Monday, August 4, 2008
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She caught our attention on national televsion in the premier of the current Project Runway, Season 5. Her creation of a beautiful, well made yellow dress designed out of table cloth and embellished with vegetables had us sit up and pay attention. She is African, Western, fashionsita, fashion designer, daughter, mother and so much more.
Introducing to you, in this Ladybrille Exclusive, Korto Momolu of Project Runway Season 5!
WHO IS KORTO [Cut-toe]?
LADYBRILLE.com: Korto, I first want to say thank you for agreeing to do this interview. I know Ladybrille readers and [y]our Project Runway fans are dying to know who you are! So why don't you feel us in. Where are you from? Tell us about your background!
Korto: Well, I'm from Monrovia, Liberia. I am thirty three  years old, I am a mother of one [daughter], Alyse Nahmbia, [who is] four years old, and I am married [10 years!]. I am so much more than a designer. I dance, I love to cook and most importantly, I am an artist first. I love to paint and create on so many different levels. I actually left Liberia when I was four and my family and I lived in various places. We also moved back and forth to Liberia. I am so grateful that I was able to be in my homeland and remember life as it was before the war. I hold those memories so close to my heart. After the war, my family and I were refugees in Canada and later became citizens.
LADYBRILLE.com:Do you have any siblings and what position are you among them?
Korto: I have two brothers and an older sister by my mother. I am the second oldest [of the four]. I have several step brothers and sisters.
LADYBRILLE.com: How many languages do you speak? Korto: I actually speak English and I dibble and dabble in my native tongue Lorma as well as our Liberian version of Pigdin English. [She laughs] Mine may be a little watered down but I am proud of it. . . [she laughs]
IMMERSSION IN AFRICAN CULTURE
LADYBRILLE.com: I heard you perform in an African dance troupe. What is the name of your group and what countries in Africa influence your performances?
Korto: The group I performed with while in Canada is called Cafricka and here in Littlerock [Arkansas], I am a member of Africa's Garden, which is a mixture of African dance and drumming. The groups I am involved with have a mixture of influences from Liberia to Ghana as well as Haiti and Trinidad.
LADYBRILLE.com: I am also informed you braid hair. What is your favorite African hair style to braid and what specific country within Africa is it from.
Korto: I love cornrows. I grew up doing those on my head for school and I also do it on my daughter’s hair. In Littlerock it is actually [illegal] to do African style hair without a cosmetology [license], which means doing my child’s hair is considered a crime. . . It's 2008 but I'm fighting this issue. Most [of the] styles I do practice. . .illegal or not are kinky twist, micro braid and tree braids. These are mostly West African hairstyles.
KORTO THE AFROPOLITAN
LADYBRILLE.com: When we initially spoke, you said you straddle both worlds of being Western and African. You can be real Liberian when at home with family but just as American/Canadian when hanging with everyone else. Explain a little more what you meant by that?
Korto: It's hard to jump from one country to the next without taking something from these different cultures. I try to stay true to who I am as a Liberian woman, but being able to drop my accent when I'm not around my people to me is adapting. I am still always going to be who I am. But, it's okay to let people know that African people have many sides to [them]. We are not the stereotypical [Africans]. It's not “Coming to America” every time you meet one of us. [She laughs]
LADYBRILLE.com:[Laughs] So, how would you define yourself?
Korto: I am strong, confident, sometimes defiant. I am a fighter, a [nurturer], a leader. I am talented, a great wife [she laughs] and a great friend. I am an [emerging] designer and I have a lot to say. I am the poster child for never giving up!
LADYBRILLE.com:There is a beautiful article by Taiye Tuakli Worsonu where he coins the term "Afropolitans." "There is a new breed of internationally mobile, young people of African descent making their mark on the world. They are neither Africans nor Americans or Europeans for that matter but children of many worlds.” Such persons, he says, are having to define themselves along cultural national and racial lines and at times geographical lines. Does that term resonate with you?
Korto: I totally love his quote because I am [the] person he [defines]. We are the new faces of Africa. We are not ashamed of who we are. We are not defined by what society says we are or should be. We are people, we happen to be African and “Yes!” we are proud of it. [T]here are so many layers to us that we are not scared to show . . . at least I'm not.
KORTO AND THE BUSINESS OF FASHION
LADYBRILLE.com: I read that you are a designer and stylist. How did you get into [a]nd how long have you been in the business?
Korto: I've been in design since high school. I graduated when I was 16 and my art teacher encouraged me to go [for] it! I didn't go to fashion school right after [high school] due to the war. But, I finally attended in Canada. It was a couturier school and I was not a great seamstress then but design-wise, I was good. It took a while to get my trade together but as you can see from the first episode when Michael Kors and Nina Garcia said words like "impeccably made,” “good taste” etc. . . they had me at well made. I really loved that all my hard work paid off.
LADYBRILLE.com:Prior to Project Runway, had you ever presented your collection at any fashion weeks?
Korto: I've never been to fashion week to present but I have been to watch [the shows]. I LOVE IT and I pray that God has it in my plan to be there come Fall! It has always been my dream to show there so I'm gonna make it happen one day!
LADYBRILLE.com: Africa is "the hotness" right now from Foreign Direct Investments to Multinationals and just Barrack Obama plain shining the spotlight on Africa with his Kenyan heritage. I hear your inspiration comes from your "African roots" but break it down for us. What does that mean in the vision and ultimate execution of your designs?
Korto: My design style is very classic. I try to infuse a lot of texture and color sewing prints [African] and beading. I use a lot of trims, already beaded, sometimes. But, I do love to bead and make jewelry. I create really chunky and colorful necklaces and I make cowhide handbags complete with cow horn handles. A Korto Momolu design is the complete package, clothing accessories and if you are lucky, I'll do your hair and makeup too. . . [she laughs]
LADYBRILLE.com: [Chuckles] Where do you get all of your creative talents from?
