Photos: Kiki Vassilakis
Fashion designer Vaceia Payne can’t recall the exact point she realized she was going to live engulfed in the arts. Over the years she drew, painted and played viola—aspiring to be an art teacher one day and an interior designer the next. In her Atlanta high school, plagued by a school uniform, she discovered fashion. Payne designed her first dress, a ’20s-inspired flapper ensemble, for her senior project and was hooked. Now a self-made freelance designer based in Cohoes, Payne has shown her Afrocentric work at several small fashion showcases in the Capital Region. On Sept. 28, the artist will show a new “black and white” line at the Stitched fashion show in Albany alongside up-and-coming and established international designers.
Payne’s choice to show a stark, contemporary black and white-themed collection at the Capital Region fashion show was a creative leap for the artist who works in vibrant patterns and colors.
“I already know that I’m so good at this, so I thought, ‘I’m going to try to tackle something that I haven’t before,’” she says during an interview with The Collaborative. She wore a handmade, flowing and braided two-piece outfit in soft pink from her Morocco collection and her handmade gold wire jewelry, including bangles. “I feel like every designer has done black and white,” she says. “I really wanted to wow the audience.”
The choice not only challenged her creatively, but helped to expand her brand and audience by showing the public that she was capable of designing in styles outside her comfort zone, though she has made several custom pieces for clients based on their own design wishes. Those creations include a particularly lavish and drool-worthy red lace prom dress among other stunning gowns, party dresses and one-of-a-kind Halloween costumes.
“A lot of people come to me thinking that I only design African or Afrocentric garments or that just because you design African fabrics you can’t design in another fabric,” she expains. “So, in a show as big as the Stitched show, I wanted to show that I can do way more than the garments inspired by Africa.”
On her own time, Payne has been working on 54 unique collections based on each country in Africa, starting with her ancestral homeland of Ghana. So far, she has completed one other in the series, the Morocco line, finished in 2018.
“When I decided that I really want to start designing again, it was around the time where I’d gotten into my ancestry and more in tune with myself,” she says. “Africa is painted in such a negative light, so when I do my research on these countries, I research everything from the people to the tribes—and not just the tribe that everybody has heard about, but tribes that are hidden really deep in the mountains or way deep in the desert or somewhere people don’t really get to interact with them. I research their flowers or birds, everything that you could possibly know about the country.”
The braided pink top and shorts Payne wore in her first interview call upon the traditional braided hairstyles and practice of an uncolonized mountainous tribe in Morocco. Her top is conservative, covering her chest and arms, but open in the back and paired with shorts—respectful of their culture and cognizant of the regional heat.
“The pieces in my collection show a piece of Africa in each of them,” she explains.
In her home studio, full of her previously finished garments, tools and colorful spools of thread of fabric, Payne is working hard on the pieces for her new collection that will premiere at Stitched this Saturday. A pile of black garment pieces in shimmery, soft frays and sturdy, sharp cuts are piled on the floor as she pins another to her mannequin to measure, chalk and cut. You’re going to want to see what she has in store.
Check out Payne’s designs on Instagram, where you can contact her for custom designs, alterations and tailoring services: