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Art of Darkness

Designer Amanda deLeon's works are influenced by death, funerals and nightmares.

Marianna Massey photographs

Amanda deLeon is exhausted. The fashion designer, a favorite in the burgeoning New Orleans fashion scene, does almost all of the work for her business herself – from pattern-making to promotion – and right now she’s amid an especially big push to get national editors and stylists to pay attention to her work. Part of this push is a series of fashion films and molded leather headpieces infused by what she calls “dark elegance.”

DeLeon is used to pulling inspiration from the macabre. Her most recent fall collection, “La Nouvelle-Orléans,” was inspired by the John Boutté and Paul Sanchez’s song, “Foot of Canal Street,” about the cemeteries in Mid-City. This got her imagining what people would wear to her own funeral.  

“I felt like it’s how church is, or how I grew up in church. It was big social scene – everyone wanted to know what I was going to wear the next week, even in high school. I connected well with that,” deLeon, who grew up in a small town in North Louisiana and still speaks with a slight drawl, says. “That, on top of the idea of my thoughts on religion, and what I accept and don’t accept, and depression and anxiety. If I were to die now, I would hope people would have the respect for me to dress well at my funeral. So basically I just planned it out for everyone.”

The collection includes elegant, structured suit pieces with dark details and architectural elements. The color palette has a David Lynch feel, with lots of bold reds, black and crushed velvet pieces. There’s lots of texture, like on a red suit that has a raised, geometric feature, a dress with a quilted leather top, and a leather chest piece with a raised cross – creating an effect of the cross protruding from the skin like a beating heart.

“I’ve always sort of leaned toward that, anything darker,” she says. “I’ve always been obsessed with death. It’s not that I’m not happy, it’s just that I’m more intrigued by things with a dark undertone.”

But deLeon has dealt with her fair share of real-life darkness, like coping with anxiety and depression, having a disappointing New York Fashion Week experience and having the publicist who helped get her there, deLeon says, “abandon” her soon after  – leading to a lot of missed opportunities with big brands.
“Now I know I can’t depend on anyone to do that sort of thing for me,” she says. “It just me being the spokesperson for my own brand.”

DeLeon already does most of the work on her line, and now she’s in overdrive working on the fashion films and molded leather headpieces she hopes will get the fashion industry to pay attention.

The fashion films, of course, are inspired by darkness. A film for the “La Nouvelle-Orléans” collection, featuring those funereal influences, is set to debut soon. The film for her summer collection, “Batibat,” is about chronic nightmares deLeon experienced.

“I would have severe anxiety and for six months months these nightmares lasted. They were never recurring, but the imagery was,” she says. “I’ve always been one to write down dreams. I have dreams written down from high school. Some I vividly remember, so I started writing down all my dreams I was having. What was I thinking? What was holding me?”

It was important for the darkness of those dreams to come across in the film.

“I didn’t want it to be fairytale. That was my biggest thing: I was scared it was going to be a little too Disney,” she says. “If there was something that made it more whimsical, we had to cut that out. We just wanted it to come out eerie but beautiful, and then not going for that whole Gothic thing. There’s this delicate, fine line between dark elegance and kitschiness.”

Also inspired by her nightmares are headpieces and accessories she’s working on, where leather takes the shape of animals and other imagery. One headpiece she shows me looks like a black wedding veil but with crows’ feathers made of leather. The headpieces will be encased in black painted boxes with gold illustrations to send to editors and stylists around the country. When you take the top off, all the the rest of the walls of the boxes will dramatically fall down, revealing its contents.

“I want to make sure they want to open it. I’m not taking any chances at all for these pieces to end up in a closet,” she says. “I just want to make it to where there’s no way this is gonna slip by anyone.”

There are a lot of unknowns and risks for deLeon right now. She’s investing a lot into this push, but it’s all on her own terms.
“I don’t know where this will take me,” she says.
 

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