Prom season may be over, but the viral moments continue. By now, social media users have seen the over-the-top prom send-off productions. One that went viral, a Cinderella-themed send-off comprised of a castle and custom ballgown, is still the talk of many media outlets. The designer of the gown is Dame Collins, owner of RM67. The Philadelphia native is a self-taught fashion designer who began designing in 2009.

He started raw, with an interest in the field and no direction or clue on how to get started. His grandmother bought him a used sewing machine, but no one knew how to work it. He trialed and errored with no YouTube tutorials or mentors to help, let alone a design degree. Before transitioning into the prom space, he curated a modeling troupe to show off his runway looks, primarily a black aesthetic. Fifteen years later, he’s had countless viral moments. Outside of proms, he’s a celebrity stylist, works with brides, and debuted a swimwear line at Miami Fashion Week.

After the Cinderella moment went viral, Blavity spoke with him about his journey to prom success. There’s a reason he’s considered the prom king.

Take us back to the beginning of your journey in the prom dress-making world. How did you get your start?

Dame Collins: I started out working with children. In Philly, there’s a such thing as “kiddie proms” for kids who attend daycare. Kids were perfect to practice on, especially with me being self-taught. I didn’t begin doing high school prom attire until about 2016. 

What were your goals when you began?

DC: I didn’t have one. Honestly, I just was in survival mode trying to figure it out. I was teaching myself. My friends basically lent me their children as the outlet to practice, and the kids were the perfect mannequins. At the time, I didn’t have an aesthetic nor a style. I didn’t even know what I was doing. I really was just figuring it out at that point. Everything grew a little later. I was still designing other pieces outside of prom dresses, but mainly all unconventional pieces, runway pieces, production pieces, and so forth. I wasn’t familiar with the normal evening gowns and ready-to-wear pieces. That came much later.

What was the transition to designing prom attire for high school students? 

DC: It was scary. Kids were the perfect promotion, and that’s how I got my first clients in high school. It was all by word of mouth. But I was scared of it, to be honest. I remember how much of a big deal prom was for me, and it’s a huge thing in Philly. And because I was still new, I had a lot of reservations. 

Prom is really the first major formal event for high schoolers. It’s the first time, outside of a regular school dance, where they may wear an intro suit or cute dress — or outside of their Sunday wear — that they get dressed up. It’s easier to play around with kids because it’s really like playing dress-up. But working with 16-, 17-year-olds is different. They have opinions. 

But the first high school prom clients reached out to me. I had already made a name for myself in the fashion industry and in Philly. People just assumed that I was capable of making gowns. That 2016 prom season, I had seven clients. It was the first time working with different materials, too, because high schoolers are more developed as far as their bodies, so I had to learn how to work with materials that worked for their body types. I worked with lace; I did one with sequin. Luckily, the girls loved their dresses. They worked with me. I remember the most I charged that year was $700. And from there, it just grew and grew.

Tell us about your process. Are you creating custom gowns from scratch, or do clients come in inspired by other things they’ve seen?

DC: We have consultations. Clients go online; they book their consultations, and they come in with their ideas and theirvisions. Some come with sketches. And we build from there. I’m a visual designer. I don’t sketch. I see shapes, and everything comes from a blank start for me. It has to be a blank start. If I can’t see the garment in black or in dark, muted tones, I can’t produce it in color. I know it’s a little strange, but if somebody comes in with a bright lime green gown with ostrich feathers and dripping diamonds, if I can’t see it in a darker tone, I let them know that’s not something I can probably execute. And I give them the option to go in a different direction.

Most of my clients, because they’ve already seen my work online or have been referred to me, just trust the process and give me full creative control. 

Do you require full creative control, or is it collaborative?

DC: We can definitely build together. That’s the beauty of going custom. We can build this around you, your personalstyle, your complexion, your body shape and so forth. And if something doesn’t work, as a designer, I have to let them know because it’s my work being shown. I am very honest with my clients. I tell them, ‘Babe, I don’t think that’s going towork for you. Let’s figure out another fabric or style.’ Or someone may bring me a dress that’s fit for someone with a different body type, and they don’t understand it won’t translate the same on them.  Some girls want gowns for bustier women or curvier women, but they have a more slender frame. These are conversations I have to have.

I work with them to figure out how this dress is going to look good on them. Some consultations are a half hour; others run three hours. It’s until we come up with the perfect design.

Tell us about your first viral experience.

DC: My first viral dress was this red mermaid gown with feathers on the bottom. That gown went so damn viral. The nextyear, I probably remade that dress about 18 times. That was in 2018, just two years after I started working with high school clients. My second gown that went viral was this transformation gown that I made. It went from a ball gown into a mermaid gown. And that one went crazy viral. Nobody requested that transformation gown later, but it definitely took my brand to a whole new level, and I was able to quit my day job because by that time, I’d started earning enough from just prom season to sustain me, plus whatever other custom designs I was doing outside of prom season. I’d worked in the mental health field for a decade at that point, but I was able to go full-time as a designer in 2018.