Korto: From God. There are no artists in my family, so my talents came out of no one [s]pecifically, they are God-given.
LADYBRILLE.com:Your presence on Project Runway brings such diversity and resonates with a lot and specifically three groups. Essentially, you fly the flag for Liberia/Africa, Canada [Countries and a continent not on the [global map] for fashion] and Plus-size women or in your words "real women," especially in the States. When you applied for the show, were you aware you would be such "triple threat?" [laughs]
Korto: I love being so diverse. I am older and wiser than some of my competitors and that is a threat. I've been there. I've been told “no.” Yes and I have a pretty thick skin. I don't have nightmares about challenges to come that involve real women or people over size 6. Those are who I make clothes for everyday. Everyone wants to look [and feel] good, sexy, stylish and classy. I offer those that are above the industry standard of what's beautiful, that option.
KORTO ON PROJECT RUNWAY
LADYBRILLE.com: Did anyone encourage you to try out for Project Runway?
Korto: EVERYONE I know and don't know. I knew from the first original “Gristedes” challenge in season 1 that I would try out. All the people in my family and friends, especially everyone here in Arkansas have backed me. It means a lot to know people you know and don't know are praying for your well being; and now to see so many people cheering me on, it's a blessing.
LADYBRILLE.com:In our initial introduction conversation, you said you knew you had to be very prepared for the show before you applied. How did you go about getting prepared?
Korto: I had to clean up my craft and perfect it. I had to make sure to be the best when it came to presentation and execution. Once I felt like nothing would be a challenge for me, I went for it and I'm so glad because I got in!
LADYBRILLE.com: How did you feel when you found out you were one of the contestants? Tell me you screamed. [laughs]
Korto: I did scream! [I screamed] in my pillow because I had guests at my house and I didn't want them to hear me. . . it was the best feeling of "I've arrived. . . "I'm worthy. . . " "my life is never going to be the same. . ." then it [became] "what have I gotten myself into? “ [she laughs] After the high it's the fear that rushes in, but [that's] natural.
LADYBRILLE.com:[laughs] America, well the world really in this day of Youtube, [recently] watched the premier of Project Runway and you were right up there with a fabulous design. What was going on in your mind when the likes of Nina Garcia, Heidi Klum and Michael Kors praised your work?
Korto: I just about died when I got Nina's input because we ALL feared her opinion. It was amazing to know Michael Kors one of my favorite designers loved my work or could at least appreciate my efforts. I loved it. I stuck to my guns with a design that was questionable in the workroom [the tablecloth] but I took that tissue tablecloth and made it the best thing attached to kale on a runway. . . [she laughs]
LADYBRILLE.com: [also laughs] What was your favorite design from that first challenge?
Korto: MINE!!! and Daniel's. I thought he was gonna win. It was very innovative and gutsy, because he didn't have a Plan B. All he got were cups. I would have never thought of that. Great job Daniel!
LADYBRILLE.com:Tell me two African celebrities you would love to dress and why?
Korto: Djimon Hansou. I love him! He looks like my brother, and can I please meet Nelson Mandela before he's really retired and make him a shirt or something? Last but never least, Oprah. . . She traced her roots back to Liberia and I just love her. . . I hope to meet her one day. . . soon!
LADYBRILLE.com:Do you have a favorite African fashion icon who inspires you?
Korto: The icons I think of are the various tribes that have really been the leaders in fashion with the traditional wear. The jewelry that we see now in videos reproduced for mainstream, the tribal makeup now translated to fabrics and editorials in large fashion spreads from most designers showing in the Spring ‘08 shows to Forever 21 [selling in its retail stores], the African influence was vivid and I loved it! Africa is now the go to continent for fashion, knowledge and hopefully one day its contribution will be recognized in fashion.
LADYBRILLE.com:What's your favorite African restaurant? Korto: My mamas house! [she laughs]
LADYBRILLE.com:[laughs] [I second that!] What country in Africa would you say is an ideal place for vacation?
Korto: I am still longing to go to Egypt. I want to see all the history there and Ghana as well.
LADYBRILLE.com:[Ghana is beautiful. You will love it there.] What's next for Korto after Project Runway?
Korto: The sky is the limit! I am so ready to see the life that God has planned for me. But, I am going to take it all in, be careful what I do. I want to have a long career, a rich career. . . not [only] in money but in friendships within the industry; and I want people to respect me as a woman and as a designer. I hope people get to know me on all levels and see the real me and embrace that. I am who I am and I showed that on the show. . . the real me. I can't wait!
LADYBRILLE.com: You design for real women and want to be respected as a woman and designer in the industry. Who are the women in your life that have inspired you to become the woman that you are trying to be?
Korto: My mother and my sister, Loupu. They are really strong women who have overcome so much adversity in their lives. Watching them overcome these trials has inspired me to overcome adversity and disappointment when things go bad. You have to know how to regroup. They have taught me it's not how you fall. It's how you get back up. Never give up hope and keep the faith.
LADYBRILLE.com:We are excited for you! Anything you want to say to our readers and your Project Runway fans?
Korto: Just to those wishing to do what I do. . .do it. Do NOT give up. Don't let ANYBODY tell you, you can't. I don't care who they are. I don't care what situations hold you back or make you fall, GET UP! It's not how you fall. It's how you get up and how fast you get going! Believe in yourself first because if you don't, who will? I am thirty three  and I am not dreaming anymore, it's my reality. Know it can happen [to you], because it happened to me. . .God bless.
~Interview/Article by Uduak Oduok, photos courtesy of NBC.