Cincinnati native David Meister says he’s always had an unconventional approach to life. From an early age, he was drawn to fashion and creativity, which eventually compelled him to earn a fashion design degree from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP). Now 25 years into his successful career as a Los Angeles–based celebrity designer and TV personality, Meister’s work has been donned by celebrities like Sophia Bush, Queen Latifah, Tina Fey, and others on the red carpet. Despite his success, he hasn’t forgotten his Queen City roots and strives to use his experiences to give back to the community and its aspiring designers. We caught up with him to chat about his career path and how his time in Cincinnati helped prepare him for success.
When did you become interested in design?
When I was 7 or 8, Sonny [Bono] and Cher had their mid-summer replacement show “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour,” and I was obsessed. No one had seen anyone like Cher before. Cher’s wardrobe was made by Bob Mackie, and that’s the first time I realized, Oh, somebody does that for a living.
What inspired you to pursue design as a career?
I was always really interested in fashion and clothing. Up until I was in high school, I was either going to be a brain surgeon or a fashion designer, and that’s a pretty weird mix, but I went with the fashion route.
Why did you pursue your fashion design degree at DAAP?
It was great because I worked for some amazing companies [through DAAP’s internship program]. Most of the internships that I did were in New York. I worked with Danskin [and] Ellen Tracy, which was a huge company. I was in New York five times and my first internship was at Garfinckel’s, which was a very high-end specialty store in Washington D.C. right around the corner from the White House. So, when I moved to New York after I graduated, I knew people there, so it made the whole transition much easier.
How did your time at DAAP help prepare you for success?
Because it was brutally tough. There were times I was in the classroom for at least 30 hours a week before even starting on projects and homework. It was very demanding, but that’s how it is when you move to New York and you’re starting out in fashion. It’s tough and it’s crazy hours, so DAAP definitely prepared [me].
How’d you end up in Los Angeles?
I moved to New York [after graduation] because I knew that’s where the heart and the hub of the U.S. fashion scene has always been. I was in New York for almost nine years. When I worked at Danskin, I used to go to L.A. a lot, and I loved L.A and the weather…. Then the label Laundry by Shelli Segal wanted to start an evening line, and I ended up moving [to L.A.] for that.
Do you ever get used to seeing your designs on the red carpet?
It’s always very cool. Especially with certain people, like Sharon Stone was one of the first people I designed for and I still love the way that she wears clothes and works the red carpet. The person that stands out most with me was Jane Fonda because I’m kind of obsessed with her. I think sometimes you get a little jaded, but there’s always those big moments still.
How do you support aspiring designers?
I mentor the students at Otis College of Art and Design (here in L.A.) almost all the time. I’m in the middle of doing a project with them right now. I love working with the students there; they’re so talented. I’m involved with the (nonprofit organization) Art of Elysium, which brings together different people like artists, musicians, creative people, and actors, and they go around to hospitals or organizations and work with kids. Dress For Success is [another] organization that I’ve been hugely involved with.
Why is it important for you to give back to the community?
I really enjoy it. There’s something great about helping people. Nobody can do anything without help. If anybody says they made it on their own, that’s BS. And so if I can help somebody, I’m more than happy to.
You’ve also done a number of TV appearances. Any memorable experiences that you’d like to share?
For E!, we were doing a segment and it was when Joan Rivers still did “Fashion Police,” and it was the day before the Oscars—the year before she died. We spent Sunday together probably for 10 hours, and she is the most amazing person in the world. So that to me, was just amazing, to see her and to get to be around her that long and work with her.
What advice would you share with aspiring designers?
I always like to say, Never take no for an answer. I also used to say, If you don’t laugh hysterically at least once every day, then it’s not worth it. To me, the business is serious, but I also think you have to remember to have fun.