From styling songstress, Queen Latifah to meeting the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, designer Carlton Jones knows no bounds. His latest collection talks animal print, the exotic and muted tones, he talks all things industry, his collection and how to make it.
NATEISHA: Tell me about yourself, what has been your career journey?
CARLTON: My career started in retail. Working at the original Barneys’ in New York was where I first encountered wardrobe stylists coming in to shop for seemingly very interesting projects. Over time as they began to request more of my opinion and then service, I had the “aha” moment, that they were being paid to shop and this was something I could do.
After leaving a career in retail management, I began to test and build a portfolio with hopes of becoming a full-time wardrobe stylist. This worked in my favor by having friends in the industry that could connect me with emerging photographers and other artists.
NATEISHA: So it was definitely a process carved from observation and skill, you have worked with an incredible amount of talent over the years – what was it like working with Queen Latifah, what did the experience teach you?
CARLTON: Queen Latifah was my first big break in the industry; it was like a dream come true to begin her transformation from a hard rapper to a beautiful songstress. I love that she was so open to Fashion and experimentation, and most importantly trusting of my advice on what worked well for her body. This experience taught me how to gain the trust of celebrity clients through authenticity in my communications. Latifah was so real with me that it made it considerably easier to be real with her. This is what most celebrities want and what people want and general.
N: With your incredible career – why did you go from stylist to designer and how did your background help mould that?
C: I’ve been designing throughout my career as a stylist, and I still style because I enjoy it so much.
The transformation was a result of several different factors. Having been the key stylist for the very first Caribbean Fashion week in Kingston Jamaica in 2000, I developed a large network of resources throughout the Caribbean. This set the stage for clients I would do personal shopping for, that often put me in the market for clothing that does well in tropical climates. There came a point where I was selling $1800 caftans, which I realized were really about a cool print and a simple shape. Recognizing I could do this was where the first idea to utilize my design skills and create some pieces. At the same time, I was headlining trunk shows advertised as “Celebrity Stylist Picks” where I would consult with designers on what would work well in tropical climates.
N: Wow, so that led into?
C: Having worked with so many different shapes and bodies as a stylist and personal shopper, I had a great insight to share with designers that help expand their spectrum of sales.
After some time of giving away this intellectual property, I decided to create a capsule collection of swim cover-ups with the assistance of my friend Jeff Grubb who was consulting as a liaison for many luxury boutiques. The first store to purchase from my collection was The Cove @ Escape at the Paradise Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas. After selling out there, this became my target market because I love that although there were high-end luxury stores such as Versace and Ferragamo, this small boutique housed independent designers doing unique items with comparable sophistication.
N: A serious cause for celebration and with that, have you ever had a pinch-me moment?
My pinch me moment had to come when I met the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin. Although she was very relaxed and quite cool, I truly felt I was in the presence of royalty.
N: May she rest well and how has the industry changed over the years and has it been for the better?
C: This is a book within itself. Let me finish the questions about the collection and I’ll come back to back…
N: Okay, tell me about the collection, what is its story?
C: This collection originated from my find of the first print for the collection. This abstract digital interpretation of bones that looked like such an animal print is where it all started for me. It so closely resembled animal print, it quickly transported me to life’s origin and the landscape of Africa. I begin to immediately juxtapose the print with Asian inspired kimono sleeves and robes. The second print that came to me was a representation of the exact opposite end of the spectrum being that it brought the glamour of sequins. The pallet was a similar tone, reminding me of desert sunsets and glamorous evenings.
The final print of the collection was intended to bring some colour to the very muted tones of the first two prints. To me, it represented the technological age you were in and what it has done to our landscapes. You see soft vibrant colours under graphic lines that represent noise.
N: How is it different from your other collections?
C: This is very different from my past collections and which are very colourful, however, I never want to be a one trick pony, so I took the risk of departure for from what I’m known for.
N: And who is the woman and/or man your collection is aimed at?
C: My collection is targeting individuals who love feeling good. I believe there’s a way to be incredibly fashionable and chic in the heat, with amazing fabrics and simple design.
N: Interesting and how do you come up with your designs and concepts?
C: My creative process varies all of the time. Sometimes it is an idea that I sketch and resource fabric to bring it to life, other times I see fabric that I love, and I work to create a design that works with the fabric. It’s always centred around what feels good on the body. I want to create clothing that works well in tropical climates, but can equally be worn at an event in the most metropolitan cities.
N: I wish I could keep you all day but quickly, a piece of advice you would give to any aspiring stylist or designer?
C: My advice for an aspiring stylist or designer is to recognize that the creative aspect of these careers come rather naturally. The need to balance that with a business sensibly is what will create longevity and a prosperous future. Work towards solving a problem and not just to make money, and success is sure to come in one form or another…