( ENSPIRE Fashion ) We Call Him King Carlyle
ENSPIRE Contributor: Janelle Harris
Getting his start in the fashion industry in high school in his native Virginia, Mr. Carlyle has made a lasting impression on the industry over the last four decades. Today, he’s a renowned designer, stylist, model coach, actor, and producer who embraces his reputation as “The Innovator of Formalwear” and “The Outfitter of the Stars.” Also known for his work in films like Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Mr. Carlyle recently sat down with ENSPIRE for an exclusive interview about his early career beginnings, his experience working with the late Chadwick Boseman, and his perspective on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the fashion industry and aspiring entrepreneurs around the country.
Mr. Carlyle E. Williams is a man of God, husband, father, brother, international award-winning designer, model coach, actor, mentor, entrepreneur, and brand builder. He is the founder of Fashion Durham, NC Fashion Week, East Coast Fashion Week, Men’s Fashion Week Atlanta, and Designers on Tour. He produces the 2019 Superbowl Weekend Fashion Show in Atlanta and the 2020 Superbowl Weekend Fashion Show in Miami. His collection, Mr. Carlyle Collection, has been featured at New York Fashion Week for the last decade. He is married to award-winning singer-songwriter Dr. Kiki. Michelle Singletary Williams. Together, they founded Carki Global Inc., a 501-C3 foundation that feeds those in need each month and gives toys to children during the holidays.
How did you get started in the fashion industry?
A: I started watching my grandmothers. Grandma Lydia made quilts from clothes we couldn’t wear anymore, and Grandma Hattie was a cosmetologist with her own hair salon. She also made custom hats and clothes. Fashion was in our blood.
I began making and designing outfits and accessories. The Distributive Education Clubs of America fueled my interest in learning about retail and management. I was in 11th grade when I opened my own store in Newport News, Virginia. During the summers, we visited relatives in New York, and I was fascinated with the beautiful stores and window displays. This inspired me to pursue visual merchandising.
I enjoyed fashion so much that I persuaded a group of my friends to start doing fashion shows around the city with me. While working at a shopping center, Kool and The Gang came to town and I connected with them. I created their look for the Jungle Boogie Tour. I love working as a stylist for recording artists, video shoots, and weddings.
I also admired my father, Earnest B. Williams, whose love of wearing suits and tuxedos inspired my passion for formalwear. While living in Cincinnati, I opened my own boutique. Three years later, I worked for a tuxedo and gown business (I thought I owned it because of my management skills). I started designing and creating more and more and, eventually, the owner sold the business to me. We soon rebranded to Carlyle’s All About Tuxedos and expanded to three locations. I featured tuxedos and same-day service. Then, as demand increased, we created the Rent-A-Suit option allowing customers to rent a suit, shirt, tie, and shoes for any occasion. We were so busy that customers lined up to take a number during prom season.
What was your most challenging experience?
A: My most challenging experience was working Allen Iverson’s wedding on location in New Jersey. Allen and his wife are from my hometown in Virginia. To do the wedding, we shipped 25 custom tuxedos from my Cincinnati shop to Philadelphia as well as custom alligator shoes priced at $1,500 a pair from Texas for each groomsman.
After arriving in Philadelphia on Wednesday to get everything prepared for the fittings, we discovered someone leaked our location to the media. Our hotel was also the destination for the bachelor party. Around 5 p.m., Allen’s manager, Moe Moore, called to move us to another hotel. Then, on the morning of the wedding, I was asked to put together two more groomsman outfits, which meant adding two more tuxedos and finding two more pairs of alligator shoes. It wasn’t a problem since I had a black card to charge for everything.
By the end of the event, the wedding featured six white limos, two 55-passenger buses from Virginia, a white super-stretch Escalade, and three Rolls Royces. Allen even hired a circus to entertain the kids during the wedding and reception. Helicopters were everywhere. It was unbelievable.
What advice do you have for first-time entrepreneurs starting a business amid the pandemic?
A: Major companies have not yet rebounded, so my best advice is not to open a new business during the pandemic.
What’s your truth of authenticity?
A: People should stop being copycats and be genuine about what they believe in. Be creative. Be original.
What’s your opinion on what’s going on in the world today?
A: It’s called “life.” Every day brings a new challenge. There will always be ups and downs. Always be ready to pick yourself up and keep going. Learn as much as you can to get to the next level.
What advice would you give someone who wants to mirror your success?
A: You must love fashion to be successful in the industry. Fashion is a cycle so it’s important to be innovative.
What sense of purpose do you draw from your community?
A: Providing a unique service is very important. Supply and demand to keep your business going.
How has the pandemic impacted the fashion industry?
A: The pandemic has crushed the fashion industry. Many major stores have closed their doors for the first time in years. Fashion shows and fashion week events have been canceled. Hundreds of hair salons and barbershops are still closed.
What was your experience like filming Black Panther with Chadwick Boseman?
A: Being in the studio and watching Chadwick work with the Director, Ryan Cougler, and the rest of the cast was magical. Ruth Carter, a Hampton University alum from my hometown in Virginia, did an amazing job with the wardrobe. She was also the costume designer for Eddie Murphy’s Coming 2 America, which you’ll also see me in as a Palace Guest. Stay tuned.
Can you tell us more about your work feeding the less fortunate?
A: We are blessed to be a blessing. Our Carki Global Inc., 501-C3 Foundation, co-founded by my wife Dr. Kiki Michelle Williams, has given hundreds of boxes of free food to those in need during the pandemic. We also give toys to children during Christmas. Our food drive has assisted hundreds of needy families by giving them fresh meats, vegetables, fruits, and necessities. Our drive-thru gives participants the option to stay in their vehicles while we serve them. Those in need can sign up for updates and information on our website—www.iamkikimichelle.com/carkiglobalinc or via Facebook @CarkiGlobalInc.
The beloved “Outfitter of the Stars” and the “Innovator of Formalwear,” Mr. Carlyle is making a lasting impression in the fashion industry and, fortunately for us, has no plans to slow down. Today, he divides his time between working on films like Coming 2 America and building his legacy as a fashion designer and modeling coach, but he also shares his talents and time with those in need. He’s always ready with an encouraging word and remains committed to making the world a better place. “Life is short. Live and love your family, your brothers, and sisters, because all lives matter,” he says.
To learn more about Mr. Carlyle’s work, you can find him on Instagram @iammrcarlyle and @mrcarlylew. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.