Photography / Editorial / Print

As featured in Unfolded Magazine Issue 04

We interview Mandi Gallegos, the designer behind Mikailee Alton about her work, interests and creative expression through fashion.

Being a designer, how important is it to be creative and explore new boundaries with your work?

Design is an art form and expressing my creative side through my designs is everything. I believe that any artist sees their surroundings a bit differently than others and create from those images. For me, inspiration can be set off by a flower, a colour or even nature itself; anything can bring back a memory and shift my mood. I am bolder in creating pieces that reflect what I am feeling at the time.

Where did the name of the label originate from?

The label name actually comes from a mixture of my twin nieces' first names, Mikayla and Brilee (Mikailee) and my sons' first names, which are Alec and Easton (Alton)

What would you describe your label as?

The Mikailee Alton label creates designs that have a unique blend of structure, nature and grace enhanced only by the individual who wears it.

How important has the education at IADT been in allowing you to experiment with patterns, cuts, design?

When I enrolled in design school, I more or less knew what I was getting into. It wasn't until my first pattern making class that I realised how wrong I was in understanding the way designs took shape (I laugh at myself when I say that). Some teachers were amazing at helping me see design in a whole new way. I don't think everyone says that they "LOVE" pattern making in the beginning, because for some it's difficult to understand. I adore pattern making, even when I am off by half an inch, the design goes terribly wrong and I must unravel to start again. Schooling is very important, even if you’re good at something, perfecting your craft can only make you better at it.

Could you briefly describe the design process you go through in making a signature piece?

Sketching is first and foremost my beginning. I sketch in pencil, outline with a black fine tip marker and hardly ever colour in my designs. Colouring to me is restrictive to my creative process. One day I might like red and other day blue, so I leave it raw.

Finding my colour palette is next: Should I pick monochromatic or split complimentary colour's? I fight myself a lot on this subject. I don't like colour trends, I believe fashion is open to every colour.

Fabric shopping is the hardest for me to decide on, because I am picky with material. The feel of the material can make or break a design.

Next, comes pattern making. Always my longest process, not because the difficulty of it, but because the pattern IS the design.

Cutting the material is where 90% of my second guessing takes place; because once you cut it out... it’s a done deal.

Sewing out of all the others steps is a breeze for me.

Lastly my favourite part of my design process, the detailing. Perfectionism is my worst enemy, so this is when I say I can always make it better… even when everything fits into place.

Where do you source your materials and fabrics from?

Joann Fabric, Hobby Lobby or Sew Elegant in San Antonio, Texas. Sadly, San Antonio is not very fabric friendly; I try to make do with what my community offers me. Beauty in the most unlikely places!

You have had to endure life changing experiences before you decided to embark on a career in fashion, how has it changed your attitude to your work?

Everyone has life altering experiences that helped guide him or her back onto the path to their destiny. I had two beautiful sons that challenged me to be a better human being and I was given, what I believe, a second chance at life after surviving months of chemotherapy at the age of 31. I see things more clearly and it shows in my design style. It has been non-stop for me since my last chemo treatment going on four years ago, it feels much longer though. When I dream of my design… that in itself tells me I am still on the right path. I am always thankful when I wake up to my sons and a room full of beautiful fabric.

Currently based in San Antonio, are you looking to venture further afield and set up bases elsewhere?

Texas is my heart and always will be. I do believe though, that one must travel to gain experience, so I see myself venturing to other places for enrichment. San Antonio has a very fashion-forward style; people need to look beyond the East and West Coasts, because there are so many talented models, photographers, makeup artists, wardrobe stylists and designers in between them.

What or whom inspires, from the fashion and art world, or something personal?

Well 98% of all my designs I dream about and the other 2% is inspiration from everyday life. I can’t pick one famous designer that inspires me then another, because I might see a Givenchy gown or a Basil Soda runway show and be head over heels inspired, but I can also see a young model trying to be the next “IT” girl and be inspired to design something to bring that inner being out. Music, art, fashion and family, too many things inspire me.

Could you describe some of your recent designs?

Futuristic beauty I think describes my collections recently. I have been designing garments that have been leaning toward the dark and edgy with a twist of girlie femininity right now. I am obsessed with my uneven shoulder armour pieces I put on a dress for a photo shoot recently, then I added similar ones to a shrug jacket; adding something as little as a dark grey alien-inspired flower to a shoulder of a gown that adds a hint sci-fi which I am into right now.

You do a lot of work within the local community and for charities, how important is this to your label?

Serving the community is very important to my company, largely due to the fact that since I grew up in San Antonio; I believe every one should give back to the place that made them who they are today. Many of the charity runway shows I helped produce or been a part of gave 100% of ticket sales to local charities. Most recent charities include Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Lone Star Chapter and the San Antonio Food Bank. When I was ill, I was thankful for what was available for me, it’s only right that I give back.

You say that 'the secret to style is in the clothes', could you describe what you view style as and what sets your clothes apart from the rest?

Style begins with the clothing you choose to wear. Quality is important to me, so I pride myself on the construction quality of every garment. I like to say that couture wouldn’t cost as much as it does if it was poorly made, right? Haute couture designers specialise in tailor made designs, the quality of material they put into the design and the construction of it. Hence: the secret to style is in the clothes. I don’t feel the need to set myself apart from rest; I make clothes for women who want something different than your everyday trends. You can’t please every one; I learnt that lesson long ago. Fashion is fickle and you either love or hate it. I would prefer you love mine though 

Do you live and breathe fashion or do you have interests elsewhere?

I hate to admit it, but I think about fashion constantly. I don’t show my obsession for the world to see though. I don’t walk around with designer bags or Louboutin heels, I am a simple artist who wears T-shirt and jeans; because my job isn’t to strut around town shouting at the world “I AM A FASHION DESIGNER, LOOK AT ME” My job is to make you look and feel good in the garment you choose to wear every day. I love seeing the women’s faces when they wear my garments and I feel honoured when models want to work with me. I love the outcome of photo shoots, because when I see my designs on print, I see my dreams come to life. Looking at me for the first time, you would never know how much fashion is a part of my persona, especially when I show up to work in flip flops.

Where can our readers see more of your work, do you have a store, online shop or other outlet?

I post a lot of my photo shoots on Facebook, under the Mikailee Alton name. I am starting to sell some accessories on Everything I do is custom made, so I don’t house inventory. Once my label stabilises, I am considering just designing one of every size so my line remains exclusive.

What plans do you have for the remainder of 2011 and beyond?

Design, Design, Design….. with a few photo shoots in between. Fashion Weeks are fast approaching and I have a few shows I am interested in being a part of, to reveal my new collection.
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