Reuben Reuel of De-Mes’Tiks New York

by Grace Bonney

Nothing makes me happier than finding an unexpected connection between design I love and my hometown. So you can imagine my excitement when I found out that designer Reuben Reuel is not only from Virginia Beach, VA, but also went to my high school! I found his incredible dress designs while looking through another Etsy shop’s “favorites” list and was instantly struck by the bold fabrics and ladylike silhouettes he creates. I immediately wanted to get to know Reuben better and hear more about his process. And as an obsessive pattern hunter, I definitely wanted to hear more about those prints. Thankfully, Reuben was kind enough to invite us over to his Midwood, Brooklyn, home to check out his latest work and give us a peek inside his creative process. His latest collection will be available for pre-order on Etsy tomorrow, so bookmark the page here if you’re interested in picking up any of his designs. I’m pretty sure one of those zigzag bow dresses is going to end up in my Etsy cart. Thanks so much to Reuben for having us. I hope you enjoy his interview! xo, grace

Photographs by Maxwell Tielman

The full interview continues after the jump . . .

D*S: I’m always intrigued to see how someone’s hometown affects their style or influences, and you and I share the same hometown, Virginia Beach, VA! How did growing up there shape the work you do now?

Reuben Reuel: In Virginia Beach, I grew up in a Christian home, and going to church was such a major part of my life. Going to church on Sunday was like going to a mini fashion show. Everyone came in their best attire and looked their best. Seeing women dressed in very feminine dresses and suits in church really influences the work I do today. My designs are very reminiscent of the styles I remember seeing as a young child.

D*S: How would you describe your style? Are there any artists/designers that you particularly look up to?

RR: I would describe my style as chic and universal. I have always looked up to Yves Saint Laurent, as I feel he is the creator of modern-day style and fashion. Most styles that we see today are derived from the ideas and designs of this one designer.

D*S: Why do you design? What drives you? And how did you learn?

RR: I truly live by my motto, “Live to create, create to live.” I design because it is what I was created to do. When I am not designing or using my hands to physically turn a two-dimensional object into a three-dimensional product, I am not happy. Also, helping others feel good and look good through clothing drives me to design. I started learning my craft in my junior year of high school when I went to a vocational school to study design and sewing. I learned a great deal from the class and began to realize that I truly found my niche.

D*S: What was the first piece you sewed, and was it made for anyone in particular?

RR: The first garment I made was in high school. It was a navy blue and tan plaid cotton A-line skirt with front and back darts, a zipper and front and back facing (haha, I remember it vividly). I made it for a class project, and after I got an “A,” I gave it to my sister.

D*S: What are your work room essentials? What creative objects or tools can you not live without?

RR: My shears and straight pins are ALWAYS by my side when I am sewing. If I am sewing and I misplace my shears, I literally stop sewing until I find them. Without my pins, I can’t pin my pattern to the fabric, and without my shears, I can’t cut the fabric once the pattern is pinned.

D*S: What sorts of things are inspiring you right now? Where do you typically look for inspiration?

RR: I’m really inspired by textiles and colors. Before I design a garment, I buy the fabric. The fabric has its own voice, and it usually speaks to me first. I buy majority of my fabric from small fabric stores in the Garment District, and sometimes I stumble upon a fabric that I wasn’t even looking for.

D*S: You work with some incredible printed fabrics that have inspired our team here at D*S. Can you tell us about those fabrics and their history/heritage?

RR: The fabrics are actually made in Holland (hence being known as Holland wax cotton fabric) and somehow were adopted by the African culture, where it is most commonly seen. This is why most people know it as “African Fabric.” This article gives a great story on the origin of the print.

D*S: When do you feel the most creative?

RR: I feel the most creative when I am shopping for fabric. Fabrics speak to me. When I find the right fabric or an interesting fabric, I immediately know what I want to do with it.

D*S: What do you do to keep yourself, your space and your time organized?

RR: I keep my fabrics stacked and very organized, and I am always cleaning up after myself. Some things I can’t put away because I always use them, so I keep certain things in arms reach at all times.

D*S: How to you combat creative blocks?

