By Jillian Mehta, Arts and Entertainment Editor
Post-alum and self-taught fashion designer Melissa Mercedes has been nominated for the Cultivate award which supports the next generation of BIPOC indie designers in the plus-size fashion community.
Mercedes has had a love for fashion since a young age and remembers sharing sketches with her grandmother at seven years old.
“I’ve always loved to draw so I would just start drawing dresses and I would give it to my grandmother since she was a designer and I would say I want you to make me this dress,” Mercedes said. “She was blown away at the fact that I was kind of showing interest so she would take me to the fabric stores and let me pick out the fabrics for whatever design I wanted to make and she would give me certain ideas. She encouraged me the most.”
However Mercedes’ life took a different path from fashion, she graduated from LIU with a degree in school counseling and was working at a nonprofit organization.
“I was doing counseling and I was working at a nonprofit organization alongside youth and one of my responsibilities was to do job readiness and teach students how to speak at a job interview and how to dress,” Mercedes said. “Different designers would send us clothing to give to these underprivileged kids and my job was to take the wardrobe that we got and show these kids how to dress for job interviews.”
This sparked the same passion for clothes Mercedes had as a kid and helped her find her way back to fashion.
“Once I saw the transformation of how clothes can make someone feel so empowered I just kind of fell in love with that process and I had always loved fashion and styling friends but that was the first time that I was like wait a minute I think I can make a career, I think I can really do this,” Mercedes said.
Styling came naturally to Mercedes as she had been styling her friends and family her whole life.
“I would just do it for fun, it was something I always did, didn’t think anything of it. It was if my friends wanted fashion advice they would come to me, like how does this look or they would send me pictures or what do I wear so it became very natural. I took that seriously first, I kind of started to turn that into a career, and I created a company called Retro Boho Chic and I started styling and that was when I was invited to the Grammys and so I went.”
In 2016 Mercedes was invited to the Latin Grammys to style a musician as well as attend herself. Her excitement for the event was short-lived when she realized she didn’t know what to wear.
“I couldn’t find anything to wear so I went to every store and tried on everything and I just remember crying in the fitting room and saying ‘oh my god if this is how I feel I can’t imagine how other women feel’,” she said. “So I just went to the fabric store, picked out what I liked, figured out what I wanted, had it made, and walked the red carpet. Everyone was like who are you wearing? Who are you wearing? And that was the moment that it was okay yeah I have something here. This was something I did in a couple of days and hadn’t put that much thought into, so I knew if I gave it a real chance it could be something special.”
The dress made news at the Latin Grammys and caught the eye of a fellow stylist.
“I took the dress that I had and I had it in my showroom and a stylist Ricky he pulled the dress for his client and she made the cover for people in Espanol which meant so much to me as a Latina and I was just blown away that my very first garment and the very first creation I made was on the cover of people, so it was very humbling,” Mercedes said.
Mercedes is passionate not only about fashion but about making fashion more inclusive for curvy women.
“I think it’s just wrong to leave people out and exclude people and for curvy women plus-size women, it’s more than half of women that are plus so it doesn’t make sense to exclude them and cut them out. That’s what I would say just not leaving anyone out and if you want to be inclusive you should be in any capacity that you can,” Mercedes said.
When thinking about her career’s unique path, the designer doesn’t regret her degree in school counseling.
“Counseling is honestly the icing on the cake, you know people say ‘oh you went in a completely different direction’ but I really think that counseling is such a really big part of fashion and working with people and body images,” she said. “Especially me because I work with women who are curvier than the rest and so that takes sometimes some patience and understanding that knowing how to deal with different personalities has been very helpful.”
The designer is honored to be nominated for the Cultivate award and hopes to win. “The Cultivate Award is an award that is being given by the Curvy Fashionista and it is sponsored by ELOQUII, they wanted to create a contest for designers of color to highlight women and people of color to showcase creativity,” Mercedes said. “Everyone can tune in to the Cultivate Award on May second.”