A future fashion nova is born.
While the average 20-somethings today spends their night becoming increasingly tolerant of bottom shelf hooch, Selangie Arlene Henriquez moonlights as an entrepreneurial diva, building her fashion empire from the comfort of her New York City home. Growing up in the streets of the concrete jungle, Henriquez's assertive presence is one that lingers around the room long after she's made her exit. Although she is relatively small in stature, her fierce walk and curiously-detailed, original garb make for a large-than-life impression.
Sporting one of her custom "Spice" chokers with a soft jean button-down dress, Henriquez click-clacked her way into the elevator making its way down to the main lobby. Henriquez, whose fashion muses include celebrity novas Kim Kardashian and Rihanna, is outside leaning tall against a makeshift wall of big time advertisements that range from sneakers to movies to new music.
"I remember there were times my mom dressed me for school and she use to put pants on me. I use to sit there and cry because I thought “pants are for boys! I don’t want to wear pants!” admits the young Dominican-Puerto Rican fashionista, under the piercing sun. Crafty since she was a tike, Sel would make sure to carry with her an extra dress and pair of shoes in her school bag to change in and out of behind her mother's back. "I literally wanted to dress up for school everyday, even in first grade, second grade," she adds. Today, she not only dresses herself, but clients from all around the Big Apple and beyond.
In 2015, alone, she gained an outstanding following of over 84,ooo on her Instagram account, where she consistently updates her feed with snapshots and video clips of models showing off her dresses and one-of-a-kind designs. Like many of today's self-made millennials, social media has played a large role in Sel's success. To think her humble beginnings are rooted in a amateur fashion blog she and her friends made on Tumblr years back.
Sel took notice of Instagram's rise in social media and appeal to younger audiences, and used it to her advantage. Yet, her love of fashion and designing was something that vigorously ran through her blood way before Tumblr and Instagram ever existed. Inspired by her grandmother's interest in crafting Barbie outfits, a young Selangie began her journey with the simplicity of a needle and thread, a hobby that sparked a life-long love affair with playing dress up. Eager to continue her learning process, she enrolled in the High School of Fashion Industries where she majored in Fashion Design.
I meet her at her office and I drop off the dress and the next day [it's on] the Grammys. —Selangie
"It’s funny because I use to be in class and I use to get so annoyed at what they taught us, like I use to just sit there and not want to do anything," she shares. "You know, I was interested in fashion design but I wanted to do my creations, not what the teachers wanted us to do." While unimpressed with what high school had to offer, Selangie took matters into her own hands and bought her very first sewing machine shortly after graduation. "I was like, 'I’m going to do this and I’m going to do it MY way.'"
Today, she is one of the city's most talked-about, up-and-coming designers. Although in high demand, particularly during prom season, she continues to run her business completely solo and on her own terms. Wanting to be hands-on with every detail and every step of the way, she labels herself as "too picky" to hire an assistant.
Inspired by fairy tale-like designers like Paolo Sebastian and Michael Costello, her brand gives you a hint of film noir glam. Working with baring silk fabrics, lace, enchanting crystals and metallics, Selangie's varied looks can be traced back to old Hollywood or Breakfast at Tiffany's, for instance. Her pieces, however intricate, are not complete without her custom-made accessories.
Earlier this year, the young designer was approached by Azia Celestino, a New York City-based journalist, in hopes of getting her hands on a customized Sel gown for the Grammys red carpet. At only 20, Selangie made her first-ever red carpet debut, a milestone in her career and a proud moment for her and her parents.
"I made the dress before I go meet up with her in her condo. She does her fitting and I’m like, “Oh my god, is this actually happening?” she nearly squeals. "I meet her at her office and I drop off the dress and the next day [it's on] the Grammys. So I’m just there anticipating the pictures and everything. She sent them to me and I was like, “Wow!" My parents were posting it all over social media like, “Look at my daughter!”
The late Queen of Tejano music Selena Quintanilla was, unsurprisingly, a huge part of Selangie's upbringing. "When I was with my grandma growing up she used to babysit me, she would put on Selena and I’ll stay there all day watching it over and over again," she says, back inside VIBE's headquarters. "They use to tell me that it was the reason why I started singing and dancing—I got into that as well—it’s just, designing took over. But Selena was just a big inspiration for me."
Last Halloween, the talented designer decided to take on a project in honor of the Mexican singer, recreating Selena's iconic last concert look at the Houston Astrodome. The final product was a masterpiece, sparking nostalgia in the hearts of Selena fans all over the world.
"I saw the fabric and said “there’s no way I’m not getting that!” she giggles. "I didn’t even have enough fabric but I made it work, I made it work! I wanted to make the little jacket she had, but I couldn’t even do that. The costume came out amazing."
Often looking to her inner Selena Quintanilla and Jennifer Lopez, Sel believes that being Latina has everything to do with how she moves in the world today. With the use of her prosperous brand, she hopes to follow in her idols' footsteps, and pave the way for the next generation of brown artists with no lane of their own. "Sometimes when I do my fashion shows or my photo shoots, I try to get a lot of Latina models and I try to expand that," she adds. "I know there's a lot of Latinos trying to get into the industry as well and there's not many opportunities for [us]."
What's the end goal? Sel is hellbent on becoming the next Balmain or Versace. But if things don't pan out exactly how she wants, she wouldn't mind someday playing a creative designer for another big brand, dressing the Kardashians of the world. In the meantime, she'll continue moving the needle in the dead of night, adding the building blocks of her empire one dress at a time. —Melissa De Los Santos + Marjua Estevez