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Donna Dove

A True Artist
by: Tamara Leacock

Donna Dove is a revolutionary fashion designer, artist and entrepreneur with her workspace and business set up in her apartment in Harlem. I consider Ms. Dove a revolutionary fashion designer and artist for her keen and authentic understanding of art, through her ability to reach back to her origins for inspiration and her syncretism of fashion design and the fine arts.

Born in Trinidad, Donna Dove moved to the United States during a family migration during the 1970s. However, much of her inspiration comes from her homeland. When asked how much of her inspiration comes from Trinidad, Ms. Dove enthusiastically replied, “fifty percent!” Furthermore, her passion for art was supported by and nurtured by her family. Her mother was seamstress, and, growing up, she soon developed the hobby for making clothes for her dolls. Furthermore, she admired her five older sisters and always sewed and designed clothing for them, with supervision from her mother. Growing up in Trinidad, sewing “was really a business for her, [while it was] a hobby for me.”

Outside of the home, she began taking painting classes in Trinidad, developing her skill in the fine arts, before she moved to the United States and was accepted into the Fashion Institute of Technology here in New York City. And over the course of her career, she has worked with designers, photographers, stylists, makeup artists, catalogue publishers and has even catered at fashion shows. She has really come “full circle in the industry.”

Ms. Dove admits that another source of inspiration is her “colorful life.” She elaborates, “I have lots of interesting people around, [interesting] places I’ve traveled to…” Such places, other than her homeland, include Europe, other parts of the Caribbean, and Africa, places where she has gone for inspiration. The influence of Africa and the Caribbean is particularly visible through the afrocentric designs and fabrics used to create the “Donna Dove look.”

Another characteristic element of the Donna Dove collection is the incorporation of her painting in her fashion designs. She incorporates illustration and fashion together predominantly through hand-drawing her artwork onto the clothing, by sewing the designs, and by silk-screening. She is able to incorporate both the fine arts and fashion together because she believes that there is no real distinction between the two. She advocates, “Everything is fused together, everything is one to create that Donna Dove look.”

Furthermore, she believes, or, rather, she understands how fashion is an art in itself. She outlines how “certainly [fashion design is art] because from putting the garment together, you definitely have to have artistic ability because you’re putting different shapes together out of nothing and putting it into something- that what art is- creativity.”


Her understanding and appreciation for art makes her a revolutionary presence in the fashion world. She not only creates and markets her artistic talent, she embodies the art in her life. It is no surprise that she is able to extend her talents into so many different marketable products, including everything from clothing and lampshades to greeting cards. Again, she balances such a plethora of mediums by embracing it all under the foundation, art. She reaches back to her family and homeland for inspiration and extends her talents by reaching to its foundations as art. Back to the basics. In her words, Ms. Dove details, “It’s all inside of me-gushing to come out and express itself into so many different mediums. And I embrace it all under one umbrella- the Donna Dove collection.” Her collection is best known for its very clean look and afrocentric focus, as her fashion icons are “Willie Smith, a black designer in the 70s, for the fact that he designed for black women, and Calvin Klein, for his clean line.”

However, as an independent designer, women of color, and entrepreneur, her innovativeness and creativity are often overlooked. As an entrepreneur and independent designer, she has met many financial challenges. Her greatest challenges, in the beginning, were the great financial and personal sacrifices needed to begin a business. Afterwards, challenges were more so into creating items that sell and accumulating enough money for her next collection. As an independent designer in New York City, the fashion capital of the country, the major challenge is the immense competition. “Too many fishers in the same pond,” Ms. Dove says, describing the great numbers of New York based designers vying for the same market. The competition among Black designers in particular is also a great challenge since it is focused within the same market.

As a black female designer in America, there are always challenges in having her talents and endeavors recognized and “it’s so much harder to bring [their] craft to the forefront.” However, she advises that in order to sustain a business in Harlem, amidst Harlem’s ever-changing commercial scene, is to basically “get your product in the public’s eye.” But as a fashion designer, she advises, “Be very sure of what you want out of this career. Learn the business aspect of the fashion world. Know how to market. Be open minded to fashion and styling, and also be very creative, and be as different as you can so your designs stand out. And enjoy what you do.” Her innovative style and her passion for her profession are some of the many things that make her such a revolutionary designer. Donna Dove has redefined the meaning of art in context of the fashion world.





Ms. Dove can be reached at 212 865-9332 or emailed at donna.dove@verizon.net

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