TARAJI P. HENSON

Taraji P. Henson and Pam Grier talk shop on their shared experiences playing formidable roles for women of color, executing death-defying stunts, and uniting women in entertainment.


Dress by Alexandre Vauthier, Hat by Eric Javits, Stay-Up Tights by Falke, Shoes by Aquazzura
Interview by Pam Grier | Photography by Alexander Saladrigas @ Cerutti and Co | Styling by Ron Hartleben

Taraji P. Henson is a typhoon of energy when she arrives curbside at the Plaza Hotel for her cover shoot. With an entourage in tow, Henson’s seven-day work weeks are the new normal for an actor in such high demand. Rising to fame years ago with her Academy Award nomination for her lauded role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Henson proved with her talent and tenacity that she had staying power. Now, beloved by Empire fans as the one-and-only Cookie Lyon, Henson’s take on the badass-boss-queen character earned her a Golden Globe, Critic’s Choice Award, and two Emmy nominations, as well as fashion-cred from her fans for her character’s memorable high-drama designer looks. Gaining international recognition and several awards and nominations for her role as NASA scientist Katherine Johnson in the historical drama Hidden Figures, it’s evident that Taraji brings a range and depth to her characters that incites a devoted audience, and garners accolades of esteem from an industry that has an infamous history of shortchanging roles for women of color.

After years of working odd jobs as a Pentagon secretary and a singing waitress while completing her degree at Howard University, Taraji moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. With her young son Marcell accompanying her, Taraji juggled being a mother while working as many roles as she could – a work ethic she refuses to shake to this day. Through her years in Hollywood, Henson has grown a thick skin and learned to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of show business, building off of the foundation laid by the women who came before her, and adding her contribution to the empowerment of women in entertainment. Dressed to kill in the upcoming action thriller, Proud Mary, as a hired hit-woman, Taraji chooses yet another career-defining role, pushing the envelope while balancing the razor wire between her signature bulletproof strength and intrepid vulnerability – something she’s managed to turn into a touchstone of her work.

One pioneering actress who helped pave the way for women of color in entertainment is legendary cultural symbol, Pam Grier, known for her iconic roles in Foxy Brown; Coffy; Sheba, Baby; and Jackie Brown. Here she interviews the newest face of black female action stars: Taraji P. Henson, for an IRIS Covet Book exclusive.


Jacket by Michael Kors Collection, Jewelry by Marc Jacobs, Stay-Up by Wolford

Coat by Landlord, Bra, garter and underwear are Vintage Christian Dior at My Haute Wardrobe, Stay-Up Tights by Wolford, Shoes by Manolo Blahnik

 

Taraji, how are you? Girl, congratulations I am so happy for you! I can’t wait to see Proud Mary.

Thank you, thank you! I can’t wait to see it either–we’ve just finished shooting.

Well, the trailers look fantastic! And to see that 50 years later is overwhelming because I was out there by myself, I was just trying to show an example of our culture, our black women, who we are. This is who we are. Nothing can stop you. You have wings, spread them.

Yes, ma’am.

When you won your Golden Globe for playing the role of Cookie Lyon on Empire, girl, I think I screamed louder than you! What does Cookie mean to you? How much do you identify with Cookie’s character?

I think what I have in common with Cookie is her fight; you’ve got to fight to be in this business, especially as a woman, and a woman of color. You’re always fighting. So, I think I have that in common with her for sure. The mother lion… I identify with how protective she is of her family. I identify with how protective she is of her family. I identify with what she will do for her family, the great lengths she will go for her family. Cookie chose to go to jail to save her boys from becoming a statistic in the hood. She didn’t want them selling crack like she did. She sacrificed her freedom for her family. Now, I don’t know if I would sell drugs for my family. That side of Cookie, I have to find another way to hustle! (laughs).

At the same time, I grew up in the hood. I grew up in the ‘80s, and I remember when crack was dropped off in the hood, so I can understand her thinking. Your [tax] refund, your McDonald’s income, or working at the grocery store as a clerk are not going to do it. So I understand your back being pushed up against the wall and that’s all you’ve got; I get it. But growing up in the hood, I saw all my friends who chose that path, and well…I couldn’t. That life was not enough for me, I needed more. I chose to go the tough route.

That’s where Cookie and I are different. I had friends in the drug gang, but I chose not to be. I chose to work doing data entry at 16-years-old making $4 an hour. I didn’t want to risk my freedom because I had things to do, and I knew there were other ways to be successful. There are other ways to accomplish your dreams. But I still understand her, that’s why I didn’t judge her. As an actor, you can’t judge. At first, she scared the hell out of me. I was like, “Oh my God, this character is crazy. The viewers are going to hate me. Black people are going to be like, ‘Why did you make us look like this?’” And then, you know, I peeled back the layers and found her truth. I thought if I play her truth then the audience will empathize with her, they will understand her, and they will understand why she made the choices she made.

