Becoming Van Dyke

By: Amari D. Pollard

When lined up next to each other there is a clear fluidity to her designs. Triangles and cutouts move down one dress only to climb up the next. Each piece is carefully structured, yet still manages to retain its movement. There’s a certain kind of edge to the clothes Michelle Van Dyke creates, and it takes a certain kind of woman filled with enough confidence and attitude to pull them off.

5-400It only seemed natural for Van Dyke to gravitate towards the arts having been born into an artistic family. Growing up in Franklin Lakes, NJ she put most of her energy into creative projects such as drawing, painting, and DIY room renovations. Fashion was just another medium of art she was able to express her girly, innovative side through.

Van Dyke credits two things for her love of fashion: her mom and her height. Like most girls coming of age in the 2000s, her collection of Bratz dolls and Polly Pockets was extensive, and there was absolutely no room for unfashionable dolls. Van Dyke’s mom would sew dresses for her and her dolls so they could walk through life matching and on trend. She would tag along with her mom to the fabric store and was mesmerized by the fabrics and patterns available, and how her mom could take a piece of cloth and transform it into a design with some scissors and thread. And while her dolls stayed the same height, Van Dyke certainly did not. Being so tall, she outgrew her clothes pretty quickly, forcing her to figure out and shape her style at an early age. She was known for experimenting with color, layers and cut out pieces––which has carried on throughout her adult style.

Fashion was always there in the background, following her throughout each stage of her childhood, but it wasn’t until her freshman year in high school that Van Dyke seriously considered pursuing a career in fashion. “I really never thought about it as a career until I got an assignment my first week of school that asked me to choose three jobs I would be interested in having,” said Van Dyke. “I think my three choices were marine biology, artist, and actress. When we did our presentations, one of my classmates said that she thought it would be cool to be a fashion designer, and immediately I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

bw-3-400Now at 22-years-old, she has two clothing lines to her name, first with Michelle Hope Designs and second with Van Dyke Apparel. Michelle Hope Designs was originally a way for Van Dyke to challenge herself and provide a platform to share her designs, especially since she wanted a strong portfolio site for when she graduates from Syracuse University and starts looking for jobs. Michelle Hope Designs was able to give Van Dyke her start, but after some time, she felt the name just didn’t reflect the edgy work she was doing. So she decided to name her company Van Dyke Apparel, giving her an opportunity to carry on her last name.

“I really wanted to start my own line because I don’t want to work for a big company,” said Van Dyke. “I wanted to start a company where I could express myself through my designs, and that just wouldn’t happen working for a large brand. I love seeing progression and growth, and so that was just more motivation for me to start my own line.”

Some might be inclined to call Van Dyke’s designing process unconventional since she doesn’t start with a sketch before embarking on a new design. Instead, she sits herself down in front of her dress form with fabric and a box of pins, and allows her hands to work along with what her mind tells her to do.

The young designer pulls from different places based on whom she’s designing for. One of her favorite parts of creating pieces for other people is weaving their personalities into the design, and helping to bring out their vision. When it comes to her personal designing, she sometimes bases it on art or photography, but for the most part, it’s based on her emotions.

k53-400“I have dealt a lot with depression and anxiety, and so most of my personal designs have a very dark look. I have always believed in the idea that there is beauty in the darkness, and so I try to portray that through what I create. I use design as a relief from my anxiety and depression, as I try to release it through what I design,” said Van Dyke.

She hopes that those same pieces of relief will one day continually find their way into the closets of women, particularly tall women, looking forward to adding something special to their wardrobe.

“That has always been my dream, because growing up, there were no stores that made tall clothing, at least not for women as tall as me,” said Van Dyke. “I want to have a line that offers something different than every other clothing line, as I feel that most brands are all sticking to the same guidelines.”

Admitting your dreams to people can sometime be a tiring event, seeing the lines of doubt form in their foreheads as you reveal hopes that, to them, seem unrealistic. But as Van Dyke says, there will always be people telling you that you’re not good enough to fulfill those dreams and instead of allowing those comments to deter you, they should only motivate you more. There was a time when becoming a fashion designer was inconceivable to Van Dyke, but with her rising clothing line a store front may not be that far away.

Make sure to check out Michelle Hope Van Dyke’s latest collection at Threads of Sound on Thursday November 10th from 7pm-11pm at Dinosaur BBQ.