Selangie Arlene, designer and CEO of SEL, is letting her work speak for itself.

By Brenda Barrientos
October 07, 2019 05:31 PM

Selangie Arlene Henriquez has many titles - entrepreneur, fashion designer, influencer, tastemaker - but the most important one is CEO. The 23-year-old's immense ambition to build her brand, SEL, is what got her to Paris, where she presented her new collection during Fashion Week. "To know how much I've evolved, it makes me want to cry," she tells People CHICA backstage. "I went from working out of my apartment and my mom's house to getting my own apartment, to getting my own showroom, to having a team come out here with me in Paris, presenting this collection. I'm proud of myself."

Henriquez, an NYC native of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, always knew fashion was in her future, even as a little girl. "My grandma was definitely the first one who introduced me to heels," she says. "I'd always wear bustiers from my grandma's drawer. It would frustrate my dad, but growing up, they knew this is who I was." She got her start designing custom prom dresses out of her mother's house after high school, but decided to move on because the stress wasn't worth the payoff. "I feel like when you do custom work, people look at you as a seamstress," she explains. "That's not what I wanted to do. I wanted to put my original artwork out - my designs and my creativity."

She started SEL after giving up the prom dress hustle, and things were progressing well until about two years ago, when she struggled to find a manufacturer able to produce items in smaller quantities; some wanted her to order 10,000 units of just one size. She was ready to give up design completely until a well-known stylist reached out to ask for some of her pieces. "I just, like, woke myself up," she recalls. "I was like, ‘What am I doing? This has been my dream. I cannot stop here.'"

She didn't, and last year, it all paid off. She released her take on the classic string bikini, called a "tinikini" for its physics-defying size; they've since been spotted on celebrities like Saweetie and Winnie Harlow, and now regularly sell out when she restocks. "People write me that they're reselling for $250 and up," she marvels. "I sold them for $80 to $125!" Like many other designers, she's had to deal with fast-fashion copies of her pieces showing up online, but she knows her customers will hold out for the real thing. "They're being sold for less, but people don't want the ones that are cheaper," she says. "They want the original and they're willing to buy it resold. That makes me feel so amazing, and I'm very proud of myself when it comes to that."

Her latest collection, titled "Exposé," takes its name from the fact that each piece is designed to expose at least one part of a woman's body. "Exposé is about being able to display parts of a woman's body in a provocative yet elegant way," Henriquez says. "You can show [your] lower back and it can be sexy, but it can also be very elegant. It's all art. I believe all these pieces are just like pieces of art."

She held the aforementioned Exposé presentation in partnership with Higher Dining on September 28 in Paris. True to the SEL brand, it wasn't a typical fashion presentation. Held only a couple of blocks away from the iconic Champs-Élysées, a mix of SEL customers who were able to purchase VIP tickets and others who'd gotten free general admission enjoyed hors d'oeuvres, champagne and CBD-infused cocktails as the presentation happened. This was her first time showing in Paris; asked why she chose to show in the City of Love, she responded, "Why not?" "The thought of Paris was always in my head, and when Higher Dining came to me with the idea of having a show in Paris along with a brunch … I was like, ‘I'm so in for that,'" she continues. "I wanted to make it an experience."

Henriquez's business is growing, to be sure, but she knows that being a Latina in the infamously white world of fashion has forced her to work that much harder. "It's so insane to me that there really aren't many Latina women in this industry," she says. "A lot of people know about me, but industry-wise, I feel like I've been here for so long that sometimes I do feel excluded. I don't want to be known as a social media brand, and I've been trying to break that barrier for myself. I don't want to be known as an Instagram boutique. This is high fashion to me." She wants her clothes to be for everyone, and works hard to make sure her models reflect that. "For the past couple of collections, I've been trying to book a lot of black and Latina women," she explains. "I'm not always looking for an exact look. The standard of a model is not my standard. I know what fits my collection. It's for all women - any woman that wants to feel beautiful, look beautiful." She's also heard her customers' demands for more size inclusivity, and confirms that her next collection will feature a larger range of size options.

Her best advice for aspiring designers who don't have a platform or resources yet? Invest in yourself, with regard to both time and money. "It starts somewhere, even if it's you starting to do your own photo shoots," she says. "If you are designing pieces, go pick a couple of friends, find some models, do some shoots. If something goes wrong, don't stop. Keep going because there's so much room… I probably had a million things go wrong, and I haven't stopped. When you know you have the talent and creativity, keep going. It doesn't matter what anybody tells you. Want more for yourself. If you have this dream, try to achieve it no matter what."

She's already working on her next move, and promises that there is much more we can expect from her. "I'm already working on another baby, so that's coming soon," she says. "It's another sister brand to SEL - gowns, ready-to-wear, contemporary. I'm ready to do it all."

You can shop her latest collection, Exposé, at Sel Doval's website.

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