The glitz and glamour of leisure is nothing with out the individuals who gown at the moment’s largest stars. For “Who’s Behind the Clothes,” HuffPost spotlights stylists and costume designers who’ve delivered a few of our favourite celebrities’ or characters’ most memorable appears. Learn my interview with Quinta Brunson’s stylist Bryon Javar.
Few individuals can boast that the primary studio mission they costume-designed for was a groundbreaking HBO collection. Ayanna James Kimani, a stylist turned costume designer, knew the heights that “Insecure” would attain lengthy earlier than mainstream America caught on.
With over a decade within the recreation, she had been working with Issa Rae on varied YouTube collection for years previous to “Insecure’s” big-screen debut.
“I’d already had a relationship together with her,” Kimani recalled. “And when ‘Insecure’ got here alongside and obtained the pilot order, she was like, ‘Do you need to do it?’ I used to be like, after all.”
Since then, Kimani has designed for the MTV Film & TV Awards, “All American: Homecoming,” and Ava Duvernay’s “Queen Sugar.”
However earlier than that, she was a child with a penchant for garments and a love for the movie “Malcolm X,” designed by “Black Panther” costume legend Ruth E. Carter.
Born in Spanish City, Jamaica, and raised all around the East Coast, Kimani is a self-taught stylist turned costume designer. She attended Florida A&M College in 2003, pursuing a biochemistry diploma — and rapidly realized she “wasn’t nice at it.” However her ardour shone by way of her extracurricular actions on campus, notably a modeling troupe referred to as FACES.
“That was a really impactful time. We have been reducing up T-shirts, stitching, making hoodies and clothes collectively,” she stated. “It was very chop store, but it surely gave me a possibility to have enjoyable, to do one thing that I loved, to seek out out years later that that’s really one thing that I can have a profession at.”
When her dad and mom moved to LA, Kimani adopted swimsuit, utilizing the chance as a launchpad for her artistic journey. After touchdown her first gig from Twitter, the remaining is historical past.
For “Who’s Behind the Garments,” Kimani talked to HuffPost about what designing for modern Black sitcoms entails, the significance of amplifying Black designers in her work and extra.
“Insecure” has solidified itself within the legacy of Black sitcom style, due to you and [costume designer] Shiona Turini. What does it imply to be on this canon of Black costume designers reminiscent of Yolanda Braddy, behind “Moesha,” or the legend, Ceci, who labored on “A Completely different World” and “Dwelling Single?”
It signifies that we’ve extra management over the tales that we’re telling and that there are extra of us getting the chance to inform our tales on varied mainstream platforms. From a macro perspective, seeing which means we’re right here, proper right here in numbers. There are Black costume designers on the market, there are Black manufacturers and companies, each excessive and low. We simply must search for it, or we simply must make an effort to seek out it. My default is Blackness.
I grew up in a Caribbean house and I’m Jamaican, however I’ve been touring forwards and backwards to Africa since I used to be 10. I went to a traditionally Black college, and I really feel like I’ve been capable of see the completely different aspects and the multifacetedness of Black individuals. With the whole lot that I do, significantly in the case of Black design, I attempt to go to Black designers or determine a solution to convey a message about Black tradition.
From costume designing on collection reminiscent of “Queen Sugar” and “Insecure” and curating photographs which are monumental to the tradition, what does that impression imply to you?
I believe I don’t even actually take time to consider what it means. I simply do the work, and I do it from the center. Any mission that I’ve achieved, whether or not or not it’s a Black-centered mission or one thing a bit bit extra various, I’ve all the time labored exhausting at telling the story and portraying the characters authentically.
I’d say “Insecure” is certainly a groundbreaking present. Along with it being present, watching Issa come up from YouTube, actually cement her place in Hollywood as a artistic, and in the way in which that she did it and continues to do it, I believe for me it’s extra of the impression that I watched somebody and had the chance to be alongside somebody who created one thing groundbreaking.
