Meet Designer Tamika Wilkins of 'Elle Est...'
The garments we adorn ourselves with are extensions of self-identity. When New York-based designer Tamika Wilkins began designing the first collection for her brand Elle Est…, she did so with this overarching concept in mind. Her architecture-inspired pieces imitate works of art; every detail speaks to the fluidity and functionality of the brand as a whole. In 2016, Wilkins debuted “Collection 001”—a growing collection that marries comfortability, simplicity, and versatility, with each piece able to be worn in various ways. As Elle Est… continues to expand, slowly but surely, Wilkins stands by her deep-rooted belief that who we are is translated through how we dress. Check out the video for the drop of “Collection 001” above, shot at Dapper Studios, find Elle Est… at The Folklore, and read our interview with Wilkins below.
Elle Est… is designed, sourced, and made to order in NYC. Is this where you’re originally from?
’m actually from Maryland—PG County. I moved to New York in December 2013, so I’ve been here for about 5 years. Moving here has always been something I’ve wanted to do. I’d visited previously, mostly during Fashion Week. Then I decided, “I need to be in a city that’s going to allow me to be my most creative self,” to be able to have resources readily available that I wouldn’t necessarily have if I was back home in Maryland.
Has being here in the city inspired the creativity in your designs?
I think that there’s so much here that stimulates the eye, and one’s imagination. I love being able to go to the MET when there’s a really cool exhibit that I want to check out, or go to any of the galleries in Chelsea and check out the exhibitions there as well. I find a lot of inspiration from viewing art, and architecture; specifically sculpture and abstract art.
I can definitely see the sculpture-inspired elements in your pieces.
Shape for me prompts design. An artist may have painted something abstract, and I’ll zone in on a shape and think “Ah, that’d make an interesting sleeve…that’d make an interesting XYZ.” It’s not necessarily looking at what other designers are doing, or looking at a photographers work—there’s inspiration there—but, for me when it comes to designing specifically, its all about shape.
When did you begin designing?
It’s been a passion since I was young. From an early age I knew that I wanted to be in fashion. Back home in Maryland, during my junior year of high school, I was apart of a fashion show and the assistant principal coordinating the event knew an established designer from the area. He happened to be touring, visiting other high schools, and bringing inspiration to the students. Fast forward to my senior year, I run into [the designer] again at, of all places, a Ruby Tuesday. I mention to my best friend, super excited, “That’s the designer from our fashion show last year.” So I go up to him, and reintroduce myself. He happens to have his portfolio with all his designs photographed, and he tells me, “Yeah, yeah. Go ahead and take a look at it.” I end up getting his business card, and I emailed this man constantly! I was the most persistent I feel like I’ve ever been in life. After about a month of follow up, he finally responds back.That was the catalyst for me. I started off as an intern, moved up to personal assistant, and then finally lead assistant designer. I was able to learn a lot in regards to business within fashion, having your own brand and building your own company. Many things have stuck with me from then to now.
Tell me about the pieces in “Collection 001.”
It’s what I like to call a running collection. it started off as a capsule of about five pieces. The funny thing is, I always have sketches, I always have things drawn that I can’t get made as of yet, and I’m always looking to create elevated wardrobe staples—that’s what I call the pieces I make—because it fits seamlessly into anyone’s wardrobe. You can dress it up, and dress it down. I came across this really amazing crushed bronze taffeta, and I was just like, “Yo, this texture is dope.” What started the collection was that fabric. I could do so many things with it. I knew it was going to keep the structure that I want but still be fluid. From those first few pieces, I then added the Luvenia dress, named after my grandmother, and the Willow top. I’m all about versatile simplicity and functionality. With all of Elle est…’s pieces you’ll find that they have pockets, or they can be worn multiple ways. That’s my whole aesthetic when it comes to designing—creating pieces that are essentially works of art, but they are still functional and comfortable to wear.
The models in your visuals are distinctively diverse.
I just like to see beauty shown. For me, that is diversity. You find a model, whatever her ethnicity is, who has a very interesting face or who can pose and really translate the clothing visually. It’s not necessarily a political move, but I know I want to see myself reflected and I want to be able to show beauty. That’s it. It’s not about, “Oh, we need to appeal to a certain audience, to a certain demographic.” I want to create art. I want the clothing to be visually appealing and then all the elements that come into putting together a photograph or a video to be visually appealing. It’s not necessarily about who’s wearing it but the feeling the images evoke to the one viewing it.
Do you have a collection that you’re working on currently?
I have pieces that I’m constantly working on, but for me it’s all being paid for out of pocket. It’s slow and steady wins the race, basically. I’m building slowly because the quicker you’re in, you can be out just as quick. It’s about longevity for me. I want to create pieces that women can see themselves wearing for years to come. I wear them, and I feel amazing when I do. Walking into a room you don’t even have to say a word, you just enter and people are like, “Ooo, hey, what’s that?” I want other women to feel the same way. My slogan is what really epitomizes the brand: “She is not defined by her wardrobe, her wardrobe is an extension of self.” I want to translate who I am outwardly through the way I dress. It’s not about having the latest luxury designer brand, but having something that will stand time in your wardrobe. That’s the goal. So, I’m working, but I’m going at my own pace. I’ll just say, “You all will see it when it gets here.”
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