Published on: May 23, 2015
Fashion especially in the Caribbean has mainly been a female playfield. While menswear designers like Millhouse, Ecliff Elie and a few others have been carving their own niche it’s not generally an area most young fashion designers are attracted to, but in the last 10 years the fashionable man has been making a comeback and a statement for themselves in bolder ways and that movement and trend has like many trickled down out of Europe and the US to the islands. This has inspired not only the dress code of the male population but Caribbean fashion students as well.
In this edition of Designer Island Talks, we chat with Menswear Designer Peta Odini Sutherland. We learn that Peta started off studying Civil Engineering at the University of the West Indies and hated it.
Perhaps the stint could not have been that bad since her true love is construction of another variety.
Inspired by textile and pattern. Vincentian born, Peta Odini's design process starts from the choice of fabric and the design evolves from play.
We first saw Peta's work at Trinidad Lookbooks Style Spirit 2 event in 2014 at the old Piarco airport. Then she presented a dynamic sweet temptation of a line literally covered in candies… Almost a year later we met up with her for our Designer Island Talk and photo shoot at HomeTT in St. Clair Trinidad. She was casually dressed sporting a worn yet unmistakable design of her own – the Peta Rabbit print.
Peta was easy going and comfortable in her own skin and made for a fun photoshoot and interview as we spoke about her aesthetic, design process and why she prefers designing for men.
DI: Describe your aesthetic?
Peta: Fun, quirky and comfy. I always dress in men’s clothes because I feel like their shirts and trousers are more comfortable. I want people to feel comfortable and at the same time I want to be clever. I want to create cool shapes.
DI: What led you to choose menswear?
Peta: Growing up I had a friend with whom I’d spend several hours just drawing dresses. I always had an interest in fashion and I did visual art for CXC but after A-Levels I went to University to study civil engineering. But I hated it - I really wanted to study fashion design but started off working in marketing. After two years of marketing I decided that I wasn’t getting any younger and went into fashion design. I moved to London in 2008 and graduated in 2012.
For a foundation course I studied Textiles, doing prints and knit design. With prints, there was a lot of screen and digital printing but we didn’t focus a lot on pattern cutting so that the designs were more flowing garments that are more about the textile itself. I chose menswear as an elective because I was more interested in actual pattern cutting, tailoring and learning how to construct clothing. I really like the technical aspect of making clothes.
I had a stint in modeling and from that I became the Public Relations person for Image Modeling. We would do this show called Fashion Caribbean annually and in my last two years in the agency I was the person contacting the designers. I remember the first time I saw MillHouse - I thought his clothes were the most amazing thing. There was also RajPaul from Barbados who was doing solid menswear. From that I went into architecture and then I started shifting. Several seemingly random things came together in the end.
DI: Tell us more about the appeal of menswear and constructing clothes.
Peta: The menswear class had the least number of students and we had access to excellent technicians most of them worked for Fashion Week designers. At one point one of my tutors remarked that I was making clothes for myself in men’s sizes. It was probably true because I like to dress men. For my graduating collection I created Menswear designs with sequins and trousers. I love seeing men in non-traditional fabrics like lace and colours like pink. I don’t wear pink myself, but I’d always put a man in pink.
By the time I graduated a lot of male labels were launching their menswear lines or rejuvenating old lines because it wasn’t the fashion house’s main focus perviously.
Burberry and Givenchy both have a huge menswear resurgence now and they do some of the most amazing work. If I could choose one place to work it would be with Givenchy in Italy because that's the most amazing menswear to me. They do the most fantastic, very ‘textiley’ work. Sometime ago they had this collection of knits and appliques, embroidery and lace! That blew me away!
When I saw that collection I was like, ‘See, I know what I’m doing!”. There was this delicate floral applique that they did as street-wear. Such a contrast!
DI: Talk to us about your design process?
Peta: My Design Process is very random. I don’t sketch or anything like that. I like the actual sewing, pattern cutting and creating fit and form. For me it starts with the fabric.
Peta: Yes. That was an original print. We digitally printed everything.
I met Kern at Collier Morison Belgrave Advertising where we were both working. At first I was terrified of him because he was a really quiet person who mainly kept to himself. Then we were assigned to the same team and had to work alongside each other on projects. I realized that beside the projects we were working on at CMB, he was creating some really cool things of his own.
