If they look at my dress and they say, "Oh my God, its gorgeous" I’ve already done my job because I’ve captured their imagination. ~ Larry Stewart
I had the pleasure of attending a local fashion show not too long ago of an old classmate, Larry Stewart. I remember he had a big personality and an attitude to match. The fashion on the runway reflected that - it had volume, detail and a Whoa! factor. The big Whoa! came, however, when he announced that the collection had taken two years to create by hand! That kind of discipline and patience can only come from an artist truly dedicated to his craft. But he's more than that, he's fighter with long road that lead to this fashion show. I sat down with him afterwards with Ten Questions to see how it came together.
1: How did you get into fashion?I worked with Donna Karen [for eight years], but not as a designer. I actually worked as someone sweeping the floor, like the building cleaner. I did nothing in fashion. I used to watch those streets - see I’m older than you, much older - I used to watch them run down the street during fashion week with these big racks of clothes.
And I was poor then, so I just started looking for work and I took a job in maintenance, and after watching, I didn’t understand fashion - I just knew I liked sewing. But I didn’t know what it was called, I had no idea I wanted to be a fashion designer. See God had to put me in a place where I could humble myself because I wasn’t worthy of his blessings and stuff like that.
2: So when did you realize you wanted to be a fashion designer?After watching and watching, I said I was going to go back home and get this together 'cause [back] then I would call myself a gangbanger, running the streets, doing all that. The secret was a couple times I was homeless, I would be in the streets with a needle and thread sewing - sewing my own shirt, putting it on and getting on the bus like I was going to work.
One day this woman came up to me and asked about this unique shirt I was wearing and I told her I made it. She asked "Do you sew for people?" and I said yes. She said "Since you sew for people, would you sew for me?" I said sure. And with that money (she paid me my $480) I went and got my first apartment and that’s what ended me on the street. I’ve been sewing ever since, and that was back in '92.
3: Is there anything or anybody who inspired you to keep going?Back in the day, I had to do something to get me back in control, because (you can mention it) I was a whore. If you said it, I did it. Then this one particular drag queen - her name is Crystal, she’s dead and gone - she said, "Honey you don’t have to do that. Your talent is in your hands. Use your hands and make your money." [At that time] I was sewing for the drag queens so I took her seriously and that changed my life. And then after years of sewing and sewing and sewing I decided to just buckle down and let people see what I have to offer.
And Marilyn Sullivan, oh my God, I’m going to cry about Mrs. Sullivan. She stuck by me. When I was at El Centro [Community College] I was hell. I tried to do the fashion program, but it wasn’t for me. I couldn’t deal with the fact that if I pay you my money, how dare you tell me you’re not going to teach me or answer my questions during class? It’s called a lecture. I left the fashion program completely then I started dealing with Mrs. Sullivan [in fashion marketing]. Mrs. Sullivan was really sweet but it got to the point where I had this attitude with her. When I did was ask Mrs. Sullivan for some information, she went above and beyond. She not only gave me the information I asked for but she gave me the list of contacts.
4: What kind of challenges have you come across?I was going to open up a [retail] business when I found out I was diabetic. I was in the hospital and these two girls, saying "Awww we love you," were going to make sure everything was okay. When I got out of the hospital, I went to the store that I was going to open and they had stolen everything. All of my garments, all of my fabric, all of my sewing machines - to this day I couldn’t tell you where they are. I had to start all the way over... And that’s when I learned I had to do it on my own, everything myself.
5: What are your thoughts on Dallas fashion?As for Dallas fashion, I think it’s kind of...what’s the word? Everyone looks the same. Dallas used to be popping, Dallas used to be the southwest capital for the sportswear industry. It wasn’t Vegas Magic, it wasn’t Miami - it was Dallas! Now all of a sudden the Merchant District is going to hell, so it’s like everyone looks to North Park for fashion.
For Texas to be so conservative, I think someone has to break its shell and I think Why not me? We have some of the most popular people in fashion here, like Jan Strimple. She always says think outside of the box, but that’s funny because people say think outside the box, but the moment you do think outside the box... A good example: if I go and do something crazy on the runway, they’ll say, "Oh, he’s mad." But John Galliano comes out dressed in full drag and [they say] "Oh, he’s so flamboyant."
6: So where do you think you fit into Dallas fashion?I have no plans of moving out of Dallas. My plans are to open my store right here in Dallas, in the southern sector and bring it back cause I’m tired of everything going overseas. I want to deal with here, made in America.
My intention is to bring people here to Dallas. Bring young people out and let them see what we have to offer. Let them see how it works. You’ve been to so many fashion shows where all of a sudden you get there and it’s so ghetto. I didn’t want that. I wanted to take the ghetto girl and show her that she can be a princess. Most of the girls I used tonight have never modeled before, but they did pretty good tonight. I believe you should teach this. To me, this is my ministry.
7: Speaking of the show, what inspired your garments?I love John Galliano - I want to marry that man. I would be the mistress or whatever they call it. The truth is a lot of my designs come from a dark place. For example, my mother passed December 1, 2002 and my grandmother passed February 20, 2003. That’s why I named my company Ramona-Marlene Couture after them. So I’m kind of in a dark place and once I start sewing, I start thinking that they won’t be there to see the show. So I get angry and I put it into the fabric.
When I get through blacking out, I think I’ve done gathered all this fabric, what am I going to do with it? Then I let it sit there for a couple of days, even months, then all of a sudden I think about the good times with my parents and the designs come out. Then I think if I was a girl, how would I want to dress? So I just put it into my design, my fabrication and I go for it. Weird.
8: Out of all the gowns, which one is your baby?The green one, the green one was my favorite.
9: What kind of woman are you designing for? Where would she wear your dresses?She’s sophisticated, she’s not moderate, she’s very over the top. I’d say she makes $50,000 or more. She doesn’t care about spending money on fashion. It’s up to me to design something that’s going to make her go crazy. he can wear them to the grocery store, she can wear them to the swimming pool, and I don’t care as long as she buys the dress.
10: So where do you see Ramona-Marlene Couture going now?I have the garments and I’m actually looking at buildings [for my boutique]. My ultimate goal is to stop working for people and do my own thing. Even if I have to go out and teach kids, even if I have to say I’m giving sewing lessons, if it’s in the fashion industry I don’t care, I just want to be in the fashion industry.
I actually booked this place next year and the show is going to be called the Southern Sector. It’s going to feature only designers from the southern sector so we can have a chance. And me, Whitney and Chris went and got the name Runways of Dallas [registered] because Dallas doesn’t have a fashion week. Fashion at the Park (North Park Fashion Week) was great, don’t get me wrong, but we really want a Dallas Fashion Week featuring Dallas designers. So next year we’re going to present a Dallas Fashion Week brought to you by Runways of Dallas.
Pictures via Lorenzo Wallace @ TripWall Photography. View the full fashion show gallery on Facebook.