Fashion designer Carlous Palmer is known for his artistry, but also his advocacy for the environment. For his education, Palmer became the first student to graduate from the Baltimore School for the Arts with a focus in fashion design. Carlous also attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and Baltimore City Community College under a full tuition scholarship based on his skills in fashion design and illustration abilities. He has studied under artists like Carole Byard and Joyce Scott.
Since then, Carlous Palmer has used his classical artistic talents and environmental sensibilities to create his designs out of mostly natural and environmentally friendly fabrics. His work has been exhibited at the Baltimore Museum of Art along with the Eubie Blake National Gallery. Palmer has also sold his designs in boutiques in Palm Beach, New York, and Baltimore City. Currently, Palmer’s designs can be found at the Katwalk Boutique in Baltimore City which is famous for selling designs from all over the world.
In addition to his popularity in boutiques and museums, Carlous Palmer’s work has been featured on countless magazine covers, newspapers, and in films. He has also styled many celebrities. Palmer has styled stars in the underground house music scene including Ultra Nate and Carolyn Harding. Carlous Palmer also has dressed actress Penny Johnson Jerald who stars in the popular show “Castle”. He has also worked with movie stars including Nicholas Cage and Kevin Spacey. One highlight in Palmer’s work with movies is he worked in the first “Step Up” movie where he styled Channing Tatum. Palmer also made his own appearance in the film.
If you do not think he is versatile enough yet, Carlous Palmer has also used his fashion talents to help various non-profit organizations. One project he recently participated in was an IKEA sponsored video project created by students in order to inspire positive action against HIV and AIDS. Carlous Palmer’s designs in the video, named FANTASTIC, were made from some of IKEA’s home furnishing textiles. Palmer has also used his designs to help alleviate the tragedy of the recent Philippine tsunami.
Currently, Palmer lives in Hawaii, where he is doing even more work to create environmentally friendly and recycled designs. His latest line, called MOKUZAI, epitomizes his appreciation for nature and concern for its preservation. The name MOKUZAI is the Japanese term for word and the forest. As a part of his research, Palmer traveled all around Hawaii to observe the movement, colors, and texture of the vegetation and the general environment. The pieces featured in MOKUZAI are ready-to-wear, and they are made of recycled fabrics and other materials including curtains, repurposed bamboo, and cotton. Some of the pieces from his MOKUZAI collection were featured in Hawaii Fashion Week this past November. (Watch his show in the YouTube video above.)
One of the concepts behind MOKUZAI and Carlous Palmer’s other recent works is termed Prehistoric Paradise. Carlous Palmer says this concept came to him because he appreciates the rare plants and woods found in Hawaii along with the lush vegetation and manicured lawns. When he was surrounded by the Hawaiian environment he says he “always felt like a dinosaur was going to pop out at any moment.” He also went on to state that his thoughts went to how “we are not doing all that we can to save our Earth, and we can become extinct just like dinosaurs, if we are not careful.” You can see this concept in MOKUZAI as well as his other new line named Tribal Alloy.
Carlous Palmer was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about his particular style, his inspiration, and his overall approach to fashion.
Tell us about your newest collection and where you found your inspiration.
Tribal Alloy is a direct response to what I believe a woman needs to feel in the warm climate of Oahu. My inspiration is centered not on pieces that not only transition from day to night, but from work to the beach. It is centered on Hawaii’s simple lifestyle, the plethora of exotic woods that you see, and the collection is lightly infused with food inspirations like squid ink. Food is often used in my collection, because of the rich black shade that can be achieved by the use of these foods. This collection is based on principles of minimalism, the belief that less is more. Squares, rectangles and triangles dominate my shape pallet because of the interesting things that happen, when an angular fabric blends with the human form.
Filled with off the shoulder tops and spring wraps, the Tribal Alloy collection is more for the woman that knows that sexy is in the shoulders and neck. The designs in this collection make the breast and hips take a back seat to the neck and shoulders.
What does fashion mean to you?
My fashion is a huge part of who I am. It is the one thing that allows me, if only for a moment, to be heard, to be understood. There is a rush that I get when I do a show, an electricity that flows through me that is frightening, yet pleasurable knowing that for a moment I brought a group of people together and brought them joy.
How would you define your personal style?
My personal style is bold yet simple.
How would you define your city’s fashion?
Fashion on Oahu is all about beating the heat and enjoying paradise.
When did you realize you wanted to become a fashion designer?
At age 4 I learned to draw. By age 11, I was certain I wanted to design. Since my early years, I helped my mother and aunts get dressed. It is my passion, and truly understanding my gift is where I am today. Touching the life of another human being through creativity is powerfully healing.
What was the first article of clothing you designed?
I made a flowered dress. The first art-to-wear piece I made was a Saran Wrap dress.
Tell us about your design process. How long does it usually take you to construct a piece? Do you prefer sketching designs or actually constructing them?
I usually spend time in my environment, often sitting in an area and watching people. I never sketch; my designs are documented by shapes and numbers.
Where do you buy your fabrics and other sewing materials?
I buy them in New York, online, and a variety of other places. It all depends. Premier Vision or the large fabric markets in Germany are something that I hope to do at some point.
What do you believe makes a quality article of clothing?
A quality article of clothing can be viewed inside and out and is aesthetically pleasing from both. The finishing, even on simplistic garments, should be well done.
How do you prepare for a fashion shoot or show?
I breathe. I look for the best team and delegate responsibility to each component. As for my models, I usually look for models that have a very specific look. My relationship with models is about loyalty, punctuality, and respect for what I am doing. For me, a pretty shell can always be found on a beach, but how well-spoken are you? How well do you follow directions? How committed are you to the team effort. In other words, ego is not desired nor required. As an independent designer I am committed, and those that I work with must show balance along with loyalty and commitment.
What are some of your accomplishments as a designer?
One of my accomplishments is having Nordstrom Towson Store feature my work. What many do not know was that having Nordstrom contact me was huge for me, however it was bittersweet. This was the first time I dealt with a contractor. My patterns, fabric and 5000 was taken by the contractor. In order to make my delivery date I stayed up for 2 weeks sewing 85 pieces. In the fashion game your word is everything.
Who are some of your favorite designers?
Rick Owens and Issey Miyake are my favorite two because, like me, they design from geometric shapes. I also like Versace, Gaultier and Olivier Rousting because of the way that they all merge glitz with fine tailoring.
What advice do you have for aspiring fashion designers?
Stay in the game no matter what. Designing is a business of rejection and criticism, however if you believe in yourself, others have no choice but to believe in you.
What matters to you most as a fashion designer?
I consider myself a fashion artist, because of my work process, and training. What matters most to me as a designer is that people gain respect for clothing, clothing is a tool with grave social importance. How we as a society view clothing is not what it used to be. Clothing is a way that we can communicate to the world who we are and what we stand for. Clothing can open doors for us that were once closed. My mission is to help preserve the meaning of what clothing is and continue to develop clothing as art.
To find out more about Carlous Palmer, go to http://carlous64.wix.com/carlouspalmeronline
The images in this article were photographed by Asia Valle and Michael Patrick Ford. The models featured in the photo shoot are from WHO Model Management, and their names are Ericka, Johnae, and Geraisha. Make up credit goes to Marissa Capado. The hairstylist for this shoot was Daunte Walker-Dedrick.