Ghanaian born, Atlanta-based Michael Badger went from being a typical 20-year-old student at the Savannah College of Art & Design to a red carpet designer overnight. Badger was unanimously chosen by The Red Carpet Green Dress competition for the coveted spot to design an eco-conscious gown for a Hollywood A-lister and be flown to London and mentored by industry veteran Vivienne Westwood. The designer shares his excitement with ESSENCE.com here.
ESSENCE.com: How does it feel to be the first male winner of the Red Carpet Green Dress contest?
MICHAEL BADGER: It feels amazing! I didn’t realize I was the first male winner until it was pointed out to me recently. Male or female. It doesn’t really matter, but I'm mostly just immensely grateful to be given this opportunity to showcase my design and help put my country on the map. It’s a brilliant way to start the New Year.
ESSENCE.com: What prompted you to enter the contest?
BADGER: Initially, it was the prize. The mere possibility of working with Vivienne Westwood and having a dress worn at the Oscars was enough to get me to enter. But I realized that above that, it was a great opportunity to be challenged to think about different ways to arrive at a dress that had an eco-conscience and wouldn’t be out of place on the red carpet. The green movement is something that is becoming more and more a part of our lives and for good reason: it is necessary for our and the planet’s survival. The Red Carpet Green Dress Competition is doing a fantastic job of getting the fashion world involved.
ESSENCE.com: Could you walk us through the design and entry process?
BADGER: Nature has always been one of my biggest influences when it comes to design, so it wasn’t too much of a task to imagine where my inspiration for this dress would come from. It took a couple of sketches and tweaks to come up with the design, but this was one of those extremely rare times where ideas just flowed. I heard about the contest initially from a friend at group meetings every Friday, where we discussed the contest and the best way to package our entries and just ensure we understood the philosophy of the contest and we were on the right path. It was also great to have professors at SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design) who were more than willing to give feedback on everything, from fabric right down to the best way to execute the design.
ESSENCE.com: What inspired this winning design that you submitted?
BADGER: The inspiration came from volcanoes, more specifically, volcanic lava and the entrancing way it flows with cakes of rock floating on top of it. I thought it would be appropriate because volcanoes are such a force of nature and, like most things found in nature, are so aesthetically pleasing that they lend themselves to design.
ESSENCE.com: How did you know you wanted to become a designer? Is there a tradition of sewing or design in your family?
BADGER: I’ve always known that whatever I wanted to do professionally was going to be linked to the arts in some way. But the specific interest in fashion design grew from a lifelong admiration for women. It was a way to celebrate them, and even before I ever actually verbalized it, the idea was always lurking somewhere in my head. I went through saying I wanted to be an artist, then an interior designer and then an animator before I got brave enough to say it aloud. Arts and design do have a tendency to pop up in my family. My mother is an artist, her mother was a very talented dressmaker in the ‘60s and my sister is an extremely talented architect in training.
ESSENCE.com: How does your Ghanian heritage and present living in the south influence your work?
BADGER: Ghana definitely influences my design aesthetics, probably even more than I realize; it’s vibrant and colorful without being gaudy. Also, the heat means there has to be an idea of simplicity so dressing up often means trying to strike the balance between being stylish and being practical. This manifests a lot in my design sensibility. Ghana definitely has a rich tradition of making clothes. It is way more common to go out and have something made than it is to walk into a shop and buy something off the rack.
ESSENCE.com: Where do you go, and what do you look to for fresh ideas between Atlanta and Ghana?
BADGER: I try to allow inspiration to come from where it will, so I don't have go-to places per-se. But, whether it comes from music, movies, books, galleries, and cinema, even Tumblr, I'll take it. I find the design process is much more surprising and interesting that way.
ESSENCE.com: In general, which city do you think has the best style?
BADGER: New York.
ESSENCE.com: Why is that?
BADGER: Because of the diversity. Literally. Anything goes. I don’t like it when people try to turn fashion into too much of a dictatorship. It’s inherently a means of expression so I don’t think there can be wrong answers, and I think New York get’s it right. Also, you walk around a lot so it means more opportunities to show off your outfit.
ESSENCE.com: Is there a specific genre of design that you prefer?
BADGER: When I first started getting into fashion design, the only dresses I would draw were ball gowns, red carpet dresses and the like. Anything with a huge skirt! But before I entered this contest I began to lean more toward the ready-to-wear side of things because I love the idea of creating clothes that people are able to interpret in their own ways. Designers like Dries Van Noten really began to catch my eye because he does this so beautifully and shows that the amazing clothes don’t only exist in couture. I think this competition has re-kindled my love for the gowns, though. I’ll just have to find my balance.
ESSENCE.com: Who are some of the designers that you're inspired by?
BADGER: Francisco Costa from Calvin Klein and Dries Van Noten are definitely my top two. They are able to effortlessly blend practicality with miles and miles of research into beautiful, chic little packages. I am also in complete awe of Ricardo Tisci's amazing eye for detail.
ESSENCE.com: Which artists are you inspired by?
BADGER: My mother, Heather Badger, is probably my biggest artistic influence because she is the reason I first decided that anything I would pursue as an adult would have some sort of creative basis. She indulges in everything, from painting to creating one-of-a-kind shadow boxes, to makeup artistry and occasional interior design. She teaches me there is no limit to where creativity can take you and where you should allow it to take you.
ESSENCE.com: Who else are you inspired by or consider style icons?
BADGER: Audrey Hepburn, Audrey Tautou, Solange Knowles, Shingai Shoniwa and Bianca Jagger are a few of the people that I think have amazing style.
ESSENCE.com: If you could dress any celebrity, who would that be?
BADGER: I would love to dress anyone that would have me! But, I love how Charlize Theron, Cate Blanchett, Michelle Obama, Shala Monroque, Solange, Keira Knightley and Rihanna all wear their clothes. It’s always very effortless, regardless of what it is they’re actually wearing. And, of course, Beyoncé because she is pretty amazing.
ESSENCE.com: Where do you envision yourself in the future?
BADGER: I hope to find myself happy, successful and enjoying what I do. I’m more than grateful for this competition, and I’m excited for all the possibilities in store.