Who says aspiring fashion designers have to relocate to Europe or the US to find success? 28-year-old Sharleen Lagon has launched a successful design career right in her home island of Saint Lucia, propelling Creole inspired design into the forefront of fashion.
Recently, an ambassador urgently needed a custom suit created to represent his native land to wear at an important conference of cultural ministers. It was imperative that the suit stylishly conveyed cultural awareness. The ambassador could have engaged any tailor in England, where he was when the urgent need arose. Instead, he contacted a 28-year-old designer in Saint Lucia. This designer accepted the challenge and quickly crafted a high-quality suit featuring the Madras style representative of the ambassador’s homeland. It was cleverly also fully reversible to a plain-cloth style. The ambassador was exceedingly pleased with the result, which earned the admiration of conference attendees. This suit was the creation of Creole fashion designer, Sharleen Lagon. Kreol Magazine caught up with this young sensation of style to discover her thoughts on the creative and business aspects of fashion.
Heavily inspired by her rich French Creole heritage, Lagon’s collections feature traditional Madras fabrics, broderie anglaise and varieties of cotton and lace trimmings. She prefers cotton fabrics, as they create comfortable, lightweight clothing that’s easy on the skin. Lagon finds inspiration in designers Vera Wang, Versace, Agent Provocateur, Alexander McQueen and Marchesa, but Lagon’s own Creole heritage colours her work with her personal signature.
The Design Process
Black is Lagon’s favorite colour: “It’s sleek, elegant, timeless and can compliment any other colour”, she says. “For me, black is the perfect canvas.” Yet, she doesn’t allow that preference to dominate her designs. She’s careful to include lots of colour, and incorporates plenty of plaid Madras fabrics of differing patterns and colours to liven up her collections.When starting a new collection, Lagon first selects a theme to guide her work,seeking out choices that highlight and harmonize with the Creole perspective. She invests a great deal of time and energy on research, reviewing historical notes or anything that can add value to her designs. The design process can be quite timeconsuming for Lagon, who devotes herself full-time to her venture. She sees fashion design as more than a career; it defines who she is. “The majority of the work I do is custom-made couture,” she explains. “If I’m not stitching or drafting patterns or training persons or designing sketches for or with individual or corporate clients, then I’m planning photo shoots, designing collections, working on collaborations for runway shows locally and abroad, or I’m at meetings or workshops/seminars to help better [myself] and the business.”
The Origins of J’Aeylu Lagon gsoaked her feet in the fashion world by jumping straight into her own entrepreneurship. Having completed a two-year course outside St. Lucia, she was encouraged by a family friend to start her own clothing line. Lagon entered to a local competition for unique business ideas, submitted her plan and won a grant to begin her own business. She credits her formal studies for giving her the necessary tools to effectively market herself and her brand. She established her label, J’Aeylu (pronounced “jai-lu”). The name was invented by Lagon’s younger sister, Toyla, who created the term through an assemblage of letters from the names of their parents, to symbolize the unity of family. Business ownership has its perks. “I have the freedom to be as creative as I want, without having to conform to a specific look or profile,” Lagon beams. Yet, it can be daunting managing a business in a place where the very idea of fashion design is yet emerging. Lagon prides herself on her meticulous work to create designs that fit, feel and look good, but securing quality fabrics and manufacturers is a constant obstacle that requires a great deal of dedication. She finds it perplexing that, particularly on smaller Caribbean islands, people are under the impression that one must move to the US or Europe to become a successful designer. “Fashion designing takes a lot of skill, creativity, time, expense and sacrifice before the person doing it is even really acknowledged for their work,” Lagon attests. But one’s dedication or potential is not defined by the boundaries of one’s native land. It’s all worth it for Lagon when she gets to show off her work, particularly overseas. “Designing, to me, is like painting to an artist,” she explains. “It’s my work; my joy; my mode of expressing beauty to the world.”
Along the way, Lagon has made some friends who have helped support and inspire her creatively. With sponsorship by Rayneau Gajadhar and his team at CIE, Ltd., Ronald Ramjattan of Baron Foods, and the promotion and support of other local key businesses in Saint Lucia, Lagon has been able to showcase her talents and participate in regional shows.
On Fashion Shows
As one who mostly creates custom designs for clients, Lagon’s main reason for participating in fashion shows is for business exposure. Meeting new designers, industry businessmen and women and models makes all shows successful for her. Lagon doesn’t use modeling agencies for her shows. She finds models in everyday women through her company page, Facebook or even right on the street. And, Lagon is among the growing number of designers using models of all sizes to exhibit their fashions. “I’m not one of those designers that select slim ladies only,” Lagon asserts. “I like variety.”
Advice for Budding Designers
Lagon believes that anyone with the passion to do so can become a designer at any age, whether 15 or 50 years old, as long as the level of work, dedication and sacrifice required is understood. She counsels aspiring designers not to give in to people’s negativity, but to follow their own dreams. Lagon’s dream is to flourish as a designer and see her pieces worn by people who appreciate her artistry. She strives to build J’Aeylu into a successful fashion line that’s internationally recognised for its unique creations. When asked about trend forecasts for the upcoming season, Lagon answers, “I like being original. I don’t follow trends; I set them wherever I can.” Keep your eyes open for this trendsetter of the Creole fashion scene!