As I entered the cozy condo where Chicago’s womenswear fashion designer Suzette Opara calls home, I was overwhelmed with the sweet aftermath of Post-NY Fashion Week frenzy – a rack of whimsical gowns from The EighTwentyEight SS14 Collection with hung patterns, extra fabric scattered throughout her workspace and dress forms adorn the nooks of the grey (Stone wall Jackson) and pea green (Grass daisy) accent-colored walls.
Greeted with a big hug and a warm introduction, Suzette immediately welcomed me into the world of EighTwentyEight while in the middle of a dress fitting, Suzette executed a beautiful red peplum dress with oversized cap sleeves for Ms. E, (a long time client of The 828 Collection brand) – it was an honor to watch such magical moments of creativity come to life.
While approaching a decade as a designer, Suzie, (affectionately known by close friends and family), has all the right components to becoming a credible designer within the fashion industry – a self-taught seamstress, a wiz at fabric selection and execution, she understands her clientele and their needs and her keen eye for silhouettes are indescribable … Not to mention she makes a mean dish of lasagna!
As I await the Row A Seat 1 x Suzette Opara exclusive interview, we swap moments of NYFW, trips to Paris, Chicago fashion politics and how she pulled off the Fall collection for the EMERGE fashion show in 10 days. Alas, we begin…
Suzette Opara: I fell in love with fashion as a child, I was fascinated with the 80s Classic cartoon, Jem & The Holograms, especially the Black girl with the purple hair, Shana!
Row A Seat 1: How was 828 born?
Suzette: Actually 828 started my senior year in college, I did a fashion show with my best friend from Alaska and we did some hand-sewing pieces just for fun and once it was done it was a great opportunity. Originally, I wanted to go to school for music/theater because I sang throughout high school and I had all of these dreams about going on Broadway then I thought about not wanting to be a starving artist, so I decided to go to school for something safe. So, it all started after that show and afterwards I bought a machine and taught myself how to sew and now we have the birth of 828. The name of the collection is symbolic to me in many ways: it’s my birth date, the day Martin Luther King did the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, the day Emmitt Till was murdered, and it’s my favorite Bible verse, Romans 8:28 – and it sounds very marketable, so that’s the story behind the name of 828!
Row A Seat 1: Who are your favorite designers?
Suzette: Of course Lee Alexander before he became popular, I always admired his work because he would cut fabric free-hand and that’s also my style of cutting. I love Marchesa and Stephane Rolland, I’ve been in love with this man forever before I knew his name and who he was, especially when I saw Rihanna in this white mesh and dupioni silk dress and a white jumpsuit he designed that Solange rocked a while back; and of course Valentino, I love Valentino! But, if you looked up every designer I admire you’ll see how they all relate in some way – they’re either really avant-garde, yet classic with the ability of being really crazy!
Row A Seat 1: What’s a signature look for EighTwentyEight?
Suzette: My signature looks change, but I love exaggerated shoulders … I love bows and ruffles, and a lot of my pieces would have bows and ruffles just because I think it’s classic for women. I feel like you can put a bow on anything and it makes it all so much better, but I love dresses, I just love girlie stuff! Lately, I’ve been into organza really heavy, although it takes a lot to really get a detail, but it’s a fun fabric, it’s hot! I love dupioni silk too! I use to favor a lot of stretch and jersey knit fabrics because I was afraid to go into wovens, but I’ve learned to get more into fabrics with a stretch look and I’ve gotten better at selecting prints as well.
Row A Seat 1: When I’m sewing I feel …
Suzette: When I’m sewing for me or personal stuff I feel happy because I’m in my zone. And a lot of times when I’m sewing for clients I feel pressure, and that’s because I want it to be the best garment for my client(s), but I love what I do!
Suzette: Honestly, it was extremely fun to create this collection because I had the opportunity to do what I wanted to do, not to mention I have an AMAZING team of family and friends who literally worked in shifts to make sure I had everything I needed from food and coffee to assisting me and keeping me in focus mode. When I thought about the collection I kept seeing the finale dress, an ombre dress with organza flowers from variations of white to tangerine. My theme became ‘Just a Dream’ or ‘Dream in Color’ and I wanted to stick with the Spring season, I wanted to add some African prints, and I wanted to represent Nigeria and Chicago at the same time, which is why you’ll see African prints in the front and I used the white and black dresses to break up the color palettes and I introduced the gowns and fun garments at the end. It was very strategic from the models and the garments to the music selection and the timing came out perfectly … I couldn’t have planned this all on my own, it was all God!
Row A Seat 1: Explain the aftermath of NY Fashion Week experience.
Suzette: Well the aftermath has been successfully awesome! I’m still coming down from the high and I’m trusting that God placed the right people in the audience to see my collection. I’ve received some great clients, my IG following has grown and I have some great projects forthcoming because of the EMERGE fashion show … I’m excited!
Row A Seat 1: Where do you see yourself in the next year?
Suzette: Since New York I’ve grown even more confident and next year is going to be amazing because I’m planning my 10-year anniversary show for 2014. Also, I’ve been receiving some bridal orders, which is really huge! For someone to trust me with designing their wedding gown, I’m like ‘Hey, ya’ll must really like me!’ But, I’m extremely excited about next year, after going through what I’ve gone through this year and seeing how God turned things around for me, all I see is up from here! Nothing like seeing yourself grow as a person and as a designer, which is something I love doing!
Click HERE to watch The 828 Collection SS14 complete show.
For more information on Suzette Opara and The 828 Collection follow her on IG: 828_collection and Facebook: Suzette Opara. (All images are credited to Nikki B of GreyMatter Photography.)