The distinctive styles of Central Bank Governor Dr DeLisle Worrell and his wife Monica turn heads wherever they go.
They proudly wear the “Salam” label, the unmistakable look of the shy but highly talented St Philip designer whose modesty clouds the extent of his talent.
“I just tell Salam I would like to have an outfit made for a particular occasion and he gives me exactly what I was looking for,” Monica said.
Sitting in his studio adjoining his Crane, St Philip home recently, the soft-spoken Salam explained to EASY Magazine why his clients are people “who do not go for the traditional stuff”.
“My customers like to be surprised,”?he said. “The majority of my clientele are returning nationals and they like to look different.”
Salam ensures they do, selecting fabric that is unique and creating distinctive designs with hand-painting, dyeing, appliqués and overlock stitching.
“Ask me what is my signature style, I am not sure. But when people see something that is painted, they say ‘that came from Salam’. But I like to do loose, flowy stuff. I don’t like the tailored stuff anymore. I feel that I am getting too old for all that work. . . .”
He starts by tearing the fabric and by the time he is finished, he has created a piece of fashion art that makes a definitive statement wherever the wearer goes.
Quite an achievement for someone who had not considered fashion design as a career at the outset.
It was “the lady that used to make my clothes” when he was a teenager who pushed his obvious latent design buttons after yet one more disappointment.
“When you go, she wouldn’t be ready. Many days I used to have to sit down and wait on her and I did not like that. I decided I wanted to learn to do my own stuff, so I went to the polytechnic.”
At age 18 went to the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic and studied tailoring.
His mother was his first female client, joining the male clientele who pressed the designer to sew for them after noticing his dapper style on the streets and falling in love with his work.
He began making men’s clothing, but it was the boyfriend or husband who took a partner or wife along to his fitting that influenced the women to wear a Salam design.
“The women took over,” he said. The overlock machine and a Singer Zig-Zag began to hum away as he turned out piece after piece on demand.
Salam picked up a lot of his fashion techniques on regular visits to California in the early days when he worked with a designer there.
Along the way he developed his own techniques and when he completes work on a piece of fabric, it is hardly recognizable from its original state.
In fact, he says has no idea how the design is going to turn out when he starts.
“I like to tear the fabric . . . . All this cutting thing is out. Just tear and then overlock. If you go on the machine and the fabric gets a bit of oil on it, you cut out and do something with the hole.
“I will start with something and by the time I am finished it turns out to be something totally different. Those are the pieces that I enjoy making.”
Salam’s workday begins about 10 a.m. and often ends as late as midnight.
He has twice exhibited at Caribbean Fashion Week and his designs were included in a special show by Barbadian designers put on for visiting American fashion commentator Elsa Klensch.
Salam’s bridal gowns are unique and a friend in California collects every mini-bride he dresses.
These days his work is not limited to fashion. Lining the walls of his studio are casual and dressy handbags, hand-painted in bold colours or muted shades, some with fabric appliqués in vibrant colours. There are also throw cushions with hand-painted tropical flowers in all their brilliance of colour.
Customers are also calling on his services for the design of drapery for the home, and to select home furniture and furnishings. It is an extension of his work that sustains the designer.