Seizing on a talent evident from the first time his auntie gave him thread and needle to patch a hole in his pants, Calvin ‘Moonie’ Haye dedicated himself to becoming a tailor at an early age. While designer Earl ‘Biggy’ Turner was busy rolling out a trailer-load of linen for Shabba, and Carlene ‘Dancehall Queen’ Smith was setting the standard for women with her dancehall Leeloo style, a young Moonie was patiently learning the trade in his native Portmore. Already a neighborhood star when he went uptown to work for legendary dance and fashion pioneers Ouch Crew as a teenager, Moonie quickly perceived the situation as an opportunity to transition from executing other people’s ideas as an around-the-way tailor to cultivating his own vision as a dancehall fashion designer. The foresight paid off. It wasn’t long before Moonie scored his big break with a commission from General B at the height of the Monster Shack Crew’s short-lived fame. He hit the ground running.
Working with every big-name artist in the industry since, Moonie’s signature craftsmanship has been a stay-fresh guarantee in the always-evolving world of dancehall fashion. Despite Bounty Killa’s lament on “Can’t Believe My Eyes” (1999), today it’s all about fitted clothes. This is Moonie’s specialty. The expertly tailored suit he made from scratch over the course of one day for Gaza boss Vybz Kartel’s Buzzz Magazine cover story last year serves as a perfect example of his incredible efficiency and impeccable attention to detail. “We’re talking about some real suit. Everything mi build. From the tie, to the pants, shirt, everything.”
In fact, that specific suit was supposed to provide the momentum for Moonie’s debut on the international scene, but a joint murder charge (alongside Kartel and four others) levied by the Crown in late 2011 in relation to the killing of Clive ‘Lizard’ Williams abruptly halted it all. The basis of the charge is a recorded phone conversation that allegedly features him participating in the planning of the crime. However, the evidence is shaky at best and it appears as if he is simply caught in the middle of a wide net cast by authorities intent on making an example of Kartel. Tellingly, of the six accused, Moonie is currently the only person granted bail. As the official designer and one-time booking agent for the embattled Gaza camp, his career is necessarily in flux, but as a veteran with a deep history and wide range, the prospects for a seamless recovery are high.
Out of prison since January, Moonie is positive that he will be fully exonerated and continues to push ahead, undeterred. At Reggae Sumfest earlier this year he was named Best Designer for the festival with four of his creations gracing the stage, including the “twin stripe” three-piece suit that earned Best Dressed honors for Specialist. Next up is Sting, the annual Boxing Day concert billed as “The Greatest One-Night Reggae Show on Earth,” where performances approach the vaudevillian and fashion becomes pageantry. With many of his previous clients in the lineup and current Gaza torchbearer Tommy Lee headlining, we can be sure that Moonie’s designs will feature prominently.
We recently caught up with him in a rare moment of down time at his studio’s new location on Balmoral Avenue near Half Way Tree in Kingston. In between meandering conversation he gave us a tour of the space.
Sevens Clash: Where did you learn to sew?
Moonie: I grew up in Portmore, but I wasn’t really inna di fashion ting. I was like an inner city tailor. Most yute don’t want to learn the trade, but me did insist say mi want to do something. Mi bredren teach me it and from there everybody start talk bout me in the neighborhood an a say, “Boy, da yute ya can sew.” People ever a motivate mi, you know? Just like how when a artist buss, people inna him community start embrace him, until when him go out on the main street now, people start look up to him. So it all start in yuh neighborhood.
SC: So what was the link into the fashion industry?
M: You ever heard of the Ouch Crew? They was icon in dancehall. They set the trend. All these style that wearing now, these girls wear it first. All the Mohawk hairstyle? These girls invent it. Eyelash? These girls. These are the girls that introduced us to dancehall. When I was 17 I was working with them, back in the nineties. So I’m a designer from way back when. And from dem time de mi a get interview with ER [local popular culture TV show Entertainment Report]. Me a di youngest designer ever get a interview on ER. So mi inna di fashion industry long time, but most people they maybe believe we just come because mi nuh really do fashion show.
SC: What do you have against fashion shows?
M: Mi nuh really against fashion show, mi against the people dem who do fashion show. They exploit designers. If a fashion show is not gonna make me benefit I’m not doing it. I have enough client already. I’ll bring in investors and I’ll have my own fashion show. Moon walk, no cat walk.
SC: Any designers out there you checking for?
M: You have designers that mi big up like Biggy. Biggy a original designer from Shabba days. You know we kinda grow up and hear bout Biggy as a famous person. So nuff love go to Biggy. But you know right now mi a tek it to a different level. My ting global. Mi kind of love Italian fashion. Mi like Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Roberto Cavalli, but my ideal fashion is Armani. Mi love the cut. Mi never go to an Italian school fi do the Armani cut, but mi know mi have the Italian cut. So now mi just deal with my thing, more Caribbean fashion, keep it Jamaican, but if a man come and say him want Italian suit, him can get the Italian cut in Jamaica.
SC: You have a favorite piece that you’ve done over the years?
M: Boy, the amount of design mi mek mi not even have no favorite piece. A whole heap a artist mi sew for. Mi sew for every big artist that you can think of. Even Reggae Sumfest, a my artist that mi sew for get best dressed [Specialist] and a me get Best Designer. Mi have four outfit [Khago, Zamunda, Specialist and embellishments on Tommy Lee’s leather trench coat] that night and mi can’t even tell you which one a mi favorite.
SC: Hardest fabric to work with?
M: Silk plaid.
SC: We heard you’ve recently been making beats…
M: A just fashion inna mi from long time, but since hanging out with all these entertainers mi kinda know about the music. Mi have a riddim out now called Buss Off. It already voice up, Vybz Kartel is on it, Bugle, Zamunda, a lot of big entertainer de pon it. Even Tommy [Lee] have some a mi riddim and right now Tommy gonna give me a number one.