Dallas design student Venny Etienne came, saw and conquered the fashion world … well, at least that’s his plan
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
It’s Pride Weekend in Dallas, and more than most people, Venny Etienne has a lot to feel pride over. But while many of us will be gearing up for parade and parties, Etienne will be slapping on a mortarboard and accepting his diploma in fashion design from Wade College. And that’s just the capper to a summer that has been filled with notable accomplishments.
Consider: In a few short months, Etienne has completed his education, won an important fashion scholarship including an all-expenses trip to study in Paris and has just returned from a whirlwind trip to New York Fashion Week. And it’s not even close to being over: next month, he’ll debut a spring collection for L.A. Style Fashion Week, following another accolade — the RAWard Fashion Designer of the Year for 2014. And if all goes as planned, his brand LeVenity will soon make its mark in the fashion world. And never once did he have to hear Heidi Klum say, “Auf Wiedersehen.”
It’s fortunate, then, that Etienne didn’t end pursuing his initial interest: Investment banking. After a few semesters of that, he dropped that career path and enrolled in the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Then, four-and-a-half years ago, he moved to Dallas. He knew no one other than his partner. He enrolled in the fashion-centric Wade College in the Design District. It was there he first heard about a student competition offered through Fashion Group International: the Paris American Academy Couture Award.
“I remember when I first heard about the Paris competition, I knew I really wanted it,” Etienne recalls. Usually, several dozen fashion schools in the Southwest compete, with literally hundreds of entries being submitted. Judges whittle down those to a small number that make it to a runway competition. That is the group from which all the awards and scholarships are culled. Twice Etienne entered, submitting the maximum of three garments. Twice he failed to make the cut.
“Each time they didn’t call my name, I wondered, what am I doing wrong?” Etienne says. “So I focused on the entire construction to make one badass, perfect garment.”
He only turned in one item for consideration earlier this year, but made sure it stood out: a Neoprene sporty bomber jacket with tailored trousers.
And he hit the jackpot.
Not only did Etienne win the grand scholarship — including money and a trip to Paris for a month of study in an atelier, only the third time a Wade College student won the prize in the school’s 53-year history — he also took a “best sewing” award (“I won an industrial sewing machine for that,” he says) and a third-place win in a different category that gave him more cash … and all for the same garment. Add to that his 2014 award, and fashion appears to be a runway Etienne was destined to fly down.
Perfecting the one garment taught Etienne valuable lessons — not just about attention to detail, but perseverance. He’ll debut the Spring 2016 collection of his brand, LeVenity, in Los Angeles on Oct. 17 — 10 to 15 women’s pieces, all inspired by that Neoprene jacket.
“Right now we’re fine-tuning the collection — I’m still working on the garments as we speak!” he says. His trip to Paris proved to be an important step in his development, he admits.
“Paris was everything I thought it would be and more,” he says. “You can feel the energy of the city. They are very structured.” Professors demanded punctuality and were known to lock out students who arrived for class even seconds late. That degree of discipline expanded Etienne horizons for what he could accomplish.
“I learned so many different techniques — hand- sewing, tailoring, a tie-dyeing technique called shibori,” he says. It was so inspirational, he’s already looking toward his 2017 collection … and nothing about it will have anything to do with Neoprene. Etienne is a peripatetic designer, someone itching to try something new whenever he can. And that investment banker background? Well, that taught him to have an eye on business as well.
“Right now I do custom clothes, but next season, or perhaps the season after that, I want to begin the manufacturing process,” he says. “Then I want to expand into retail — boutiques and luxury department stores, as well as my own brick-and-mortar shop eventually. And then hopefully trickle down into other markets, like handbags. It’ll be an entire brand.”
There’s still one more step before any of that can happen, though.
“I’m still waiting for one more grade,” he admits. “I mean, I know I passed, but I need to have it in to graduate.”
Even a world traveler and budding entrepreneur needs to do his homework.
To see more of Venny Etienne’s work, visit LeVenity.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 18, 2015.