Texas fashion designer Venny Etienne did not take home the Project Runway crown in 2019. But nevermind. In 2020, the queen called.
Dallas-based Etienne, under his fashion label Levenity, created a custom look for Beyoncé to wear in her new visual album Black Is King, which started streaming globally July 31 on Disney Plus. In the film, which is inspired by The Lion King, Queen Bey can be seen wearing a custom broad-shouldered, floral femme power jacket designed by Etienne.
The jacket matches the powerful artistry of her new film, in which she imagines "a world in which Blackness and Black people are unconstrained by the limits of the earthly world," as NPR describes in its review.
Haitian-born Etienne echoes that sentiment in describing his opportunity to work with the superstar.
“Beyoncé wearing a Levenity garment, I feel, gives people hope who wish for the same achievement," he says.
The look, paired with a purple body suit in the video for the song "Alright," has grabbed international headlines. People called it one of Beyoncé's "must-see looks" from Black Is King, and Paper magazine hailed it as one of the film's best. BBC News even interviewed the designer on air about his experience.
The opportunity to work with Beyoncé resulted from a relationship that Etienne had cultivated with her stylist, he told BBC. But it's not the first time the singer (herself a Texan) had taken notice of his work.
Etienne’s unique pieces recently were included in Beyoncé's Directory of Black Owned Businesses. The directory, assembled by Zerina Akers with Black Owned Everything, is a part of Beyoncé’s initiative called “Black Parade.” The effort benefits BeyGOOD’s Black Business Impact Fund, administered by the NAACP, to support Black-owned small businesses in need.
In an Instagram post, Etienne said seeing Beyoncé wear his jacket represents his Haitian culture and his childhood, growing up in the Marlboro projects in Brooklyn. "I am a firm believer of speaking things into existence," he writes. "Let this be the motivation for you to continue to grind and remember black excellence is a form of protest."
Etienne, a Wade College graduate, launched the luxe sportswear brand Levenity in Dallas and is no stranger to the city's most fashion-forward. He was awarded the Best of Sewing Award by the FGI (Fashion Group International) of Dallas back in 2016, and was named FGI's Fashion Designer of the Year in 2018.
After numerous international accolades, Etienne competed in Bravo's Project Runway Season 17 and came in seventh. His Levenity pieces have also been worn by celebrities Niecy Nash (for BET TV’s Black Girls Rock 2019), Cardi B, Michelle Williams, and Fantasia.
He is also featured in Heidi Luerra's best-selling book about successful entrepreneurs, titled The Work of Art: A No-Nonsense Field Guide for Creative Entrepreneurs.
Earlier this year, Etienne debuted his latest collection #003 at New York Fashion Week, sponsored by Essence Magazine. The new collection, he says, was inspired by the women who raised him, as well as his Haitian culture.
Like many in the fashion industry, Etienne shifted gears at the start of the pandemic to produce face masks. He donated more than 900 masks to first responders and those in need. Etienne works as an accountant by day, crunching numbers to sustain his passion for fashion.
Now that he's gotten his big break with Beyoncé, he says he hopes it will inspire others to keep powering forward to make their dreams come true.
"Many people have seen my journey to this point and have seen how hard I worked for it," he says. "It’s not something that happened overnight, and I want this to be a motivation to others more than anything else.”