Even without knowing who he is, it’s easy to tell that Levi Marcus Howell is a fashion designer. He walks into a popular coffee shop dressed in a grey long-sleeved shirt that is unbuttoned to show tattoos on each side of his chest; his cuffed white jeans reveal no socks, and his ears and nose are pierced. On his fingers are silver rings. To his fans and followers, the name Levi Marcus is a brand, his signature synonymous with street wear.
“I never wanted to be a fashion designer,” Howell says. “I grew up with an appreciation for fashion; my mom always said women love men who were well dressed, but I never liked the stigma associated with male designers.” As he soon found out, what is meant to be, will be. “The Universe has a way of showing you what you have to do, so I eventually started seeing things differently.”
Also a talented photographer, Howell began building his brand. He flooded his Instagram account with photos of his fashion pairings, from suits to shorts and T-shirts and casual wear influenced by the styles of fashion buyer Nick Wooster and Ghanaian-American designer Virgil Abloh. Soon enough, he’d built a presentable group of followers, who visited his page in search of style ideas.
The former model is surprisingly hard-pressed to pigeon-hole his own personal dress style. “I usually rock whatever I’m wearing confidently. Some days I wear a suit and some days I’m comfy in my Crocs.” His first design outing, in 2016, was caps with his first and middle name scribbled across them. He had only three at the time—one each for himself, his friend and his girlfriend. The caps caught the attention of Levi’s fans, who compelled him to start a line of them in different colours and patterns.
Living overseas for part of the year makes Howell appreciate home even more. “I love the culture, the vibrancy of the place.” The 23-year-old fashion designer’s Nation TT line of caps features the map of Trinidad and Tobago, his signature, and 868—this country’s international area code. The caps have been worn by local artistes like Nailah Blackman and Hollywood-based, Trinidad-born actress, Lorraine Toussaint. The brand, which includes T-shirts and shorts, has “Live Lime Love” as its slogan. His girlfriend Josée Da Costa, mother Jacqueline Hilton-Clarke, step-father Scott Hilton-Clarke, siblings Liam and Leigh and step-sister Elena, are his biggest fans and usually benefit from his design bursts through prototypes.
His stepfather was the one who made him realise that the banking sector in which he worked was not for him. He enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) three years ago to pursue Fashion Business Management and get serious about his craft. “I had a mentality before that no one could teach me fashion design. Being at FIT broadened my thinking. When I complete my fourth year I want to do another design course.”
Prior to FIT, Howell completed three-month foundation course at the prestigious Saville Row Academy in London, known for its traditional bespoke tailoring and founded by Trinbagonian Andrew Ramroop. He is looking at a way to combine the two fashion worlds—suiting and streetwear—to suit our two-season climate. Also on the drawing board is Monday wear for Carnival 2019. He is encouraged that there has been growing love for things local again. “Two years ago, I couldn’t say that, but there is now a big local creative movement.
“My only regret is that I can’t totally do my caps here. Resources are limited. We don’t have wholesale places selling the kind of caps I use, so I buy them overseas. There’s also a need for factories in this country.” Fashion design has not begun to make Howell “a whole lot of money” just yet. That’s why he advises aspiring designers to focus on their passion rather than the dollar bills. “Don’t make this your career because you want to make a lot of money. Be confident, be true to yourself and surround yourself with people who believe in your vision.” His own vision for his brand is expansion. “I want my brand to live on forever. I want it to be a cultural benchmark and not just fizzle out. I want Levi Marcus to be a brand that represents us.”