Friday, August 28, 2009

the cloth

Starting as a collaborative venture some 22 years ago, Trinidad and Tobago label, the cloth has been single-handedly maintained by designer Robert Anthony Young for the last 15 years. The label since then, has come to represent a unique, dynamic and always original Caribbean aesthetic. Fresh off the runways of Trinidad and Caribbean Fashion Week, and having garnered critical acclaim for both shows, Robert Anthony Young sits down with me for an insightful post-CFW interview.

Describe the the cloth line.

The line is an indigenous product of Trinidad and Tobago and by extension the Caribbean. It uses locally available fabrics in colours that pop in sunlight while allowing its wearer comfort into the evening. International trends do figure a small part in my inspiration but with no slavish adherence to their representation. The lines are usually informed by my political thinking of the time, whether it be the economic crisis, apartheid, war or the environment. This, to me, is more important than showing a collection that is in sync with what is happening on the runways of North America or Europe. Protest is important to me as are the folk elements of Trinidad and Tobago, and of course the theme of revolution as the line is constantly in battle with the more pervasive imports that define the landscape.

How did you get into designing?

In the early 80's there was a lot of designing activity in Trinidad. I was around some of the best. Junior Bristol (deceased) produced some really great clothing. Seeing good design in magazines and seeing persons producing their own work pushed me. I attempted it, basically stumbling to where I am today.

Did you always envision yourself as a designer? If not, what did you see yourself doing as a career?

I grew up with a love for performance and presentation. My aunt Jean Coggin, entrenched in folk culture, was hugely inspirational to me. My parents were both heavily involved in the trade union movement, so the idea of expression and the right to express were always central to who I was. The irony however was that before designing I wanted to be a priest, somewhat evident in the construction of some of the earlier pieces of the cloth, which, back then, was a collaboration with Camille Selvon and Nathalie Phillips. There are still threads of that in my lines, and I guess without losing my initial ambition, I remain a man of the cloth.

Who does your line target?

The clientele is truly diverse and it is hard to imagine a client while designing. Ideally those who have grown to love my clothes will always find something relevant to them in my collections and as well I will always be able to attract the odd new customer. The generous use of fabric does attract a full figured woman who is as well a Caribbean woman. This is not to say that the line is geared to a specific body type but the cloth client is bold, and Caribbean at heart. I rarely sell men’s pants but the classic tunic has been a staple seller for years. I have recently started doing a good trade with classic collared shirts on which i have done my now signature appliqué. I do have a loyal clientele but due to the ad hoc way in which my business is run it is difficult to identify a critical mass of faithfuls.

Is designing a viable business? What would be your advice to those who want to design but don't know how to?

It is a viable business, perhaps moreso for others more than myself. I have made a career out of it and derive a great happiness from it. Has it led to great wealth and fame? I'm not sure how I feel about that, but I can't challenge the notion of capitalism and then complain that its not working for me. Its important to live well in the system and be well organized. I make those attempts every day. I have a brand that survives in a place that does not know how to grow small business that are home grown. What we have here is how to support large multi-million dollar industries. I have existed in between that. Integrity is more important to me than any of those things and I believe that I have that. That is what I would encourage anyone striving for a career in design to seek. Yes, there can be financial rewards but i have built a brand that has inspired many and withstood the test of time. You can make money for a while doing trendy clothes and supplying a niche but I have clients that have been with me from the inception and I continue to interest them and provide them with clothing that excites them while holding to my design philosophy. At the end of the day if I had made loads of money but lost myself along the way i'm not sure it would have been worth it. Seek inspiration in everything while aiming to be an original.

Have you always lived in Trinidad and Tobago? And how does living there affect the creative aspect of your work?

I have always lived in Trinidad and Tobago. The reality is that materials are limited but that has worked to the advantage of those who create here. The idea of creation is making something new, and we have been doing that. Carnival and the steelpan both represent the idea of creation that in some senses characterizes us as a people. My last collection dealt with the idea of bio-mimicry which is a phenomenon where creatures of nature morph and adapt and camouflage to survive. It's about using what is locally available to sustain yourself. This spawned the idea of appliqué which has now become a signature cloth feature. The limited availability of fabrics in local shops challenged designers to turn them into something unique not just for their sake but for the sake of our clients. So some of us do hand-painting, or tie-dye or silk screen, I create appliqués.

Do you look forward to doing Caribbean Fashion Week and why, or why not?

Caribbean Fashion Week for a long time has been a main highlight of the regional fashion calendar. It provides an opportunity to come together as a fraternity and as well provides exposure to buyers, photographers and magazines otherwise not available. The professional staging of the event also allows for the clothes to be shown in a way that few runway presentations in the Caribbean do.

Do you see yourself still designing in ten years time? Is it a career path you want to stick to?

I may expand my line to include household items. It is an area I already work in. I do bed sets and cushion covers and drapes. It’s a matter of expansion not contraction or extinction at this point.

How can persons interested in purchasing your pieces contact you?

I can be reached at or at 1-868-721-7616

What do you think of the blog?

I like it, but do pay more attention to the south. There are great designers in India, South Africa, Brazil, Australia and of course the Caribbean; show more of that. It will make it important.

1 comment:

  1. Interviews are crucial to blog survival and well being, you seem like ur on the right path to blog success :o]