New York. Paris. Milan. Valparaiso?
It may seem a stretch to include a sleepy Porter County burg among a list of global fashion capitals, but it’s certainly no stranger than a family law attorney and mediator who also happens to be an in-demand custom fashion designer for high-end and celebrity clients all over the world. By working on appointment and flying off at a moment’s notice to bring his timeless, classic designs for men and women to wherever his clients happen to be, Gary native and Valparaiso University alumnus Mark Roscoe has managed to build a successful global fashion empire without having to leave home to do it.
We checked in with Roscoe between high-profile gigs to find out how he got into the fashion game, what influences his work, what it’s like designing for celebrity clients and what he loves about Northwest Indiana.
On the emotional story of how a lawyer designed a whole new career journey for himself…
My mom was a plus-sized woman, and she always had difficulty finding clothes off the rack. She’d go out on these shopping excursions and come home empty-handed and in tears. I felt like I had the ability to help her out, so about ten years ago I purchased a sewing machine and taught myself to sew and started making clothes for her that fit. From there, the design business just sort of grew organically—she would wear the clothes that I made and people would see them and ask if we could do some custom work for them or someone they knew who had similar difficulties finding clothes off the rack.
So that’s how I started, and it just sort of branched off into other opportunities, and about four years ago I gave myself emotional permission to do this more intently and explore the possibilities that I could create for myself, even as I continued to work full-time as a lawyer. That’s when things started to open up, and we wound up finding a lot of opportunities in Chicago and L.A. and New York. It’s been interesting to see how once you give yourself permission to do something, the floodgates kind of open and opportunities start to reveal themselves.
Shortly after I began designing, my mother died of pancreatic cancer. As a result, I donate a portion of the proceeds that I generate from the sale of each garment to different cancer organizations in the Chicagoland area, including A Silver Lining Foundation, which raises funds to help pay for mammogram testing.
On how he works and what drives his design choices…
I think one of my greatest traits is my ability and willingness to tap into the inner core of who people really are. I spend a lot of time with my clients and I get to know their personalities, so I try to design a garment that doesn’t just reflect on who I am as a designer, but also reflects the person for whom I’m designing as well. I think some of my experience as a lawyer comes through—that notion of getting into people’s minds and the subtext of their personalities maybe gives me a little bit more insight from a design standpoint, and I try to create then from the core of who they are.
On what a man wears versus how he wears it…
I think how a person wears something is more important than what he’s wearing. Style is something that comes from within—clothing is one thing, but how you carry yourself is really what makes it. That’s the personal interpretation of who you really are inside.
I’m also of the opinion, however, that when you look good, you feel good. You carry yourself in a much different way. So clearly when you find clothes that really fit you, you have a different feel about how you look in them and a different degree of confidence. That’s what we focus on—the fit and the cut that complements the silhouette and the right style for the right body type.
On designing for celebrity clients…
In many cases with a celebrity, we’re typically looking for a specific garment for a particular event and our ideas are governed by that event. If we were designing something for the Grammys, it would be much different than if we were designing for the Oscars and much different than if we were designing for the Emmys, just because of the tone or aesthetic of each of those shows. We recently worked with Keegan Michael Key to do his tuxedo for the Primetime Emmy Awards, which then kind of blossomed into the Technical Emmy Awards as well, so we created two different looks for him.
It’s often the personality of the client that dictates what we do as well. For Keegan, as a comedian, we wanted a garment that had a little more personality to it, so we combined the classic tuxedo line with some really colorful vests and ties that he could switch out between his two events. In the end, people need to feel comfortable in the garment that they’re wearing so that the garment doesn’t wear them. It’s still an extension of who they are, and the garment needs to reflect that.
On working and living in Northwest Indiana…
I’m a Midwest person. I was born and raised here, I was educated here and I really like the family orientation of the Midwest. I’ve traveled around the country and around the world, and I really come back to this area as home.
I love Chicago from a cultural standpoint—the theater and the arts and the city feel—but I also love Northwest Indiana, which definitely has more of a comfortable neighborhood kind of feel. I know my neighbors and they know me, and I feel like I have a connection to the people I come in contact with on a daily basis, as opposed to getting lost in the hustle and bustle of a larger city. I just really like that interpersonal connection that I feel with a lot of people here.
I’ve had opportunities to relocate, but I feel at home here. The beauty of working on a custom-design basis as I do is that I don’t have to live in the heart of some big fashion district to do my work; I can travel to other places and still keep my roots here.