And now you’ve got the support and they are moved, touched, and rooting for you! Sometimes as we work, there’s so much going on from scene to scene that the audience doesn’t get a chance to really absorb or savor all of those elements that you just described as the actor.

And especially on TV. I mean, you have to follow the series because you only have 43 minutes to tell a story. The beautiful thing about TV is that you get to watch each episode through the series and track the character’s journey and struggle. If I feel like I can’t bring the truth to a character, then it’s not the job for me. I’m not the only actress on this planet. There’s enough work for all of us. (laughs)

That was my philosophy as well! It’s a beautiful platform to have. When I would be working on a project and I would be sent scripts, sometimes I’d say, “You know who’s good for this? Vonetta McGee. Send this to her.” We always shared, and there weren’t that many movie roles.

I also wanted to welcome you to the “Action Woman’s Club!” You’ve got to tell me about Proud Mary, who she is, and the challenges you faced playing her. Now this looks like you’re going to take some blood!

Mary’s a different character for me. I played a killer before, but she was an ex-army sniper. Mary struck a chord in me because she’s a woman and she is a hired killer. She gets paid to kill. That was interesting to me because that’s usually something men do. We’re emotional creatures; we feel. I wanted to explore that side. The beautiful thing about Mary is you’re meeting her at a crossroad. The audience is meeting her where she wants something else for her life. She has never felt maternal, and all of a sudden she meets this kid through whom she sees herself. She sees a chance to not only save herself, but save this kid from the same life she’s had.

Mary was an orphan and she was found by Danny Glover’s character who is a big mob boss. She just was, instinctively, a good killer. I think people are going to want to see this movie because Mary is different, they’ve never seen a serious female black killer. She is a real, straight up, all-about-her-business hit woman. It’s not funny, it’s not jokey, there is no wink-wink on the side. It is very serious, like when you see Liam Neeson or Tom Cruise. You’ve seen white women do it on this level, but you have never seen a black woman in this light.

No, because black women have been so invisible, but not now, not today. I hear you like to take on roles that scare you, why is that?

I know right away that it’s going to be a challenge. I don’t want anything easy. Those are the roles I look for because, in those roles, I will grow. That means it’s going to stretch me. That means, Oh I’ve never done this before. I’ve never tapped into this emotional shit, how do I get there? Proud Mary scared the hell out of me. I’ve never done action before in my life. I wasn’t used to being as physical. If I had it all to do again, I wish we had had more time to train. The great thing about it is, we did reshoot to make it even better because that’s how much the studio believes in this film. I worked seven days a week like a crazy woman to get it right. When we went back to reshoot, the stunt coordinator was really blown away. He was like, I can’t believe you caught on that fast, and I was like, Imagine if we had three weeks to train!


Jumpsuit by Dundas, Boa by Helmut Lang, Earring by Erickson Beamon, Shoes by Aquazzura

 


Clothing and Shoes by Alexander Wang


What was the research you had to do to play a character who kills?

I came across this guy called The Iceman and I can’t let him go. He was a very handsome man. I forget where he operated out of… New York maybe? But what I found so interesting about him was that he had a family. This man had a family! He had two beautiful daughters and a wife, and he was a hitman. He would go home to his family and they did not know what he did. Finally, he got caught.

I watched his interviews to research the role and psychology. There was a charm about him. He was dangerously charming, and I found myself thinking he was handsome…this is a man who kills people. So, then I thought, Wow, what do you turn on and off inside you to just go out and kill people, and then go back home to your family like nothing ever happened? But Mary is a woman, so how do I make this make sense? Is she void of her feelings and then all of a sudden it changes? It was just a lot of things that I had to explore, and I think after awhile it just became too much, too much blood on her hands. Where is my retirement? You know? When do I get to kick up and get my pedicure, my manicure and live a normal life? You know, everybody wants to retire at some point; I don’t care what you do.

Were there any challenging stunts?

I was shooting a MP5 rifle and you have to smack the trigger to make it look cool on camera. They kept saying, Karate chop it. Well, thank you because now I have blood blisters on my hands! I threw my shoulder out when I had to do this stunt where I had to swing that rifle around with one arm. That’s a heavy rifle! In another stunt, I had to throw a guy over my back. I bit my lip. I got smacked in the head with the magazine of my partner’s rifle. I have bruises. These are the things people don’t realize when they see it on the screen, it’s, Oh that was incredible! No one really understands that you’re risking your life in it. If you’re tired, if you’re fatigued, you make the wrong step, you could really hurt yourself.

Oh yes, I’ve gotten many bruises and scrapes too. Often people couldn’t believe I was a lead that held a gun, that I played a character that could actually take a life and defend my family and myself. They were so shocked, and that realm created the audience for a woman in action films.