My aim then, because it has all the time been, was to inform a narrative authentically. Having identified who a few of these characters have been primarily based off of or seeing the similarities between “Insecure” and the nods to “Awkward Black Lady,” I simply needed to ensure that I used to be doing my half in showcasing the characters authentically and utilizing native designers, working with Black designers, and dealing with designers within the diaspora. That was all the time my intention as a result of these have been the characters that I used to be dressing.
By way of impression, I don’t know once I’ll know, however I’m extra grateful for having had this expertise to create one thing with somebody I believed in earlier than it grew to become common. To see that it took off is form of the reward for me.
In Seasons 1 and a couple of of “Insecure,” we see that Issa was typically sporting graphic T-shirts with pro-Black messaging or color-blocking paying homage to Black ’90s tradition. Why was it vital to you to platform Black designers and small indie labels all through the collection?
It’s genuine to make use of Black designers and work with Black creatives as a result of it’s validating our personal work. It’s presenting our tradition, our taste and what has impacted and influenced us as a era of creatives. It was saying thanks to those that got here earlier than us and likewise giving a spotlight of these which are arising. For me, it’s all the time vital as a result of it validates ourselves.
One factor that I’ll share loads of instances is that I keep in mind working with a selected designer on Season 2, and we used his sweatshirt. After the episode aired, I keep in mind seeing on his Instagram story that he had stacks and stacks and stacks of bins able to exit. Due to “Insecure,” he just about bought out all of his stock. To see that we had that sort of beat on the tradition and that sort of affect validates what we do. It’s not simply the sweatshirt that the homie made. It’s one thing that speaks to the tradition, to the time, and that individuals establish with. If the rest, it exhibits that we have been right here. It exhibits that we did one thing.
By Season 3, there’s a noticeable glow-up with every character’s type. Was that alleged to be in line with Issa, Lawrence and Molly changing into extra mature? How did the costumes advance that narrative?
In Season 1, after we meet Lawrence, we made his garments outsized as a result of really, Jay is tremendous ripped. We tried to make him look as dowdy and broke as attainable. In Season 1, you see him in loads of grays and blacks, depressed, and his sweaters are two sizes too massive and whatnot. When he goes to the job interview and he sees Tasha on the financial institution, that swimsuit isn’t fitted. It’s a bit outsized, nearly like one thing that he most likely purchased when he was youthful. As we get to the finale of Season 1 with Lawrence, within the episode, he’s really in a pleasant grey, Vivienne Westwood swimsuit, tailor-made superbly. After they break up that night time, it actually does really feel like Issa misplaced out.
I took the identical method to all people’s character. Issa continues to be goofy; she’s not the cool one of many group of mates. She’s the one which all the time will get clowned. As we’re rising and everybody’s wardrobe is bettering as a result of 1) we obtained a bit bit extra money however 2) l had extra I needed to say with the garments. Season 2 had loads of T-shirts and I put them in moments that may correlate to what’s taking place. Within the scene the place Issa’s making an attempt to masturbate and get the batteries out of the distant, the T-shirt she’s really sporting is sort of a Humpty Dump shirt. To me, in that second, it was simply the irony and humor in that she’s sexually pissed off.
With Molly, we stored her as fly as we might, given her pending job change. As we’re going by way of Season 2, we’re making an attempt to indicate all people that she’s price it. She is aware of she needs to get the increase. We simply needed to indicate what it was like when she had just a bit bit of cash. We launched Black luxurious designers together with her. With Molly, I did loads of Carly Cushnie on the time, Issa had some Brother Vellies. Issa wore loads of designs that have been extra Afro-inspired or textured, whereas Molly has a extra western or Eurocentric aesthetic, and that simply exhibits the completely different environments they must navigate.
Have been there any exhibits that impressed you and also you needed to emulate or infuse into the costume design on “Insecure?”
