ST. PETERSBURG —On the heels of Guyana Fashion Week, founder and fashion designer extraordinaire Sonia Noel flew in to St. Pete to share her one-of-a-kind designs with the folks on the Deuces.
Last month Noel visited Gallerie 909 to show off her Caribbean and South American influenced wearable art. This self-taught clothing artist has travelled the world over with her designs, including London, Toronto, Spain and all through the Caribbean and the United States.
Born in Guyana, Noel said designing is in her DNA. As a young girl she would teach her friends how to make doll clothing and would display her scarf wrapping skills as far back as primary school.
“They would always come to me,” said Noel. “I really enjoyed it.”
Her mother was a seamstress and her youngest aunt was, and will always be, a fashionista.
“Oh my God she could dress. When I was a teenager, all the things that couldn’t fit her anymore I would get,” she said. “I was loving it.”
At 11 years old, she donned her own designs at a junior pageant and placed first runner up. It was then she started advising family and friends. Once she became a teacher, she implemented school programs that centered on fashion. Co-workers wouldn’t think about stepping out to an event without getting her advice.
“Everybody thought I had all the fashion answers. I love it. I really found my purpose,” she said, crediting God for her natural talent.
Noel’s uses fashion as a platform to influence and send messages to the younger generations. Whether it’s talking about the environment, domestic abuse or breast cancer, she uses fashion as a way to bring awareness to issues.
“Everybody is interested in fashion one way or the other,” she said. “I say to people fashion is beyond the runway. Some view it as trivial stuff, girls are dressed nice and walk the runway, but there is deeper meaning behind it.”
Even the models she uses for Guyana Fashion week, Noel wants to them to go on a journey of self-development before walking the catwalk.
“We do a lot of classes with them to talk about getting them to be a better person in the workplace, or whatever, so that they will function better in society,” she said. “It has to beyond the surface; it has to be deeper. I interact a lot with young people and I try to impart in them a positive outlook on life.”
Noel has traveled extensively with her designs. She met Gallerie 909 owner Carla Bristol in New York a few months ago, and they hit it off right away.
“She has such a passion for the arts,” said Noel.
Both Noel and Bristol were born in Guyana, a country on South America’s North Atlantic coast, and both have creative minds.
“When I saw her show in New York, I saw how everyday women could have versatility in her clothes, so I was like ‘OMG, it would be nice if she would come here,’” said Bristol, who added that all of Noel’s clothing is made in Guyana.
Bristol feels that the Tampa Bay area needs more original designs.
“These are unique items, and we know they are one-of-a-kind, not being made in a sweat factory somewhere,” Bristol averred. “It’s the next level in wearable art.”
Noel’s one-size-fits all designs are very versatile and are made for every woman.
“Size zero or two were the norm, but the average person is not a two,” Noel said. “That’s why with every show I do I say I need some real looking women with some kind of curves on stage.”
She feels that it’s important for people to feel very comfortable with what they are wearing, and not only just for a comfort level. The clothing must also give them that little edge.
“That’s why when you look at my pieces they are also a piece of art. It’s not just a dress or pants, it has to have something different. It must be a conversation piece.”
Drawing inspiration from the world around her, her lattice designs, which she is famous for, was inspired by Guyanese architecture.
“People, they buy it because of the difference that it is.”
With their flowy Caribbean and South American flair, her designs range from every day wear to the glamor of the red carpet. In fact, she had a piece worn to this year’s Grammy Awards by jazz musician Ronald “Boo” Hinkson’s wife.
One of the main reasons why Noel started Guyana Fashion Week back in 2007 was to give young talent a platform because most people will not have the money to put on a show.
“So much young talent derived from that show and they are doing it as a career and living from it now.”
This year’s fashion week ran from Nov. 6 to Nov. 13. It included leadership, model and hair workshops, parties galore and of course, plenty of runway shows.
“It’s a lot of work and I love it,” Noel said. “When you love something, even with challenges, you make it possible.”
To see more of her fashions, visit sonianoel.com and like her on Facebook @Sonia Noel Designs.