- Associated Press - Saturday, August 16, 2014

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - Superstar Beyonce Knowles Carter last month posted to Instagram photos of herself wearing the African-print fashions of Reuben Reuel. Harper’s Bazaar hailed him as her favorite new designer.

Yet Reuel is not really new to the design world. He simply is new to the massive limelight and sudden interest that erupt from practically anything Beyonce does or says.

“I’m really about the normal woman,” said the 28-year-old Virginia Beach native formerly known as Reuben Riddick (his moniker is now just his first and middle name). “I was star struck, but it really didn’t hit me until I saw it on her.

“I feel great and even more confident.”

Before this rush of attention, Reuel quietly gained credibility for his DemestiksNewYork brand through his e-commerce store on Etsy.com.

Beyonce is not the first celebrity to wear his handmade apparel. Her Destiny’s Child group mate Michelle Williams and vocal powerhouses Jill Scott and Ledisi have the trump cards on Queen B.

But because of her global stardom and social media prowess, Beyonce is hands-down the most visible. Reuel’s garments came Beyonce’s way through a friend of his who is working as the singer’s stylist. The stylist was looking for items that Bey could wear offstage during her current “On the Run” tour. There were no guarantees that she would even try anything on.

That’s why Reuel was taken off guard when another friend alerted him to the Instagram posts. And as we know, news travels fast on social media. In the three weeks since, Reuel has been fielding one interview request after another from fashion publications. Her fans also have given their approval with more than 1.9 million “likes” of her posts.

The timing of this turning point, which he said has been seven years in the making, couldn’t be more surreal. It has been two years to the month since he debuted his handmade line of apparel. He’d started the business “just to be able to eat.”

By fall of that year, the pace of sales had taken off so much so that he realized he would need assistants. The demand was a relief for the 2004 First Colonial High graduate who’d done a few fashion shows while in college at Norfolk State.

The curriculum he was enrolled in didn’t meet his needs, so he headed to the city of dreams in 2007 to attend New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. Its cost soon proved too much; he was unable to finish the program.

Determined to keep growing, he hustled to gain real-world experience. He landed work making sample garments for established designers. But a disagreement over vision led to his being fired by an employer he doesn’t want to name. He even got evicted.

“Being in New York has not been the easiest transition,” Reuel said. “I was seeing my work being prosperous in other people’s hands. It was time to strike out on my own.”

There through it all has been Norfolk-based hairstylist, restaurateur and tastemaker Quincy Brown. Reuel and Brown became acquainted through church functions in the mid-2000s. Brown noticed Reuel’s interest in fashion and became his mentor. Brown sponsored Reuel’s first fashion show, held at Bradcon International salon in Norfolk. And it was Brown who allowed Reuel to stay at his New York apartment.

“He quickly found his own way and has always remained humble,” said Brown, owner of The Beauty Parlor and the newly opened The Parlor restaurant next door, both on Granby Street in Norfolk’s arts district at the north edge of downtown. “That makes him easy to talk to and has a lot to do with his success. He’s very grounded.”

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