I positively went again and watched the primary season of “A Completely different World.” Seeing Lisa Bonet’s character go to high school and be awkward, however be stunning and be the lead, that was actually inspiring to me — and simply all of the textures, the colours and the vibrancy of watching that present. Then, while you return and watch it, it’s nonetheless humorous as hell! It’s nonetheless related. With “Insecure,” and having been lucky to observe Issa’s experience, I knew that’s what was coming. I knew that this present was going to take the trade by storm. I had seen what she did with “Awkward Black Lady.” For me, it was like ensuring that I used to be 150% in and that I used to be going all in for her mission as a result of that is one thing I really believed in. It’s a good looking factor to search for and see her get her flowers as a result of she’s labored so exhausting for it and he or she positively deserves it.
Aside from “Insecure,” you additionally styled the pilot for “All American: Homecoming,” and I distinctly keep in mind the Telfar bag in it. What did the analysis course of entail for a up to date collection geared towards youthful, Gen Z viewers?
Having gone to an HBCU, I used to be already accustomed to HBCU tradition, significantly now in 2022 the place we’ve had the Black Lives Matter motion and Black designers have been on the forefront. Having conversations with Nkechi [Okoro Carroll] the showrunner, we actually needed to take that genuine HBCU expertise that I keep in mind and replicate at the moment’s projection of it. So, I adopted a bunch of HBCU Instagram pages and I began excited about … the way it pertains to the characters and which types can be acceptable for them. We had Geffri Maya as Simone; within the first season, they talked about how she’s actually looking for herself and discover her type. Numerous her clothes felt very LA, a hodge-podge of what she’s had up to now. She doesn’t actually have some huge cash transferring ahead, so making an attempt to create a wardrobe that mirrored somebody who’s in transition — as a result of that was her.
We had one other character, Netta Walker, who plays Keisha, and within the pilot, they describe her because the “It Lady” and “the mayor of the college.” I needed her to present “It Lady” vibes; she wears loads of stuff, and I actually color-blocked loads of her wardrobe. That was an enormous distinction, engaged on a personality who was much more assured in themselves when it got here to how they confirmed up in school and in class versus Geffri’s character, Simone, who was rather less assured, making an attempt to determine it out as a teen mother and making an attempt to make the tennis staff.
For the fellows, it was loads of enjoyable as a result of I actually love dressing males in streetwear, so Peyton and Sylvester, [I was] actually form of giving them their very own distinctive, particular person type however one thing that mirrored the authenticity of the time. Peyton’s character Damon is from Chicago, so we put him in loads of bubble jackets; we had him in actually cool sneakers. He was beginning to get endorsement offers and get cash, so his clothes was a bit bit dearer than a few of his teammates. However then with JR, we put him in some actually cool sweaters and gave him this very kind of mature sophomore vibe that I felt was actually reflective of how I’ve seen males in Atlanta gown. It’s simply actually taking the layers from the story and the characters, and permitting your self to piece collectively a wardrobe.
Inform me about your journey into costume design and styling.
Honestly, I simply fell into costume design and styling. I believe I all the time had a artistic eye and a way of fashion. Rising up, I used to be all the time doing one thing associated to style. My household relocated to Los Angeles, so I did as effectively. After deciding that I now not needed to pursue biochemistry, I landed myself an assistant stylist gig from Twitter. From that, I began styling my very own shoppers. Then, I used to be form of pulled into movie and TV as an assistant. I used to be a wardrobe PA for a buddy of mine, and as soon as I did that, I actually favored it. I started to do it myself on a smaller scale for anyone who wanted wardrobe or costumes for one thing. I used to be all the time keen to present it a strive. I crossed paths with Issa whereas working together with her stylist on her smaller YouTube initiatives.
I got here in on the tail finish of “Awkward Black Lady.” She had achieved the primary few seasons and was doing different initiatives on her YouTube. She was working with different writers and up-and-coming administrators on a collection of three pilot initiatives from completely different writers that we shot. I labored together with her, [writer] Syreeta Singleton and [producer] Deniese Davis. We labored collectively for a couple of years, then “Insecure” got here alongside, and he or she provided me the job. That began my official costume design profession.
Whenever you look again, are you able to recall a second, a sure TV present or a sure movie that was the impetus for this journey? Like, “Wow, that was actually formative for me!”
