Harold Clarke is much like the clothing he creates — diverse, unexpected, timeless. A couture designer without a hint of pretension. His age nearly impossible to guess and his accent even tougher to crack. While there is an air of mystery to Harold, some things are quite clear. He is a man who instinctively knows how to dress women. He works hard. He is kind. And he is simply an artist.
In his freshly opened store front in Lafayette’s Oil Center the evidence of that diversity is glaring — a vibrant voluminous green ball gown that screams Rio on one end of the display contrasts a supple leather-bodiced creation at the other end embellished with pitch black feathers. At the store front on Heymann Boulevard it’s as though a slice of New York Fashion Week has been transported to Lafayette (minus the anorexic models).
That’s the thing about Harold. He dresses real women. And loves it.
“I love the female form,” Harold says frankly on a warm afternoon as he casually pulls exquisitely beaded gowns over mannequins for display.
His wife, Iona, is busy at work on this afternoon as well, preparing for the grand opening of the couture floor room.
“She gives me inspiration,” Harold says. “She makes sure it gets done.”
Harold Clarke has been getting it done for more than 40 years. The man from Jamaica first took inspiration from the grandmother who raised him. He fondly recalls his grandmother, who had her clothing custom made from a seamstress, seeking out pieces that would be uniquely her. Harold remembers sketching even as a boy.
From a child in Jamaica to dressing celebrities like Vivica A. Fox, Vanna White and Patti LaBelle and now women shopping in the Oil Center, Harold’s road is a long and storied one. And one that is making a clear (and long term) stop in Lafayette.
In 1969 he moved to the states at the age of 19 and eventually met his wife of 42 years. The couple spent years in New York, where Harold worked all day and went to Fashion Institute of Technology at night. It was an era of “Madonna before she was Madonna,” Iona says with a laugh. Harold spent time in circles with Andy Warhol and emerging artists, who were just “trying to hone their skills,” he says. And Harold was among them, working during the day as a darkroom tech to provide for their children and creating fashion at night.
Then in 1994, he was commissioned to create a wedding dress for a New Orleans bride, who tapped him for the entire wedding party. She flew the couple to New Orleans for a fitting for the bridesmaids and they fell in love with the city.
“The French Quarter,” he says with affection. “Those buildings. The history and the ambiance.”
And while the New Orleans store remains open, Harold and Iona began looking west to their future as of late, to a city where they have long had a client base.
“In Lafayette they like haute couture, they like fashion. They understand made to measure. They didn’t want to buy off the rack,” he says.
Harold speaks of creating one-of-a-kind pieces for women who mean business. It’s easy to imagine these women as he describes his clients.
“Her daughter is getting married and she really has to look fabulous. Ex will be there. He needs to see what he missed. He’s got this trophy girlfriend. I want her to look fabulous, to walk in and they remember what they are missing. The girlfriend can’t run into the store and get this,” he says. “They get pampered. It’s a candy store for women.”
And one that’s hard to resist. As Harold works on displays, three customers walk in the unlocked door displaying a sign that reads the opening is the next day.
Harold welcomes them graciously. They are two queens and a duchess on the hunt for a dress worthy of royalty. The three ladies of Krewe of Victoria explain their 20th anniversary ball will put every past queen on display. And it goes without saying, something one-of-a-kind is an absolute. Susu Rainey is searching for a teal dress to pay homage to her year as the krewe’s third queen. She is skeptical the first dress will fit at all. It does, but isn’t exactly right. The second dress is more on target. It takes but a few suggestions from Susu and Harold to alter the look to work for her. As she pursues the showroom, she takes inspiration from different pieces she likes — a neckline here, the drape of a line there.
The exchange between Susu and Harold is brief, and yet it’s clear he sees her vision. And it’s clear that Susu is just the kind of woman who will appreciate his work — a woman who knows what she wants.
Kelly Cobb is just such a woman. Harold created her wedding dress after she scoured Chicago stores looking for something that fit her aesthetic.
