Models of all shapes and sizes, wearing masks and high-end fashion, strode out from Taj B Couture onto Madison Street on July 31. But the models and styles will go far beyond Forest Park; the fashion show was recorded and will be part of London Fashion Week in September.
Titled “Journey,” the show featured a collection created by Latrina Brown, owner of Taj B Couture at 7516 Madison St. Brown said the styles and creations represent her journey since opening the shop in November, a combination of silver linings and timing that parallel the subsequent and quick changes worldwide due to COVID-19.
It’s not the first time Brown’s designs have been represented in London Fashion Week. In February 2019 she participated in the renowned show and was invited back again to take part this year. Then what seemed like the worst thing ever happened at the airport on her way to London when she realized she’d lost her passport.
“I cried all night,” said Brown. Two days later, when she should have been in London, she saw the space on Madison Street that would become her boutique. “London was a bust,” said Brown. “But maybe it happened for a reason. It led us here.”
Here is her space on Madison Street, where Brown’s ambition is to have Taj B recognized as a brand. Her focus has been on custom work. Someone desiring a hand-made, fully customized gown for, say, a gala could choose from fabrics and styles, be measured, and have a dress made exactly for her body. Brown makes men’s wear too.
But COVID-19 is changing the way she does business, at least for now. As a designer of custom high-end clothing, she’s seen a decrease in people ordering clothing for fancy events, which simply aren’t being held anymore. And customers, at least initially, were reluctant to be part of the physical contact required when being measured and fitted for a personalized piece of clothing.
“It’s taken away the personal touch,” Brown said.
So, like many other small business owners, she is pivoting, figuring out how to change what she offers to keep up with the rapidly changing business and social landscape. Her plan is to close the shop for a few weeks to create ready-to-wear clothing that customers can purchase off the rack.
The outfits will be geared toward daily-wear instead of evening-wear. “I’ll tone down the bling but keep the aesthetic,” said Brown, who plans to offer her new line in sizes 6 and up and integrate a lot of dressed-up denim into the designs.
“I want the clothes to be cute and exciting,” she said. “We don’t know how long [COVID-19] will last, so why not feel good, even if you’re staying home?”
She also plans to hold more functions, a plan she had before COVID forced shut-downs. Ideas like a men’s social, “to bring fashion to men,” are things she’s considering, although it might have to wait for now.
The COVID-19 pandemic nearly forced Brown to close her boutique. In fact, early on she announced she’d be shutting her doors for good.
“It seemed like we were faced with too many challenges,” she said. “We’d just opened in November, and then we were forced to close temporarily.”
She went so far as to talk to the landlord, who graciously said she could get out of the lease. But when she saw someone else looking at the space, something clicked inside.
“I can’t give up,” Brown realized at that moment. “Finances are hard, but we came this far. We’re not stopping now.”