His mother nurtured his early crush on clothes, and especially appreciated a well-crafted appearance since beauty was her early vocation. “I was born a hair salon baby, my mom graduated beauty school while she was pregnant with me. I grew up around the art of beautifying, and I had to look as good as she did growing up in the salon.”
As he grew into a young man, it became clear to Donte that he had a different approach to apparel, but he was still diligently learning about his future craft, and discovering himself. “I always knew there was something different about what I was wearing versus what everyone else was wearing. I used to steal all of the Vogue magazines from the salon, and hoard them in my room to learn about designers and dressmakers. I taught myself how to speak French because of all the French designers. I also knew I was homosexual, but I didn't know how to express that.”
At first, an emboldened Donte’s foray into fashion was faced with his parents’ unbending will regarding gender roles, and they insisted that a boy his age ought to be playing sports, “But after much angst, I persuaded them to let me start taking fashion classes, Fashion Design One and Two. Teachers were amazed and would ask how long I’d been learning fashion. I’d been teaching myself how to draw and how to see clothes, and I had sketch books full of illustrations.”
When he was sixteen, Donte was accepted into the inaugural class of Teen Vogue’s Fashion University program. After high school, he earned a B.S. at the Art Institute of Philadelphia, “I had a great curriculum and it was great to learn the business side, the practical side, and advance the skills I'd already been honing. Everyone knew me as this illustrator, and professors would tell me, “You are so much further along than your peers.” Other people might take that talent for granted, drop out, but other people weren't as passionate as me.”
Despite his youth, Donte earned an enviable internship at Anna Sui in New York City. His enchantment with Manhattan only deepened when his beloved mother moved to the glamorous borough. “My mom was always my inspiration, and I wanted to make my mom all of these beautiful gowns and clothes. She moved to New York City to pursue acting and I’d visit her, use her Metro card and go soak up as much culture as I could, being creative.”
Ambitious Donte said he suffered through “interview after interview” after graduation and moving on from Anna Sui, with no success. “The economy was in a bad place, all the major contemporary companies, told me they didn’t think their positions would be fulfilling enough. Being told you're too much, you're too creative, I started to question: is it my creativity or is it my race? I kept battling and beating myself up, but I realized it had to be something I could learn from and grow from. I didn't know how to make my designs look simpler. I was getting discouraged, loans were coming in, and I was getting afraid.”
“I decided maybe my name was too ethnic, and I changed it on my resume. Instead of my full name, Donte Livingston, I listed my name as D. Livingston. I got a high profile internship at Opening Ceremony. I was in the underground of New York City fashion. I worked on four collections with them, and went to all the exclusive parties, worked with celebrities; it was this whole different culture of celebrities. It was my dream job.”
When his internship with Opening Ceremony ended, Donte sought out the sun soaked shores of fashion-forward Los Angeles after earning another incredible internship, this time with Rodarte. “I sent them a really heartfelt cover letter, and they asked me to come the next day,” he explained simply.
L.A became the hub for his new custom hand-made garment brand, Luxe Livingston. “I want to create a brand that I can embody as well,” he explained. He aspires to cater to discerning tastemakers who “like to have flair and want to build a custom wardrobe.” He’s also been organizing and compiling sketches for his book.
“The only way I can show fashion what I've done is to write a book,” he reasoned. Fashion journalism is a skill Donte always kept tucked in his tool kit to fall back on, having even been published a few times, and throughout his journey he’s kept an inadvertent chronicle of his struggles and triumphs, through his sketches. “From when I hated drawing and still did it, from ten years old to now, I have a sort of sketch book diary. Through all of the ups and downs in my life, those hardships, it's always been my outlet.” Tentatively titled “Cut From a Different Cloth: D. Livingston", he hopes that his memoir will share his incomparable climb to the top as a distinguished designer and put the spotlight on the issues minorities face in high fashion. “I thought it was about the clothes, I had no idea,” he lamented about the obstacles he faced. “But I never let it stop me. There are so many African American designers that don't have a voice. I want to use my skills to be a voice for us.” I just love my artwork, it communicates everything that I can't verbalize, and it doesn't come out of me in that way."
“It's still going now, that's the crazy thing for me, to be at this point to start telling it.” His creativity has again earned Donte an amazing opportunity, this time with the American Film Institute. “Through this stroke of luck, a friend offered me a project with an AFI director, and it has been amazing working with this school and being a part of what it embodies for the culture of Hollywood.”
“I'm getting to put my costumes on film and I'm really happy on set. I want to be the first black man to win an Oscar for costuming, doing the costumes for a strong female lead. I just want to make woman beautiful, that is what I live for.”
Learn more about Donte at www.luxelivingston.com.
Published on Jun 14, 2013