Bahamian Fashion Icons: The Genius of Theodore Elyett and Phylicia Ellis

By Kendea Smith
Phylicia Ellis photographs courtesy of Stanley Babb and Leo Creary
Theodore Elyett photographs courtesy of Stanley Babb, Marcus Owens and Melissa Elencia

Theodore Elyett and Phylicia Ellis are two of the most renowned fashion designers in The Bahamas. Both designers specialize in evening and bridal gowns and have showcased their immense talent to the world.

Recently, Up and Away sat down with the two powerhouse designers.

Theodore Elyett
This designer’s name is known worldwide. Theodore Elyett, who is also an award-winning broadcast journalist, has managed to carry his designs to the United States, Europe and China within the last 10 years. He developed Miss Teen Bahamas and has had gowns in many Miss Bahamas competitions. His current life was but a dream when he was eight years old at his late mother’s sewing factory. When he began to sew professionally at 13, his budding career took off unexpectedly.

“My mother played a pivotal role because I had access to industrial sewing machines at a very young age and I was able to learn the techniques and the importance of constructing a gown properly. Someone from Miss Bahamas saw the pieces that I made, and they hired me to make costumes for the competition,” he said. “Miss Bahamas won fourth in international competition and it really just took off from there.”

Elyett continuously built his brand. He entered Mission Catwalk—a reality show for fashion designers in the Caribbean—in 2015 and was victorious as the overall winner.

The designer extraordinaire said a lot of his inspiration comes from a visit to the fabric store. However, he is also inspired by culture and the places he has traveled.

“My inspiration can come from experiences like food and landscapes. But when I look at a fabric, it gives me inspiration,” Elyett said. “When it comes to parting with a piece, it is very difficult. That’s because as an artist, when I finish a gown it’s like I’m giving a piece of me away.”

Elyett is one of the few Bahamian designers who can say they have dressed celebrities. His portfolio includes Eva Marcille of Real Housewives of Atlanta, Porsha Williams of Real Housewives of Atlanta and Michelle Williams of Destiny Child. Will Smith also hired Elyett to sketch a piece for one of his friends.

Elyett has showcased for the royal family at Buckingham Palace and his work has made it to the pages of publications such as Us Weekly, Essence and Vogue Italia.

“These are career milestones that designers long before me have yet to achieve. The best part about this is that it is still an ongoing journey for me,” Elyett said.

The fashion designer said even though he has had great success, it did not come without a healthy dose of hard work.

“I understand that if I don’t put in the work to build my brand, it will never grow. And so, I am prepared to put in the work to build my dream and get it to where it needs to be,” he said.

Phylicia Ellis
While it may seem that she just exploded in the fashion world, 31-year-old Phylicia Ellis has also made a name for herself in a short period of time.

After graduating high school in 2006, Ellis actually wanted to go to school for business management, but was always talented in clothing construction. She graduated Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania, four years later.

However, it was when her sister pushed her into designing and constructing her wedding dress in 2011 that this fashion designer was really “reborn”.

Even though she has worked with designers Mandy Coon and Victor de Souza in New York, Ellis quickly developed her own sense of style simply by feeling fabrics.

“My thought process starts by finding fabrics. My inspiration comes from the material itself and then I can successfully sketch an idea,” she said in an interview with Up and Away. “It doesn’t mean that is always the case; there was a time I actually dreamt about a dress, but that is very rare.”

Ellis is now a very highly sought-after bridal designer who has designed and constructed bridal gowns for 35 Bahamian brides, as well as six international brides.

“Every bride is different, and it is really all about the client. I always try to stay true to what will look great on a client. You can’t always say ‘this is the trend’ and go in that direction because everyone is unique,” she explained.

This designer’s social media status has grown tremendously.

She has a following of over 37,500 followers on Instagram and continues to get recognition on a number of online bridal pages.

“I am always modest about the attention, but I guess this is what has to happen for growth. It’s a lot. I am trying to build a brand where I don’t have to be so hands-on—where I don’t construct every gown. In five years, I definitely want my brand to go across the United States in bridal boutiques and as little as that may seem, I feel that would be major,” she said.

Ellis hopes to showcase her work in this year’s Bridal Week in New York.

She also shared this advice for up-and-coming fashion designers: “Follow the urge because you may have that one person that says, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ I would definitely say follow what you believe. If I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Keep pushing and keep elevating.”

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