Art is Only as Good as the Inspiration, Taliah Leslie
Taliah Leslie is a fashion designer based in New York City whose architectural, innovative, and forward thinking designs have captured the attention of industry professionals. Having graduated from Pratt Institute, earning the Innovation Materials Award in her senior year, Taliah has developed a heavily recognizable aesthetic focusing on groundbreaking textile manipulations in the wave of new technological appropriates, bold colors, and sculptural silhouettes. Drawing from the lively festivals and rituals of her multicultural background has fueled her desire to explore dynamic color combinations as well as lush textured textiles. The influence of the strong women in her life is ever present in the stark silhouette and details of her designs. With these core values, Taliah produces captivating, animated designs that creates inclusiveness that steers fashion into a whole new direction.
First off, tell us how you got into the fashion industry
It was when I was very young, I went to this community boys and girls club, directly across from my elementary school. There was a woman there, Mrs. Blair, she had her collection and I was really fascinated with how she made the clothes - I found it so cool and inspiring that she knew how to draw, sew, and create these pieces by herself. She ended up teaching me, one on one, little things like how to reconstruct clothing into different clothes. In fact I remember she gave me this book about how to turn t-shirts into different pieces and designs - she also gave me my first sewing machine. Then after a brief spell wanting to become a chef, I ended up doing my bachelors degree at Pratt.
Taliah recently featured in the Vogue article “Five Names to Know From Pratt Fashion’s Class of 2018”
Is it important for you to have someone you look up to or emulate in your design process?
I think so. The woman in my life have been a great inspiration to me and my design process. From my mom, to the women who first introduced me to fashion, there have been a lot of female influences in my life. For this collection I looked directly at people’s stories, and their lives, but mainly I tried to develop my own narrative from other collections.
Take us through the design process for the Immigrants collection
So I actually came into my senior year thinking I was going to be doing something completely different. I always wanted to look at the topic of immigration - my family are immigrants - but I didn’t think I wanted to tackle it at the moment, maybe later, but it was at the same time Trump got elected and so I was like ‘okay yeah let’s do it!’. After deciding to do it, I then went to a lot of my family members and asked them about how they came to the US, and these were stories I had never heard before, so it was an enlightening experience for myself. I then ended up interviewing all these people, who you may have never known were immigrants, and finding out all these incredible, unique, and empowering stories. The people I interviewed ranged from first-generation to second-generation immigrants. Even with the people that I had known for years I feel like these interviews allowed us to connect on a completely new level. Which motivated me to make this collection one that made them proud.
When you interviewed them, what did you focus on?
We talked about how they came and why they came. Some of them did focus more on their lives now, mainly because they were young when they actually came over. But it was really interesting seeing the age differences and the different points of view that came with them - some people came when they were babies and some came when they were in their 20s. Although, generally, people spoke about their lives here, a little bit about being home but also about the navigation of not just the journey but navigating their new lives here. In fact one of my friends, that graduated with me, is a DACA recipient and she was telling me about how she didn’t even know she wasn’t a US citizen for a very long time; she found out after her parents were hesitant to let her older brother go and get a driver’s license. But DACA wasn’t an easy process, it was massively drawn out and it meant scholarships become unobtainable.
With the collection, I wanted to pull from the stories but there were so many that I had to take a little from each and put them together to create this eclectic tapestry of different immigration stories.
How did you go about capturing this?
There were different ways. For example, with the draping that I did, I tried to illustrate the idea of the burden they feel when they’re here - metaphorical baggage hanging over them. That was for sure one common thread amongst the stories. But the drapings themselves were pretty huge so I wanted to hold them up with strings - which represented the fact that although they have this baggage, they hold it up with pride. They don’t let it get them down.
A lot of it played into the textiles. For instance, I have these straps with different words in them, these were words they said in the interview. They were various things like words they used to describe immigrants. They are all very powerful words, so I put them into the pinstripes themselves. Sort of like a disguise - you had to look carefully to see the words, much like the stories I had discovered after interviewing them.
Do you think it’s important for fashion to voice a particular message?
I think you shouldn’t do a design if you’re not sincere. I feel like a lot of brands, they hop on the trends like protest clothing - there’s no soul or meaning to it, they’re just in it for the money. But I feel one of the best ways for me to speak on things is through the medium of fashion. As I move forward, I won’t stick to the same message but I’ll vary it in accordance to what I see or feel are important topics.
What are you looking to do over the next few years?
I’d like to do more research and development into creating my own textiles. I think that’s really unique and exciting way to create something. I don’t like to work with pre-made textiles and fabrics, I’m not sure why but I need to make them myself!