The Fashion Show: T Lo Interviews Merlin
Tell us a little about your background and family in Honduras.
I was born at…how do you call it? A banana field where the Chiquita banana started, that’s where I was born. My family was a very typical one, they were farmers. I have six siblings. I was the only “coo-coo” one. I’m the black sheep in the family.
You once made a dress for your mother out of a tablecloth.
Yes, I did. It was for my graduation. She didn’t have anything to wear and she wanted to buy something and I said that I would buy the material. It was a material full of flowers, beautiful, and I had no idea it was a tablecloth.
Is that when you envisioned yourself as a fashion designer?
The moment I decided I wanted to be a fashion designer I was six or seven years old. I got sick and they had these missionaries from America in town at the hospital. I had an infection in my foot because I didn’t have shoes and it got infected because of the rain. I remember them taking me to the hospital to give me medicine and I was crying and this American lady gave me these magazines so that I could relax, and one of them was a Vogue magazine, and of course that’s the one I picked. I still have the magazine. I can show it to you. That’s when I fell in love with fashion.
You went to school to be an architect.
Yes, I’m an architect. That’s what I studied, then, I moved to Mexico to study fashion. I got a scholarship and I went to Milan where I studied for two years. Well, actually it was eight months studying and the rest of time I was having fun [laughs]. Then I moved to the United States. That was my goal, to come here.
Did you think that you could fulfill your dreams here? Is that why you came here?
I knew I could never be a fashion designer in Honduras. In Mexico, they pretty much copy fashion from outside, and this is not my style. I also thought that Europe was very conservative. It’s more about legacy, you have to have a big name, you maybe have to come from a very rich, respectable family and even when I was there people kept telling me that I should be in America. America is a young country of young people, and the fashion is fresh. America is a rebel, baby.
We noticed that everything you made for the show was very well constructed. Take the yellow coat, for example, amazing work in such a short period of time. When did you learn to sew so well?
I was eleven years old when I learned how to sew. My family couldn’t afford to buy me clothes, so what I used to do was to buy vintage clothes. Something that I don’t like too much, so, I used to destroy the vintage clothes and copy the pattern and make something else for me in the materials and the color I wanted. I used to destroy all the garments and see how they were made and I learned how to do it myself. I’m not patient to wait for somebody to do something that I want.
Now, you said you didn’t know anything about Madame Grès and yet you made this great gown that was very much her style and aesthetic. Did anyone help you?
Nobody. I didn’t even know who she was and I was just trying to concentrate. I kept thinking, “Who is she?” It’s true. She came to me in the night and told me.
Most of our readers cannot believe the judges sent you home with that last outfit.
You know, everybody in this life has a destiny and it was my time to go. I could’ve done the best outfit, an outrageous dress, it doesn’t matter. I knew I was out. It was part of the plan [laughs]. You just have to accept it. I take everything that comes to my life, I take it and I transform it into something positive for me.
Did you think there were worse outfits?
Oh, yes, honey and I said so.
Were you and James-Paul close? It seemed that way, especially towards the end.
I like James-Paul because we’re both different. We try to experiment with fashion and that’s the way you grow, that’s how science and everything…that’s why we got aspirin, they experimented with everything. That’s how you grow as a designer, if you’re stuck in the same position you never grow and I see James-Paul trying to find his identity and I like that about him. The same with Reco, and the other contestants, they play safe. They just want to please the market, I don’t have any reason to be pleasing the market. People that can afford my clothes will buy them.
You have dressed many celebrities, such as Paula Abdul, Paris Hilton, and Marilyn Manson.
Yes, they like my clothes and that’s my niche. I have my niche, and I dress a lot of women from high society in my area here in Beverly Hills and Bel-Air. They are all very happy with my work because it’s unique, it’s different and they are collectors. Some say “I don’t even fit in that dress, but I’m buying it because I love it.”
One of the things that impressed us about you on the show it’s that you like to be challenged, play with fabrics you never used before, for example. To us, that’s the sign of a true creative designer.
Yes, the material itself doesn’t make you a good designer; it’s what you can do with it. I’m intrigued by new things, new materials I’ve never used before. I like to see what I can create with them. I was trying to expose a concept on the show. I’m not trying to be a cookie cutter. Honey, I have gotten so many offers to work for companies here in LA. Hell no, that’s not what I want to do in my life. You know, I have suffered so much in my life. I’ve slept in the street in Europe and here in America too just to survive and stay true to myself and do what I like.
You’ve been called the Latino John Galliano.
[Laughs] Yes, in the Latin market. They are very proud of me because they know my career, where I came from and I’m not ashamed at all. Everything I got it’s because of myself, just me, me, me, me.
How would you describe your style and aesthetic, Merlin?
I’m more experimental. I like to keep together the colors. It’s more theatrical, it’s very theatrical actually. I like to play with different patterns. I’m the shape shifter. I want to try to find a new shape that can accommodate a woman, to establish the new shape of the century, like Dior did in the 50s. He changed thoroughly the shape of the woman. I want to experiment with the new materials. I want to find out about new technologies.
Your decoy collection was an explosion of shapes and vibrant colors. What was your inspiration?
My inspiration was this painter, Max Ernst. He’s got this painting from the 40s called “The Robing of the Bride.” He’s amazing; he’s the master of the masters. I took all the colors from that painting and that was my inspiration.
Were you pleased with the way it turned out?
Yes, I was very happy and I named it “The Phoenix” because I’m like a Phoenix, I emerge from the ashes.
We’re glad you got to show your collection. We knew it would be quite a show. So, did you enjoy being on The Fashion Show?
That was an amazing experience. Now people aren’t going to be in shock when they see me, when they see the Phoenix walking. They’ll say “Oh, that’s Merlin.” You know, when you see me for the first time you are shocked. I don’t know why, I’m just a little mouse. My business partner says that I got presence wherever I go. I love it, I like to be like that.
Well, you’re very good at it. Never change, darling. What’s next on your agenda?
I have a lot of plans for this year. I’m presenting a new collection in Miami for spring. I’m going to my country for a dinner with the president and everybody over there and present a collection there too. I’m also launching a new line.
You’re going to be busy. Thank you so much, Merlin.
Thank you, guys.
Merlin’s decoy collection: