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#StyleTalk Series... Being a Black, Fashion Professional

Within each work place, there is going to be some inherent drama, or ups and downs.

For the fashion industry, there's been a huge microscope placed on the lack of Black models being used for runway, editorial and/or campaign assignments, but while those are major concerns, there's been no widespread discussion about the virtual non-existence of Blacks working behind-the-scenes or on the front line!!

STYLE 101 talked to four of the Maryland area's best talent, to find out their thoughts on some of the unspoken issues facing Black, fashion professionals...

1) What is your background and/or field of profession?

ARIANNÉ BROOKÉ STOKES
Make-up artistry/Beauty Advisor

ARTHUR HAWKINS
I guess it really depends on how far back you want to go… In the late 70’s (as a high school student), I was really into photography; in the 80’s, I parlayed that love of photography into video (as it was really heating up), and became a cameraman for local TV in Baltimore, Philly and New York. In the 90’s, I was in broadcast sales and rose to the rank of General Sales Manager, and stayed in sales -in one form or another- until July of 2011.

DESIREÉ STARNES
Fashion Stylist.

LESTER BAILEY, JR.
My profession is [working as] a wardrobe stylist and make-up artist.

2) On a local level, how would you evaluate working as a fashion professional? Are the opportunities the same locally, as they are nationally/internationally?
ARIANNÉ
Business has been good. Locally, business is doing well; my name is getting out there, especially with FAM (Fashion at Morgan). Lately, I’ve been getting business for the DMV area, which is amazing! There is so much talent, here, in Baltimore… so, for people to call me and want to work with me… it’s a beautiful feeling.

ARTHUR
Locally, everyone is really trying to get noticed, and [Baltimore] is considered a small market, as it’s the number 24th or 25th television market and 21st or 22nd radio market (in the country). The opportunities are available, however, you cannot stop here. In order to get the larger and more fruitful shots, you have to impress those in the larger markets, with what you can do here. Nationally, there are a lot of great photographers, as there are here, locally… but, again, out there in the markets where Fashion is decided (i.e. what the hot colors will be for spring/wedge or stiletto/with or without platform/animal print or pattern/off-or-on the shoulder/long flowing or short and snug/etc.), is where any good fashion/editorial photographer wants to be.

DESIREÉ
On a local level, I would evaluate [it] as a lot of hard work that takes patience and endurance, but persistence pays off. The opportunities can be the same (nationally/internationally), but in the world of fashion, it can get a little tricky, because, although you are judged on your talent, the nature-of-the-beast is all who you know, sometimes.

LESTER
As a fashion professional, I feel as if the opportunities are available locally, if you want to get a feel for the industry; there are a lot of people working to get to the same place. When you have like minds, it’s best to work on small projects in order to get the skills needed before gaining further knowledge when pursuing opportunities nationally/internationally. It’s always a good thing to create a portfolio and then travel to major cities that host events, to present your work and put your skills to the test.


3) As a Black, fashion professional, what are some of the challenges that you have faced (if any)?

ARIANNÉ
Recently, I [have been] working as a Beauty Advisor for a well known, luxury cosmetic and skincare line. Most of the company’s clientele are middle-aged, white women, so it has been very difficult to introduce myself to [them]; some have been receptive, but others, not so much.

ARTHUR
Take a look at the Oscars; better yet, look at the behind-the-scenes of most of the Hollywood films -on any DVD- and tell me what you see? I face the same challenges I’ve faced when I started in broadcasting, over 25 years ago; there are not very many African-Americans running camera/lighting/gripping/etc. on the major sets. For some reason, it’s the same in production, as well as photography. Mathew Jordan Smith is one of my favorite photographers and he has made a big name for himself, of course, his work is outstanding and I’d love to chat with him one day, but, as you see him, there are so many others that you will never see… why is that?

DESIREÉ
As a Black, fashion professional (in the year 2012), I have not faced many -if any- challenges, with regard to the color of my skin; it’s more so networking and being in the right-place-at-the-right-time, which I am not always where I should be when trying to get my name out there (hopefully this interview will help)!

LESTER
As a Black, fashion professional... I would have to say that I don’t have many challenges. There have been times when I’ve walked into an establishment and upon introducing myself as a wardrobe stylist/make-up artist, I’ve gotten responses like, “Oh... I would’ve never thought YOU were a stylist,” as they look at me from head-to-toe, [admiring] my full-figure (lol)! I just smile, hand over a business card, and I’ll respond, “You don’t see the resemblance??? André Leon Talley is my Dad!!!” (LOL)!


