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The first time I met 33-year-old Cedrick Johnson everyone calls him Cedi, pronounced said-ee was outside FashBash in 97. He doesnt remember me; the night was a blur. But I was so impressed by the attire of his entourage that I inquired where the clothes were from.
Of course, they were Cedis.
"Is he part of the show?" I asked innocently. "No," replied a young woman wearing one of his signature sweeping white pantsuits, "Thats certainly not what this event is about. Hes a local designer," referring to the fact that its usual for big-name designers to be represented at such events. Plus, at the time, he worked solely on a piece-by-piece basis no stores in the area carried his clothes.
Being "local," of which Cedi is proud, takes its toll on even the most talented and tenacious in the world of fashion. While metro Detroit represents a robust fashion-consuming public, hopeful designers generally have to go through New York to get seen back in the city better known for auto design than fashion design. Such is the tale of Maurice Malone and Anna Sui, two Detroiters whove made it, relatively speaking, in the couture big top.
But Cedi has gone all-out to make his vision a grand Detroit affair.
Inspired at age 7 to cut and hand-sew old blue jeans to make a skirt and vest for his cousin, he went on to spend his free time throughout school creating his own clothes. Since that first garment, he has designed for gospel musics "first" family, the Winans, gospel artists the Thomas Whitfield Company, Michael Mindingall and Special Gift, as well as Judges Ted Wallace and Patricia Fresard, comedian and local personality CoCo, and record producer Michael Powell.
In the meantime he supports himself, his wife and two children with his job at General Motors, where hes worked in operations for 15 years.
The next time Cedi and I met was this past May at the Whitney restaurant, where he debuted his fall 99 collection at a crowded morning brunch. "Hows it going?" I asked him before the show. "Absolutely wonderful!" he said with a large happy smile. "The models are set, the makeup is done, the hair stylist didnt show up ... Now its just waiting for show time!"
Set against the sumptuous furnishings, models streamed down the grand staircase to the strains of Billie Holidays "Lets Fall in Love." Matching hats, with gloves, with fabrics from jersey and knits but made to look like cashmere there was something about those cuts and all those reams of flowing fabric that made me want to be fabulous.
"The collection is somewhat influenced by the 20s, 30s and 40s when people dressed meaning, they wore ensembles and not just pieces of clothing," he says.
While his designs are all about uptown flair, his style is entirely downtown attitude. "Its important to understand that you shouldnt take fashion so seriously. People should experiment with different levels of elegance and try to wear something they may feel daring in. They might surprise themselves!"
The last time I visited Cedi in his workspace-loft in downtown Detroit, he was wrapping a salmon-colored, Eastern-inspired-print, floor-length shirt-jacket to send to a moderately known Hollywood actress who saw his collection at the 100 Black Men of Detroit fashion event in June.
Hes been inserting his collection wherever he can: For the moment its a guerrilla-lunchtime showing some Fridays at Nikis Restaurant in Greektown. "I always try to showcase my collection on a mainstream level to make it real," Cedi says.
"But now Ive got a publicist in New York."