SHINE ON US
Updated: Jan 25
At IRK, we support diversity, inclusion,and amplification of marginalized voices so we caught up with the team for our latest feature and cover, featuring all Black creatives including the designer, to talk about style, fashion, and racism in the industry.
At what point did you realize that this industry is what you wanted to do as a career?
SEAN: My first time developing pictures in a darkroom, I was entranced by the magic of an image rising from nothing on the photo paper. I’m fairly sure it was then.
PORTIA: When fashion styling started to feel like an addiction. I could not get enough, despite the grueling work, rude people, long hours, horrible pay, I still love the industry.
EZIE: A few pivotal moments stand out but one in particular was sometime in 2014-2015 when I would get home from a shift and despite having a grueling shift in the ED, all I wanted to do was sketch a design I had. Jennifer Lee said it best “Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your souls on fire.”
PASCALE: In 1993 I had replaced a “no show “makeup artist assistant on a film. I was merely powdering faces all day, but I discovered a whole new world going on. It is when I chose to become a makeup artist.
Hatter Corset, Tribal Red: Ezie @ezieny_official, Simone caped pants (A/W 2019 collection): Ezie @ezieny_official, Earrings: Dolce & Gabbana @dolcegabbana,
Shoes: Vince Camuto @vincecamuto
Is there anyone in your field who inspired your art/creativity?
SEAN: Seydou Keita and August Sander are of great inspiration to me.
PORTIA: The purveyor of style, and the epitome of cool Patti Wilson. Her sartorial expertise ranges from iconic, to whimsical, to glamorous to outrageous. She cultivates an entire production with her eclectic taste, where her editorial stories leave you visually satisfied. Yves Saint Laurent because he was a strong pioneer for models of color gracing his runways. Jean Paul Gaultier because of his all-inclusive runway shows, his avant-garde design (Madonna’s iconic cone bra) and his costume design for the movie Fifth Element.
EZIE: Always inspired by the ingenuity of Elsa Schiaparelli, Carolina Herrera, Emilia Wickstead and Alexander McQueen, rest his soul. June Ambrose is another woman I’ve admired for a while; I love her creative disposition and her expansive work in fashion is inspiring.
PASCALE: I love a lot of different people for different reasons, but I would say Tyen is probably the one whose work keeps on inspiring me the most, but so do Topolino, Peter Philips and of course the great Pat McGrath.
What’s your favorite photo shoot you’ve done and why?
SEAN: Shooting protests and other work surrounding efforts to effect social change and or justice are most important to me.
PORTIA: My first styling job for an editorial in Rendezvous de la Mode Magazine wedding edition. I was given creative freedom by the editor who allowed me to style these beautiful elegant gowns with elaborate avant-garde headpieces from a young emerging milliner. Everyone was a quite worried about my vision, but the story came out amazing.
EZIE: My favorite shoot to date would be the one for my capsule collection glamour shot for AW ’18 with an amazing cast which included Altorrin, Patricia Akello, Van Troung and shot by Oriana Leyendecker. It’s my favorite because it was almost an all-black cast and the collection was my perspective of what glamour is and by a black designer.
PASCALE: Well without any hesitation one of the first covers I ever worked on. It was for a Belgian magazine called Vif L'Express, with photographer Andrea Klarin in the late 90's. We flew to NYC for that!
Motif Cropped Jacket, Silver: Ezie @ezieny_official, Hatter Maxi pleated skirt, red: Ezie @ezieny_official, Beret: DON Paris @donparis, Boots: Moschino @moschino
What percentage of your jobs had an all-black cast/crew?
SEAN: Very few, however, once I did get to be on a crew that was compromised of all Black Women. Towards the end of the day, I was asked if I was being so quiet because I was the only boy on set. I laughed it off, but she wasn’t wrong. Hahaha.
PORTIA: It’s an extremely low percent working with an all-black creative team, but this shooting was a great experience because we were not just an all-black creative team, we were all from different ethnicities so there was a unique melting pot of creative ideas. It’s sad to know that in 2020 this is not a norm for many magazines, but I am grateful to IRK Magazine who had this vision which I hope many other publications follow.
EZIE: I’ve had an almost all black crew when shooting my look book twice. I love to see it, quite uplifting and empowering.
PASCALE: Not that much, but I have 2 friends Giannie Couji from Ubikwist and Keziah Makoundou from Afropolitan Magazine who are working hard to provide black people with platforms where to tell their own narrative and therefore, showing other facets of the story.
Vivienne sheer hooded dress, distressed gold (A/W 2019): Ezie @ezieny_official
What are the most difficult aspects of your industry?
SEAN: Nepotism, lack of social responsibility, vapidity, and racism are pervasive, however, it would seem that the current climate is making for a reckoning within the industry. I suppose that we’ll have to see if lasting change has been begotten.
