Designer Marie-Valerie Placide Discusses Her Fashion Line Bohiomania
Marie-Valerie Placide’s line Bohiomania is literally taking the fashion world by storm. The line is less than three years old, and already it is creating a major buzz in Placide’s adopted home state New York.
Her pieces are practically out of this world, and reflect fashion in pre-Columbian times in Haiti.
Unlike most designers, Placide has a business background, having worked as a banker in Haiti before moving to the United States.
Were you a fashionista as a little girl? In my early years, I was fascinated by secretaries and flight attendants right from the small screens. I was interested by their sophisticated outfits—yet so chic and so simple. As a Haitian girl, you were not allowed to be playing with your outfit. Your parents would dress you a way and want you to keep it clean and not to add any personal touch to it; otherwise you would be in trouble. However, the major fashion statements in my life happened when I got my hair shortly shaved at the age of 11. I grew up never having to worry about the hair hassle. I always found a way to dress up or down my short do. Even now when I try to grow it up and perm it for a change, I always go back to my beloved TWA. It was my fashion accessory back then—now my signature!
Is it Haiti’s old Arawak name from which you drew the name of your line Bohiomania? Indeed, Haiti is not only those depressing images and facts that are being displayed over the internet, Haiti is also and most importantly that prosperous era when the Indian tribes lived freely, happy and carefree! That was the time when Haiti was so rich with gold in her riverbeds, when the Taino lived under a stable and well organized political structure. I want to revisit that era with their lifestyle, their fashion accessories. [I want to] bring it along to our contemporary life. I am highly interested by the Golden Flower, The Queen, The Great Anacaona! The Aboriginal Line is inspired by her name and her story. Bohiomania‘s colors are coffee, olive green and brick, those colors are relevant to me in a way that speaks deeply to my heart.
Do you remember the first piece of jewelry that you really, truly prized? No, unfortunately. But I remember when I had sown by hand my first white tunic with red rickrack to attend one of the Chapiteau events at Place Boyer, in Petion-Ville Haiti. My mother wouldn’t let me go because I was way too young to be out late at night! But I did wear it the entire night for a family reunion.
What was Chapiteau about? Chapiteau was a music event organized in Haiti in the 90’s under a huge tent where the major Haitian classic bands like Sweet Micky, Mizik Mizik, Magnum Band—and so on—would perform for the entire holiday season in December at Place Boyer, in Petion-Ville, Haiti. I dreamed of attending so much but as I can remember they only had a very few editions if not only one. When I got older, I attended other performances at Tara’s, Ritz, Parc de la Canne-a-Sucre at Tabarre and other clubs in Haiti. My favorite performances remain the Haiti Troubadou Project in 2000’s and the awesome Tabou/Zekle Festival in 2009. Those for me are timeless and I finally got over my Chapiteau disappointment!
What inspired you to start your jewelry line? When I left for New York in January 2010, I missed the women from the [arts and crafts] project in Fond-des-Blancs I had been running for four years. I missed my family and my friends and, as controversial it may sound I was missing Haiti, my lifestyle and those creative activities I was taking part in every year. I wished every single day that I could go back! I still do. Bohiomania is inspired by the [powerlessness], the hard reality of making a choice and not being able to revert your decision for the sake of your family. It was a way to dry out the insecurities, homesickness tears of moving to a different country and trying to adapt the most you can; It was and still is my survival way to keep myself grounded. Bohiomania is my refuge, my home port and so much more and beyond. It is at last the result and expression of the creative and entrepreneurial sides of my personality.
You mention an arts and crafts project. How did you become involved with the artisan workshop? In 2005. I had been approached for a new position in Fonds-des-Blancs, Haiti. I was working as a secretary with Healing Hands for Haiti (HHHA) at the moment. I had been told that I would get paid higher than my then actual salary and would hold the title of Director of the Women embroidery cooperative project with my own driver and the other privileges associated with the title. I was happy and excited, but of course my family, especially my mother wasn’t. I was at the height of my secretarial career and a single mother. It was a new adventure and the chance for me to perform at a higher level. I found the whole thing very challenging and decided at least to meet with the lady. I remember having my job interview at Hotel Oloffson, one of the very entertaining hotels in Haiti. The lady and I clicked instantly. I loved the fact that as an American woman she retired from nursing in the States, moved to Haiti and was devoting her time and money to empower the women from the small village; she loved my poise, my creativity and my motivation. It was a deal instantly! A week later, returning from my visit of the site, I signed my contract. I started right away after the holiday and they threw me a surprise party for my birthday on January 4 of the same year…since then our story began.
