She designed her first Cinderella-like dress to attend a formal New Year’s Eve event for which she couldn’t afford to buy something new. “It had a navy blue bouffant skirt, and no one believed I made it until they looked underneath and saw that it wasn’t finished,” recalls Rockland County’s Hope Wade with a giggle. After friends encouraged her to go professional, Wade sought advice from her mom, an accomplished seamstress. “She taught me that the finish on the inside has to be every bit as good as the finish on the outside.”
That was back in 1991, after Wade moved to Manhattan from Jamaica to attend Cooper Union (where she earned a B.F.A. in graphic design). Much has changed. While she adores sumptuous fabrics like silk and linen, she also embraces her island heritage, designing with indigenous materials like burdock and infusing her pieces with a bold African influence.
“The colors, the movement of the fabric, the flattery to the female shape, no matter what your size, are all equally important,” says Wade, who is constantly trying out new looks, contrasting strips of black and gold fabric on a gown or creating a cutaway evening skirt that opens to reveal sequined slacks.
Being a good listener is equally important to Wade’s work. When clients come to HWD, her Pomona custom design house, Wade just lets them talk, sketching all the while. “Let’s say someone is going to an awards ceremony or a banquet. You don’t want someone else to wear the same dress,” says Wade. “That’s why people come to me, so that they will be unique.”
Recently, Wade’s designs have been drawing applause from New York City to London. She was one of four finalists in the prestigious Emerging Trends Fashion Challenge during London Fashion Week 2013. At one of her many shows, Wade’s designs caught the eye of ’60s singer Darlene Love, the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary Twenty Feet from Stardom. On her talk show and film promotion tour, Love donned a whole slew of HWD originals — without a single bouffant skirt in sight.