Now, I know you’re about to star in the upcoming movie, Best of Enemies. Tell me about playing the real life civil rights leader, Ann Atwater, and her association with the leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

This movie is about how love can conquer hate. Ann Atwater was a poor woman; so was Claiborne Paul Ellis, the Ku Klux Klan character that Sam Rockwell plays. They were both poor, living in a poor neighborhood. The school where the black children attended burned down, so the children had to integrate into the white school. Well, of course, the white people of the town had an issue with that because there was a heavy Ku Klux Klan influence. The councilmen and a lawyer from the North had to step in to come to some kind of agreement for these kids.

Through this process, things were very hateful and scary. People’s lives were threatened. It wasn’t easy back then trying to mix the races, but Ann was boisterous; she didn’t care. She spent her entire life in poverty, but she fought for those people just like her. She was very loud about it; you could hear her before you see her. So, she and Claiborne developed a friendship through this tumultuous time and he ended up denouncing the KKK. They were the best of friends; their story is beautiful and I can’t wait until it comes out.

To play Ann Atwater, I had to totally change the way I look. I wore a fat-suit because we don’t look anything alike. I remember the paparazzi came on set one day. They saw a light skin woman with hair slick and styled, and they thought that was me. But Ann Atwater had a short afro and I had darkened my skin because she’s a little darker. So, they didn’t spot me. So, when it came out in the local newspaper, that Taraji P. Henson was in town filming her movie, the picture wasn’t of me and I was so happy because I didn’t want those images floating around yet. It would have been like they kind of gave us away before the movie poster had been released. You’re not going to believe who you’re looking at when you see me.

That’s a part of our craft that we so cherish, our transformations into our characters. I gained weight for mine, cut my hair, shaved off my eyebrows, but it’s part of the work. You want to become that character because you’re not going to be able to redo it or reshoot it, and it’s going into the future. Oh, a historical political story of love, I can’t wait for that one! Do you have a motto or philosophy that you live your life by?

Treat others the way that you will have them treat you. It’s got me a long way in life. You are kind to me, I’ll be kind to you because that’s what I want from you.

There you go! I guess most people attempt to live their life by how they treat someone because it comes back to you.

It’s called karma, and I believe in it. I have great karma around me because I give good karma. I’m just love, love, love.

And you know what, when you have great karma, great roles come to you, great people, great situations, because I do believe in the law of attraction.

Absolutely, me too.

You know, recently there has been a lot of press exposing the reality of treatment of women in Hollywood/entertainment. Tell me about your thoughts on women supporting women in the industry.

Well, I’ve always been a big supporter of women, even before I got into the industry. I just think overall that that needs to be the narrative. Not just in the industry, but in the world, because art imitates life. If we’re artists, then we need to be setting examples for the world. That’s how I was raised, that’s all I know.

My mother was one of five sisters, so I grew up watching sisterhood. I’m real tight with all of my cousins. We never snitched on each other. We all got in trouble together, and we all went down together. We learned that from our mothers, watching them and how close they are. So, of course I’m going to be like that with other women. I don’t understand hating another woman.

We go through so much as women. Why am I, another woman, going to add to the stresses that women already have? Why would I do that?

Yeah, why tear each other down competitively? We should be supporting each other as women.

Yeah, why would you want to be that selfish? God didn’t make you the only human. He certainly didn’t make you the only female and he certainly didn’t make you the only female actor. How can I learn if I don’t have my counterpart’s work to watch? You know what I mean? I’m so happy with what’s happening right now in the industry. All of my friends are working. All of them.

Yes, and working at various levels, not only as actors but, you know, writers, producers, directors, costume designers. It’s all across the board in so many ways, and each door that they open, 100 follow.

That’s true.

What advice would you give to young women coming to Hollywood?

Be very clear and know why you’re coming to Hollywood. Whatever that dream is, don’t let anyone deter you. Keep focused on your bigger picture, stay in your lane, do not compare yourself, put in the work, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and don’t take no shit!

Absolutely! Don’t take no shit!


Jacket, Bodysuit, and Skirt Vintage Gianni Versace at My Haute Wardrobe, Tights by Wolford, Shoes by Christian Louboutin

Hair by Tym Wallace @ Master Mind Artist Management, Makeup by Ashunta Sheriff @ The Montgomery Group for Ashunta Sheriff Beauty, Manicure by Honey @ Exposure NY using Debrorah Lippman, BTS Video DP Francis Chen, Photography Assistants Diego Bendezu and Casanova Cabrera, Stylist Assistant Clair Tang, Production Assistant Benjamin Price, Special Thanks to The Plaza Hotel and Pamela Sharp of Sharp & Associates.

ISSA LISH BY NOBUYOSHI ARAKI

Photography by Nobuyoshi Araki | Styling by Shun Watanabe | Model Issa Lish @ Women Management

Known for his prolific exploration of Kinbaku-bi (緊縛美), “the beauty of tight binding”, subversive still-lifes, and controversial erotic imagery, iconic fine art photographer Nobuyoshi Araki teams up with top model Issa Lish in Tokyo, Japan for an invitation into his world.

