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Darcel de Vlugt talks design, vitiligo, and feeling beautiful

Published: 
Thursday, September 6, 2018
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Darcel de Vlugt works on a wedding dress sketch Photo by:Caroline Moses

As a wedding dress designer, Darcel de Vlugt’s job is to make women feel beautiful on the biggest day of their lives. But interestingly enough, Darcel doesn’t like the word beautiful, and it has a lot to do with the fact that she never considered herself beautiful growing up.

This isn’t one of those typical coming-of-age, finding-my-true-beauty stories. You see, Darcel’s story is a little different. It’s a matter of black and white, but also so much more than that.

Growing up, Darcel and her family moved around a lot due to her father’s job with the United Nations. When they left Trinidad, Darcel was the definition of a normal child, but only a few years later, at 5 years old, they noticed some white spots on her dark skin. The spots spread throughout her body, and eventually turned her skin into a half-black, half-white masterpiece.

By the time Darcel was 17, her entire body had been stripped of its melanin, thanks to her battle with an auto-immune disease and skin condition called vitiligo. They say it’s caused by stress, but there’s really no indication of exactly what causes the condition – but Darcel has embraced this massive part of her, and has become an advocate in many ways.

“In telling my story, I’ve always been aware that because I’m trying to reach out to young people [with vitiligo], I want to be positive,” she explained. “But what I haven’t really touched on, because it’s not something I really want to dwell on, is that there’s a lot of darkness that comes from the self-discovery. There’s unanswered questions, and there’s always the question why. Why did this happen to me? And how has this compounded other things that have happened to me?”

It’s a valid question – how has living with vitiligo changed her life. Besides the obvious lack of colour on her skin, especially compared to her family, it’s easy for Darcel to see now how having the skin condition changed her life’s path. In fact, it led her down the road of fashion in the first place.

“When I was younger, I think subconsciously I told myself, you’re never going to be the girl that all the boys are chasing after, and it was fine,” she added. “So I would experiment with my style a lot. I wanted people to have something else to say about me before they say ‘look at her skin’.”

Whether it was wearing fedoras like Janet Jackson, head wraps or dresses over jeans, Darcel slowly became known as the fashionable one in Cyprus, where she was living with her family, instead of the one with the spotted skin. And by the time she made her way over to London for university, Darcel had become one of the rare cases that had fully depigmented – she no longer looked like she had vitiligo, she just looked pale.

And so, as she started her degree at London College of Fashion, and honed her focus in on women’s wear, she realized that this too was something that was affected by her condition.

“My love for red carpet wear comes back to my skin, and wanting to escape. So, I don’t do swimwear, I don’t do corporate wear, I don’t do everyday stuff. I’m not interested in those things,” she said. “I’m interested in those moments that make you feel like this is not real. Surreal, fantasy moments, that’s what I want to create.”

And what’s more surreal than a bride on her wedding day? Nothing. Because of Trinidad’s lack of a red carpet culture, Darcel focused on the next most glamourous thing: weddings. She’s quickly become Trinidad’s most sought-after wedding dress designer, and somewhat of a lace whisperer. With intricate beading, stitching and lace placements, her dresses look more fitted in the newest issue of Vogue rather than at a reception hall here in the Caribbean, but this is her art.

“I am actually rejected the word designer now. I’m calling myself a fashion artist,” Darcel explained. “Not just because that’s how I feel about my work, but that’s the kind of respect I want for my work as well. I don’t want consumer behaviour when it comes to my brand, I want real interaction with my client.”

And that’s exactly­–READ MORE ON XXTHEMAG.COM

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