Old Colony Memorial
Fashion Designer Mya Royal Opens Atelier on Plymouth’s Waterfront
By Emily Clark
The grandmothers started it, really. They had no idea they were collaborating on Mya Royal’s career.
Royal was 15 and had just buttoned the white shirt in the dressing room. She raised her eyebrows in a “what do you think?” at her grandmother, who eyed her with a smile and unbuttoned the bottom buttons, tied the two tails in a knot above her midriff and popped the collar.
“So adorable,” her grandmother explained. “Just like Sophia Loren. A little more sexy.”
It was a shirt, a gesture, a remark Royal would never forget.
The sewing machine materialized out of the blue a few years earlier.
“The first sewing machine I ever had I pulled out of a dead woman’s trailer,” Royal says, smiling.
It nestled in its box, never having been used, and was featured among what remained of her friend’s grandmother’s possessions. Royal was 10 years old. Her best friend from elementary school was being raised by an aunt and uncle, who were hoarders in Plympton – Volkswagen Beetles loaded for bear with firewood in the front yard. Royal witnessed her friend suffer the indignities that attended neglect; she rarely bathed, because the water was freezing, had greasy hair and wore the same clothes day after day because her poverty-stricken relatives weren’t paying her a whole lot of attention. Royal had gone with her to her grandmother’s trailer to help the family clean it out after the woman had died. The sewing machine was new. Did Royal want it?
They didn’t know it was a dumb question. They didn’t know Mya Royal may have been only 10 but was already a budding designer, determined to help people feel fabulous in their clothes, to communicate with what they were wearing – that she would wind up completing her master’s degree in fashion design at the Accademia Italiana in Florence, Italy, after completing the honor’s program in art at UMASS-Boston. They didn’t know Mya Royal would open her own atelier in Florence, designing and clothing Italians. They didn’t know she would one day receive awards from the Smithsonian, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Eoliani nel Mondo and others before moving back to Massachusetts and opening a second atelier in America’s Hometown.
For Royal, those early years with that sewing machine were instrumental.
“I used to sit on my bedroom floor sewing,” she says.
Today, she is ensconced at One Park Place in downtown Plymouth, a sewing machine on a long table in a room with windows announcing the blue of the ocean and sky of Plymouth Harbor. A walk up the outside staircase and the customer enters a world of fabric, mannequins, design. The gorgeous wedding gowns and dresses on display broadcast unique style – Mya Royal’s signature on every one of them. Tightly meshed sequins in the train of a gown spill like champagne bubbles, while exquisite dresses in bone-colors, creams and whites are somehow showy, yet subtle and elegant. A dress with mermaid lines glints with gold brocade and beckons to the past and future in one gorgeous swath of fabric.
Royal’s studio is wide open. A waft of subtle perfume, the relaxing hum of music, the sunlight and Royal’s Yorky-mix dog create a mood that is relaxed, creative and warm.
This is where it all happens. Customers arrive with an idea, sometimes with a piece of clothing that illustrates the idea, sometimes with a sketch. Royal listens, asks questions and then goes to work bringing the piece to life. Her studio is an atelier, or artist’s workshop, where Royal produces handmade suits and gowns, expertly crafted leather goods like sandals and handbags and jackets. She also crafts artisan items for the home like hand-poured aromatherapy candles, hand-glazed ceramics, and more.
You get the sense she wanted to make clothes for that best friend back in the day – the neglected one. You get the sense Mya Royal wants to transform everyone’s day into joy with the right dress, suit, jacket for the occasion.
“You don’t have to be told what to wear or to be in style,” she says. “It should be something that you want. It should speak to your personality.”
The 50-year-old gentleman has commissioned three-piece suits – his own style, his own ideas. He’s tired of dressing like everyone else. Royal is excited about the project, which should take about 20 to 40 hours per suit. Soon-to-be-brides arrive, explaining their dream dresses, and Royal listens, draws, sketches, fingers fabrics, colors, finding the right ones for the dream, carefully culling the picture from the customer’s head.
Sometimes she creates a cotton mock-up of the dress.
She snaps up deals on the cloth and orders fabrics from Tuscany. It’s fun. It’s hard work. The reward is seeing it come to life. The customer arrives, gasps, tries it on, spins. Royal takes a picture.
Born in Dorchester, Royal grew up in Plympton. Three generations ago, her family emigrated from the Aeolian Islands of Italy – which won her dual citizenship. She speaks fluent Italian and teaches it. Design runs in the family. A trained artist, Royal’s mother is a graphic designer who studied in Florence and Rome.
Royal spent years running her own atelier in Florence before returning home several years ago to spend more time with her family. How she works such a demanding schedule as a single mom with 4-year-old twin boys is something of a mystery. Maybe it’s Royal’s relaxed demeanor, her easy laughter, her ability to remain rooted in the present. There is no job too big for this designer, who is excited about the future, launching new design lines and looking forward to this next chapter of her life.
Royal has worked with companies such as Versace, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Kiki de Montparnasse. She is a member of the Plymouth Chamber of Commerce, the Plympton Historical Society, the Boston Business Women, and the Network of Sicilian Emigration Museums.
She’s poised to create your dream dress, your suit, your jacket.
“I really feel clothing is a great way to express yourself without words,” she says. “I’m like a unicorn here. No one does this here.”
For more information and to view a selection of online items for sale visit myaroyal.com. Her hours at 9 to 5 Monday through Friday, weekends by appointment. Call 1-ROYAL-70007.