Delved deep within the belief of manifestation and faith, Dylan Mekhi created a master- plan to leak his way into the industry. As a teen, his goal was to become a higher-up, and eventually solidify an influential empire. With aspirations to become a designer, he attended Central Saint Martin’s, following in the footsteps of the late Alexander McQueen.
He headed to art school and was instantaneously immersed into internships and classes that helped solidify him as a technique- led artist. On the dawn of his senior year, he intended on going back to London to complete his graduation collection, but COVID surfed onto the scene, causing him to quarantine in New York. He got busy in the crooks of his room, sewing and honing in on the thoughts that were illuminated in his head. Mekhi traveled to the depths of his being to find inspiration, and ended up going back to London to present his clothes. He won one of best in show at the Central Saint Martins 2021 BA Fashion Show, and was featured in Vogue for his pieces.
Mekhi’s nostalgic collection, An Ode to Memory, honors his origin and holds gratitude for the space that his ancestors forged for him. Each ensemble gives the wearer a look inside of his past, inside the warmth and acceptance that he felt in his childhood. He glides us through this physical capsule, showcasing his coming of age experience from adolescence to adulthood.
Interviewer: What was graduation like for you?
Dylan: I physically wasn't able to fly back to go to school. I was fully isolated. At first, it was really scary.
I went back to London in June for all of my final showcase stuff, presenting, and all of the press shows. That sort of, for me, was my graduation. I was able to present all of the work that I've been doing and was awarded one of the best in shows. It was a much more communal celebration, but graduation itself was literally just over Zoom. I really, really enjoyed going to university and growing and learning as an artist, but I'm super happy to be finished and to be able to start living my life in the real world.
Interviewer: I feel like being out of school and going into the “real world” is a weird thing. What’s been your experience?
Dylan: I've been really blessed to know exactly who I am and what I wanted to do from a very young age. I went to an art and design high school. From freshman [and] sophomore year of high school, I was like, ‘I want to be a designer. This is what I want to do.’ These are my idols- what did they do in order to get to the position of power that they're in? I did all my research and realized that the majority of them went to Central Saint Martins. That was my goal. I was like, ‘In order to be the person I want to be, and have the impact on the world that I want to have, I need to go to the best institution possible to have that name backed next to mine.’ I got accepted, moved to London, and was there working. From there, I interned a lot. I interned at brands like Yang Li and Wales Bonner and was able to get my feet wet in the industry. I was able to get a feel for how companies work for actual positions. At Central Saint Martins, they really focus on teaching their students to be incredibly creative beings, but they lack in terms of their technical pursuit of education. That was a big wake-up call for me when I went and started interning. A lot of the stuff that we're doing in school isn't what we'll be doing when you're looking to get a job in the industry. So that was when I really sort of honed in on my Adobe skills, Photoshop, and design stuff. My work has always been very focused on technique, especially because it's referencing menswear. It was a wake-up call, interning and working in the real world, but it was refreshing to know that I'll have the skills that I'll need once I graduate, especially coming to New York and then working for Telfar.
Interviewer: It’s almost as though you have to have intention behind everything you do.
Dylan: I'm a huge, huge believer in manifestation. I'm doing everything with passion, and complete and utter, wholehearted intention. Not even saying, ‘Oh, I hope this happens.’ Because that's how things happen- when you put it out into the universe. I've never been like, ‘Oh, maybe. We'll see.’ You have to talk about it as if it's already happened. That mindset hasn't failed me, yet. I've done everything that I've ever wanted to do.
Interviewer: I’m trying to get into that mindset. When you're trying to do whatever you want to do, it's kind of hard to like, put your name on something that you want because you're afraid that it'll fall away.
Dylan: In this world as black men, there's no space for us to wait around and see. You have to take what's yours, especially if you're passionate and you're doing what you have to do. Like, it is what it is. Everything that happens, happens for a reason.
Interviewer: I'm always so interested in the lives of creative people when they were kids. What were you like as a child?
Dylan: My family is extremely creative. I was blessed to be born into a family of people that are supportive of the arts as well as extremely accepting. I never felt like I was in the closet with my family because we always had open conversations. My dad- he's a graphic designer. My aunt on my mom's side is a fine artist. My grandma, my dad's mother, was a tailor before she retired. When I was little, she always had fabric, trims, and stuff all around. My sister and I were never allowed to buy Halloween costumes. We always had to draw a costume like, ‘Oh, I want to be a wizard.’ She would help us make that costume from scratch. I would always play with the fabrics [and] drape them around me. My childhood home had a long hallway, going down from my bedroom [and] into the living room. I didn't know what a fashion show was, but I would drape the fabric that I took from my grandma or around my body. I would make everybody in the house stop what they're doing. I would walk down the hallway, turn around, and go back. That was how I played after school. When I was younger, it was definitely more along the lines of costume design. I felt like that was a much broader platform in terms of expression and creativity. When I was in middle school, I discovered Alexander McQueen, and that was sort of my introduction to couture. I was like, ‘Oh shit. You can actually do insane, performative work and have it be fashion, not costume design.’ The work that I do can’t not be performative.
