Jo Rosenthal: What is your New York journey?
Marshall Columbia: I moved to New York about three years ago from Denver to study fashion design at FIT. Pretty soon after moving here I met Diego Montoya, a costume designer, who hired me as his assistant. It was an amazing experience working with him especially for someone so new to design. I worked on projects for drag queens like Sasha Velour, Shangela and Bob the Drag Queen. So while I was a full time fashion student I was also working all my off days or mornings at his studio. When people told me New York was going to be a hustle, they really weren’t joking. As I was finishing school I ended up getting a job with HBO as assistant costume designer for the show We’re Here. Although costume design has been so much fun and taught me a lot, I’ve always known that starting my own brand is something I’d want to do in the future. And as the pandemic prematurely shut down production for the show and locked us all in our homes for months, it was a perfect opportunity to focus on my own work. I started making handbags out of necessity to make money and then a collection of clothing grew from there.
JR: Talk to us a little bit about your process…
MC: Spending time in an ideal world is one of the things I enjoy most about what I do, and I reflect a lot back on my earlier childhood as a source of inspiration. I had some of my happiest memories running around the house in my sister’s ballet costumes, playing with her Barbies, making crafts and knitting and playing dress up with my neighbors. Thankfully, I didn’t really understand the concept of gender norms, which was the beauty of that time in my life. The early exploration of my own queer identity was in those moments, even if I didn’t understand that either. Later on in life as I grew into my understanding of who I am as a queer person, it felt as if I was coming full circle with who I was as a child. With disregard for what is “normal” or expected of me, I have grown into this space of creative freedom once again. Ultimately I want to bring that energy into my designs. There is a growing freedom to how people dress within my generation and in the younger generation and I only want to expand that with my work. We can still be playful with how we dress at any age. I don’t want to grow out of being a child in a sense and I don’t think anyone else should either.
JR: Would you consider yourself more of an artist or more of a designer?
MC: I think being an artist and designer is interdependent. I love the concept of dressing real people to make them feel confident and comfortable and sexy, but there’s also a concept behind what I do and an energy I try to create in the spaces my clothes exist. But I don’t think I would ever classify a garment I make as a piece of art. For me, clothes are clothes.
JR: What’s your favorite thing about what you do?
MC: Aside from spending time developing ideas, I really love seeing people wearing what I make. And I love seeing when the context of the clothing changes because of people’s person styles. Everyone wears them differently. I can’t wait for when I am able to produce larger quantities of clothing for people to wear. My dream is to see some random person out on the street one day dressed in a piece I designed.