Nicholas Clements-Lindsey went from TCU fashion student to hot young designer in one year. What took him so long?

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor

Nicholas Clements-Lindsey
HIS OWN PROJECT RUNWAY | Lindsey’s colorful designs earned him at spot at New York Fashion Week — the youngest African-American designer ever to show there. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Nicholas Clements-Lindsey is not an overnight success. No — it took him a year. Well, almost a year. It’s crazy, he knows.

“You work so hard to get to those points,” he says. ” I worked hard. But I got them all in one year, which is outrageous. And I am achieving those goals.”

Just last summer, Lindsey was a student in Texas Christian University’s fashion merchandising program.

When he started the program, he planned to work fashion advertising. “You don’t take too many classes on fashion design,” he admits. But after a trip to Italy, he caught the bug and wanted to launch his own line.

“I did my first presentation in August of 2008 in front of 37 people,” he says. “We did it out of a really small location — a salon. I showed seven pieces, that’s it.”

But some of those 37 people were big-wigs in fashion from Los Angeles and New York as well as Dallas.

He began building a fan base. Then last summer, he did a larger show at J.D. Miller Gallery in the Design District (a show I attended; I even tried to buy a garment from it).

“That was my final presentation for school,” Lindsey says. And it catapulted him to new heights.

Before he left Dallas, Lindsey was already invited to show at L.A. Fashion Week. He met the Factor family (as in Max), who loved his designs.

“Our relationship just blossomed from there. And before you know it, when they saw the reviews, I was invited to show at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in New York,” he says. At 26, Lindsey has become the youngest black designer ever to show at that all-important New York fashion show, which takes place Sept. 9 through 16 (Lindsey’s show is on Sept. 11).

“It’s been a wild ride,” he admits. Not bad for the tall gay boy who grew up in rural Mansfield, Texas.

This summer, Lindsey returned to his hometown to do press and finalize the line that will debut next month. It’s already been picked up by a department store (he can’t say which one) and will be widely available starting in March. Then the process starts all over again with another collection. And hopefully another and on and on.

Lindsey is as surprised as anyone at his success. (When he was a kid, he wanted to be an ob-gyn, of all things.)

“I wasn’t going to go into fashion design — I didn’t think it was in the stars for me,” he says. “I’m a real go-getter kind of guy. But for me, it just happened.”

But as with all overnight sensations, a lot of work went on leading up to it. And talent helped.

Lindsey took a lot of his inspiration after seeing a Chanel summer preview in Florence in 2006. He started sketching ideas for garments before he even got on the plane. When he returned to the U.S., he called a good friend who was a seamstress.

“I said, ‘I have all these sketches — can you show me how to sew stuff?’ We started with the simplest things ever, like min-shirts. Then I began developing my own patterns from the commercial patterns I saw.”

For a while, Lindsey admits, he was all over the place — even at his show last summer, he was designing menswear. But he soon decided he needed to maintain focus on what felt most comfortable for him.

“Last year, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I played with casual and haute couture and womenswear and menswear. But I got to a point where I had to mark off what I didn’t like doing. No. 1 off the list was menswear. I found my personal style varies, but for business it’s set: Ready-to-wear.”
Lindsey describes his typical client as a woman, age 23 up to 50 — what he calls “the timeless generation.”

“I make garments that are so versatile, they will be able to wear that to the office and do something after 5 and then do a charity event. You can wear the same garment without looking super dressy or down-dressed.”

Not that he hasn’t found room to go glam on occasion. He’s dressed Jessica Alba at multiple events, and has had brushes with true celebrity royalty.

“At the Grammys, I was gonna dress Lady Gaga and all of a sudden she chose Armani. And I was gonna dress Julianne Moore for the Golden Globes and at the last minute she wore Tom Ford instead. At least he’s hot,” he laughs. “I met [Ford] about two years ago and told him I wanted to marry him. He said, ‘You’re just a little bit too young for me.’”

Lindsey admires Ford’s design skills as well, and of course idolizes Dior, Chanel and St. Laurent. (“I was always mesmerized by their design technique. Yves St. Laurent was a genius, but the other two were giants.”) But the designer he calls his “ultimate girl?” Hollywood costume designer Edith Head.

“I remember seeing To Catch a Thief when I was 8 years old and being impressed how she could take an idea and develop it into a theme and make it into a variation that tells a complete story. Oleg Cassini did the exact same thing. I passed out when I went over to Warner Bros. and saw the Edith Head costume department.”

Lindsey, though, hopes that one day people will talk about him with the same reverence he talks about other designers.

“Since my line is now officially a brand, I’m coming up big-time in October. I feel really, really blessed.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 20, 2010.