By Ronda Racha Penrice
It’s very hard to forget Mychael Knight’s star-turning performance on the third season of “Project Runway,” Bravo’s juggernaut that has since moved to Lifetime. Young, black designers aren’t quite as visible these days. Yes, hip-hop clothing lines have become a norm but even then, it’s the rapper backing the line that gets the spotlight, not the designer. Mychael Knight is a throwback to Patrick Kelly and Bryon Lars in the sense that they too primarily designed women’s clothes and gained recognition in the predominantly white fashion industry. How he has done it, however, is very twenty-first century.
A military brat, Knight was born in Germany and raised in various parts of the U.S., with major stops in Montgomery, AL and Augusta, GA. He attended Georgia Southern University in Statesboro near Savannah and relocated to his now home base of Atlanta after graduation. The interest in fashion came early and organically.
“For me, [designing] was really like God-given because at the age of nine I just started sketching out of the blue,” said Knight. “One day I was just home and I was living in Augusta at the time and was watching TV. I saw something on TV and I thought ‘ooh that was cool’ and I started designing. That’s exactly how it happened.”
His parents encouraged his talent, as did his high school art teacher. “My parents definitely supported a lot. Whether it was just buying me fashion magazines or illustration supplies so I could draw or whatever it was, they just made sure they nurtured that interest,” he said. “In high school my art teacher knew that I had an interest in fashion so she actually created a special studies class for me on fashion illustration.”
At Georgia Southern, Knight really began cultivating his craft. The school didn’t have the biggest name or the most fashion-centric location, but its instructors and friendly budget suited Knight’s needs. He made the most of every opportunity, designing for the dance team and school fashion shows, not to mention his fellow classmates. The trend of turning jeans into jean skirts really kept him busy. “I wasn’t even thinking I am a fashion designer — I was thinking I need to eat. I knew I could make a dress, so why not?” he reflected.
Eventually he did begin to see himself as a designer and his senior show emerged as a pivotal moment. “The show [normally consisted of] about six pieces but I decided to do a thirty piece collection, which was the first ever at the school,” said Knight. “I completely produced the whole show myself, cast my own models, trained the models, put on bake sales and wing sales on campus to make money to buy fabric.”
Relocating to Atlanta convinced Knight that he was not only a designer, but an entrepreneur. With the exception of an internship with Wilbourn Exclusive, a custom-design firm, and a three-month stint at a collection agency, Knight has always worked for himself. The permanent shift to self employment was unplanned. As Knight explained it, he got sick one day and called off of work. The next day, he felt better but still didn’t go to work. By the third day, they called him and asked if he was coming back and he said no.