Like many young artists, Crystal Antoine gravitated toward her passions very early in life. "In secondary school, art was my thing. It was always art. Everything about art and being creative, I wanted to do it," said Antoine.
And like many young artists, she received advice from adults who knew better. "People kept asking me, 'What are you going to do? Art can't pay the bills." Antoine has proved them wrong by becoming a successful graphic designer at one of T&T's largest advertising agencies. And she's aiming to do so again by the end of her degree in fashion and design at the University of T&T (UTT).She's only in her first year, but Antoine's class has already been gaining valuable experience in the fashion world, working backstage on some of the biggest shows this year like the Fifth Summit of the Americas Spouses Fashion Show which took place back in April.
And Antoine and her classmates worked backstage again when The SHOW (Simply Helping Our World): An Evening of Culture, Cocktails and Couture took place yesterday. The charity event featured the work of designers like Heather Jones and Millhouse, as well as jazz artistes like Vaughnette Bigford. Antoine's design sketches won her a contract to have her work featured on the event posters, along with those of another male student. "My inspiration can come from anything," said Antoine. "I would go to the movies, for ice cream, or to an art gallery and I notice everything, colours especially.
"People inspire me too. I just have to get a piece of paper in front of me and sketch!" she said.
UTT's fashion design programme is pushing and stretching Antoine's artistic talent into a gift that is world class. The students do a range of design work, from learning how to sew and drape fabric themselves, to handbag design and construction.
"I'd never sewn before, so I had to start from scratch. The sewing machine scared me!" The students also get hands-on experience as dressers and stylists at fashion shows, rubbing shoulders with some of the best designers in the business. "They really are teaching at an international level," Antoine said enthusiastically. "We have teachers from Paris and places like the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. People thought that since it is Trinidad, we wouldn't be doing anything of worth, but now lots of people are trying to get into the programme."
But don't expect Antoine to give up her spot, even though it's a sacrifice to work and study in such demanding fields. "Fashion is a passion for me. I work and then I come to school right afterward. I love my job and I love fashion. I don't want to give either of them up, so I'm trying my best to balance everything," she said. Antoine's muses number among the best in the world. She loves Oscar de la Renta's work. And she's also keen on Heather Jones' designs since they are first rate and show off her Caribbean roots with such flair. "And she's such a sweet person too," said Antoine of Jones.
The designers she admires aren't randomly selected. Dresses are Antoine's fashion focus.
"I want my designs to be timeless and feminine, and I want to incorporate hand-painting and jewelry into my designs. I like to embellish and I love pearls!" Although her heart is set on showing fashion designs on the same runways as Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana, Antoine has no plans to leave T&T just yet. "I do have a life here, and I don't know what the future will bring," she said. "But I want to be known as an international fashion designer, not just a designer in the Caribbean."