Coat by Adam Selman, Bodysuit by Wolford, Boots by Christian Louboutin

Dress by Moschino, Shoes by Manolo Blahnik

Jacket (on the daybed) by Tom Ford, Bodysuit by Stella McCartney, Boots by Alexander Wang

Coat by Miu Miu, Chemise by La Perla

 

Tights by Tom Ford, Underwear by Wolford and Shoes by Gianvito Rossi

Makeup by Ken Nakano, Hair by Koji Ichikawa using LAICALE, Manicure by Yuko at reAulii, Art Direction by Louis Liu, Editor Marc Sifuentes, Stylist Assistants: Leonard Arceo and Yohei Yamada, Makeup Assistant Sunao, Hair Assistant Hiromitsu Yahune.

IRIS VAN HERPEN

Iris Van Herpen, Paris, France, 2017

At the intersection of science, art, heritage craft, and fashion lies a singular point, the inimitable and pioneering couturier, Iris Van Herpen. Known for seamlessly blending lazer-cut fabrics, 3-D printing technology, cutting edge fabrics, and haute couture hand-work, Van Herpen’s work is a summation of the old world and the new.

Photography by Maya Fuhr @ The Canvas Agency | Interview by Benjamin Price
All clothing (not including models’ own) Iris Van Herpen Couture

Untitled I, Paris France, 2017

Amid the canals and stone-paved streets of Amsterdam lies a haute couture atelier led by a woman who is equal parts scientist, architect, artist, dancer, and designer. Iris Van Herpen sits at the helm, diving deep into different multi-disciplinary worlds to push fashion design further into the future. She is known as one of the most innovative and pioneering fashion designers in the world. Through her experimentation with different materials and collaborations, Van Herpen has created fantastic, awe-inspiring pieces that have defied previous ideas of what fashion can be.

At first glance, Van Herpen’s iconic designs look like sinuous creatures from mysterious planets, chemical reactions, waterfalls frozen in time, and skins of unknown species – but in reality they are the results of copious research, experimentation, and countless hours of handwork. The fusion of technology and heritage craft work is what makes Van Herpen’s designs so unique. From the initial research stage to the fashion show presentations, every iota of information is explored and disseminated to produce magical worlds that hold a mirror to our own reality of climate change, space travel, and the global stage.

Iris sat down with me, thousands of miles away in her studio, speaking through a computer screen – our conversation punctuated by the atelier cat running across the keyboard. The studio team draped, melted, 3D printed, and slice through materials for the upcoming couture collection in the background. Here is our exclusive interview with Iris Van Herpen and Iris Covet Book.

Guadalupe, Paris, France, 2017

What does a typical day look like in the Iris Van Herpen studios?

It really depends on what we are working on… right now we are working on the new collection. There is a lot of experimenting and creating with new materials. I’m a bit in-between my own space where I do design work, guide the process, and give feedback to the team, then going to meetings with different collaborators for certain projects. The atelier is filled with people with fashion backgrounds and people from other disciplines.

I was going to ask if you have sculptors, plaster specialists, or mold-makers in studio. Traditional fashion labels have a lot of draping and patternmaking, but I was wondering if there are physicists and artists, etc…

I work with people outside of the fashion world a lot such as architects, scientists, or other artists. It is sort of spontaneous. I won’t have them here all the time; it’s a day here and a day there with different disciplines, and sometimes I will go to their studio.

In the past, what has been one of your most fruitful collaborations?

One that is very special to me is my work with Philip Beesley who is an architect and artist from Toronto, and I’ve been working with him for four or five years now. Our process has become very intertwined… like a friendship. He’s always exploring with his team, and we share a lot of the process and experimentation together. If I find a new material, then I’ll send it to him and the other way around. So, it’s really like a collective intelligence there, which is a nice way of sharing. On a much more personal level, I would say that my work with choreographer Benjamin Millepied was special because I come from a dance background. I found huge inspiration in the work he does and the way he works; it was very special to see our worlds coming together.

Looking at your designs, your earlier work specifically, it appears like there is conflict between movement and form. How does your understanding and love of movement and the materiality that you’re using work together?

Well, dance is where I learned how to transform my own body, but also how to use the space around me. In the early years, I was questioning not only how to design for the body, but also discovering the space around it and how it can be transformed. That was like principal research, which I’m still doing, but it became more sentimental along the way – maybe because dance is still part of my work, but it has grown bigger with art, architecture, and even scientific collaboration. I have just expanded my focus, and therefore become more reliant on the materials I use to express the relationship between body and space.

Henry (Film Strip), Paris, France, 2017

Henry, Paris, France, 2017

Speaking of materiality, there’s a material library here in New York City that has every new material that you can think of. Every time a new one is created they send it to the library to be catalogued. Do you use spaces like that to gain inspiration or do you have custom materials that you make?

