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An Interview with Desiree Scarborough

I first heard of Desiree Scarborough when we were both RAs at The School of the New York Times, but unfortunately I was too intimidated by her style and the sophisticated way she carried herself to actually talk to her. If I had gotten past my insecurities, I would have met one of the kindest and most talented up-and-coming designers out there. I had no reason to be afraid (Desiree is as gracious as she is stylish), but, alas, nervousness got the better of me. Luckily, however, I was able to get in touch with her through Instagram for this interview, which was done many months ago--- I got distracted from posting on here for obvious reasons.

But I've also taken a long time writing this because, as with most art that has a profound effect on me, I find it difficult to put into words what Desiree's fashion designs mean to me. In the months it's taken me to write this, Desiree has crafted more amazing pieces, graduated from RISD, and has been featured by WWD, Fashionista, and Vogue. Her success is not surprising to me, but it is, of course, so well-deserved. Desiree uses bold colors and striking patterns in her garments; they are unapologetically bright, playful but never at the detriment of thoughtfulness or quality. Her designs weave together personal histories and the transcendental quality that all great art has. I could look at her work for hours and take something different from it each time. But Desiree's work is definitely best explained by Desiree herself.

What work are you most proud of?

My senior thesis feels the most like me of anything I’ve made during my time in college. I feel like I’ve really hit my stride with my current work. It’s a marriage of the colorful and weird stuff I like to draw and paint with silhouettes that make excited to get dressed every day. Over the past two years I’ve become a lot more comfortable with myself, feeling comfortable talking openly about my past and my thoughts so much so that 90% of my life is open for discussion. This collection is about owning my identity in its many facets, being black, being a young person who also happens to be a girl and being a Brooklynite to name a few. I’m proud of what’s already been done and what’s still in the works, for the most part nothing is hidden and it’s both exhilarating and terrifying that people I don’t know will know me like that.

Who are your biggest inspirations?

Hmm I’ll list who comes to mind in no particular order after my mom. Throughout the entirety of my life I’ve seen her accomplish a multitude of things all over the world while still taking care myself and her. She always accomplishes what she sets out to do no matter the stage or age she’s at in life, a constant reminder that I too can do it all if I put in the work. After my mom I’d list my grandparents, Beyonce’, Solange, Kerby Jean Raymond, Rihanna, Alexander McQueen, Qualeasha Wood, Malaika Temba, Vaughn Lewis Carman, Liz Connelly, Yelitsa Jean-Charles, Nafis White, Jackie Aina, my neighbor who’s lived right across the street on the same block in the same brownstone since before I was born and has no plans of selling, my middle school art teacher who encouraged me to leave my grade 6-12 school and pursue art, the women in my mom’s sorority, the people I graduated high school with who continue to post their music, art and other career ventures even when there’s only 20 or a couple hundred of us watching and Jay-Z, minus the cheating. Just to name like 20 people off the top. Some of these people have already graduated from RISD and are doing crazy amazing things in the art and design world, some are notable designers, artist, youtubers and space makers whose stories and accomplishments inspire me greatly and some are making their own way to become those notable people. It’s great to see and support what the people you believe in have going on all over.

What's been the most transformative experience of your life?

Man! I don’t know. Probably college in general. Although I’ve grown as an artist and person it’s come at a cost both physically and mentally. This shit is both amazing and draining. I’ve met some great people here who’ve propelled me forward in ways I couldn’t imagine back in high school when I was just trying to get away from NYC and RISD was my way out, and I’ve met some nasty people who I let talk down to me and make forget who I was and why I was here. As my time in undergrad comes to an end, I’ve reflected quite a bit on the good, the bad and the so-so. Lessons were learned and my character was strengthened, so in that sense it was sort of worth it but some of it was just wrong and unnecessary in my eyes…and the eyes of some others. Sometimes its like okay God I learned a lot, won’t do that again but like why so extreme?? We couldn’t just do a lil thing, a baby lesson and also grow into a better human? Nah? Okay, cool I guess. This has been the most informative course on people I’ve ever encountered and I will say I feel prepared to stand up for myself out there.

How has your work changed over time?

When I first began making work in middle school it was all about skill, how realistic I could draw or paint so everyone knew what they were looking at. That got boring quick. You practice every day and you can get good technically. Once I got to highschool I threw all of that out. I went to an arts high school where things were less about precision and technicality, but more about individuality and self-expression. This is where I really developed my love for color and story telling. Once I let go it was hard for my work to not relate to my life and just make stuff with no connection to me. My junior and senior year I was making some of my weirdest shit and I still love it to this day for that reason. I want to really get back to that post grad. I’m making work that to me is cool, fun, and vibrant but still with a story that’s meaningful. However, its not nearly as weird as my high school work. I started leaning more into the weird at the end of my junior year and I’m now finding ways to add it into my current apparel work. Now I’m trying to transform space and time with my apparel work. Take people to a realm that I’ve created where things have a familiarity to it but I’ve transformed them into something unexpected.

What's the most difficult part about being you?

As a Leo, (Yes, I went there BECAUSE IT APPLIES) I struggle with being both an extremely emotional and caring person while at the same time kind of holding the middle finger up to anything that doesn’t serve me or make me feel good in some way. Once I’ve determined that something a waste of time or I’ve stopped considering the feelings of others, I become extremely outspoken about not caring. We’re all working on ourselves and sometimes I’ve got to not care in silence instead of letting everyone involved know that I don’t care.

“You don’t have to let Denise know you’re doing alright, you can just do alright.” -Bob from Bob’s Burgers

Selfish and selfless simultaneously. I’m usually good at deciphering when to use which part of me but sometimes I do second guess how to react to a situation, I go back and forth because of course I’ve been selfless more often than being selfish and its really bit me in the ass. But That’s life!

Using a metaphor, how would you describe your creative process?

The playground is my best friend. I make sure to try everything swing and rope ladder so no part of her feels neglected. (I feel like this applies to women in general, we’re complex, we need consistency, attention and reassurance. But that’s another conversation)

How do you define style?

Whatever’s not in fashion.


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