Designer: Amanda deLeon
From: New Orleans, Louisiana
“Ever since I moved here I’ve been shuffled into this Southern designer group—and I’m not.” DeLeon states, “I happen to live in New Orleans. I don’t design for the quintessential Southern woman.” But that’s what makes deLeon’s work so interesting. In the same way that people don’t eat pimento cheese or crawfish étouffée every day, not every resident below the Mason-Dixon line runs around town dressed like a modern-day Mark Twain.
I meet Amanda deLeon at her home sewing studio in New Orleans on a July afternoon plagued with serious thunderstorms. It is the perfect backdrop for our conversation—the heavy weight of humidity that gets romanticized by people who forget the oppressiveness of a Southern summer. DeLeon’s soft twang of a Northern Louisiana accent charmingly offsets her sharp wit. There’s something about her that I instantly like. Tiny, with a tuft of fiery red hair and a small slathering of tattoos, she’s highly disciplined in her craft, yet retains a sense of rebellion. I get the sense that she works in the fashion industry, but on her own terms.
DeLeon taps into an element of the South—New Orleans in particular—that is darkly romantic. It’s an atmosphere that’s always been here but isn’t splayed out in some slick tourism ad. Her Spring/Summer 2012 collection has an ethereal, aquatic aesthetic with high-waisted, sequin hot shorts, fringed dresses that swish under a gossamer veil, and tough dresses ensconced in organza cocoons with mermaid color palettes of seafoam greens and soft blues. Her Fall/Winter 2012 collection is a stark contrast to the lightness of the SS2012 collection, but the trademark details are there.
“For some reason this past show didn’t settle well with me,” deLeon explains. “The feelings that I felt when I developed this line have completely taken over. Usually when you show something, it’s like a flushing of your thoughts and feelings, but this one, for some reason, I can’t let go. It’s like something that’s deeply rooted within.” She’s describing her Fall/Winter 2012 collection. Drawing on a macabre, decadent side of New Orleans and inspired by John Boutté’s and Paul Sanchez’s song “At the Foot of Canal Street,” the line borders on goth, but not in a cheesy, tween, vampire-romance-novel way: There are silk dresses adorned with black and white cemetery scenes shot by her husband Kevin deLeon, a talented photographer. (She’ll donate ten percent of the profits from the cemetery print dresses to the nonprofit organization, Save Our Cemeteries.)
The title “local designer” sometimes carries connotations of amateur or sub-par skills. “When you say local, everyone thinks you hot glue everything together,” deLeon laments. However, her skill far surpasses your average craft market clothes and results in true couture detailing. There are years of experience and luxury fabrication, and it’s quite a process. “I want people to understand these are priced for a reason. Equipment, photography, models, makeup, hair, online media, computer, Internet, electricity, a place to live and work, food—monetary. Then time and creativity. Then you put that price on it and you say, who am I to ask that much for this?”
Only deLeon’s superb fabric choices supplant the quality of her work. A simple, crimson gown puddles to the floor like a satin waterfall. There are jackets with expensive inner lining made from goat hair and rayon. A crimson wool blazer feels as luxurious as it looks, thanks to charmeuse lining cleverly finished with hidden magnetic closures. It’s the type of garment that doesn’t need to be slathered in logos to indicate its price. Fashion of this caliber doesn’t come cheap—her pieces start just under $300 and skyrocket to quadruple-digit numbers.
Having participated in both Charleston and New Orleans Fashion Weeks, her reputation within the fledgling NOLA fashion scene is the best of the best. Local bloggers, stylists, and media professionals fawn over her work. “Everywhere else I’ve gone and lived I’ve never had that reception, but here I do.” That doesn’t always translate into sales, however. DeLeon struggles to find buyers willing to pony up the type of money her pieces dictate. To heed the call, she started a more accessible subsidiary line, Rabbit’s Foot, comprised of vintage one-offs that use discontinued or collected fabric. Reasonably priced between seventy and eighty dollars, her dresses and blouses are available at The Revival Outpost, a second-hand shop on trendy Magazine Street.
Gearing up for New Orleans Fashion Week this October, deLeon’s making a collection she can have fun with. It’s scaled back, more performance art than runway show. Based on a music box ballerina, the new collection promises lots of dove gray, charcoal, cream, and magenta, with plenty of ruffles and glitter.
At this skill level, fashion ceases to be a commodity and becomes a piece of art, which speaks to the Amanda deLeon customer. “That’s exactly who my audience is—people that collect art and want to look like they collect art.” In order to get that high-end customer, deLeon is considering showing her work in New York, “where people are going to spend the money.” Still, she insists on remaining in New Orleans. “I have to be here. This is where I wanna be, and I’m not fucking moving.”