Oct 31, 2013
11:50 AM
Style & Shopping

New Haven Fashion Designer's Styles Flatter Women of All Ages, Sizes

Fade in on an urban scene: A chic young woman wearing a stylish tailored coat walks along a city street as the late afternoon light relinquishes its amber glow. She holds a latte in one hand, and in the other a brown paper bag enveloping a bottle of rich red wine from a boutique Italian producer. She slows and then stops outside a storefront space that radiates a warm light—and sparkles with gorgeous handmade dresses on mannequins in the window. She takes a long, slow sip of the beautifully bitter coffee, slings the wine up under her arm holding the coffee and with her free hand pulls open the door to go in for a fitting with her designer.

Is she in London? Milan? Paris?

Not in this scenario. This is a real-life narrative, not something from a film, and scenes like the one above are playing out on Orange Street in downtown New Haven as part of a larger success story concerning the maturation of the Ninth Square District as a mini, SoHo-style hub of fine art, culture, fashion, dining and nightlife—and a place where “über-hip” young professionals live. (See our related stories on Ninth Square’s Wine On9 event Nov. 1, in which Wisdom’s shop is a participant, on the opening of a striking new show at Reynolds Fine Art and on New Haven Restaurant Week.)

The designer is the soft-spoken, Jamaican-born Neville Wisdom, and if you’re a style-conscious woman—of any age or dress size—and you’ve never heard his name, read on and click on the links to Wisdom's website and Facebook page. (While his focus is on designing for women, in spring 2014 Wisdom plans to release a small line for men with button-down shirts and pants, and he does custom-design work for men now.)

Wisdom’s designs, which start with fine silks and refined wool, and are executed and tailored beautifully by the designer and his assistant, Lauren Sprague, manage to achieve an alchemy that combines vintage classicism with fresh, hip touches and a fit that flatters—and all of that comes at a price point that’s a bargain for the equivalent of bespoke.

Think of what you might pay for a brand-name dress for a holiday party purchased from a boutique or large retailer. Wisdom’s most versatile lined silk or wool dresses from the fall collection are priced in the $275 range. And that includes fittings and alternations to ensure the original piece shows off your shape—whatever it may be—to its best advantage. (Wisdom’s website shows the prices for different pieces in the collection.)

In fact, while the showroom pieces made from Wisdom’s designs are all size 4, which is standard for samples, Wisdom makes dresses and other pieces in all sizes and shapes, and says that most of his growing roster of clients consists of women in their 40s, or older. But one look at his designs and it’s obvious how perfectly they also would glove younger women with gym-toned bodies and a desire be unique and feel as good as they look.

And, as Sprague stresses, “Here we give them the luxury of making sure it’s fit to them.”

Luxury is one word in a litany needed to describe Wisdom’s favorite design of the moment, a black gown getting pride of place in the window that is chic, fun, filled with intricately-worked flourishes and details—and, compellingly, crowned with a bit of danger that derives from the zipper in the back and a collar with its hint of bondage.

“I want to build a whole collection out of the idea of this dress … a little more danger but still very elegant,” says Wisdom, whose favorites among his designs change periodically. This gown was made without a special customer in mind, and, as a testament to the designer’s talent, it came together—from start to finish—in less than a day.

Clearly for a special occasion, the gown is surrounded by high-style dresses that offer more versatility in terms of how and where they can be worn. Every season he does a Neville dress, which is a staple, and he noted that the David Dress, made in rich colors for the holidays, is very flattering and fits different shapes well.

 

By contrast, during a chat in his studio/shop, Wisdom showed a suit with a cropped jacket that offers more of a “funky professional” look.

“I’m constantly working on inventory,” and rolling out new designs, says Wisdom, noting that demand for his custom work has become a lot more frequent. He creates about 15 to 20 looks for a season—fall and spring—and then stages fashion shows to preview those collections. The fall show was part of a Ninth Square event and it took place al fresco, on a closed-to-traffic Orange Street.

The show to debut the spring 2014 collection is in the planning stages, with just the right venue being sought. And that show will kickoff next year’s branded On9 series of events on the first Friday of April, says Wisdom, who has been in the Ninth Square space for a year and a half. Before that, he was in the Westville section of New Haven for several years.

Wisdom is originally from Jamaica (“That’s when I started designing") and his youth informed one aspect of his aesthetic that he commented on in a New York Times piece about the rise of Ninth Square. Wisdom told the Times, “There’s an old person trapped inside me when I design.”

Asked about the comment, he begins by saying, “Because of the style of the dresses, I’m very vintage.” Walking around the shop, he points to design references to styles from the 1960s—and even a cuff on a dress that evokes the late 1800s.

“The … connection is the fact that I watched a lot of old movies, even as a kid,” Wisdom says, explaining that in Jamaica his family had access to just one television station and it showed classic black-and-white movies. That’s where a lot of his style originates.

The inspiration shows, but Wisdom’s designs are anything but stuck in the past. To see and learn more about the designer, who has been crafting pieces for women and men since 1989, head to his website and his Facebook page, the latter of which has information on sewing classes Wisdom gives in his studio.

The studio/shop is located at 63 Orange St., and the phone number is (203) 891-6691.

 

New Haven Fashion Designer's Styles Flatter Women of All Ages, Sizes

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