I directed the project from 2006 to 2010, overseeing all aspects from production, marketing, payroll, new orders from the states, reports, sale, fairs etc…The project was awesome with a wonderful management team and the women were fabulously creative, resilient and dedicated. They would go through the entire production process with no gimmicks. In fact, they loved their job. Not only because it was their main source of money but also because of the warm and friendly atmosphere at the workshop. I introduced them to the public at different fairs so they would no longer be the embroiderers but for them to see how their work was appreciated and valued. We went to fairs in Jacmel, Cap-Haitien and Femmes en Democratie and Artisanat en Fete Fairs editions. Sold the embroidered linen tablecloths, cotton nightgowns to fairs and boutiques. We were pretty active and the work was a total hit! Unfortunately I had to leave after the earthquake for family purposes. However our adventure continues. The ladies and I remain friends and we talk as often as possible. I am planning to go back to Haiti to open a workshop and I am willing to contract them for some specific projects in order for them to sustain their needs and to provide for their family. The project is still running to date with a different team but the ladies are still motivated and selling their work on site and online.
Now, in terms of the different pieces that make up the line, where do you mostly find the inspiration for them? Victoria Beckham is my ultimate style icon! She is just clean! other than that I am the visual type. I read and follow the stars a lot. I love the gossips surrounding their lives, but I am most definitely scrutinizing their outfits and their styles. My inspirations come from the women from the reality shows, that little girl from a mountain carrying over her head a basket of fresh fruits, a picture from a bus. Inspiration for me comes from anywhere with everyone and pretty much everything. You just have to open your senses, be confident, audacious. It happens that in the middle of the night I wake up [and] realize that special idea just crossed my mind. Like I said, you have to be open to your senses and be able to catch that once in a lifetime idea and create it!
Is there a piece in the collection that’s especially popular with your clients? The Aboriginal Line is very popular. Made out totally and–or—partly from turquoise, coral and magnetite they would outshine the other two lines—Classic and Funky. However the three lines are very different from one another and they each have their one fan base.
How would you describe your line Bohomania? Unique, timeless and beautiful! When you own a Bohiomania piece, you not only own a story, but a versatile piece that can change the entire look of your outfit. It is sophisticated, simple and chic. On top of that we work hard to guarantee you never come across anyone with the same exact piece of jewelry!
You have a financial background. Has that helped you a great deal as an entrepreneur? Yes. My entrepreneur mindset is inherited from my mother. She is a business woman who knows how to sum up four or more rows of decimal numbers over her head with no electronic help! I wish I could have her abilities, but I am from the lazy era, I go for the easy options: calculator, laptop etc. [Smiles] However, I inherited her strong personality and the willingness to start over and over again until I find the right way. It is a combination of professional and personal experiences. My secretarial and administrative backgrounds are also very useful in managing my office and keeping my papers update and well organized.
What should a person wanting to buy jewelry, but who’s on a limited budget, make priority, when starting their own personal jewelry collection? Definitely the Aboriginal Line! Turquoise and coral can be dressed up and down if you know how to rock your style.
Some people have a thing for fashion entrepreneurship, but aren’t necessarily adept with the financial and entrepreneur part. What counsel do you have for such persons? Find yourself a business-minded and educated family member and–or—friend to associate with. Your business and project can only benefit from their advice and professionalism. Or hire yourself a business adviser and a lawyer. I am luckily surrounded by highly educated family and friends I can relate to as mentors for guidance.
Do you see a full-blown expansion ahead? Luckily yes! Bohiomania is evolving for the better. There are multiple projects and events in the pipeline. I just had a our Mother’s Day sale event and I am planning a major and interesting event for September, private sales and promotional tours in Haiti.
What’s next for your Bohiomania? Finding funds to implement a cooperative in Haiti and hitting the major stores are the main focus now, but Bohiomania is also open to multiple ideas, is willing and will be venturing other paths.