Wouldn’t it be nice to escape into another world once in a while? That’s what fashion designer Jasmine Lewis does when she puts together what becomes wearable art with a variety of textures and structural shapes.
“I like to let the materials guide me,” she says. “I just play around and see what happens from there.”
Her stunning custom designs have been seen on musicians and performers, including drag queens Danali Foxx and Yvie Oddly, who’ve appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race. HBO also tapped her to do a mini collection inspired by the hit show Game of Thrones for a fashion-show exhibit when the series ended.
Lewis’s garments boast intriguing contours and overblown proportions rather than traditional cuts. They are the perfect statement pieces for those who want a dramatic, one-of-a-kind look. Her design process is free-flowing and intuitive, just letting the forms emerge naturally, usually guided by the fabrics she chooses, which can be quite varied.
“I’ll use anything!” she says with excitement, describing a technique she once tried: weaving paper with fabric, then with plastic tubing. “I like it because the materials surprise me. I’m not 100 percent in control. It can lead me to some really cool directions. I try to plan what I’m making, but it always ends up changing.”
She draws inspiration mainly from science fiction, Afrofuturism, architecture and nature, which can be seen in the futuristic style and theatrical quality of her pieces. However, one unexpected vision came from her brother.
“My brother had a life-changing football injury in college. He had to have several spinal surgeries because of it. So I wanted to bring attention to football injuries,” she says, regarding a look she created using football gear blown up into voluminous, exaggerated shapes. The striking outfit helped draw attention to her design abilities in the press and also pleased her brother. “It’s a tribute to him,” she says. “He thought it was really cool.”
Designer Jasmine Lewis.
She admits that the impromptu way she designs works well when she’s creating for her own collection, but not when designing for a client. “They like to know what it’s going to look like ahead of time,” she says, laughing. So the process becomes a little more strategic with discussions before it is made. “They usually come to me with an idea; I make suggestions for materials and give them sketches. Then we work together to create a look.”
Lewis didn’t start out with dreams of becoming a fashion designer. She went to school in Chicago to study industrial design, planning on a painting and drawing career. She didn’t discover the fashion department until her last year in school, and a spark went off.
“With painting and drawing, you create a thing and it sits on a wall,” she says. “With fashion, it changes and reacts to the person who’s wearing it or the environment.”
She began getting into making custom pieces for drag queens in Chicago before a move back to Denver. She planned to be here short-term until opportunities kept coming her way.
“I was here under the radar. Then I ended up getting connected to a lot of people. It seems like people here are making really interesting things. The industry is getting bigger,” she says.
Lewis is currently getting ready for her show on the third night of Denver Fashion Week on Sunday, June 27. As expected, her pieces took on a life of their own. “As I started making it, I found other materials I liked and just let it take me in a different direction,” she says, revealing that audiences can expect a lot of blue tones, circle shapes and volume.
Fashion show attendees can also expect diversity in the models she selects for the show. “It’s important to me because people of color aren’t always represented, or they’re represented in a certain way,” she says. “I want to change that narrative.”
She says being a Black female designer is something she always thinks about in the work she creates. “I’m really inspired by Afrofuturism. When I’m designing, I’m thinking about this off-world colony of diverse people not burdened by racism or sexism. I try to bring that to my shows and show people something different.”
Model Nakiah wears a Jasmine Lewis design.
Sustainability is also something she’s mindful of when designing. It almost comes naturally to her as part of her process in doing only custom work and repurposing the materials she uses.
“I keep everything!” she says with a chuckle. “Fashion can create a lot of waste with patterning and fabric cutting. A lot of my pieces have been inspired by the fabrics I’ve kept,” she says, citing one project that came about when she was doing alterations on bridal dresses. “Those dresses are huge, and when they cut them, they just throw away these whole pieces of fabric. I kept them and made an entire garment from the remnants of bridal dresses.”
Ultimately, what she loves most about being a fashion designer is seeing the work she does in action.
“I love when someone puts on the clothes and it changes their whole demeanor — and the clothes transform when they’re on a person. They live their own life outside of mine.”
Jasmine Lewis’s designs appear on the third night of Denver Fashion Week, which runs from 7 to 10:30 p.m. Thursday, June 24; 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday, June 26; and 4 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday, June 27, at the Forney Museum of Transportation, 4303 Brighton Boulevard. Tickets are $20 to $100 and can be purchased at the Denver Fashion Week website.
Keep Westword Free… Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who’ve won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism’s existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our “I Support” membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.