Culture / Fashion / Orlando Natives

Orlando Natives: Bethany Mikell

This week, I had the honor of interviewing Bethany Mikell, a local fashion designer and newfound friend of mine. Like myself, Bethany has often found herself surrounded by the negative reputation Orlando gets for its “culture.” “What culture?,” some of you might ask. She believes that this negative attitude has changed throughout recent years, which is certainly worth celebrating! With Orlando witnessing growth in the music and arts department, Bethany has decided to tackle the creative fashion scene by developing a name for herself within our community.

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When did you gain an interest in becoming a designer?

I’ve been sewing since I was very young. I would hand-sew dresses for Cabbage Patch Kids, using craft glue to attach lace and trims. My mom sent me to a summer class in middle school where I learned to sew on a machine, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Until recent years, I mostly sewed for fun or designed elaborate Halloween costumes and such.

When I first graduated from high school, I wasn’t sure exactly where I was headed, career-wise, but I knew I wanted to be involved in creating things. I decided to pursue graphic design, which ended up being much more restrictive with less creative freedom than I thought it would be.

Although I had worked in graphic design for years, I had never finished my undergrad degree, so when the economy crashed, I decided to go back to school full-time and study what I really love. I found a great online program from a school (Academy of Art University in San Francisco) that is well-respected within the fashion industry and is the only U.S. fashion school to show in the tents at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in NYC. Completing a fashion design degree online involved a lot of extra work and dedication, but it was worth it. I finished my BFA in Spring 2012 and got to travel to San Francisco to show my portfolio at an exhibition that was attended by Philip Treacy, Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen, and Suzy Menkes.

I’m currently working on my MFA in Fashion Design (also at AAU), focusing on sustainability, “slow-fashion” and textile design.

What inspires you?

I’m inspired by anything and everything, at all times. If I had to choose one thing that inspires me more than anything else, it would probably be music or just sound, in general. Visual artists/designers see what they hear/feel, so at times, I have designed an entire collection around one chord or one bar in one song. I guess I’m just saying that I love music.

I’m also inspired by the marriage of old and new production techniques. I own a floor loom which I use to make some of my own textiles by hand, but I’m equally interested in learning more about 3D printing, laser sintering and computer-based technology as it relates to fashion design. I would love to collaborate with local hobbyists who are into 3D printing and see what we can come up with!

 Who are some of your favorite designers?

My favorite designer of all time is Lee (Alexander) McQueen. His creative vision is unmatched, and he was not only extremely successful in translating raw emotion and the way he saw the world into real fashion, but he was also a master tailor who understood how to expertly craft clothing and cut patterns. His work is absolutely stunning, both up close and from far away.

My favorite classic designer is Elsa Schiaparelli. She was a true innovator in 20th Century fashion design, but she was also an artist at heart. Her tongue-in-cheek designs have stood the test of time, and observing her work always makes me feel a sense of joy.

Lately, I have really been enjoying the work of InAisce by Jona. It is quiet and calm, almost nomadic in mood, but the fabrication and details are exquisite. Many of the pieces have an androgynous nature to them, and the collections feel both ancient and very modern.

What should we expect to see at the fashion show in September?

I will be showing a Spring/Summer 2014 women’s wear collection at Jai Gallery’s Fashion Lounge Orlando on September 20th from 7 to 10 pm. Voci Dance will be performing, and Nigel John will be dJing the event.

This collection is an exercise in restraint for me. My desire this time around is to show pieces that are practical and accessible, but that also show my point of view as a designer. I am using natural fibers and no synthetics (which translates to “more comfortable in the Florida summer!”), and over 75% of the fabric is sustainably sourced.

This purpose of this particular collection is to show that locally made doesn’t have to mean “crafty”, but can also mean nicely tailored day-to-evening pieces that are thoughtfully designed/patterned/constructed by hand, and not mass-produced in an overseas factory.  It is my hope that people will begin to appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into clothing, much like many people are starting to appreciate the time and level of dedication it takes to grow their own food. In my opinion, being aware of where/how our clothes are made is as important as how we source our food supply.

What projects do you have in store after this showcase?

I just found out that my proposal for exhibiting at Orlando Mini Maker Faire 2013 was accepted, so my geeky side is very happy about that…science, and what have you!

I will be designing two looks to be shown at the Arts of Fashion competition in San Francisco in October. I am honored to have the opportunity to show my pieces along the work of some incredibly talented design students from around the world.

I am also hoping to work on some more avant-garde installation pieces for a show in early 2014. My heart is rooted in the more artistic side of fashion design, so I’d like to focus on more work like that, as opposed to traditional runway collections. In school, I’ve had it hammered into me that, at the end of the day, someone has to want to BUY my designs. If I’m to stay true to myself, however, I’d rather make pieces that cause people to think or feel, or just to smile. If they want to buy those pieces, bonus.

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“Like” Bethany on Facebook to follow her designs, future showcases, and (most importantly) to simply show some love to a fellow artist of Orlando!

– Daniela Araya

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