As a longtime U.S. mail carrier at the State Supreme Court Building in Mineola, Stanley Covington Jr.’s workaday wardrobe is as constant as a Forever Stamp — a blue-gray uniform that’s neat, standard, predictable.
But as an aspiring fashion designer, when it comes to colors, fabrics and exuberant let’s-go-there daring, the 59-year-old Hempstead resident always pushes the envelope.
“The clothes that I design are so far away from my job,” said Covington. That was instantly obvious when models strutted and struck poses in his New York Fashion Week showcase on Sept. 10 at Lavan 541, an event venue in Manhattan.
Covington was among a group of independent designers displaying new lines at a 7 p.m. slot, which, of course, commenced fashionably behind schedule by about an hour. He calls his brand IMOYA — an acronym for “in memory of you always.” It’s a loving nod to family members.
In all, he displayed 19 looks — for women and men — with no particular overarching motif. Some glittered. Some fluttered. Some, actually several, revealed flashes of skin. A two-piece set pairing sequin-encrusted green short-shorts with a matching hooded halter top was one standout look.
There were more. A sparkly silver cocktail dress radiating a Chrysler Building-vibe turned heads. So did unisex jackets with bold painted backs and semiformal frocks with playful peekaboo cutouts. In the end, there was no trace of ho-hum blue-gray uniformity in the 7½-minute show.
About four hours earlier, Covington arrived at the venue dressed in shredded cargo shorts and sneakers as he hefted suitcases and garment bags filled with clothes to present.
“This is my passion,” Covington said as he made last-minute decisions and adjustments downstairs at the venue. The preparation space was crammed wall-to-wall with other designers, models in varying states of undress, plus makeup pros busily painting eyes and lips, and hair stylists perfecting ponytails. The thermostat seemed to have been cranked to “Swelter.”
Amid the heat, disorder and noise, Covington was completely in his element as he matched outfits with models selected the day before at a casting call in Brooklyn. He’s done this before. “So far, so good,” he said.
“The chaos is a good distraction,” Covington added. “I don’t mind the confusion because it forces me to focus. I get so nervous before a show because anything can go wrong. All this buzz and energy works for me.”
Focus and going with the flow are Covington trademarks. These characteristics have come in handy during his 36 years with the Postal Service, where he’s affectionately become known as “Stan the Mailman.”
Covington’s colleagues describe him as “dedicated and reliable,” said Lucien Chalfen, public information director for the court system. He added that Covington is a “familiar and avuncular presence to the public and the courts — the best of what public service is meant to represent.”
While nearly four decades with the U.S. Postal Service has provided a steady routine and income, it doesn’t necessarily feed one’s creative soul. Art is a means of self-expression for Covington, who grew up with four sisters and has two sons.
Covington’s self-taught artistic pursuits have evolved over time. He was initially inspired by his older sister, Lillian, and encouraged by his mother, both of whom died in 1997.
“That was devastating,” he said. Eventually, grief gave way to a deeper exploration of art and expansion into design.
“My interest in art and drawing came first,” said Covington, who counts Norman Rockwell as one of his favorite painters. “There’s a cartoonish element to my drawing,” he said. His artwork has been exhibited as part of Black History Month celebrations on Long Island.
Covington’s favorite designers range from trendy to luxurious and include Marc Jacobs and Balmain. Unlike contestants whipping up gowns and other garments on “Project Runway” — a TV reality show he gave up on because “the critiques got too picky” — Covington doesn’t sew. “It looks too tedious,” he said.
He relies instead on his artistic skills. He sketches his garments in pencil, occasionally adding color with paint, and delivers drawings to Moussa Sow, a Brooklyn tailor who brings them to life stitch by stitch.
“I sketch things out with every detail, so he knows exactly what to do,” said Covington. “He’s able to capture clothes from what I draw.” Covington seldom uses color at this stage because tones change when he chooses fabrics.
Covington and Sow have worked together for about seven years, a collaboration that began with small jobs and grew over time. “I was impressed,” said the designer. “We’ve stayed together.”
While Covington shops for fabric, trims, buttons and zippers on his own, there’s an ongoing back-and-forth between the two during the making of garments.
“He sews them up as close to the sketch as possible,” said Covington. Depending on how elaborate the designs are, each piece can take from two to three weeks to complete. During that time, Covington added, “each week I am meeting with him.”
Before the show at Lavan 541, they fiddled with uncooperative zippers, tweaked ill-
fitting pieces and worked in tandem like a fine-tuned machine. “Everything is under control,” Sow told Newsday.
“The models love what they’re wearing,” said Covington. That included Amaya Johnson, a 15-year-old from Detroit who was assigned to the green shorts and halter top after they failed to fit another model. “I like the sparkles,” Johnson said. “It’s a fun look.”
Covington has shown his collections before at New York Fashion Week. Each time he parades a collection down a catwalk he learns something new. “I kind of have an idea of what works,” he said, adding that his latest show reminded him of the value of patience and listening to an audience.
The pieces that drew the most attention, he said, will help shape his designs down the line. “I’m ready to build on that and make others with similar styles.”
“My clothes are not on racks in major stores,” he continued. “I have designed sketches for people, and they’ve taken it from there.”
Keisha France, a postal clerk in her 40s who lives in Elmont and used to work in the same office as Covington, is the proud owner of a dress based on a Covington design. It’s an iridescent shade of purple with a bare back and hood; she commissioned it for a birthday party a few years ago.
“I let Stanley use his imagination,” she said. “It’s such a unique piece. It looks like two pieces, but it’s really one. You can dress it up or dress it down. I’ve worn it at least two times since the party.” France has a birthday coming up and is considering another Covington creation — this time in red. She said she’s leaving the other details of the look up to him.
Melissa Covington, the designer’s niece who lives in Brooklyn and works in finance, has several outfits by her uncle that she treasures because they’re as unique as they are figure-flattering.
“They were all for special events,” she said, “and very detailed and expressive.” The same is true of her uncle. “He’s been doing art for as long as I’ve known him to this day, and he’s always been very stylish.”
Like other shows, his 2022 fashion parade was a family affair. It was dedicated to his sister Ruth, who died in June. A peach-toned dress with a sassy midriff that was the last look to come down the runway was a nod to her — even though, he said, she might not have worn it.
Covington’s description of the garment, which was complemented by a fancy fascinator: “Sequins, stretchy, sexy and a little conservative all in one.”
COST AND ITS PAYOFF
Runway shows don’t come for free. “I pay for this out of my own pocket,” said Covington. Between the entrance fee, fabric, trims and materials, sewing and construction costs and other incidentals, he estimated the cost of the show at around $7,500.
“That’s in the ballpark,” he said. What makes it worth it? “I love doing it.”
From the cheers of approval that went up at the close of the presentation, the feeling was mutual. Covington, who’d changed into a dapper plaid suit, strutted the runway sandwiched between two models. He beamed with each footstep.
He took stock after the show. “That went well,” he said. Like Stan the Mailman, the IMOYA designer delivered.