In the first years of the studio, I would find materials and then use them in my own way. By now, the process is a little bit more personal and elaborative. Mostly we don’t use the material as it is. We either develop a new material, sometimes as the result of a collaboration, or we use existing materials that we then transform into new hybrids. So, a big part of the design process actually depends on the material design. We start developing the techniques and materials and I start draping – where in the beginning I would just shop for the right material and then drape. It’s evolved over time.

I want to now switch gears and talk about the conceptual inspiration of the collection. When you begin researching, what sparks your interest? Is it something small or something more meta such as an intangible theory?

Well, it can be both actually. I’m thinking of [the collection] “Micro” where we explored microscopic structures that I found inspiring. Everything around us, like my own body and materials surrounding me on a micro level. Then there are collections like “Magnetic Motion” which was inspired by the conversations I had with scientists about really big subjects like parallel universes and the whole perception of life, which was a lot more philosophical. Sometimes it’s simply in the material that is next to me, and sometimes it’s a super inspiring theory that changes my way of looking at life.

Growing up, were you very interested in studying nature and science?

Yeah, absolutely. I grew up in a very small little village next to the water. So, nature was really part of my youth; it shaped me. My parents stimulated my interest in the arts, so nature and art together were an integral part of my growing up. I think it’s important to understand, or at least appreciate, how the world works around you and the importance of nature.

How do you see your design reacting to global warming and these heightened more chaotic political spheres?

Well, I think there are two paths in my work: one of them is within the material and technique, and the other is looking at the materials as part of the process of sustainability, but it’s not something I want to communicate. Sustainability has become a PR tool, and I personally find that it is happening too much. For me, it is a natural focus because we want to move forward and still live on this planet in 20 years. I don’t think it should be the central message because it can easily become everything you do, and as an artist or fashion designer, I think a specific environmental issue isn’t a long-term vision. It’s part of the process, but the message that I want to communicate is much bigger than that. I believe that in the long term fashion will change slowly. The materials we use and the way we use them will become better and more sustainable. I hope to help a little bit there, but it’s not something I can do on my own.

Untitled II, Paris France, 2017

Do you think that fashion – because it is one of the top polluting industries in the world – will change in the future? How do you hope consumer relations will change?

I think a very big step in this would be that the whole system becomes more personal again and less globalized. The problem is that most things are made in bulk, and more than half of everything that is being made is not being bought. I believe that the future will be technology that will make the process more personal again because I think through technology there is more direct communication possible between customer and designer. If we go to smaller productions again, we can reduce half of the waste because we’ll start making what people actually need rather than making twice as much. Hopefully we can begin utilizing the materials that can be 100% reused again like with 3-D printing. These are the two big steps that need to be made, and it will take awhile.

Well, speaking of technique and new technology I think that a lot of the interest in your early work was your use of techniques like laser cutting and 3D printing which were not as normalized as they are now. How do you foresee these two worlds of technological futurism and craft heritage melding?

I see the diversity of new techniques and new tools as equal to my hands, and I would not use one over the other: it’s a hybrid between them. For me craftsmanship is as valuable and as important as the newer techniques that I work with. I noticed that by using various techniques we can actually improve the others. Sometimes we want to work on a piece that we simply cannot make by hand, and a 3D printer can inspire the process where we are actually able to make it by hand. So, it’s really interesting how the knowledge from one goes into the other, and I think in the beginning the processes were quite separated. I would work on 3D printed garment, and I would work on a handcrafted garment, but now we have blended the processes. In one dress there can be 3D printing, laser cutting, hand molding, and stitching all in one and no one is able to see the differences anymore; I think that is very beautiful. In the end it is not about the technique behind it anymore, but about the freedom to combine different techniques. I’m able to go into the absolute maximum of intricacy if I’m not limited by one technique because every technique has its possibilities and its limitations.

I think that the future is – I don’t want to say cyborgs – but humans and computer technology coming together to create. You can see that in your fashion shows, which have been very viscerally engaging and surreal. Where does that inspiration come from? Does it come from your concepts? What does this theatrical element add to the show?

It’s really part of my process. I try to translate the energy of the experimentation that I feel from the work into the collection. When I started working on Aeriform I had my collaborators performance in mind, and really working with the empty gravitational aspect of their work, and the way of working that conflict together. So, I work to make those elements the base of designing the garments, while keeping the whole performance alive. Some shows are very minimal in their setting because the inspiration comes from something physical like an artist or work of art, and I want to show people my process and concept. Sometimes the collection comes from a completely different world, and I let the collection be itself.

Chen Chen, Paris France, 2017

You have worked with Bjork, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Tilda Swinton; do you feel the context of your work changes with the visibility and the popularity of these artists?