Interviewer: What was it like when you interned at Telfar?
It was incredible. I worked for a handful of companies, both big and small. Telfar was definitely an interesting experience. It was an extremely small team, probably like eight to ten people in total. I think they're expanding. My job was product development and design intern. Telfar comes in with these ideas and concepts, and we sit in a big meeting and have these discussions. We’ll come up with these drawings and ideas for how to physically manifest and conceptualize what he's thinking of for this season. Then we'll go back, make patterns, [and] make the samples. Telfar tries everything on. It's a very democratic way of designing because although Telfar has the final say, I was still able to weigh in on what I thought, how it fits, and what we should be doing.
It was very organic. I mean, he's a super nice guy. He would come in [and] be like, ‘So, I really love the idea of like, slutty Miami girl. Ribbed, neon bodysuit fishnets, but take that idea and mix it with rural, Victorian-era peasants. What would that look like if this slutty, Miami girl was wearing peasant Victorian clothes?’ Then we would come up with different variations of that. I mean, lots of self-referencing going on. So like pulling from old seasons and altering them to be something new. Lots of pictures, lots of images, and lots and lots of sketching. But it's very spontaneous.
Interviewer: Fast forward to quarantine. How did you conceptualize this collection?
Dylan: My work is all extremely personal. Dylan Mekhi, as a brand, is an introspective autoethnographic vessel used to dissect, reconstruct, and celebrate the queer, Afro-Caribbean experience. Before quarantine finished, I was in Miami. I had a bunch of fabric in my childhood room. My boyfriend and I would just hang out. We had nothing to do. I had my sewing machine so I just started cutting and making these random pieces. I started taking pictures of my boyfriend and just posting them on Instagram. People went crazy. So many people wanted to buy it. So that sort of birthed Dylan Mekhi Basics. That was the social experiment capsule collection that birthed my original thought process for my graduate collection. It was this idea of taking the basic pieces that everybody has in their closet and elevating them to be something new. All of them could be worn in a billion different ways. Everything is unisex and multifunctional. At the very beginning of the collection, I was looking at all of these old, family photos when they were in Jamaica and Haiti. Although Jamaica and Haiti have incredible, cultural significance through their traditional garments, a lot of the photos that I saw were very Western-like. Button-down shirts, slacks, suits. That influenced a lot of what I did- sort of a Caribbean, Haitian energy, but through these ill-fitting, Western clothes.
Interviewer: I noticed that. There was a conglomerate of photos that you released on Instagram. How do these photos resonate with you?
Dylan: They're artifacts from a time lost. Everything that I know is because of those people in those photos. My parents, grandparents, their parents, living the lives that they had in the Caribbean, which were great. But obviously, America is the land of opportunity. They wanted to bring our family over here in order to allow us to have more opportunities to make a difference. So if it wasn't for those people, I would be nothing. I would have nothing, I wouldn't be who I am, today. I'm so lucky to be able to have them because I mean, so many photos, and artifacts like that are lost in all of the intense hurricanes that happened in Miami in the early 2000s. The photos and the artifacts that I have from that time [are] even more precious because they were saved from these natural disasters. The photos mean the world to me.
Interviewer: What is the significance of remembrance?
I feel like nostalgia is a beautiful thing. When I think of nostalgia, I think of a feeling- a color. It’s a deep, rich blue. At night, in Miami, they have insane sunsets on the beach, and my skin, at night, glows blue like the ocean. When I think of nostalgia I think of that color. Memories and dreams are such beautiful things in my life. In Caribbean culture, storytelling is a huge part of the culture. Family and community is the most important thing. Throughout my childhood, the whole family would be at my grandparent’s house. We would be eating like it was Thanksgiving every single Sunday. Eating, laughing, and exchanging stories from the week. That rich enjoyment and love for the past is such a huge part of community. It’s the starting point for my work.
Interviewer: As you’ve designed this collection that explores your relationship with your identity, what have you come to know about yourself?
I think everything I knew about myself was solidified within this experience. Within the pandemic, everyone had to do a deep dive of self-reflection. Outside of quarantine, I was [still] quarantined from school. It was just me, in my room, by myself, with my work 24/7. From September through May, I started working on the collection. I knew I was a very emotional, meticulous person when it comes to my work, but that all came through when I worked on the collection. It also solidified my purpose in life. This is what I want to do. Once COVID is done, and the world restarts, it’s a done deal.