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Raffine is fashionably great

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Stitching things up!: Raffine Whaley (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Like many classic tales of success, Raffine Whaley's big dreams began small.

Her hope is her name will one day represent the island's “first major fashion house”.

At the moment, she's thrilled to be able to show off her designs at the Berkeley Institute tomorrow, as part of Bermuda International Collections: Exclusive.

Organiser Amir X promises a “sneak peek” of Spring-Summer 2017 with a focus on seasonal dressing ahead of the holidays.

Ms Whaley will always be grateful that her grandmother, Guerlain Whaley, gave her a head start.

“I want to thank her. She has allowed me to basically tear her house up making this stuff,” she laughed.

Feathers, rhinestones, tie-dye, embellishments and decorative holsters for the back and chest are all handmade.

The 29-year-old's carnival pieces are made up of everyday objects, painted and sprayed beyond recognition.

“I take things that you wouldn't believe what they really are,” said Ms Whaley, who has worked in retail for 15 years.

When she was seven, her figure drawings caught the eye of her teacher in Gary, Indiana.

“It was brought to my attention that their clothes stood out. That's pretty much how it started. I've been into fashion ever since,” she said. Her mother, Mary Haynes, was second-floor manager at Trimingham's. When her father dropped off one of her framed pastel drawings, artist and retailer Eldon Trimingham Jr stepped in.

“I've been in and around the fashion industry my whole life. By the time I got to middle school, [he] took me under his wing and gave me private art lessons and also introduced me to fashion sketches.

“Understanding that helped me to understand how to create things that flow and fall on the human form. I then started to make my sketches come to life.”

Her aunt, Earlene DeSilva, was her “foundational teacher in garment construction”.

“Working in retail, I stood side by side with the tailors and seamstresses. While I was in high school, at Clifton J. Ozen in Texas, I constructed the evening wear for various balls and homecomings. I even designed my aunt's wedding dress while I was still in school — a simple A-line dress with a halter and plunging neckline in ivory satin. I did a senior art exhibit which spun off into a runway show in 2009 and it's been ongoing since then.”

This Saturday is her first show in five years.

“Life happened,” she shrugged. “I had a child and got married, but along the way I discovered my own design aesthetic, which is more bohemian chic.”

Tomorrow's show will feature her designs under the label Raffine Monique as well as her party line and costume company, Bacchlife. She began the latter ahead of Bermuda Heroes Weekend last year.

“I create customised costumes for any private or corporate event including carnival,” she explained. “For Raffine Monique, I tied in the aesthetics, continuing the feather theme and little bit of the bling. I have customised textiles — a lot of flowy, breathable fabrics — and I have formalwear in there as well.”

The 22 looks will also give the audience a chance to see her range of earrings, head pieces and holsters made from scratch. She may or may not choose to divulge her trade secrets on the night.

Working under another major label is not an ambition.

“I see myself as a designer now. I want to focus on my own and create Bermuda's first major fashion house. My goal is to be one of the top international designers in the world, representing Bermuda,” she said.

Amir X described her as “brilliant”.

“What people are not recognising is the talent that exists on island,” he said. “Her skills provide an industry in the early days of carnival, when it comes to designing, customising and repairing costumes at home.

“We don't have to go to Trinidad when we have it right here. I encourage people to see for themselves the quality of her costumes. You know how Steve Jobs started out of his garage? She's going to say I started in my grandmother's kitchen, or wherever she decides her story began, and that's going to be the beauty of people recognising where she is now to where she's going to be.”

Amir X shares sneak peek

Amir X is back with Bermuda International Collections: Exclusive, a follow up to the fashion week he directed in July.

A “sneak peek” of Spring-Summer 2017 is on offer at tomorrow's show, although its focus is on seasonal dressing ahead of the holidays.

Look for transitional pieces, that can be worn in many ways.

“You can make what might look like summer, winter by putting a turtleneck underneath,” he said.

Bermudian Lynelle Furbert's signature mismatched patterns, colourful, African textiles and customised sneakers inspired by her adopted country Ghana, will be on display as well as Raffine Whaley's carnival-inspired wear.

New York collections by Eman and Duane Fish will be on stage alongside the Bermudian designers. “BIC will always be a collaboration of Bermudian and international collections,” Amir X said. “It gives our Bermudians the international flair that they deserve.”

•Bermuda International Collections: Exclusive

Berkeley Institute, Upper Atrium, 7.30pm

Tickets, $40, available at www.ptix.bm

Sew good: Raffine Whaley (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Hanging around: Raffine Whaley’s hope is her name will one day represent the island’s “first major fashion house” (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Dressing to thrill: Raffine Whaley (Photograph by Akil Simmons)