Well, I guess it connects to different people. They are very specific identities. They all created their own worlds, their own system, and fan bases. The body itself is my source of integration, and these people bringing it into their own world and their own vision creates a new perspective of my work. I think it’s very important because I don’t want my work to be this very controlled and linear thing.

In reference to the “worlds” that you design into, do you often build worlds in your mind when designing?

Not really to be honest. My interest is in the here-and-now because the inspirations that’s translated into my work comes from architecture, art, or things that I see around me. To me, the world we live in is actually so fascinating and it has so many sides. So, I want to look at different perspectives. Some people think I’m inspired by science fiction, but I think the world we live in is magical. It’s really more like zooming in and zooming out – focused on where I am at this point.

Magical and terrifying all at once.

Yeah, yeah, it has everything in it.

In the past you have referenced your work as “New Couture”, what does that mean to you?

It’s a place where innovation is possible. It’s a place where craftsmanship is possible. To me, it’s a place that has real humanity and personality in the work, and it has its place in the digital age and in the digital transformation that we are going through. To me, it’s really about finding the relationship between the world we come from and the world we’re going to. We have to learn how to use all of these great tools in combination with our humanity. I think those tools can be used to create art and beauty, not just functional technology to make our lives quicker and easier.

That’s beautiful. I think that we are at crossroads of so much negativity in politics and in nature, but the world also has a lot of positivity and beauty. What do you want to say to the world as a designer, as an artist?

I think fashion is not only a form of art, but also a place of innovation and progress. I think it is important that we we start collaborating with science and art because all of these disciplines have to change. If we talk about sustainability and moving forward, design is needed everywhere, and I don’t think we’re making progress if we keep on only focusing on one method of thinking. I think disciplines have to cross over to create a collective intelligence to direct the sustainability of design. We’re never going do it on our own. I think that one of the bigger messages behind my work is that the power of collaboration will affect future change.

Francesca, Paris, France, 2017

Makeup by Jay Kwan | Special Thanks to Fanny Moal @ Karla Otto Paris
For more information visit irisvanherpen.com

HALSTON SAGE

Right: Dress by Rochas, Left: Blouse by Anna Sui and Trousers by Sonia Rykiel

Halston Sage is the quintessential “girl next door”, and with a hit role in Seth McFarlane’s The Orville, Sage is set to take her career to a new frontier. Photographed on location at the luxury penthouse suite of the Viceroy Central Park, the rising starlet embodies Andy Warhol’s superstars as an indelible mix between talented ingenue and fresh-faced fashion darling. 

Photography by Greg Swales | Styling by Angel Macias

Left: Blouse by Sonia Rykiel and Skirt by Anthony Vaccarello
Right: Blouse by Emilio Pucci

Left: Dress by Versace
Right: Sweater by Brandon Maxwell and Halston’s Own Jeans

Left: Dress by Barbara Gongini and Boots by Giuseppe Zanotti
Right: Jacket by Mulberry

Makeup by Vincent Oquendo @ The Wall Group using Charlotte Tilbury, Hair by David von Cannon @ The Wall Group, Video Editor Lavoisier Clemente, Art Direction and Layout by Louis Liu, Editor Marc Sifuentes, Production by Benjamin Price

THE LADY IS A VAMP

Although not one of the typical fashion hubs like New York, Milan, or Paris, Eastern European designers have been vying for attention and pushing the limit in fashion over the past decade. From Vetements to Gosha Rubchinskiy, Eastern Europe has become the leader in fashion and leaving us all wanting a piece of the former Eastern Bloc. We have cast a spotlight on the creatives of one country, Ukraine, and the designers who have managed to enter the global stage.

Photography by Mikhail Vovk @mikhailvovk | Styling  by Nika Kovtsur @nikakovtsur | Beauty by Liudmila Agakhanova @agakhanova_liu | Model Anna Rudenko @rudenkoannaua (MAG @modelagentgroup)

Vest by Alonova

 

Leather coat, pants and shoes by Alonova, Earrings by J.W. Anderson

Total look by Ostel

Blouse by Dafna May, Belt by Alonova, Trousers by Ostel, Earrings Stylist’s own

Trousers by Ostel, Jacket and Shoes by Dafna May

Suit by Nadia Yurkiv, Brooch Stylist’s own

Total look by Alonova

Suit by Nadia Yurkiv, Earrings Stylist’s own

Total look by Alonova

_

Style Assistant – Jacob Kotlik @jacobkotlik

FROM CONEY ISLAND, WITH LOVE

Photography by Greg Swales | Styling by Marc Sifuentes | Casting by Gabriel Ray | Model Lais Ribeiro @ Women Management

 

Dress by Alexander Wang, Diamond earrings by Modern Moghul, Necklace by Van Cleef & Arpels

Young Love, Coney Island, NYC, July, 2017

 

Leather Dress by Michael Kors, Peplum Belt by Zana Bayne, Lace boots by Giuseppe Zanotti, Vintage Emanuel Ungaro Sunglasses from Eye Candy NY, Earrings by Victoria Hayes, Ring by Modern Moghul