What does a typical prom season look like for you at this point? Initially, you had seven clients. I’m sure it’s much more work and inquiries now.


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A post shared by Uncle Dame (@rm67_)

DC: This year, I had over 500 inquiries. We were only supposed to do 50; 50 turned into 72. And this year is the first year I’ve ever designed for young men for prom season. I had 11 males. It was a lot. And behind the scenes, I had some majorissues with unreliable staff. There were so many hiccups, but we got through it. 

What does your staff look like?

DC: I have an attorney. I have two design assistants. I have one personal assistant. And then I have a shopper who shops for garments and things of that sort. I lost a lot of staff this prom season because they were so unreliable. But we’ve been able to keep things going and regroup.  

My one design assistant, Talia, it was just she and I at the 11th hour. The prom that went viral this year, the Cinderella ball gown where the mom spent $27,000 on the castle alone, that gown was done in 24 hours. That’s how tight the schedule was. We worked all night, and it came out beautifully. But it was a struggle. It paid off, though, especially since the outcome was so huge. 

You’ve worked on other large productions as well. There’s a lot of controversy about how much parents spend on these major prom productions. While it may be good for business, what’s your take on it, if you don’t mind sharing? 

DC: I wouldn’t do it for my kid. There’s life we have to live outside of this one evening. And while it’s special, I think it’s become absurd. My kid might get a nice rental car, and that’s it. I worked on one prom where a mom spent $100,000 on a setup; that was the Cinderella gown.


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A post shared by Uncle Dame (@rm67_)

The Cinderella gown, she paid more than a bride’s wedding gown I just did; her gown was $4,000. The Cinderella ball gown was more than that. That send-off has been featured everywhere, from Fox News to The Shade Room to Business Insider.

If you’re not living outside of your means, and you can afford it, and your kid is deserving, and all of the above — then go ahead; rock out. Do your thing. Is it a bit excessive? Absolutely. I think money can be spent differently. That’s college, that’s a car, that’s more everything.

Do you have conversations with your clients about excessive spending?

DC: Absolutely. I’m in the business of making money, but I feel like you block your blessings when you don’t try to talk them off the edge a little bit. I am always trying to bargain with the parents and negotiate with them so it can bring the final cost down. What they also don’t understand is that I am servicing just more than your son or daughter. I had 72 clients this year. Everyone can’t get a Cinderella ball gown, or feathers, or diamonds, or a prom gown that resembles a wedding gown. We don’t even have the staff for that. That takes away from the quality of everyone else’s final product. It’s a selfish mentality, and it’s unfair to every other client. I definitely have those conversations. Yes, everyone wants their kid to be the best-looking thing this prom season, but there are ways to do that without compromising my other clients.

Outside of prom season, you’ve also participated in Miami Fashion Week and have brides as clients. Tell us about your other work.

DC: I live between Philly and Miami. I live in Philly for the entire prom season. I did some proms in Miami, but it’s not as big of a production there. However I did move to Miami to challenge myself and see how and if I could expand my brand. In Miami, because of the weather, everyone is in swim gear. So, that’s why I began making swimwear. 

Miami has had its challenges, especially because the cost of living is much higher. But to stretch myself, and after feeling like I reached a ceiling in Philly, I needed to diversify my profile. That was the goal for me — relocating and trying to tap into some work that was foreign to me.

I call you the prom king. Do you feel that way about yourself?

DC: I’m going to wear that thing with honor. Five years ago, I was too insecure to accept that. But as a self-taught designer, right now, I’m on it. I’m wearing that crown with pride. 

Have you considered doing anything in the reality competition space to take your brand to the next level on a more national scale outside of your viral moments, such as Project Runway

DC: I’m actually very shy and prefer to play the background. I tried Project Runway, and only because they reached out to me. They reached out to me for Season 17. I met with them, and everything was cool. They called me back for a second interview. It was me and about 20 other designers, and it was OK. And then, I stopped communicating and never went through with it.

I am aware that I probably need to get out of my comfort zone and try something like that. Especially because though I love designing, what I am currently doing isn’t necessarily my design passion. So, to display the type of work I want to do, I’d have to try a different avenue. 

You’ve also done some celebrity styling. What celebs have you worked with?


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A post shared by Uncle Dame (@rm67_)

DC: Currently, I am Marsha Ambrosius’ personal designer. I was recently on tour with Keyshia Cole, and this is the second time I have worked with Keyshia. I’ve worked with Remy Ma, Nafessa Williams, who is from Philly also. I’ve worked with the City Girls.

Ultimately, what’s your goal for RM67?

DC: My dream is to style Vanna White from Wheel of Fortune. I am going to get my hands on her. Right now, where the brand is, I am content with it. Eventually, I want to stop prom season because of the chaos that’s attached to it. But in the meantime, I am going with the flow. I have reached many goals set and beyond, including having my own location and celebrity styling and being financially free to some degree. So I have to make some new goals. 

I still love the art. And although I’m not fully in love with the things that I’m doing, I’m still passionate and in love with the art itself. And I think, right now, that’s what I’m trying to work towards — to find an outlet that will allow me to do the styles of designs I desire.