“The goal of art is the vital expression of self.” Alfred Stieglitz
With the launch of his newest collection, Godz and Goddezzes, fashion designer Warden Neil stayed true to his trademark style of being overtly sexy, perfect for the chic, modern woman. With icons like Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson among those who have been pictured wearing his designs, it is no wonder he has multiple Emmy nominations under his belt. Recently his fashion creations were featured on TV series like “Dancing With The Stars” and “America’s Got Talent”, bringing his vision to a new generation.
Warden Neil, Legacy Designer
Justin Howard for Black Chalk Magazine – Why fashion? What appeals to you about it?
Warden Neil – I have loved fashion since I was a kid, I do believe it is born in you. I remember my mom taking me to a fabric store, saying to me I could choose whatever fabric I wanted. It was for some PJs she was going to make me. I chose an extravagant beautiful metallic brocade, expensive and more appropriate for a Royal Prince jacket than PJs. She laughed and said to choose a softer fabric that works for sleepwear. Later, I designed my mom a dress with fancy details and she made it, and it looked like it was bought from a couture boutique. I have been blessed with a great long career in design in both the fashion world as the head designer for the women’s couture collections for the Alta Moda, and in TV where I received 8 Emmy Nominations.
Justin Howard – Are you influenced by any music or art movements?
Warden Neil – Yes, actually I have designed for many top singers like Carrie Underwood, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, and Donna Summer. I would listen to their music, and it had a big influence in my creativity on the direction of the silhouette and fabrics. I would create an individual theme for each one. With Michael Jackson I designed his very first jacket with a military look.
Justin Howard – That was a signature look for him for many years. What is your philosophy about the art of the wardrobe?
Warden Neil – I love that you are asking me that because for a big variety TV special I did, I hand-painted fabric like a Van Gogh oil painting. I painted it in water colors on the girl dancers’ costumes, there were at least six girl dancers. I did a different scene on each costume. It was controversial because those dance costumes are not usually works of art. Some felt it distracted from the dancers, but it turned out it was a good way to get attention for my designs on the TV show “Dancing With The Stars”, where I became the very first celebrity costume designer for them. The art inspiration of the design came from the theme of the dance number – for instance with the Latin Dances such as the Tango there were dramatic Latin-influenced instrumental sounds – I had the creative option to do beaded guitars on the trim of the male dancer’s shirt and things like that.
Justin Howard – What do you enjoy most about designing?
Warden Neil – To see my clients performing in front of millions of fans and looking awesome in my ultimate designs, after the entire process of my creative meetings showing sketch ideas with them, the hand fittings, and then adjusting the final garment on them.
Justin Howard – What do you wish people would understand about working in the fashion industry?
Warden Neil – That you have to keep up with the fast evolving fashion trends and the new fabrics that are out there now and you can design awesome designs around the print, you can even design your own prints. There are printers who will do that now.
Justin Howard – It’s an incredibly empowering time for designers. Out of everything you’ve done, what’s your all-time favorite piece?
Warden Neil – My very favorite piece is the first military jacket I did for Michael Jackson, which I think was auctioned off after his death. Also, I was the designer for “Tales From The Crypt” , and there was a very beautiful period piece, an early 1900’s costume for which I did a lot of the handwork myself on the elaborate headdress. That’s also one of my favorites.
Justin Howard – How do you intend people to feel when wearing your pieces?
Warden Neil – Great question! I want the ladies to have the ‘WOW’ factor and feel very comfortable in my flattering cut to the gowns and with a silhouette that is classy and yet sexy.
Justin Howard – Describe your first piece. What did it look like?
Warden Neil – My very first elaborate design and art piece was a gown I designed for singer Nancy Ames. I love peacock birds, I think their colors and fan tail feathers are very artistic and very inspirational. I designed a peacock-inspired evening gown for her night club act. I made imitation peacock bird feathers out of chiffon and hand painted the colors on each one to look like the real actual feathers and glued sequins in each one. It was all over the gown, hundreds of them, took days and nights to finish it. If I could find it I think the The Met would want it. It’s that unique and elaborate, like wearable art.