 

Dress by Roberto Cavalli, Fur stole by Georgine, Earrings by Victoria Hayes, Ring Modern Moghul Sandals by Valentino

The Hangout, Coney Island, NYC, July, 2017

 

Nikita and The Boys, Coney Island, NYC, July, 2017

 

Dress by Brandon Maxwell, Mesh bodysuit from Purple Passion NYC, Stockings by Wolford, Sunglasses from Eye Candy NYC, Rings by Modern Moghul

Joy, Coney Island, NYC, July, 2017

 

Chain Corset by the Blonds, Lingerie by Dolce & Gabbana, Fur by Georgine, Boots by Pleaser, Rings by Modern Moghul

Girls Off the Q Train, Coney Island, NYC, July, 2017

 

Dress and Lingerie by Dolce & Gabbana, Hat from Screaming Mimi’s Vintage, Fur by Dennis Basso, Cigarette holder from Eye Candy NYC, Boots by Louboutin

Marco and Company, Coney Island, NYC, July, 2017

 

Dress by Philipp Plein, Sequined booties by Christian Louboutin, Bracelets by Modern Moghul

Ryan AKA “RyRY”, Coney Island, NYC, July, 2017

 

Dress by Roberto Cavalli, Fur by Adrienne Landau

The Taste of Sun, Coney Island, NYC, July, 2017

 

Dress by The Blonds, Mesh bodysuit from Purple Passion NYC

Hair by Hikaru Hirano, Makeup by Victor Herna @ B&A using Estée Lauder, Manicure by Narina Chan @ Wilhelmina using OPI – Push and Shove, Creative Direction by Louis Liu, Video by Lavoisier Clemente, Photographer’s Assistant Jean Pierre Bonnet and Valerie Burke, Stylist Assistant Marion Aguas and Benjamin Price, Production by XTheStudio. Special thanks to Blowpro. ‡

 

LAST NIGHT I DREAMT THAT SOMEBODY LOVED ME

Photography by Hadar Pitchon | Styling by Marc Anthony George

Coat by Adrienne Landau, Suit by Vivienne Westwood, Vintage shirt from Screaming Mimi’s Vintage, Necklace, stylist’s studio, Rings by Joy of Crystals

Coat and shirt by Dries Van Noten, Shawl by Screaming Mimi’s Vintage, Necklace by Joy of Crystals

Jacket by Just Cavalli, Rings by Joy of Crystals

Vintage robe and scarf from Screaming Mimi’s Vintage, Fur Shawl by Adrienne Landau

 

Coat by John Varvatos, Shirt and undershirt by Burberry, Vintage scarf from Screaming Mimi’s Vintage

 

Sweater by JW Anderson

Vintage shirt from Screaming Mimi’s Vintage, Pants by Jil Sander, Scarf by John Varvatos, Vintage scarf clip, stylist’s own, Rings by Joy of Crystals, (right pinky) Ring by Alexis Bitar

Suit, shirt and boots by Roberto Cavalli, Vintage neckpiece from Screaming Mimi’s, Vintage Pocket square by Ralph Lauren

Coat and pants by Valentino, Vintage shirt hat and necklace from Screaming Mimi’s Vintage, Rings by Joy of Crystals (right pinky) Ring by Alexis Bittar

Coat, sweater and pants by Versace, Necklace by Screaming Mimi’s Vintage, Boots by John Varvatos

Grooming by Mike Fernandez using Evo Hair Products and Glossier on skin, Editor Marc Sifuentes, Production by XTheStudio, Special Thanks to Cole Harrell and Tai Heng Cheng for opening their home in Tuxedo, New York for our location.

COAT, CHECK!

Photography by Johnny Vicari | Stylist Alexander Paul |Model Alix Angjeli @ The Lions

Jacket and Boots by Off White, Earrings by Maria Black, Underwear by Balmain.

Coat by Jil Sander, Dress by Narciso Rodriguez, Earrings by Maria Black

Dress by Alexander Wang, Coat by Wanda Nylon, Earrings by Maria Black

Coat by Nomia, Pants by Brandon Maxwell, Belt by Rodarte, Earring by Maria Black

Coat by Versace, Earrings by Maria Black

Coat by Sacai, Boots by Off White, Earrings by Verdura.

Coat by Thom Browne, Boots by Off White, Earrings by Maria Black

Coat by Gucci, Bra by Araks, Boots by Balmain

Coat by Marc Jacobs, Boots by Off White

Coat by The Row, Shirt by No. 21

Coat by Stella McCartney, Dress by Adam Selman, Boots by Off White

Makeup by Kanako Takase @ Streeters USA using NARS Cosmetics, Hair by Shingo Shibata @ The Wall Group, Manicure by Jini Lim Using Chanel le vernis, Digital Tech Pablo Serrano, DP Earnest Martin, Stylist Assistants Chase Coughlin and Isoke Samuel, Studio Assistant Ryan Stenger, Production by Dustin Mansyur, Production Assistants Benjamin Price and Sol Thompson, Editor Marc Sifuentes. Special Thanks to Sunset Studios Brooklyn and Philipp Haemmerle.