DI: What inspired the graphic candy print?
Peta: I don’t drink coffee or energy drinks and I don’t smoke. But I’m obsessed with candy. For Style Spirit, I was thinking about creating a signature print and Kern sent me these actual drawings of cookies and lollipops. I thought that people would either hate it or love it but I thought it would be great for a debut collection. I Liked it and that was that.
DI: It’s interesting that you say that “You like it and that’s that!” That creative autonomy and the guts to stick with what you love is commendable.
Also exciting and dangerous I assume…
Peta: Yes. Now that I’m a designer full time I have to strike a balance between doing what I like and making sellable work.
Some people are really afraid of prints, and I have to respect that. So I try to do other things that are still me but stuff I think people would be more receptive to. Something kind of different but something I can see myself wearing. You have to kind of find that balance. Even in talking to Meiling and getting advice from her, she always stresses that you keep your ‘quirkiness’ but still have something basic that is more ‘down to earth’.
DI: How has your first collection received and how as the business of being a fashion designer here been going for you so far?
Peta: It’s pretty sick!
I’m not Trinidadian, I’m from St.Vincent. There’s so much fashion here in Trinidad already and I was concerned whether people were going to even care. Then it happened, people were like ‘Your work is really cool’. And I was like ‘Oh, ok!’ People are recognizing my work and approaching me and putting in orders. I remember speaking to my mom and I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that people would want to wear my pieces. At fashion school you make things and then you put them in a cupboard and that’s it. So when you have people who actually want to buy things that you’ve made it’s pretty amazing.
DI: In addition to playing with textures and colours, tell us about these characters that you’ve created.
Peta: It started off with Animal Farm which had many different prints and then I made little stuffed animals to add to the display for Rackedtt (a local pop up shop). I didn’t make them to sell or anything but people inquired about purchasing them. From that it evolved to me trying designs of the animals on vests. I’m considering embroidering them onto hats.
I was preparing pieces for Exhibit A and I needed a new animal that I hadn’t worked with before but which meant ‘good fortune’. I went ahead to design a key-ring with a rabbit, because the rabbit’s foot symbolizes good luck.
Kern saw the key-ring I made and then a few days later he sent me an email of about 4 pages of designs he created from the shape – and he called it the ‘Peta Rabbit’. I thought it was just genius.
DI: Are there any textiles you haven’t gotten a chance to work with and would like to get a chance to play with?
Peta: Honestly I haven’t gotten a chance to work with as many textiles as I would like to but I have actually started working on a new project for Skinny Fabulous (soca artiste) in June or July for Vincy Mas.
I propose the looks I want to go with but I don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like until it’s done because I like to use things that shouldn’t work together.
For instance, I found this mesh, it’s supposed to be used for bags and stuff like that but I look at it and think but this could be really cool for a jacket though so I did it and it worked out!
One of my friends from St. Vincent is a DJ and he wore it to play in St Lucia over the Easter weekend and he liked it.
DI: You did start studying Engineering but do you think if you studied Architecture which has a bit more of a design and creative background than Engineering
— Do you think you would still have strayed into fashion design or you might have stuck with Architecture?
Peta: I’m not sure. I probably would have done architecture because it had design in it. But I think I would have become bored because it takes a very long time to become an architect.
DI: When you were done with school in London, what made you come back to the Caribbean?
Peta: When I finished my degree in London, I realized there were no paying jobs in fashion. So when I finished I did an internship with a Danish designer – Peter Jenson. But London isn’t cheap so I couldn’t afford to stay there. When I left school at London I didn’t even want to see a sewing machine. I just detested fashion at that point. I had a bad run in with an awful tutor – who they actually fired the following year. By the time I finished my degree I didn’t want to see anything having to do with clothes.
So I decided to do marketing. I moved to Toronto to do a post management certificate in brand management. But I didn’t enjoy the cold weather and I thought that I could do advertising in the Caribbean, so it was either Trinidad or Barbados. I have relatives in Trinidad that I could stay with and I had interned with Claudia Pegus before. So in 2013 I contacted her and came to Trinidad to work with Claudia while applying for a job at advertising agencies.
DI: What was the transition like from Fashion Design to advertising agencies in Toronto and then Trinidad?
Peta: It was a bit difficult. I knew I would end up in client services, because I’m not a Graphic Designer or a Writer. I would however ask the designers how to do things in illustrator all the time.