There’s one which I’ll discuss typically, and it’s “Malcolm X.” That’s one among my high 5 movies. After I obtained into costume design, one of many first issues that I did was analysis who’re the Black costume designers — and Ruth E. Carter’s title popped up. After I noticed that she designed “Malcolm X,” I used to be actually impressed as a result of I like that film a lot. There are very particular moments in that film that have been very impactful. What Spike Lee did within the ’90s — as a result of I used to be most likely between seven and 10 when that got here out — I keep in mind going to the flicks and I used to be emotionally moved after watching it. To know that Ruth E. Carter, who was a Black girl like me, was behind the costumes, that was a second the place it actually clicked. It was like, “Oh wow, this can be a profession. That is greater than a one-shot factor,” which is once more why I actually do like costume design. We’re those behind the scenes working along with an entire military, an entire fleet of creatives, to inform a narrative.
Whenever you informed your dad and mom you needed to go away biochemistry and begin styling, what was their response?
Greater than something, they positively didn’t perceive it. My father is in IT, so he thought I used to be going to go the science and engineering route. He didn’t get it, however I believe he noticed the period of time and dedication that I put in direction of styling or simply even studying about style. I’m self-taught, so I didn’t even actually help that a lot, I might say. Numerous what I’ve discovered is figuring it out as I am going alongside. My father noticed that from very early and due to that, he was very supportive of it. I by no means obtained loads of pushback. As a matter of truth, there’d be some instances the place I wanted to borrow cash to do a job. I had to purchase clothes for shoppers, and I didn’t have any cash, so he would mortgage me some and I’d must pay him again as soon as I obtained paid. I’d say on the finish of the day, my father is moreso an advocate for no matter you’re keen about, going all out, giving it your finest efforts, and in the end changing into a grasp of it. I’ve simply taken that and have used that mantra in transferring ahead.
How is your private type influenced by rising up in a Jamaican family and attending an HBCU? How would you characterize it?
I’d say a minimum of 50% of my clothes that I put on every day is from Black designers. I’d additionally say 100% of my wardrobe actually is just like the Jamaican coloration palette. I put on loads of black, inexperienced and gold. I put on loads of T-shirts with African art work on it, Caribbean photographs on it. One among my favourite T-shirts is the Sintra Bronte T-shirt from Sammy B designs. I had it on Molly in Season 2 of “Insecure,” like that shirt is so ratty and torn up proper now, however I put on it on a regular basis. All of that, having an actual Black, Black, Black, Black, Black expertise — being Caribbean, raised within the South, lived out West for a bit bit, lived up North, I’ve traveled to Africa — having that be my backdrop, you’ll all the time see that mirrored in my wardrobe. There’ll be a Bob Marley T-shirt with some cowrie shell earrings from Senegal. It’s only a mishmash of Blackness.
What are you presently engaged on? The place would you want your profession to go subsequent?
Properly, I simply completed a collection that sadly obtained canceled on CW referred to as “Tom Swift.” It was a very good present. It’s an unlucky harmless bystander of a company merger. It was ordered for 2 seasons however sadly, it obtained canceled after the primary season, which then opened me up to do that function for Disney. Proper now, I’m engaged on a Disney film named the “Slumber Occasion,” which is able to come out someday subsequent yr. So, I’m in Atlanta.
I got here into “Insecure” with modern put on. Each mission that I select now, I need it to push the dial a bit bit on my data. I need to proceed to open and develop my studying and my understanding of the design course of. Ideally, I like storytelling. I like discovering characters on a web page and bringing them to life. I’d like to be part of extra Caribbean and African-centered tales. I believe that’s going to begin coming down the pipeline much more. I need to do interval items. I need to design the Jamaican Olympic uniforms. I need to design Carnival uniforms. I’ve turn out to be a real artistic at coronary heart, so wherever the chance to create presents itself, I’m going to leap at it. The sky’s the restrict for me.
CORRECTION: A previous model of this text incorrectly said that Kimani costume-designed for “Awkward Black Lady.”