Have you ever wondered what it would take to become a fashion designer? Not just possessing the raw talent but defying the odds and breaking through for your chance at the spotlight? I myself am an artist at heart. I paint, decorate and style. As far as art goes, I’ve come to terms with the fact that it will always be a creative outlet, but a hobby at best.
A week or so ago I became acquainted with a young man who generously shared a story about his daughter’s adamant desire to become a designer. I instantly felt a connection with this 7 year old. Ironically, many of my thoughts began to hone in on the uphill climb this little girl faced in choosing this path.
But, why? I out of all people knew that if Picasso’s parents dissuaded him from following in his father’s footsteps and latching onto art or if Mozart’s father didn’t teach him how to play musical instruments, this world would be devoid of so many instances of creativity. After all, this was the argument that I used to sway my parents into allowing me to minor in art in college.
Human kind needs artists to elevate our spirits like we need doctors to perform surgeries. Artists fill life with beauty which begs to be revered and valued. It is this appreciation for the arts and one little girl’s dream that prompted me to set up an interview with my dear friend and fashion designer Bela Shehu. I wanted to capture her words of wisdom, learn about her beginnings and shed some light on her upcoming collection for Nino Brand.
Me: Bela, at what point in your life did you know that you wanted to go into fashion?
Bela: I’ve actually always made my own clothing. For as long as I can remember I hemmed pants and made clothes for me and my dolls. When I was growing up in Albania, it wasn’t seen as anything more than a necessity. Making clothing was like cooking. It wasn’t until I completed my first garment correctly, after taking some classes at Moore College of Art and Design, that I knew that this was it for me. At the time, I was actually going to school for accounting…
Me: If you did not work with as a designer, what is you second passion?
Bela: I love food. I am a really good cook. I want to design and make wonderful dishes and hopefully make people as happy with my cooking as I make them with my clothes.
Bela: Absolutely encourage them. If a child who is meant to do this finds this path, it becomes such an incredible source of happiness. It’s creativity on a different level. It is like being creative with food, something that we use on a daily basis. The designer has influence over that. If a child is really talented, not taught but truly talented, like a painter vs. a curator, then the parents owe it to that child to encourage them.
Me: If you could change one thing about how you got here what would it be and why?
Bela: I could have gotten here way sooner. I made a major mistake right off the bat that set me back 7 years. I opened a retail store when I wasn’t fully ready. That being said, I am still incredibly proud of what I managed to achieve in such a short space of time. My commercial outlet store looked so impressive. I had a stunning glass door storefront (similar to this one: https://industrialdoorcompany.com/glass-doors-storefronts/) that showed off all my merchandise. But it just was not the right time for me. Before that I was manufacturing goods and selling wholesale. I sold in bigger quantities and to more accounts so I was in front of more people. Using an eCommerce platform like Rangeme allowed me to get my products out to more retailers than before thanks to an attractive product showcase as well as improved product discovery. When I opened the store I did less designing, less wholesaling and I had to carry other labels in my boutique. I was running the store on top of everything else. This was when I was 22, so of course hindsight is 20/20.
Me: Who were your inspirations growing up and have they changed?
Bela: I wasn’t aware of what was around as far as inspiration until my early 20’s. Then I felt an affinity towards the early designs by Jil Sander, later designs by Celine, Helmut Lang and AKRIS. I’m not so much inspired by the look of their collections but the consistency in the journey that they take me on. I evaluate clothes by the way they make me feel and it is the way that I design, as well.
Me: How do you prepare to design a new line?
Bela: Well, the Fall 2o11 line started with a feeling that came over me at a concert and it gave me the impetus to start working on the line. I came home and sketched out the collection that same night. I ended up with 50 of them. The way I saw it, I wanted to keep things consistent across the line. Color palettes will change with each season, but if you look at each garment as a member of a family, you take a family out of one scene into another but at the end of the day you are dressing the same family. I went to Mexico on vacation and got inspired to design the Spring 2012 Collection. I also draw inspiration from silhouettes from past eras. Since the way one dresses almost always dictates the way they behave, I try to understand the character the person wants to become. I don’t want people to tug, suck, or adjust. I want women to forget that they are wearing any clothes.
Me: What is the most difficult of frustrating part of what you do?
Bela: Oftentimes creativity gets stumped by the business side of fashion. I get it but I don’t like it.
Me: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Bela: Living on a farm. (Chuckle)
I am glad that I can share a little insight into the mind of a fashion designer. To Bela, couture is the perfect cocktail of commercialism and art. She prefers to stick to the creative part, of course. To us, the end user, we just love the way her clothes fit and make us feel.
Her personal style, like her collection is demure and understated. She prefers ugly over ornate and is so immensely comfortable in her own skin that when you talk to her, there is a calmness that comes over you. I own a couple of her pieces and I just have to say how much I love them. They have a sense of fineness and sophistication, with a rebellious youthful feel. Bela has also named a cropped top from her Fall 2010 after me called “biana,” which I also liked, but you really have to see for yourself to decide.
Happy local designer shopping, ladies.