ON THE RUNWAY
The Dallas-based designer who’s taking on Project Runway
Meet Venny Etienne, the Brooklyn-born, Dallas-based designer and who’s recently add Project Runway Season 17 contestant to his CV. —Kiana Moridi
How did you get started in fashion?
My interest in design came in my twenties. I went to school originally for investment banking—only because I knew investment bankers make great money and they have good houses and dress well/ I wanted that lifestyle.
My interest in fashion design began at the Haitian American church I attended in Brooklyn where we’d participate in these fashion shows. I started out modeling in the shows, but one year, the organizer asked who would be interested in creating their own clothes, and a couple of us raised our hands. We just went for it and the response from the crowd motivated me to keep going. After that, I applied to FIT, and I just kept going and never looked back.
In addition to be being a designer, you’re also working as a full-time accountant, right?
I intertwine both of my worlds, even when I’m working at the bank. When I have any slight downtime while I’m at work at the bank, I’m working on my fashion brand. Some days I’ll sketch, fabric source, fix up my social media, or respond to emails while I’m at work. I tend to do my work quickly so I can have the rest of the day to work on my designs.
How did the name of your brand, Levenity, come about?
It originally was called Sir Venity, but I felt like it was too masculine, as I was doing women’s clothing at the time. One day, I was with my coworkers at the bank in New York and I was writing on the back of withdrawal slips, trying to come up with new ideas. My coworker suggested Levenity to make it sound more feminine. The name has every single letter that’s in my first and last name with the addition of an ‘L’ as a the feminine touch to it. It represents who I am as a designer, and it’s encrypted at the same time. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone the honest truth about how the name came about, but that’s how it happened!
You’re on this season of Project Runway—and doing well! Last week you made it into the top 10. How did that opportunity come about?
The show researched Dallas and designers in the area, asking them to apply. I had been approached before, but this time felt different. I evaluated where I was in terms of my business and went for it. I thought: If I make it, I make it; if I don’t I don’t. I’m a firm believer in signs and discernment.
Biggest lesson learned from Project Runway?
There are quiet ways to be true to yourself. I feel as a designer, I tend to want to do a lot in terms of design because I just want people to see me. When you want your voice to be heard, you yell as loud as you can. But sometimes, the people that make the most impact don’t have to say much. I think being a designer on this season allowed me to understand that. It now makes me even more eager to show what I’m able to do.
Where do you draw inspiration?
Anything can really inspire me. I can feel inspired by the shadow cast when a piece of tissue hits the concrete floor. Music can also really inspire me. Beyoncé’s “Haunted” inspired my whole Fall 2014 collection. I had that song on repeat for four months while I was making that collection.
Best part of being a designer?
When a client FaceTimes me in one of my garments and says, “Venny, I haven’t been able to find a designer who makes me feel as beautiful as I feel in your garments.” Those compliments bring me to tears; they solidify why I do what I do. Everyone has a certain type of beauty, and it’s my job as a designer to enhance it as much as I can with what I create.
Best advice you’ve received?
This morning, someone sent me a clip of Steve Harvey talking about the concept of “jumping.” In order to be successful, you have to jump to make the parachute to activate. That’s where I’m at in my life right now. It’s powerful and scary, but it’s something I’m going to live by in this chapter I’m currently in. I know that at some point, in order for me to soar completely, I’m going to have to jump to activate my parachute.
The Details: Cheer Etienne on during Project Runway. New episodes air every Thursday on Bravo at 8 p.m. CT.