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.
Potenza Marketing makes fastest-growing companies list.
An abortion rights organization has filed the first court challenge to a Louisiana law that would require doctors who perform abortions to be able to admit patients to a nearby hospital.
U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister started his sign-up for re-election Friday the same as any other candidate, filling out paperwork and handing over cash to pay his qualifying fee. But he finished it quite differently, doused with ice.
The recent release of Victor White III’s autopsy report could spell trouble, as it tells a much different story of his death than the one told five months ago by the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Three-unit modern townhomes or four bedroom traditional home
Men's store now carrying women's clothing
“Candidates for Congress and members of Congress spend between 30 and 70 percent of their time raising money to get back to Congress or to get their party back into power.”
Justin Stelly adds zest to his Saint Street kitchen in this third installment of filmmaker Stephen Meaux’s food documentary series.
Over the last four days of the trial against attorney Daniel Stanford, there’s been one notable absence from Judge Elizabeth Foote’s courtroom: attorney Bill Goode.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees and wide receiver Nick Toon are not on the same page yet, and time is running short for Toon to get it right.
U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister started his sign-up for re-election the same as other candidates, filling out paperwork and handing over qualifying money. But he finished it like no other, doused with ice.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Jell-o sales plummet; Hamas kills suspected informers; bodies arrive in Malaysia and more national and international news for Friday, August 22, 2014.
That’s what Lafayette Parish has obtained in Pentagon surplus since 2006.
Qualifying continues through Friday.
Local 101 class Friday
Kimonos and bells and turq galore
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Two bedroom Acadian condo or three bedroom ranch style home
The political tilt of the Senate during President Barack Obama's final two years in office is likely to hinge on a handful of female contenders in tight and costly races.
A former BP executive will be allowed to travel to the United Kingdom later this month while he awaits trial on charges relating to an investigation of the 2010 Gulf oil spill.
“Byzantine” is the word members of the nominating committee for the local flood protection authority often use to describe the complicated, multi-layered matrix of qualifications that must be met to fill a vacancy on that board.
Corned beef, melty cheese and rye bread ready for your lunchtime breakaway
Friends and family will celebrate Spider's life in September.
Saints safety Jairus Byrd has rarely been so eager to hit and be hit, if only to reassure himself that his surgically repaired back is as healed as doctors believe.
Jindal privatized nearly all the LSU hospitals without waiting for federal officials to sign off on financing arrangements that rely on millions of federal Medicaid dollars.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and her main Republican challenger, Congressman Bill Cassidy, verbally sparred as they officially signed up on the opening day of qualifying for Louisiana's November election.
Superintendent tells crowd he'd just emerged from a four-hour meeting with the attorney hired to investigate him.
A hint of game day glam