PORTIA: A difficult aspect in the fashion industry is how a huge majority of individuals from that industry continue to use and view diversity as a trend.
EZIE: I will say the most difficult obstacle for an emerging designer will be finding and owning your creative voice in the industry and the community accepting it
PASCALE: The most difficult aspect to me is gaining deciders trust and enthusiasm getting those bookings that could change the game for me. I am working on it.
Simone Long Coat: Ezie @ezieny_official, Motif Crop Jacket: Ezie @ezieny_official, Ije high waist pants: Ezie @ezieny_official, Hat: Borsalino @borsalino_world, Eyewear: Stylist own, Shoe: Christian Louboutin @louboutinworld
What has been the biggest challenge of your career?
SEAN: It hasn’t happened yet.
PORTIA: One of my biggest challenges is being taken seriously, because coming from the modelling industry many assume models are just pretty faces who are uncreative, talentless, individuals who just like to party. I constantly have to prove them wrong.
EZIE: I’ll say one of my biggest challenges was venturing into an industry with no prior insider experience or connection besides attending shows at NYFW.
PASCALE: The biggest challenge was probably choosing to do this job and still cater to my family.
Vivienne sheer hooded dress, Rose gold (A/W 2019): Ezie @ezieny_official
Have you witnessed racism in your industry?
PORTIA: As a stylist just being the only minority on set speaks volumes. As a model I experienced racism on many occasions. While searching for an agency to represent me these were the salutations I received as I entered the fickle world of fashion, “black models do not work very well here" or “we already have one black model." At every open call, bookers tried to disparage my efforts to follow my dreams, reciting the aforementioned scripted responses. Even after finding an agency the color of my skin continued to take precedence over my portfolio. I would often be the token black model in a sea of white faces for most of my jobs. In Paris during a casting a casting director came up to me and asked who sent me here because she specifically told all the agencies she did not want to see any black models. In Rome during an Alta Moda casting, I overheard a designer telling my booker that she is not using tanned girls for her fashion show. I knew that as a black model I needed to work twice as hard as my white counterparts.
EZIE: The fashion industry hasn’t been inclusive for a very long time and though steps are actively being taken to change that, there’s still much to be done. An instance that stood out to me was calling a modeling agency to book a model and was told she was unavailable for a shoot despite asking for her availability and us being flexible as she was perfect for the concept we were shooting. I love working with black models and from the conversations I’ve had with a few, they’ve shared how hard it can be for them to book jobs.
PASCALE: Of course, I often tell this story that happened on one of the first gigs I got upon moving here. I got booked by photographer Jeffrey Apoien. So, the model, myself, the stylist and her assistant are all by the makeup station and the stylist which name I totally forgot was talking about a new foundation she had bought. As she was raving on and on about it the model asked her if she could see it and then this happened...the stylist said they were not making that foundation for black people. It took me a minute to comprehend what just happened until the model said she was not black, and she wasn't. She was from Madrid, with blond hair, green eyes and clearly Caucasian. At that point the stylist said: "oh you know, black, Hispanic, it's all the same" the model left the studio and went outside, I was so taken aback that I had not said a word. A few minutes passed and I went outside to see where the model was, she was in the lobby, talking to her parents in Spain. She apologized to me saying that she was not crying because the stylist called her black but because it was the first time ever something like this happened to her. And she was wondering if that was the reason why she was not working. I was very saddened for her and she was for me. We went back to the studio and kept it professional all day just making sure to not talk to that stylist at all. Jeffrey was never aware of what went on in that makeup room. Something like this would happen to me today, I would sure be vocal and bring the issue to the photographer and have him choose who to keep in the studio and of course bring the offender to court. But at that time, I was fresh off the boat and had no idea of what was going on in there! LOL. You know, I witnessed racism from black folks too ...Essence magazine had me come 3 times to show that I could do makeup on black people, I had to apply makeup to one of their receptionists or interns. I never got hired, but that was fine, probably better like that
Simone long Coat in black Motif: Ezie @ezieny_official, Ije Faux leather dress: Ezie @ezieny_official, Ije high waist pants: Ezie @ezieny_official, Gloves: Stylist own, Garrison Cap: Stylist Own, Boots: Moschino @moschino
Do you think that “Blackness” goes in and out of fashion?
SEAN: No, not in any way that is real, but I believe that the power structures in place in the industry do treat Blackness in that way. Regarding Blackness as an aesthetic choice as opposed to a representative normality dehumanizes and commodifies Black people (and some other POC groups) in a manner beyond the industry’s normal deleterious standards.
PORTIA: Blackness never goes out of fashion, many individuals in the fashion industry as a whole appropriate and fetishize the unique qualities that outline blackness.