The pandemic canceled New York Fashion Week as we know it, but for rising Cameroonian designer Claude Kameni, the show went on. The self-taught 26-year-old designer is still on cloud nine from wrapping her first NYFW show, which was live-streamed Sept. 15 on the CFDA's new digital platform, Runway360, from Spring Place in Beverly Hills. There Kameni debuted her label Lavie by CK's ready-to-wear spring 2021 collection dubbed Mind Your Business, a trove of pieces featuring colorful, bold prints inspired by her heritage and modeled by an all-Black cast of models.
"I wanted the collection to help women and men stand out when they step out of the house. I was really inspired by broad shoulders from the '80s, because if you see anybody with broad shoulders, they look bomb. So these pieces were made to make you feel good and look good without getting anybody's approval while minding your business," Kameni tells WhatRivaWore following a private media preview of her collection. (The designer was recently named one of the most influential Black designers to watch this year by WWD.)
Available for pre-order, Mind Your Business comprises broad-shouldered mini and midi dresses with flared cuffs; bell-sleeve crop tops and matching bell bottoms in geometric darts print; an oversize blazer dress layered with a waist-snatching African print corset; flowing wide-leg pants in regal-hued block print; a pleated print skirt with a camp shirt; and a matching print turtleneck and drawstring pant set.
A standout was a green-yellow print coat dress featuring a plunging neckline that flows into a dramatic peplum and train, a statement-maker that closed the virtual show.
From the powerful blazers to the figure-flattering body con dresses and the twirl-ready gown, this is a collection that brings the best kind of drama to everyday wear. Mind Your Business' through-line is that the pieces hug your curves in all the right places while showing just a hint of skin — the product of Kameni's personal fashion sense.
"It's somebody that's not scared to get snatched. Somebody that doesn't mind looking classy but sexy at the same time. Somebody that's bold. Somebody that loves color. I would say the Lavie by CK girl is me. Designing this stuff is what I would wear, because if you notice, my stuff doesn't show too much skin, but you still look sexy in it," Kameni says.
Kameni is her own number-one fan, but a host of A-listers and their stylists are also rooting for her. In 2018, Kameni got a call from Janet Jackson's team asking if she'd design a custom gown for the singer's music video, "Made For Now." Shortly after, they called her back to create a piece for Jackson to wear at her performance of the song on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Kameni was on a roll. That same year, Tracee Ellis Ross wore one of Kameni's 2017 dress designs to the American Music Awards.
Fast-forward to today and Kameni's distinctive pieces are still on people's minds. In June, she designed an off-shoulder floral Met Gala-worthy gown for Amanda Seales, host of the virtual BET Awards. A month later, Kameni was busy creating a blue-and-gold blazer for Viola Davis to wear on the cover of Vanity Fair July/August.
Long before the stars aligned, Kameni made a lot out of a little to perfect her craft. With a tiny sewing machine gifted to her by her aunt, Kameni taught herself how to sew by watching YouTube videos. The clothes were "horrible." At the time, she worked at a beauty supply store, saving her $200 paychecks to buy fabrics from a local store a 20-minute bus ride away called Sarah's Fabric.
When she was 17 years old, Kameni staged her first-ever fashion show. While taking a fashion class that piqued her interest, Kameni asked her teacher, Mrs. Upadhyay, if she could present her inaugural collection at the school's annual talent show. With her new Juki sewing machine she "saved my ass off" to buy, a few flyers, and a model call with her classmates later, Lavie by CK was born.
"Back then I made myself clothes because I had to promote myself. I would make clothes for people for free for them to promote me too. At the end of high school, my classmate asked me to make her a graduation dress. She paid me $80 for it. And that's when I started charging people like $20 for a shirt," says Kameni.
In 2014, after graduating from High Point High School in Beltsville, Maryland, Kameni quit the beauty supply and decided to move to L.A., much to the chagrin of her mom, who wanted her daughter to pursue higher education. But Kameni had other plans, or a lack thereof.
"I didn't have no plan. My mom was so mad," Kameni explains. "I didn't want to go to school. [My mom] said, 'Okay, you're going to stay home and sew, who are you sewing for?' But she's happy and proud of me now. It paid off. I listened to my instincts."
Fueled by last-minute spontaneity, Kameni admits she procrastinates "for days." Her go-with-the-flow approach guides everything from her creative process to planning look book shoots, which occasionally feature models that Kameni scouted on Instagram. Yet the one constant in Kameni's process is bringing awareness to the beauty of West African textiles, her penchant for which stems from a childhood spent in Cameroon.
Today, Kameni is busy doing consultations for custom orders over FaceTime. And although she finds plans "boring," she can't help but think of the future. Her dream is for Lavie by CK to be a huge global fashion house in five years.
"Don't listen to what nobody has to say but yourself. If it's good for you, it's good for you. If it's not good for you, it's not good for you. Just follow your heart and follow your dreams," she says.