Company name: Michael Lombard
Linkedin: Michael Lombard Fashion Designer
Tell us about your journey with QLT Records & Management, which you started prior to joining the fashion industry.
Well, QLT Records is when I was really, really young. I was in the music industry, started as a manager of groups and gradually got my own record label with Atlantic Records. So it was a long journey, probably about 15, 20 years in the music industry. I had multiple record labels during that period of time, up until 2016 or 2017, when I ventured into fashion.
You studied Business Management, Government and Politics at the University of Maryland. How has that been useful in your career thus far?
Business Management has been a key to it because I have spent most of my time being an executive, whether it's in the music industry or in fashion; you've got to have the business side. So it just taught me how to better manage not only business, but also myself. I just used the skills that I learned in college for that.
I don't really know how the government and politics really factored into any of my management stuff, but it made me more aware of politics and other things, but more from a policy basis than anything else.
What inspired the move into fashion?
Music and fashion are always usually tied together. Back then, I didn't know how tied in. Nowadays, you can see it everywhere, artistes are on covers of fashion magazines but back then, all we knew is that we had to dress our artistes for cover shoots or album covers and maybe a few magazines. So I would always take the lead with my artistes and dress them. So I already had the fashion edge.
I was pretty heavily into wearing leather back then, so it was easy for me to transition when I decided to venture into fashion. It was kind of a no-brainer for me to go the leather route because I always loved leather so much.
As a young boy, what are some of your early fashion memories?
Here in New York, where I used to live, everyone would wear Dapper Dan stuff all the time. I always wanted to get a Dapper Dan. I was putting MCM and Louis Vuitton logos on his clothes. I would watch music videos and LL Cool J, and everybody would always wear this particular stuff. So that's my fondest memory of fashion back then.
Other than that, what my parents bought me back then or whatever I found. I always thought that the Dapper Dan stuff was really cool, so I was keenly aware of fashion even when I was younger.
When you switched to fashion, were you taken seriously as a designer?
I didn't take myself seriously when I first did it, because it was like a fluke. I wanted to make some jackets for myself because I used to buy them all the time. I used to sketch and draw all the time, but it was never clothing; it was always things to do with the military. I don't know why but I used to draw ships and planes; I was really good at it.
So I said, 'I'm tired of buying other people's jackets and wearing them around. My bet, I can make my own and put my name on it'. So that's what I did; I made two jackets. I posted it, and then, maybe a couple hours later, New York Fashion Week contacted me and said, 'Hey, we saw your post, we love your jackets, and we'd love to invite you to New York Fashion Week'. And I was like, 'Thank you, but I'm not a designer'. They just blew that off and asked how quickly I could do 15 looks. I asked how long I had, and they said two months. I said, 'Yeah, I think I can do it', and I hung up.
When I showed up at New York Fashion Week, reality hit me. I was kind of nervous, but as I said, I didn't take it that seriously. For that same show, Huffington Post did an article, and it was about me, and they called me the 'king of leather'. And then I took it seriously, because I'm like, 'This is my very first time'. I thought it was a one-off thing; I'm going to do this one little show and go back to my normal life. And here I am, Huffington Post, with 30 million followers, called me the king of leather. How am I the king of leather? This is my first time doing it. So that just stuck with me.
So I had to start taking it really seriously because then, in London, everyone started contacting me about doing shows, and I had to get up to speed and learn really fast. And people think I've been doing this for 10 to 12 years, but this is only three and a half years ago.
Describe Michael Lombard designs, and tell us who wears them?
They're modern, trendy and edgy. I don't follow any real norms. Whatever I think of, I do it. It can be very challenging with leather because leather doesn't cooperate because it is heavy. So when you see on the runway, if I had gone into fabric, it would've been easier to get the big old scarf, the long stuff, but leather doesn't do that. So I have to be creative on how I make leather do certain things.
If I want big shoulders, it's more of a creative process than people would even realise and imagine. That's why when I do shows, people love what I do. But I don't think they really realise just how hard it is to make a piece of leather, which is heavy, do some of the things that I make it do as opposed to fabric, where it can flow, it's light, and you can do whatever you want to with it. That's where I think the creative process comes in with leather.
You recently opened your Dubai store. Why Dubai?
I came here and did a show called Vie Fashion Week in July of 2020, and I was introduced to my partner, Dunstan Rozairo. I put it out there to the Vie Fashion Week people that I wouldn't mind opening a store in Dubai or anywhere.
My now partner said, 'I'm based here in Dubai, so why not Dubai? At first, I was thinking, well, because it's 130 degrees here, I have leather; I don't know if that's a good fit. But I said, 'Well if I do open it here, I would like it to be in Dubai Mall and probably Fashion Avenue. And he said, 'Well, that would be the goal, right?'
