During the month of August, we’ll be highlighting aspirational folks who are setting major #goals and achieving them, and asking them to share their stories and insight to help motivate us all to “live our best lives.”
These athletes, artists, fashionistas, scholars, entrepreneurs, and more, are a reminder to us all, that dreams are valid!
Previously, we spoke with Ghanaian chef and restaurant owner Zoe Adjonyoh. For our latest installment, we speak with Haitian-American knitwear designer Victor Glemaud. Read our conversation below.
There’s no shortage of talented designers, but not all of them have lasting careers, even fewer get their clothes on international runways, and only a handful gain membership into the CFDA, one of the fashion world’s most prestigious associations. Haitian-American knitwear designer, Victor Glemaud has done all of this more, and what’s more impressive is that it seems like he’s only getting started.
Glemaud is one of the 2017 finalists for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion fund, an award that recognizes fashion’s most innovative and promising couturiers. We spoke with the experienced designer about his nomination, his career path and how he’s managed to find balance between pursuing a thriving career and just living. He reminds us that even in an industry as competitive as fashion, it’s possible to find long-term success and remain wholly grounded through it all.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
OkayAfrica: Can you tell us how you got your start in fashion?
Victor Glemaud: I started working in fashion when I was 19 years old. I was at school at FIT studying fashion, and I was also working at Dean Deluca’s, as one of the checkout boys or kids. I met—or I checked out, I should say—the designer Patrick Robinson. At the time, he had his own company. I’d read about him in the newspaper, and I wanted to say something to him, but I did not. I promised myself if I ever saw him again, I would say something to him. I can’t remember how much time went by, but a bunch of time went by, and I saw him again.
I started talking to him, and told him I was going to school and that I loves his work. He told me to “call him up”—this was before, you know, the internet and Google and all of that. He told me that if I wanted to intern to let him now.
I called him for six months, every Friday for six months. He was never there, or he didn’t answer or whatever. And then finally I got him. He was like, “I don’t remember you, but come and work on my show.” Which really meant “come and work on the show, and if I like you, then we can talk about an internship.” I worked on the show, it was incredible. I remember my job during the show was to lint brush the girls shoes. I think Gisele [Bundchen] was in the show. It was incredible. That led to an internship, and then I became his assistant a year into it. That’s how I started in fashion.
Do you consider yourself successful, and why or why not?
I absolutely do think I’m successful. I work in an industry that I love and I’m inspired by what I do. It’s not an easy business, fashion.
But, slowly, I am trying to create my own unique mark in this industry and in this space, through clothes.
I feel like people are now slowly becoming more aware of it, and to me that feels like an achievement.
What is your proudest accomplishment to date?
My proudest accomplishment, quite honestly, is really when I see people wearing my clothes. Whether it’s in real life, whether it’s on social media. People that I don’t know, people that I do know, I like that. A friend of mine emailed me this morning. I was staying with her last week in London, and she’s like, “I’m wearing this black sweater that I got on Net-A-Porter today. I’m getting all these compliments. I feel great. I ordered two other ones.” And I was like, “send me a pic.” She sent me a quick picture, and she looked fantastic, she looked really happy, and those moments are like my proudest accomplishments. There’s been highs and lows in my career, and there’s a lot of things—whether it’s from being in a museum show that I did or my first runway show. But, to me, things like that always make me happy.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw someone wearing a sweater of mine years ago. I was with my friend who was styling the show at the time. We were out, and I was like, “oh my God.” He was like, “I think I see your sweater.” And I really geeked out over it. That still happens to me.
It’s the little accomplishments, I guess.
So, it’s not just about the accolades for you? It’s also about people actually wearing your clothes and feeling good in them?
Yeah. You know, the accolades matter. The accolades keep you going. Whether it’s from organizations that I volunteer with, around Haiti and things like that. Those things matter. But, at the end of the day, I make clothes. I make clothes that are meant to be worn. So, for me, those little moments when people actually are wearing it, I think are fabulous.
How does your Haitian background influence the clothes you make? Does your heritage have any impact on your work?
Absolutely. Whenever I’ve gotten this question in the past, I think people always expect it to be about color and this and that and whatever. But for me, my parents instilled that you have to work hard, and you also have to enjoy your life. For me, that’s always been a way of me sort of expressing myself through my work. I’ve always been allowed to express my views and my opinions with my entire family. My aesthetic really comes from, my parents, especially my father. He had a rigor in the way that he dressed. He was very formal and immaculate and really chic, even when he was in jeans and a leather jacket. I say that, because there’s a picture in my apartment of him that I see all the time, and it was very precise.