RR: I combat creative blocks by keeping my eyes open and drawing inspiration from all cultures and styles. I live in New York, so I’m always observing what people are wearing, whether it is “in style” or not. I am constantly thinking of what to do next.

D*S: I love that you’re still sewing all your dresses by hand. Do you enjoy that process, and does it make you feel more attached to your work?

RR: I truly enjoy making the clothes that I design. Sewing the garments myself helps me to be super attentive to details. It has made my eye for quality control even stronger. Another great benefit is when I get positive feedback from customers on how well constructed the garment is and to know that my hands actually made it. I also feel that the customer feels that it was made special for them, and they have a real connection with the designer.

D*S: What is next for you with your work? What can we look forward to from De-Mes’Tiks?

RR: I really want to design and produce menswear. I want Demestiks New York to be a universal brand that everyone can enjoy.

D*S: Last but not least, what are the blogs, websites, apps and magazines that you can’t live without?

RR: Chic Men Magazine, L’Officiel Magazine, Dine-Dash.com, addicted2etsy.com, yoox.com (shopping), ebay.com (shopping), craigslist.org (EVERYTHING, lol). I’m also an Instagram junkie — it’s by far my favorite app on my phone.

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  • Amazing work! I have always loved those fabrics…it’s nice to get a little history about them. I also love seeing it used for these very classic silhouettes – so fresh!

  • Absolutely gorgeous. I LOVE blending vintage & modern. And the fact that Reuben still sews all his garments himself is really inspiring to me. I want to always have my hands in my work, even when I hire people to work with me in the future.

  • I remember spotting him on Etsy!! I was blown away by the colours and patterns. So fresh and fun! And the prices! Very affordable for such original handmade work. I’m not sure the cuts would work with my shapes but I still drool over it all!!! I keep going back to look for skirts. Very cool to find him here.

  • Must. Have. These. Clothes. I love the mix of patterns and the feminine silhouette. I’ll be back to his Esty store as soon as I have a chance to confirm measurements. Yay for good design!

  • Yep. This brother needs to design menswear right now. African print shirts and ties with modern fit and lines? I’m in.

  • Reuben, have you been to South Africa? Your look and style remind me of Home. Not only because of the Dutch Wax prints, the skirts and frills and tight waists. Awesome stuff.

  • I am soo proud of you Reuben! You have always been destined for greatness !! I will always remember the pieces you made for me ;) Love you much and praying for you.

  • Reuben Im really proud of the man you’ve become and blessings are coming your way. I look forward to the fabulous full figured line next .

  • So great to know him personally, such an amazing designer and innovator!! he’s fresh, new, creative and mind blowing. much love to Mr. Riddick & Demestiks!

  • Oh, Grace & Reuben – I love these so, so much. It’s rare that I get too excited about clothes. But I have a soft spot for these Dutch prints. Thanks for sharing. (Also, Reuben, if you’re reading this, could you do custom lengths on your dresses, by chance?) THANKS!

  • Beautiful prints and shapes, and so original. I’m inspired to take up sewing again myself. Thank you Design Sponge for always putting me in a better mood, no matter what’s going on!

  • Oh I love his dresses! such great shapes, one can clearly see the YSL influence too! Thank you for sharing about this great new designer….he better be prepared for an avalanche of accolades :)

  • This interview makes me so happy! I have a few of Reuben’s dresses and they are simply w o n d e r f u l- feminine, flattering and loud. I always get compliments when I wear his dresses and I am proud to tell people they’re handmade by a nice guy. Definitely a bright future for Reuben Reuel!

  • What beautiful garments. One more thing I love about Design Sponge–a chance to see fine workmanship like this. Thank you so much. Those prints are beautiful and the construction of the garments is immaculate. Wow.

  • So great to see someone using African fabric! Vlisco is a great source for them, in case his link didn’t mention them. They have an inspiring site. I got turned on to these types of fabrics while living in west Harlem, New York, and made a few dresses of my own out of similar stuff, though definitely not as nicely constructed!

  • I have one of Reuben’s coat dresses and his finishing skills are impeccable. That new bow dress needs to find its way to my closet ASAP

  • I love the GUGU dress wrap waist multi color would love more info and price to purchase it.

    Tihara Thomas