So I thought about it. People travel; people go to cold places, or they're coming from cold places, so the leather angle may not be a bad theory. So that's what ended up happening.
But just because you want to be in Fashion Avenue doesn't mean you get into Fashion Avenue, right? I'm sure every single brand in the world, millions of brands, want to be in Fashion Avenue, but only 0.00000001, if even that, get in, right? So that's just a whole other process in itself.
Usually, it's like being on a brand like Chanel or Gucci, so I was happy that they saw the potential because they told me straight out that they get thousands of applicants to get in there. They have maybe two or three store openings because maybe somebody moved or went out of business, and they don't have a lot of slots. There are way bigger brands out there that are not even in Fashion Avenue; they didn't make the cut. So I felt very honoured because they saw the value in me and said, 'You know what? We want you here.' But though they wanted me here, there was still this big process of doing 20-page proposals and had to go to a 10-panel board for review. And if one of the ten said no, then you'd never get in.
So I was fortunate to get approved in 10 days. It was probably a record. It went to the panel, and I got the news that they all were on board and thought it was an amazing store.
What is your definition of success?
Success can come in many different ways. In any profession, as long as you're happy and you're making a difference in somebody's life or even your own life, I would call that success. Success to me is just when I see other people happy. For instance, I did the same thing in music, but in fashion, I walk all around. I walk through the malls, I eat… I know I'm a celebrity, but I still interact with all the people all day. I go to my favourite little restaurant; I interview people myself. I don't send a manager or somebody, and people are always in awe, like, 'Oh my God, I'm really meeting you'. And I'm like, 'I'm just a regular person. I just happen to be able to design things, but I'm just a normal person.'
Maybe one day, it's going to get to the point where I can't just do what I want to do. That was a good thing about the music industry; I put out an album, but I was mostly behind the scenes, so I could go and do anything I wanted. Nobody really knew who I was because I was the executive behind everything. But here, when it's your name and your face out there, people start to really know who you are.
I just want to always be a normal person. I don't want any type of fame, maybe because I've been doing this for so long with the music industry that it's no big deal to me now. I'm probably the most genuine person you'd meet because I'm just always just around.
What is the most meaningful life lesson you have learned so far?
I just always believe that you should be a genuine person because life can be hard. People can bring you down and drag you down, and my big lesson took me a while to realise, but don't listen to all the negativity.
I always tell people a lesson that you should always learn, no matter what business it is, fashion, music, or regular life is, don't listen to the naysayers. If you have a dream and you believe it, go for it. Either it's going to fail, but you could say you tried, or it's going to be successful. So my life lesson is just don't listen to people because it's always going to be negativity.
People are always going to say and try to bring you down. You have to block that out, and you have to stay laser-focused on what your dream is, or you'll always dash your dreams. And if that was the case, probably 80 per cent of all businesses would never exist, right?
If you were to write a book about yourself, what would you name it?
If it wasn't for Huffington Post calling me the king of leather, I probably would've ridden off into the sunset after that first show because I just did it for fun. But, because they dubbed me then, I felt an obligation. I felt, 'Oh, wow, if Huffington Post sees this, then I must be something, there must be something to this. So, it'd be Michael Lombard, the king of leather.
You lead a busy lifestyle. How do you look after your mental health?
Well, during COVID, it was a hard time for everyone. I'm an avid zombie movie fanatic; you never think you would see something quite like that in your lifetime, but I was always fascinated with things to do with survival. So when COVID hit, it just started reminding me of some sort of zombie outbreak, not as people coming back to life, but as people hiding, and isolating. You don't want to be around people. You're afraid of something you can't even see. So I started realising that my mental health was declining just a little bit, because I was afraid to even open my front door because you're going to let this invisible thing in, and you're going to die.
And the strange thing was I was still doing shows during COVID. I went to London, then Milan, then Paris, then Amsterdam, and was oblivious to how bad it was. Because in the United States, it had just started, and New York was falling. These shows weren't cancelled. So nobody was wearing masks. I'd be in a small room taking pictures with hundreds of people and hugging them. I noticed probably a long topic, but what really hit me was when I left Milan and then I got a message that they shut down Milan three hours after I left. And I was like, shut down? And I went to Paris, and I did a show. No one's wearing a mask; we're all hugging at the end. I'm in every model's face dressing them.
And then I went to Amsterdam, and on my last day in Amsterdam, I went to get food, and they shut all of Amsterdam down. The president at the time said we had to get out of Europe on a certain day or we were not going to be able to get back in the country.
They handed me from one airport; I had to fly to a different airport. And then reality hit me. I mean, they called me patient zero at the time, but I was like, I really could have died because we didn't realise the severity of COVID. And when I got home, I felt really isolated because I just felt that I had survived something that I wasn't fully aware of. What I did to kind of better heal my mental health is I submerged myself into work. And it did wonders for my mental health.