Bajan designer Morella taking Caribbean by storm
Fashion is her passion. In fact, when Morella Frederick is in the presence of anyone, she is always assessing their clothing. And if she is not satisfied, she starts to re-dress them in her mind.
The fashion designer was in Barbados finalizing a few upcoming projects, which she is keeping close to her chest. However, on Friday last at the Waterfront Café, Bridgetown, she told Barbados TODAY about her journey in the fashion industry.
“I eat, sleep and breathe designing. I couldn’t picture myself doing anything else,” quipped Morella.
And that is no lie. The mother of three has done work in other areas before; but was not fulfilled. She has done secretarial studies and worked as a real estate secretary for thee years; she holds a Bachelor’s degree in nursing, and she also studied psychology.
“I am not the person to sit in an office and work . . . . I always go back to fashion. One of the things I did in St Lucia is thatI studied psychology. The joke about it is I would be in there and I would be dressing people. I am serious,” she said with a pensive look plastered on her face.
“I dressed everyone, regardless of what field I went in, because back in the day you never thought fashion would make money. It was supposed to be a thing you did, but not a real job. So that is why I embraced those other areas such as nursing and psychology, because I figured I would make a lot of money. But at the end of the day, I was still not happy . . . .
“The only thing I would do without being paid is fashion,” she added.
It was while attending primary school that her fashion design journey began. Morella learned dressmaking from her mother Catherine.
“Most children are usually more fashion-forward than their parents. So I never was happy with what she made for me. After she made them, I would remake them. Then I started making for my little sister and my doll. Then I decided to get professional training.
“Before I could hit the machine, I was sewing by hand. Then I would sew on the machine when [my mother] would allow me to –– back when you had the old pedal machine,” Morella recalled.
She would also sew bags for her friends, and as she got older she would make her own clothing since she was “particular” about how her clothes should fit, given her slender stature. Her business was thus started over 30 years ago.
The Barbadian-born, who currently lives in the United States, migrated to Maine in 1996, two years after she began to represent the island in fashion designing in Boston.
In the first year she, along with the late Paul Anthony, took six models to do shows, tours and other exchange programmes to expose the local talent in the United States.
“My business started in 1982. I started designing and I had a couture shop in Tudor Street. At that time I did custom making and then I was introduced to doing shows on stage. I would always do a collection for my shop, but then I went onstage and worked with producers like the late Kingsley Thorne and Reginald Cave and others,” Morella recalled.
Besides local shows, including BMEX, her work would take her around the region, to almost all the islands, presenting her designs –– not forgetting her exhibitions in the United States.
Referring to her “raw talent”, Morella recalled a number of cases when she was able to make outfits for individuals without taking measurements –– and they would fit.
Lisette King, one of the designer’s closest friends, and among the first models to work with her, said Morella’s greatest gift was looking at an individual and being able to know what style would complement her figure.
There are four boutiques in Barbados that carry Morella’s lines. And while the designer spends most of her time in the United States doing shows for the Barbados Cultural Committee and raising money for charities, she often comes back to Barbados to see what areas she can tap into.
Opting not to go into details, Morella said on this visit she was finalizing a project that involves resort wear. She has also registered a number of shows to be held in Barbados in the future, including Fashion Night Out Barbados and Ms Senior Sweetheart Barbados International.
Morella returns to the island too to supply the boutiques with her line of lingerie, swimwear and evening wear.
She does mostly resort wear in Boston between spring and the start of winter. Many pieces of her clothing are embellished with natural stones and crystals.
Morella works with about 12 people, including her models, between Barbados and America. She is involved in various pageants in the United States and as “the unofficial ambassador for Barbados”, she sometimes takes the winner “and a small contingent” to Barbados, which she believes gives the island some additional exposure.
“Living in Maine, I have discovered a lot of people do not know about Barbados . . . . They want to know if it is part of Jamaica. So I am the unofficial ambassador for Barbados. I usually tell them about the country whenever I do a show and my car has the Flag Of Barbados.
“I tell people about the island and I always invite them. So we have people coming just to see what the island is like,” the Bajan designer added.
When asked what were some of the challenges she faced in the industry, Morella simply replied: “I don’t have any challenges. I always get what I want. I am serious. I am not even kidding. I am very serious . . . .
“Once I express what vision I have, people are always willing to help me. Everything I touch turn to gold,” she explained after a short pause.
Besides designing and making fashionable items for stores, pageants and other fashion shows, Morella is also a stylist.
“Most of my work is in the US. I have very few clients here because I am very particular. So there are a very few Barbadians I style here –– ladies and gentlemen. Mainly business owners and CEOs –– those are the ones that usually ask for my service,” she said.
Morella is the founder of the children’s charity St Catherine’s House, and she also dedicates some of her time to making clothes for other charities in the United States.
“Most of the shows that we do, a part of the proceeds go to charity. St Catherine’s House is named after my mother because she is the one who taught me to give back,” she added.
It was after attending her daughter’s graduation in 2009 that Morella decided to start the charity –– when she found out some of her daughter’s classmates were unable to attend because they could not afford a beautiful dress.
Morella said that over the years many people had embraced fashion designers, though some still believed they were only for clothing the rich and famous. And she said as some people continued to see fashion designers as people whose services they could not afford, there would always be a need for seamstresses.
“A seamstress is someone that you would go to and take a book with a picture and say this is what I would like. She is very talented, but you would show her what you would like and she would make that for you,” explained Morella.
“A lot of people are embracing designers like myself because they are coming to you like a blank canvas and saying, ‘Could you design something to complement my body type?’. . . . So I find that things have changed and people are really putting faith in designers now,” she added.
Morella, who often uses the services of other designers, said she was employing more plus-size models now, after starting a show Runway For All in the United States, with the philosophy that “everyone wears clothing”.
“One of my favourite models is 96 years old. [Seniors] still wear clothing, and the biggest model I have worked with was 300 pounds,” she added.
It came as no surprise then when Morella said her inspirations were her mother Catherine and the late French fashion designer and founder of the Chanel perfume brand, Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel.
“She re-entered the fashion world at age 70. So it tells me that success has no age,” Morella said.
The Barbadian designer and stylist said she was about to take her brand Morella Fashion House to the world.
“I am going through the Caribbean. My mother is St Lucian; so that was an easy opening for me. I am taking the Caribbean and Europe by storm,” she added.
Amidst her enthusiasm for fashion, the grandmother of four says she has not ruled out the possibility of more studies in other subject areas.