Louise Graham is punctual to a tee for our evening appointment at the Spanish Court Hotel. Highly regarded by The Rock's fashion watchers as stylish politico Lisa Hanna's go-to fashion designer, Graham rings us at 7:58 to say she's in the lobby for our scheduled 8:00 pm interview. Styled in belted top and pants of her own creation, the designer shares that she's just come from a measuring session to outfit members of the national netball team for an upcoming dinner engagement overseas. We retire to the Hotel's Sky Bar to gab with the soft-spoken Christian designer over non-alcoholic cocktails, of course.
How's your day going?
It's going well. I try to have a good day, every day.
What are you drinking?
A blended fruit punch.
What directed you towards a career as a fashion designer?
The interest began as a child. I grew up with my aunt in the country and she was a seamstress. While attending Merl Grove High School, I did needlework and used to make my own uniforms and clothes for people. But there was a perception in school that only dunce children did needlework and art so I didn't pursue it. After I left school, I became an accounting clerk and worked as a civil servant for several years, but the interest kept following me as whenever I would design clothes for work, somebody would want it as well, so I eventually decided to follow my dream.
How would you define your style?
I go for cool and comfortable; clean and structured designs.
Where does inspiration come from for your creations?
Reading magazines and watching red carpet looks internationally. I also pay attention to other designers and see what's in for every fashion season.
Who are your favourite designers?
Carolina Herrera. I also love Ann Taylor's looks — they are clean, basic, and the great thing is that her clothes are a nice fit for black women.
What's in your handbag?
My purse, umbrella, MAC makeup, hand sanitiser, lip gloss, comb, eyeglasses, notebook and a pen.
Who does your hair?
My sister Althea but when I want a good cut, I go to Adolf.
Who does your nails?
Sonia Dixon who comes to my house, which is very convenient for me.
Flats or stilettos?
Stilettos — because I'm short.
Jeans or an LBD?
I'm definitely all for an LBD; I think jeans work best for a casual look.
Government minister Lisa Hanna is known for stepping out styled in your clothing. Does she best embody the essence of the Louise Graham look?
I enjoy creating for Lisa. She's every designer's dream... she cannot look bad. But I also like challenges. I like putting different-sized women into stylish outfits and making them look good.
You studied and worked abroad for a while. Share a bit of your overseas journey.
I went to the Fort Lauderdale Art Institute in Florida, and after completing school I went to Palm Beach and worked at a little shop named Donald's which manufactured clothing. I also went to high-end designer stores like Gucci, Brooks Brothers and Armani to make alterations on designer outfits for customers for Donald's.
What's your greatest challenge as a fashion designer?
Telling someone who is gung-ho about a particular look that it's not going to work for them. That's my greatest challenge because I don't like making people feel bad.
If you could take the pulse of Jamaican fashion, what would the temperature be?
It would be lukewarm. I think sometimes the younger generation are a bit too extreme in their dressing and can as a result become borderline tacky. Too much cleavage on display and hemlines way too short to be sexy. Then there's another set that you want to see step it up a bit.
What's sexy to you?
Leaving a little to the imagination.
What are the five fashionable essentials no woman should be without?
1. A pair of nude shoes
2. A little dress, preferably of a neutral colour
3. A neutral-coloured, mid-sized tote
4. A pair of pewter Bridget sandals, it goes with anything.
5. A basic black, navy or tan pants
What fashionable craving will you indulge in when The Jamaica Observer Celebrates Fashion's Night Out this Thursday, September 6?
On Fashion's Night Out, I go to Simplicity and I go crazy with fabric and embellishments because they have half-price. Their sale is real — it's the stuff you've been watching all year and prices are slashed.
Who are your picks for women who boast impressive style?
I like Angelina Jolie because she's sophisticated and never overdone. I'm also a fan of Halle Berry's style as she has the body to wear almost anything.
What's your idea of the perfect man?
We're not going there, but in terms of how a man should be attired, I like a traditional man. Nicely tailored, slim pants, no-pleat front but not tight. I rather like the slim-cut jackets on the men, not the baggy ones.
What would be your idea of the perfect date?
No, no, no... we can't go there... my pastor would read me out of church!
What's next for Louise?
I would like to do a ready-to-wear line.
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
I'm not thinking that far, just taking one day at a time.