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Watch out for Momolu
Growing up in her native Liberia, Korto Momolu stuck out like a sore thumb. She was creative and enjoyed activities such as finger painting in elementary school. Her creativity was frowned upon, however, in a culture that favoured more academic pursuits such as law and medicine. Despite her father’s warnings that he would not pay for art school, Momolu threw caution to the wind and decided to follow her heart, becoming the first person in her family to seek a career in the creative field.
Today, Momolu is an established fashion designer with a clothing, jewelry, handbag and stationery line and has been described by a New York magazine as “the fashion designer to watch.” Avid viewers of Project Runway may remember this vivacious designer from Season Five where she just missed out on the top spot with the first runner up position. Bold and colourful with a distinct style, Momolu stood out so much for her use of colour and talent that she was awarded the fan favourite prize.
Since then, her career has blossomed, with her unique, eye-catching handbags carried in Dillard's Incorporated’s 70 locations. She has also teamed up with Madera Exotic Woods to design "The Saba Collection," an exclusive line of fashionable eco-friendly wood jewelry. “The show is crazy, everything you see is really what goes on,” she said of her experience on the popular show when we spoke via telephone.
Stating that she does feel like a winner even though she didn’t win, Momolu said it was unfortunate that there is yet to be an African American winner. Still, she said it paid off to be herself on the show. “I didn’t have a gimmick, I was real on the show; I wasn’t trying to be anyone’s puppet. It pays to be yourself.” After fleeing a civil war in Liberia with her family in 1990, Momolu lived in Canada where she attended high school. It was there her creative skills were noticed as she designed T-shirts and was constantly drawing clothing designs.
A teacher encouraged her to pursue design as a course of study. She attended the L'Academies des Couturiers Design Institute in Ottawa, Ontario where she did a degree in design. While she enjoyed the experience, the sewing threatened to be her undoing. “I had some talent, but I couldn’t sew to save my life, it’s not one of my favourite things. I had to do it because I had no other choice, I had to conquer it,” she said, stating that she still rolls her eyes when she has to do it.
After graduating with honours, Momolu moved to Arkansas with her husband to live and raise their daughter. She continued to work at her sewing and on learning the things that she didn’t learn in school such as confidence, discovering who she was and how to stand out. She gained experience doing shows and set up her Web site HYPERLINK "http://www.kortomomolu.com through which she sells her custom made clothing.
Mixing colour fearlessly
All of that experience gave Momolu the right tools to become a contestant on Project Runway, an intense design competition with weekly challenges incorporating cutting, draping, styling and other design skills. “When I went on the show, I was ready for that next big step,” she said.
Momolu is known for her use of colour, which she describes as having more excitement than black. She mixes colours fearlessly and confidently and her accessories are designed for the bold women who want to stand out. She favours chunky, three-dimensional jewelry and statement handbags.
The Korto Momolu woman, she said, is confident, knows what she wants to wear, is not looking for trendy stuff and wants to be sophisticated and wear something that five years from now would look like she just bought it. She said she is known for her draping and creating feminine looks that are sexy and flattering to curvaceous women. She was quick to add that her clothes also fit those who don’t have as many curves because the secret is all in the cut.
Tonight, local women will get the chance to see Momolu’s work up close when she presents a new line at PM1, the official launch of Claudia Pegus’ 2011 couture line DREAMS, at her new atelier on O’Connor Street, Woodbrook. Momolu met Pegus at a fashion event in the Virgin Islands two years ago and again this year in the Cayman Islands. She jumped at the opportunity to visit Trinidad when Pegus invited her, stating that it is an honour for a legend like Pegus to extend such an invitation.
She said she has many West Indian friends and was looking forward to having a roti when she visits. Despite her Project Runway fame, Momolu remains grounded. “I think when people see you on TV they think you have made it. I am still a struggling artist, I don’t have funding, I fund everything myself. I am sowing seeds in me ‘cause I believe in me.”
Her advice to those aspiring to walk in her footsteps: humble yourself and do what you need to do to get where you want to get.
“Project runway helped me because it gave me exposure. I came to the US and did shows and travelled around the country, that’s what is going to get your name out and that’s what I did, you can’t think anything’s beneath you. You got to keep doing stuff; you can’t get comfortable and think you have reached.”
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