Meiling Esau fashioned a Caribbean aesthetic out of the fragments of culture thrown together by Caribbean history. From the presences of Europe, Africa and Asia in America, she has created a distinctive look that is as clean and defined as Caribbean surf on a sunny day.
Meiling, as she is known in the fashion world, grew up in St Augustine, surrounded by fabric and sewing accessories of every kind. Her mother, Evelyn Achong, was one of the most skilled seamstresses of her day, with a sharp eye for detail and a refined sense of style. Her mother’s workroom was the young Meiling’s design laboratory.
In the early 1970s, Meiling left Trinidad for London to study at the Lucie Clayton School of Design. It was a heady time to be in London, with its creativity of individual expression.
Back home, she launched her own business, Meiling Inc. Ltd in 1982, in a renovated garage with two seamstresses. Among Meiling’s first big clients were companies looking for practical uniforms with Caribbean chic. In 2005, she designed the opening ceremony outfits for Trinidad and Tobago athletes at the Commonwealth Games.
Meiling’s designs hit the international spotlight in 1998 when one of her top models, Wendy Fitzwilliam, took the Miss Universe title. In 2011, the Meiling name was back in the news when her intern Anya Ayoung Chee emerged Season 9 winner of the wildly popular fashion reality series Project Runway. Her designs have also found a space in the entertainment market with performers such as 3Canal and Machel Montano turning to her for their fashion statements.
Over time, Meiling has become an ambassadress for the fashion industry of Trinidad and Tobago. In September 2012, she debuted at London Fashion Week and got rave reviews at Caribbean Fashion Week in Jamaica. In 2010 and 2011, her work was presented at the prestigious Plataforma K in Colombia. At home, the annual Meiling Collection remains a much-anticipated staple on the fashion calendar. A risk-taker, in 2008 she collaborated with clothing retailer Micles in designing the MSquared line for the mass market. More recently, she has branched out into Meiling Complete, a line of room scent diffusers, candles and body creams. For her contribution to the development of an indigenous aesthetic and the fashion industry, Meiling was honoured with the Chaconia Medal (Silver) in 2008.