Dallas Maverick

Venny Etienne, Fashion Merchandising Management, was refreshing Instagram one day in 2017 when he saw a photo of Cardi B in a chocolate python-skin trench that he had designed. Etienne had sent the coat to the rapper’s stylist, but had no idea when—or if—the “Bodak Yellow” singer would wear it. “It was such a huge moment,” Etienne says. Daunting, too: Etienne is the force behind Levenity, a tiny, four-person design operation based in Dallas. Suddenly, he was flooded with requests.“That was when we had to figure out PR,” he says. It’s a good thing, too, because Etienne is enjoying another moment in the spotlight after competing on the latest season of Project Runway, where he won fans with his humility, grace, and fierce designs. “From the time it aired till now I’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback and opportunities,” he says. “I’ve been getting a whole lot of orders.” He was born to Haitian immigrant parents in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn. As a kid, he styled charity fashion shows at the Pentecostal church his family attended. Still, growing up in the projects, he never thought of fashion as a career, studying investment banking instead. But he was miserable. “I was like, ‘What the hell am I doing?’” he recalls. He signed up for sewing classes at FIT, eventually enrolling in the Fashion Merchandising Management program in 2009 before moving to Dallas in 2011 to study fashion design at Wade College. “In New York I just felt like a small fish in a big pond,” he says. “I had a couple friends who lived in Dallas, and I felt like there was a lot of potential for me.” There was. Etienne won scholarships to study in Paris and enough attention that he began doing custom work for Dallas society ladies. In 2013, he launched Levenity—financed by his day job in banking—and found a steady stream of clients who needed gowns for weddings, proms, and other events. “Dallas is full of women who love individuality and who love to stand out,” Etienne says. “There’s always a charity function, there’s always a gala, and the way women dress for them, you know it’s not off the rack.” Most of Levenity’s business is custom, but Etienne designs his own seasonal collections as well, which he sells online. He describes his aesthetic as “confident and sexy”: tough denim jackets spliced with delicate organza, color-blocked coats with sculptural kimono sleeves, jeans trimmed with ostrich feathers and wide-legged wool trousers adorned with studs. The ready-to-wear collections are not a major moneymaker, but “it’s where I can express myself as a designer,” he says. But with all the attention after Project Runway—and with Destiny’s Child’s Michelle Williams spotted in his feathered jeans—that could change. “It’s allowed people to see that I’m serious about what I do,” he says of competing on the show. “Regardless if you win or not, it’s really about what you do afterwards—and I plan on making myself as visible as possible.”