4) Do you think it’s harder for Black, fashion professionals and models to find work in the national/international fashion industry? Or do you find the Black fashion dilemma to be over-exaggerated?

ARIANNÉ
As I [have] said before, there is so much talent within our generation, I think now -more than ever- is our time to get things done. If it is difficult, it’s probably because there are so many gifted, beautiful, black people.

ARTHUR
Take a look at [my] aforementioned answer… No, I don’t think it’s over-exaggerated, I think it’s very relevant. This goes along with the prevailing thoughts on beauty, there will be a select few ‘of color’ that will make it, but (as it has been in the public eye), it is not the rule.

DESIREÉ
Well, I think it is hard for unknown, fashion professional[s] and models to find work nationally/internationally (Black or not). I do want to acknowledge that it was not always easy for Black, fashion professional’s -in the past- to find work, and because of their struggles and hardships, [they] have life lessons to remember and take with them, on every job.

LESTER
No, I don’t think it’s harder for Black, fashion professionals and models to find work in the national/international fashion industry, nor do I find it to be over exaggerated. I do believe that it can be a cutthroat industry; you have to remain persistent to yourself and growing in this industry, or other professionals will find your weakness, use it against you and discourage you from wanting to continue your growth.


5) Do you feel that the adversities against Black models are the same for male models, as well as female models?

ARIANNÉ
[no response]

ARTHUR
I feel that each will have their own, separate situations, challenges and concerns.

DESIREÉ
The adversities against Black models either male or female are extremely competitive and both -equally- have to work hard to achieve success.

LESTER
Yes, at times, because every agency wants something different and that makes it harder for some models than others. But, again, if models are persistent with their career, they can make things happen.


6) Overall, what are some changes that you think should take place, in order for the fashion industry to become more diverse?

ARIANNÉ
As a culture, we should be more supportive. We are observed more than any other race. If professionals see us encouraging one another, that’s an open door for opportunity right there. Black people bring diversity [with them] wherever they go; that’s the special quality we have that makes us stand apart from the rest.

ARTHUR
You know, it’s interesting you should ask that; I was [recently] having this conversation with someone. However, it was more about photography, video and production… but again, it does apply here, as well. The fashion people (those in charge of what the public digests and calls fashion), really need to be as open minded as they think they are; so what, if a young lady is not a perfect-size-0, ok, she’s a 4 or a 6, or maybe even an 8, wouldn’t that be more in-line with what the average consumer would be? And for that matter, her hair is braided, short or she’s bald; her skin tone is coal black, pale white, or maybe even green… He [the average consumer] is not 6 ft. tall; he may be a little stocky, may not be a perfect [suit size] 40 or 42 long, he might be a 46 long… I could go on and on… Get the idea? The world is full of so many shades, shapes and sizes, I’m waiting for a designer to celebrate all of these great differences that God has put on the planet, and when that designer shows [up] on the scene, I want to be right there to photograph that new line.

DESIREÉ
Changes that could take place in the fashion industry, to become more diverse, [would be] opening up more internships for young models and/or fashion-inspired individuals with fashion dreams; this could help with networking and more collaborations amongst young and old, and/or bringing together different minds.

LESTER
I think established moguls should visit more schools that offer fashion programs and recruit students that have a true interest in the industry.


7) Where do you see your career going in the next, five years?

ARIANNÉ
So much in store... I’m just praying that PrissyVixen, Inc., will be a success!

ARTHUR
I can’t answer that. I live day by day, and take the opportunities offered me. If I had to say where I’d like to be, it would be international, photographing the best of the best and working with the big magazines; shooting product, beauty, fashion and of course, sports, as well as personal projects that would involve landscapes (urban and rural). All of that would, of course, be to earn a good living so that I might help people, through my photography.

DESIREÉ
Hopefully [crossing fingers with a smile] doing something/anything in fashion -I enjoy- comfortable and happy.

LESTER
In the next five years, I see myself owning my own fashion house that offers full-service to everyday and celebrity clients; it would consist of a clothing store, hair studio, make-up artistry, photography and customized clothing from designers. I don’t think this is something that has ever been done, so I want to be the first.

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