she revealed. She combined these visions (some of cats and flowers) with the music of Dax Riggs and her love of the Saints—which she thinks is “cheesy”—to create this edgy collection. The intricate patterns and cutouts of animals in her leather and color palette were influenced by her artist friend, Brad Kunkle. “He does these beautiful paintings with women and uses gold and silver leaf. It’s really interesting because it changes color and tone as the day goes by and when the light hits it,” explained deLeon. “They’re really dark and dreamy…I was inspired by that for sure.”
Although, for the most part, deLeon is a one-woman show, she did recruit friends to help her cut patterns into her leather pieces for the collection. What impressed me most was the extremely high quality of the fabric she uses and that she fulfills each order herself from measuring, developing, design and fittings; if you order a piece from her, it’s made by her in the studio, adding an exceptional personal element. She plans to expand her business beyond New Orleans, but wants to remain based here. “I’ve gotten it through my thick skull that I am not for the Southern woman at all, period. So, there are really not many stores that can support my work here,” she said, admitting she’s uncomfortable with connecting with people she doesn’t know. “Cold calling? It doesn’t work. I know my product is good, but where’s the trust? People don’t know who I am…I’m just some girl from the south for all they know.”
I couldn’t resist asking her what she thought about the commercialism of fashion, especially with reality television and Project Runway. She has an appreciation for the show and can connect with some of the outrageous challenges, having indulged in them herself. "I’ve made stuff out of the most ridiculous things because I wanted to and it was fun,” she said. The one thing she can't totally embrace is the time constraint imposed upon the contestants because for deLeon, her reality is totally opposite. "One day to construct something? I sit on my sketches for six months and wonder how I can make them better.”
And, this is where we delved into her private self as it pertains to her creative process and how putting yourself in the public eye can backfire. “If you put yourself in the position of being a TV personality as well as creative…oh my God, it could totally blow up in your face,” said deLeon. “The way I work? No, I don’t want people to see when I panic over something or I have a mini-breakdown because I think I’m not good enough. Every creative person goes through that but it’s the end result that counts, not the process.”
She admits that she is hard on herself and her friends think her “nitpicking” is prohibitive. “I’m a little obsessive over things, especially this collection as I feel as I wanted to do so much more.” She was waiting on this special velvet that was on backorder and was not sure if it would arrive on time for the show. “It might be a last minute piecing together on two of my showcase items; it will most likely not happen and I’m going to have to let it go…it kills me, it really does.” When I saw her the day after her show, she told me the fabric didn’t arrive on time but, in my opinion, had absolutely no affect on the powerful impact of her collection.
Despite her obsession with perfection for her collections, she’s a lot more flexible when it comes to dressing herself. “I don’t design anything I wouldn’t wear myself, but for every day? I put on my favorite jeans and a t-shirt…something I can wear and sew in at the same time,” said deLeon who absolutely adores the red three piece suit she designed. “When you put it on, it’s like you have all the power in the world.”
Dressing for power and actually having it are two distinctly different things. Amanda deLeon definitely has both and, although we love her black and gold designs, we’re anxiously awaiting her collection for Spring, 2014 and the intriguing story she'll tell.
Runway photographs courtesy of Donovan Fannon.