Behind the seams: a fashion designer’s rise to the top

The Cayman Islands is known more for laidback beach attire than red
carpet couture.

But for Tamara Tigerlily Hill, who helms fashion label Crown
Atelier, Cayman’s relaxed island atmosphere provides the perfect
inspiration for her collections.

The Caymanian designer has gained a following among Hollywood’s fashion circles and celebrities for her edgy, yet feminine pieces. Her designs are based on the sights, colours and sounds of her home.
 
“I’m really inspired by Caribbean life, but I’m also very frou frou,” says Tamara, who finds ideas in travel and movies. “I love the laidback simplicity of Cayman, the simple living. I love the colours.”
 
The name, Crown Atelier, also derives from Tamara’s love for Cayman. She chose the word Crown because, “Cayman is a crown territory”. Combined with Atelier, French for studio, she believes the name conjures images of royalty; “I wanted [the line] to be regal.”
 
Tamara, who splits her time between Los Angeles and Grand Cayman, has always had an interest in fashion. As a young girl, she pored over fashion magazines and was constantly altering her uniform at high school.
 
However, her big break came in 2005 when the up-and-coming designer was asked by music video director, Bryan Barber, to create a series of pieces for a project. The videos, featuring well-known R and B artists Ciara and Bow Wow, hit high rotation on MTV, and Tamara’s career began to soar.
 
“I was visiting my friends in LA and I met Bryan Barber,” Tamara explains. “At the time, I was doing a lot of blouses, which were very delicate and feminine, and I was trying to get samples made. Bryan asked me to send clothes to the stylist, so I took a chance.
 
“The videos were on MTV and, after that it wasn’t hard to get my samples made and to get them in stores.
 
“It’s so surreal seeing something you created on television.”
 
Crown Atelier is now stocked in boutiques in Los Angeles, New York and London, and has been worn by a number of celebrities, including actress Keira Knightly and singer Rihanna.
 
Tamara loves the creativity of fashion, and believes hailing from Cayman was a blessing rather than a hindrance when it came to breaking into the industry. She designs with a  woman’s figure in mind, hoping to create pieces that make the wearer feel glamorous and feminine.
 
“I love the fact of creating something from scratch. Even at the last minute, you can change your mind,” she says. “My designs have very strong shapes. I use lots of soft cotton, silks. I love expensive fabrics.
 
“I think it was easier [to break into fashion] coming from Cayman, because I was fearless. I thought ‘I’ll just go to LA’, because that’s where the stars are,” the designer continues. “You’ve got to get your clothes on celebrities.”
 
Tamara’s rise was aided by her appearance on the reality show, Glam God, which pitted 12 contestants against each other in a bid to become a fashion stylist. Tamara came second on the show in 2008, and although she says it was “weird” being followed by cameras, taking part in Glam God was “a learning experience”.
 
“At first you’re really conscious of [the cameras] and you’re smiling, and then you begin to forget,” Tamara laughs, as she mimes her transition from cheerful to flustered. “The producers thought I had a lot to say, which is why I got on the show. It was very good for business but not good for my personal life. I now get girls coming up to me in nightclubs that say, ‘Can you use me in your campaigns?’
 
“With television, you never know how you’re going to come off,” she continues. “I watch it and I’m like, ‘I should have changed this, I should have changed that’. It’s just the little things.”
Glam God contributed to the growing popularity of Tamara’s label among Hollywood’s elite. She says seeing Crown Atelier on celebrities is still one of her favourite parts of the job.
 
“It’s very surreal,” she admits, “because you watch television or listen to the radio, or whatever you do, and these celebrities seem larger than life. Then when they have my clothes on, it makes them a little more real.”
 
Tamara names Bianca Jagger, Jerry Hall and Grace Jones as her style icons, as well as Coco Chanel.

“I love woman that are strong. And Coco Chanel, she made eternal fashion that stood the test of time.
 
“Coco Chanel said, ‘Fashion changes, style remains’, and that’s what I’ve tried to do. I want to design to last; I want my clothes to be a special experience.
 
“Fashion is about non-verbal communication, it really tells you something about a person.”
 
Tamara says the celebrity she would most like to dress is Kate Moss, whom she once met at a resort in Jamaica. She cites the model’s effortless sense of style as inspiration. However, she also loves to see her pieces on friends and family, and delights in seeing women in the street wearing her designs.
 
“I design stuff for everyone. Recently [69-year-old actress] Faye Dunaway was wearing my clothes,” Tamara says. “I love anyone who finds my stuff exciting, it doesn’t have borders. I love it when my friends wear my designs, and when I see people on the street in my clothes.”
 
Despite her personal penchant for black, the fashion industry’s uniform of choice, Tamara describes her style as flirty and feminine, but edgy.
 
She believes when it comes to style, women should never limit themselves and should be open to all designs and ideas.
 
So, what advice does Tamara have for those looking to break in to the fashion industry?
 
“You can’t just be concentrating on fashion, you have to sell yourself,” she says. “You have to get out there and meet people, get your name out there. You have to take risks.”
 
With her career on the ascent, Tamara tries to return home to Cayman, which she calls her favourite place in the world, as much as her busy schedule will allow. 
 
“In London, I love the architecture and the fact that anything goes in fashion,” she says. “I love LA because that’s where the stars are.
 
“[But] Cayman is definitely my favourite place. This is home. I love it here.” 

behindSM

4 COMMENTS

  1. For eight weeks we watched Tamara-Tigerlily on the series, Glam God on VH1 and it was entertaining beyond my expectation. We really do not get to see talented Caymanians on main TV and she was a pleasure to watch. She really has something and I want to see more! Congrats to her on Crown Atelier.

  2. I think it’s great that the Compass team covered this story. It was well written and really brought us into Ms Hill’s line and her project in front of the camera. By the way Glam God is still airing on the LOGO channel. Drama!! Congrats to her and I wish her continued success.

  3. This article is different for this magazine, but it was a sweet story. I applaud the editor and certainly Tigerlily. She reminds me of family and it is always sensational to see our people successfully transition internationally.

    By the way where can I get the current issue, I have been searching!Can someone let me know.