My mother was a little bit more casual and didn’t follow fashion and trends and still does not. I feel like those sorts of figureheads—people in my life who respected the way that they dressed and hoe my older sister and my younger brother and I dressed—really, I feel like, all of those people and things are encapsulated in different ways in the way I show my clothes and the way the clothes look, as well as the cast that we work with. There are always elements of that. Yes, it is colorful. Yes, it is fun. There is a very big element of where I am from and where I grew up and all of those things in what I do.
Why is diversity in fashion so important? And what does it mean to you to be a black designer in this space, paving the way for future top designers?
For me, my experience is different. I started working for a black designer, so I’ve always had this support system of people who are the minority in this industry. And within that, from editors to people who do hair and makeup who are people of color, they are my friends. We work together. We have worked together. So, for me, I’ve never felt on the fringes or like one of the only ones.
But now, I think the main difference is there’s a lot more, and there’s a lot more people who are visible in the fashion front. Matteo‘s in the fashion front. You know, Teflar is in the fashion front. I think that’s incredible.
You know, I feel like we’re in a time that is completely different than when I started working in the fashion industry, where it is diverse. We are talking about it. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Is there a lot more to do? Yes, yes, yes. But I think it comes from people who see designers like myself and everyone else I just mentioned, and they’re like, “you know what? I can do this too.” Whether you’re from Haiti, or you grew up in Queens like I did. I always say these things, because I never had anyone that sort of related to me in an industry that I wanted to be in, and it’s something that I want to do for others.
I think of kids today, I’ve heard from kids telling me, “you’re Haitian too. How do I do this? How do I get into this.” I think once you see someone who has a similar background to you doing it, you know there’s a possibility that you can do it too.
I just hope as this grows and people become aware of it and hopefully like it, it will influence the next generation and the generation after that of creatives, not just in fashion, but all types of creatives. I think that’s the most important thing.
Which designers have influenced your work and who are the people in our life that have been central to your success?
My friends from Patrick and his wife, Virginia, they have always stood by me. My parents. I have a lot of friends in fashion so I don’t want to go down the list of all of those people. But, the designers that I like and respect are really independent designers, designers that have figured out a way to sell clothes, retain their business or some sort of ownership stake in their business, and also live their lives and do their thing. I love Dries Van Noten, I love Paul Smith. It’s a really tough business, but these guys just do their thing. They have beautiful stores. They make great clothes, great accessories, and they sort of just move on. You know?
I bumped into my friend Joro Orlo, and then we had tea, and then we walked around Portobello, and he was giving me his story. And he’s another designer who’s independent. He has his business. And he enjoys his life, and he has a really good business. Those are the types of designers that really inspire and influence me to take a little bit from their experience and apply it to this, and hopefully not make too many mistakes. But we will, it’s inevitable.
Are there any particular habits along those lines that you think have been essential to your success in the fashion industry?
I ask a lot of questions. And I tend to ask the same question in different ways, which can be annoying for people, but I do that. I read everything. I listen to peoples advice and their opinions, but at the end of the day, I make my own decision, and I stick to it. I don’t hide behind anyone else’s opinion, whether it’s right or wrong. I remember a lot, but I’m really sort of strategic, and I don’t really move without a plan. I’m tenacious. From a young age, I figure out how to sort of navigate the unknown and push it forward.
And quite honestly, I think another thing is that I simply love clothes. I love the act of dressing. If you’re in this industry, and you don’t like clothes, then I don’t understand why you’re here. Also, now that I’ve started my business, I like to be on time. I don’t want to waste people’s time when they take the time to meet with me. So, I’m punctual, and it seems to be working. You’ve got to be prepared for your meetings, be on time, and get into it.
So, what’s next on the horizon for you? What are your future goals?
In the near future, I’m planning my next campaign with a great team that we’re putting together. Collaborating with a German brand that comes out at the beginning of next year, and I’m expanding distribution. In addition to Net-A-Porter, I’m selling to ShopBop coming this fall, which I’m really thrilled about. I’m dealing with hiring people, so if you know anyone please connect us.
With the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund, there’s a lot of activity around that. I’m focusing on taking this business to the next phase, and we’re having great conversations that I think will ultimately allow what is a little business to grow. So, there’s a lot going on. There’s a lot.