“Elegant, funky, with a classical feel,” Cobb says.
It was, in fact, the most memorable part of the Lafayette doctor’s wedding experience.
“He nailed it,” she says.
“It’s a gift,” Harold says of design. “I just like to create fabulous dresses for ladies.”
He sketches as well as drapes on forms to create his pieces for clients in addition to his collections each year — five total representing each season plus a resort line. The work is done in a design studio in New Orleans and much at the hands of Iona and Harold. But that may change as part of their move to Lafayette. The couple says they would like to move the entire design studio here and expand. They’ll need some people who can really sew, Iona says. And they have plans to begin wholesale (something they once did years ago), using the resources found in Lafayette.
“We want to train people in high fashion couture. Do more manufacturing. Go global. We’re going back to wholesale,” Harold says.
Harold would also love to connect with those budding designers at UL and guide them in the business and art he knows so well.
“I’d love to help young kids and show them the truth about fashion. With me — I’m the real deal,” he says with a smile.
Will $400 be enough for the re-election campaign of LPSB's Hunter Beasley to overcome two years of holding our school system hostage and hurting the education of our children all because of a personal dislike of the superintendent?
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said Friday he expects his playing status in Detroit to be decided by coach Sean Payton on Sunday, shortly before the game.
Two bedroom cottage in Lafayette or three bedroom traditional in Erath
Gulf Brew ready threads
Lawmakers have sidestepped a decision on whether they accept claims from Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration that the state closed last year's books with a nearly $179 million surplus.
Coming off the high of a fourth quarter comeback against Tampa Bay and a helpful bye week, linebacker Junior Galette sees a real turnaround coming for New Orleans' struggling defense.
Former President Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party's most popular surrogate this fall, is heading to Louisiana early next week for a campaign rally with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.
Time and again you hear people say DA Mike Harson is unbeatable because he's doled out political favors over the past 20 years. But a new lawsuit could end that speculation.
We welcome nominations from readers and leaders throughout the business community in Lafayette and the five surrounding parishes.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Cat 4 storm heads for Bermuda; travel ban called counter-productive; comet approaches Mars and more national and international news for Friday, October 17, 2014.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Ebola is kind of terrifying if you watch too much Fox News and CNN. Especially Fox, which makes everything look terrifying because, well, War on Christmas and Obama and all.
Local developer’s Lake Charles Gardens LLC purchases buildings and leases; land still owned by Dugas family.
One bedroom townhouse or two bedroom townhouse in Lafayette
Hit the barre for a good cause
Whatever district you are in, please do your research. Find out what the schools need in order to teach. Better yet, ask your child’s teacher. They know!
Get your groove on with two free concerts in Downtown Lafayette Friday, both at Parc Sans Souci.
After the season's signature win (so far), here are some helpful tips for Cajun Nation during the conference stretch.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Did the state close last year's books with a surplus or a deficit?
Practicing without limitations on Wednesday, running back Mark Ingram looked ready to return to a New Orleans offense that once again ranks among the NFL's best when the Saints play at Detroit on Sunday.
It’s been decided: Superintendents of Louisiana’s public school system will retain the controversial powers granted by Act 1 of the 2012 session.
Economist Loren Scott says Louisiana is in the midst of an industrial boom unlike any other in its history, with more than $100 billion in industrial projects either under construction or in the engineering and design phase.
Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy has a bone to pick with the Jindal administration, which recently — surprise! — announced that the state ended the most recent budget year with a $178.5 million dollar surplus.
Where will we get french fries smothered in awesomeness now?
Snuggle up in style
Rural Scott or rustic New Iberia home
The Louisiana Treasury holds $18 million in Israel Bonds — bonds that earn 2.868 percent when the three-year U.S. Treasury is yielding 1.08 percent.
The messaging battle, however, isn't tied to individual campaign accounts. Third-party groups have poured millions of dollars into advertising.