Neville Wisdom, a New Haven-based fashion designer born and raised in Jamaica, is back downtown.
With Mayor Toni Harp and Yale University’s Properties team in attendance, Wisdom held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday afternoon in front of his new shop at 1090 Chapel S.
Wisdom had a store downtown in the historic Ninth Square on Orange Street until moving Westville in 2015. Wisdom’s business is expanding. His second store on Chapel Street will be a place for selling clothes, tailoring and making alterations, fashion consulting and custom services, Wisdom said.
At the ceremony, many participants – including Lauren Zucker, associate vice president for New Haven Affairs and University Properties (Wisdom’s new landlord) – donned dresses and suits designed by Wisdom.
“We are here to celebrate the continued growth of new haven downtown area by welcoming the true new haven entrepreneur to 1090 Chapel St.,” Zucker said. “I was in here the other day just to welcome Neville and say hello, and I saw a suit on a mannequin and I felt this urge to try it on. Needless to say, I feel like a mode now. Needed no tailoring, and I love this suit.
“Plus, this is the best part: I can actually stick it in the washing machine. No dry cleaning required.”
In her welcoming speech, Zucker discussed Wisdom’s childhood in Jamaica, explaining how designing and making clothes became his passion. Wisdom couldn’t find a pair of pants and figured that the best way to solve the problem was to make one himself. Once Wisdom learned to sew, “necessity became passion quickly,” and he developed a deep interest in fashion and design.
Zucker recounted how Wisdom’s path to becoming an accomplished designer “had many stops along the way.” Wisdom has previously worked in construction and owned and operated a restaurant. In 2000, he came to Connecticut and trained to become a surgical technician at Yale-New Haven Hospital. As a surgical technician, Wisdom made fleece jackets for his colleagues and realized how much he missed his true calling, Zucker said. In 2007, against the advice of family and friends, Neville opened his first shop in New Haven. (Read about Wisdom’s journey to becoming a fashion designer here.)
“Since then, Neville has been a New Haven fashion legend,” Zucker said. “From designing Mayor Harp’s inaugural gown to hosting annual charity fashion shows and mentoring younger designers, he is a the definition of a community collaborator and leader.”
Wisdom’s presence in New Haven goes beyond any one admirer or any one business, Mayor Harp said. She emphasized that his creativity, confidence and willingness to take risks encapsulate New Haven’s formula for success for the past centuries. (Read about Wisdom’s previous involvements in the community here and here.)
After discussing Wisdom’s impact in the community, Harp congratulated him for opening a new business and wished him luck.
“I am not a fashion designer nor am I a tailor, but I predict that this business will be a perfect fit for this space,” Harp said. “No alterations necessary. Now, let’s go buy some clothes!”
In an interview, Wisdom said that he is excited to be right by oYale Center for British Art, since his brand of clothing can also be interpreted as a “wearable form of art.”
“Not only can we reach out to the crowd that we’ve always wanted to attract by being on Chapel Street, but we can also be in the presence of the British Art Museum, where art is being showcased every day,” Wisdom said. “It fits very well, because I like to think that I am also producing art by making clothes.”
Zucker agreed Chapel Street is a “fitting home” for Wisdom, considering that he is “very much of an artist himself.”
Ellen Gabrielle, a volunteer at Liberty Community Services – an organization Wisdom has fundraised for through his fashion showcases for many years – attended the event wearing trousers Wisdom designed.
“I’ve had these for almost ten years, and they are still like new and are in style,” Gabrielle said. “I am excited for Neville, excited for his new shop and can’t wait to see people stopping by his store downtown to shop for some clothes.”