Chasity Sereal sets the stage for a world of wonder from the minute you walk through the door of her Galleria-area studio. From the black-and-white-striped curtains and matching pattern on the re-upholstered chairs to the grass wall that Sereal hopes to adorn with (faux) butterflies – you might feel like you’ve tumbled into a fairy tale – and that’s exactly what the Houston fashion designer wants.
“I want to fall down that rabbit hole like Alice in Wonderland and fall into that world where all the women are just over-the-top or extravagant, and it’s normal,” Sereal says.
That’s evident in her new collection, "Lady Godiva," which debuted at New York Fashion Week this month.
Florals are a major theme along with techniques that Sereal said she’d never used before, including tambour beading – a method that took her at least 90 hours on one piece — and weaving leather. An example of the latter can be seen in a hand-dyed, green leather dress accented with flowers. Sereal says she cut and sewed the strips of the hide, then dyed the flowers purple and used metal tools to shape them, likening the group of petals to a hydrangea bush.
She also incorporated leather into the trim of a crop top and high-waist full skirt bathed in soft pinks, yellows and lilacs. “I wanted to take something that everybody sees as hard and make it especially soft to the eye,” Sereal describes.
A Gifted Goddess
Although the bright colors and whimsy found in her collection might appeal to Wonderland’s main character, Sereal explains that Mother Nature was her muse along with the newest adventurous teenager from Disney’s playbook — Moana.
“In the movie, there’s a villain named Te Ka who destroyed everything. Moana had to restore this little heart into Te Fiti, which was the goddess of the earth, and it turned out to be Te Ka,” Sereal, who saw the movie with her two young daughters, explains. “You see this transition from this evil, broken-hearted rock to this beautiful, all-green goddess.”
Sereal introduced her take on Mother Nature’s wardrobe during the Nolcha Shows at New York Fashion Week, where she showed 10 pieces. According to Nolcha’s website, the event gives independent fashion designers the opportunity to showcase their work, “to a global audience of press, retailers, stylists and industry influencers.”
“I met so many great people in the industry and did a lot of interviews after the show,” Sereal says. “I even had people stop my model on the streets of New York who insisted on taking a picture of the dress!”
"Lady Godiva" also received exposure – outside of the show.
“I did an editorial photo shoot in front of the Plaza Hotel and Central Park. It was a very memorable moment to have us shoot at iconic locations and see everyone's positive reactions to the gowns in public,” Sereal says. “We walked through Bergdorf Goodman with my model to change outfits during the photo shoot, and she fit right in!”
The collection may have fit in around Manhattan, but it also stood out thanks to its deeply personal moniker.
“Lady Godiva was my nickname from when I was a baby until I was 6,” Sereal says. “I have old videos of my dad calling me this name, so I wanted to look up who she was.” Sereal credits her father, who passed away when she was 12, for her artistic side. The meaning behind her nickname only strengthened her reason for using it.
“The name ‘Godiva’ means ‘God-gifted’ or ‘God’s Gift,’ and I’ve been told that by a lot of people, by clients who were like, ‘Oh, you’re so God-gifted,’” Sereal continues. “It stuck in my heart.”
Sereal adds, “I thought about what God’s gift is, not just to me but to everyone. God’s gift to earth is nature and God’s gift to man is a woman, so I was like Mother Nature. If you think about women and nature, they go hand in hand. Make us mad, there’s a storm. Be good to us, we’re going to blossom.”
Amid creating a collection that evoked the power of Mother Nature, Sereal has stayed busy creating couture-inspired prom dresses and wedding gowns. Even though her primary role is designer, the Houston native has also played mentor and counselor to the teenagers and brides-to-be who make up her clientele, helping them prepare for some of the biggest moments of their lives.
“I think one of the best times was in 2015 when a girl brought me an inspiration picture. It was Beyoncé, and I said, ‘Let me make something just for you,’” Sereal says. “What mattered most to me was when I went to her house to give her the dress on prom night, and her dad had tears in his eyes. He said, ‘Thank you so much for making my daughter feel special.’”
Sereal is accepting requests for prom 2018 through her website. As for brides, she says the sooner you can get your request in, the better.
Sereal is a full-time business owner now, but her foray into fashion began in high school, when she sketched dresses for friends and herself. At 20 years old, her curiosity turned into something more concrete when her mother bought her a sewing machine. She taught herself how to sew by watching ‘how-to’ videos on YouTube, and later shadowed a local seamstress.
“I did it every day until I got it right,” Sereal recalls. “Because I didn’t know how to sew a lot, I made dresses out of tulle and then a gumball leotard out of candy. People thought, ‘Oh, that’s so cool,’ and I said, ‘If you only knew I didn’t know how to sew that leotard, so I had to cover it to make it sparkly!’ I just kept going.”
As Sereal refined her skills, she noticed celebrities such as Nikki Minaj and Lady Gaga wearing exaggerated shapes and headpieces. She soon discovered that the pieces were the work of late designer, Alexander McQueen.
“I love how he was. His shows were like a theatrical performance; it wasn’t just a basic runway,” Sereal says. “I wanted to gravitate toward designers who were like me. At the time, I felt like I had to do jeans or pants and shirts and blazers, but that wasn’t me. I found someone that didn’t do that. McQueen was a big inspiration.”
Now there are two more people inspiring Sereal: daughters Kirstyn and Kendall, who are 8 and 3, respectively.
Sereal became pregnant with Kirstyn when she was a teenager but says that pushed her to fight harder for her career. “I want my daughter to be proud. I don’t want my daughter to say, ‘Mom, why didn’t you do what you love? Did you not do it because of me?’ Kirstyn is the reason I started, but both are the reason I keep going,” Sereal says.
Her own experience as a young mother encouraged her to later travel to schools and speak to other teen moms. “I don’t want any young girl, whether they’re pregnant or have a child, to get discouraged. Go after your dreams, don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t.”
Sereal plans to continue fulfilling her own dreams as a designer by taking her ‘Lady Godiva’ collection from the Big Apple to the Big D. She’ll show in Fashion Dallas on September 30.
If you want to see her work in Houston, mark your calendar. Sereal will be part of Runway Houston on October 19 where she hopes to make more connections and meet future clients.
“I'm looking forward to showing my collection in Houston, especially after everything that's been going on after the flooding,” Sereal says. “Houston will continue to move forward.”
See more looks from Sereal on her Instagram page: www.instagram.com/chasitysereal