DI: Thus your friendship with Kern…
Peta: Yes! - Mel (Trinidad Lookbook – Style Spirit Founder & Director) kept harassing me about doing a collection for Style Spirit - while I was working twelve hours a day. I didn’t know how it would be possible. She told me the date for the show and I spent about two months staying up and just creating and sewing the collection. Style Spirit was definitely the jump off point. The start for me.
DI: What’s life in St. Vincent like?
Peta: St Vincent is nice, it’s 32 islands and cays so you can visit a new island for almost every day in the month – I want to retire in Bequia or Union Island. I always say it’s better than Trinidad (laughs). It’s slow, everybody is really relaxed and in that regard it can be difficult to do business. But it’s a nice place. When I go home I feel like I know everyone and everyone knows me.
A few years ago, some of my friends and I went bar hopping on a Tuesday night but we don’t have the kind of nightlife that you have here in Trinidad. So we just started driving around and we went to this countryside bar and the owner happened to be cooking at the time so we had a meal with him around 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning – that’s St Vincent to me, it’s home.
DI: You created clothing for the music producer Alex Barnwell, Kubiyashi. How was that?
Peta: I did this shirt for Kubiyashi, it was for Machel Monday. He sorta just needed something "Monk" for the event given that was the theme for Machel this year. Of course he turned up on like a Thursday and needed it for the Monday but I guess only your friends can get away with that lol. Alex and I have been friends for over a decade back in the day when he was the IT manager at our cable local company in St. Vincent and I think at the time I was actually at UWI and then went on to work as Marketing Exec at our local telecommunications company, Cable & Wireless and now he's ditched that aspect of life to focus on the music and I've ditched the marketing to focus on fashion
I was skeptical, because I picked up this Broderie Anglaise I found in town and I was like this probably isn't a very menswear fabric but of course within a few seconds I decided I didn't care about all of that and was going to use it regardless. I will not lie, I was sweating bullets when he was on his way over to collect it but then he saw it and was like this is sick, I love it. And that night at the show he kept introducing me to people who had complimented him on it as well so that was cool that that rash decision paid off. But Alex always throws out these challenges and it does help me, like now I know I can create cool things in black, so I'm hoping to create more cool things in black and white and maybe deep shades of blue
DI: Your palette has moved from very bold graphic and colourful at Style Spirit in 2014 to slightly more tailored mix of black and white with illustration of animals or slight pops of pink, chequered and white on white. Should we expect a continued flow in this direction?
Peta: I’m challenging myself to do a black and white collection with maybe just pops of neon… It should be interesting.
DI: What's your advice to Caribbean students who are considering the field of fashion?
Peta: Most people don’t realize that there’s a difference between an illustrator and a designer. Sketching is just one aspect of fashion design and I don’t even sketch much. But if you hate sewing and pattern cutting then fashion design may not be for you.
After creating these elaborate drawings if you’re not clear on how a person going to fit into the outfit, then all you really have is sketches.
There’s no Command + Z in making clothes, and sometimes it takes a lot longer to undo something than to do it.
Fashion is hard work and it’s time consuming. Fabric is not cheap so you have to invest a lot in resources.
I want to establish my brand as a menswear brand and there’s also so many people doing such great work with womenswear already. I don’t really want to add to that noise right now.
You have to know yourself, especially in the creative industry where people are going to tell you you should do this or that.
Know yourself. Hold your ground.
Di: We think that’s some good advice.
Thanks for chatting with us Peta and all the best.
We’ll edit the KFC eating out the shoot (DI Fact: Peta LOVES KFC)
The Peta Odini Collection can be found in:
AK Couture Boutique and Beauty Bar
4516 Church Avenue,
Broooklyn, NY 11203
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Kimya Glasgow Store
Cruise Ship Terminal
Exhibit A at HOME
6 Scott Street
or email: email@example.com
Interviewer: Tanya Marie
Tanya Marie is a Designer, Brand Consultant
& Founding Creative Director of Designer Island.
Co-Writer + Editor: Raeanne Watts
Rae is an Attorney at Law based in Trinidad and Tobago.
She considers herself an 'experimenting creative' with a professional interest in law.
Photographer: Errol John
Photo of Kubiyashi by: Antony Scully