UNTITLED (FROM THE SERIES: KITANO), 2017

Photography by Ruo Bing Li | Styling by Majid Karrouch |Model Jia Tong @ Muse NYC

UNTITLED 1 (FROM THE SERIES: KITANO), 2017
Kimono by Cheng-Huai Chuang, Sandals by Coach, Stockings by Purple Passion NYC, Belt by Michael Kors, Earrings by Victoria Hayes

UNTITLED 2 (FROM THE SERIES: KITANO), 2017

UNTITLED 3 (FROM THE SERIES: KITANO), 2017
Kimono by Cheng-Huai Chuang, Sandals by Coach, Latex Stockings by Purple Passion NYC, Belt by Michael Kors, Earrings by Victoria Hayes

UNTITLED 4 (FROM THE SERIES: KITANO), 2017
Dress and Jacket (worn underneath dress) by Sharon Wang, Turtle neck by Missoni, Earrings by Shop Sideara and Flower headpiece made by Stylist

UNTITLED 5 (FROM THE SERIES: KITANO), 2017
Dress by Sacai, Shirt (worn underneath dress) by Claudia Lee, Earrings by Lele Sadoughi

UNTITLED 6 (FROM THE SERIES: KITANO), 2017
Jacket by Michael Kors, Turtle Neck (worn underneath jacket) by Johna Stone, Leather Mask by Purple Passion NYC (customized by stylist)

UNTITLED 7 (FROM THE SERIES: KITANO), 2017
Total Look by Claudia Li, Belt made by Stylist, Earrings by Lele Sadoughi

UNTITLED 8 (FROM THE SERIES: KITANO), 2017
Dress by Roberto Cavalli, Earrings by Cara Croninger

UNTITLED 9 (FROM THE SERIES: KITANO), 2017
Dress by Jill Sander, Suit (worn underneath dress) by Jarret, Earrings by Lele Sadoughi

UNTITLED 10 (FROM THE SERIES: KITANO), 2017
Suit by Victoria Hayes, Earrings by Lele Sadoughi

UNTITLED 11 (FROM THE SERIES: KITANO), 2017
Dress by Carven

UNTITLED 12 (FROM THE SERIES: KITANO), 2017
Jacket by Dama, Jacket (worn underneath jacket) by Victoria Hayes

UNTITLED 13 (FROM THE SERIES: KITANO), 2017
Dress by Coach, Shirt (worn underneath dress) by Alejandro Alonso Rojas, Earrings by Victoria Hayes

Makeup by Chiao Li Hsu, Hair by Takayoshi Tsukisawa using Oribe, Manicure by Naoko Saita using “PRITI NYC” nail polishes, Art Direction by Louis Liu, Stylist’s Assistent Sideara Weisgrau, Makeup Assistant Stacy Buch, Director Zexi Qi & Video by Patrick Chen, Editor Marc Sifuentes, Production by Benjamin Price

DAO-YI CHOW AND MAXWELL OSBORNE OF PUBLIC SCHOOL NYC

Born and bred purveyors of New York cool, Public School are surpassing their own successes by delivering their signature synergy of street and substance to their women’s collections.

Photography by Bon Duke | Styling by Kate Carnegie | Featuring Models Ana Christina @ New York Models, Sahara Lin @ Elite Models, Jordan Legessa @ Heroes | Interview by Alan Bindler
All Clothing by Public School NYC

Luxury Streetwear. To an outsider, it can seem an oxymoron of sorts. The history of streetwear is long and storied, the specifics of which are hotly debated in the comments sections of 21st century cultural hubs like Complex and Hypebeast. Born out of surf and skate culture of the late 1970s and infused with urban wear aesthetics of the 1990s, luxury streetwear combines these influences with the timeless quality and craftsmanship one would expect from European maisons. Founded in 2008 and relaunched in 2012, Public School has been evolving the genre to great accolades for nearly a decade, defining what is cool and coveted by a rising generation of luxury consumers. Originally a men’s label, designers Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne launched their women’s line in Fall 2014, marking a seamless transition for the go-to brand of born-and-bred New York cool. 2017 is a benchmark year for Public School, with the volume of their women’s business about to surpass the men’s. Here, Iris Covet Book chats with the duo about designing for women, why luxury streetwear is so relevant now, and the new definition of luxury.

I understand that this year the women’s business is surpassing the men’s business. Do you think that’s going to affect how you show the brand in the future and the overall brand story?

Maxwell Osborne: I think in the longer term, for us, yeah, women’s business is growing and it has turned into a bigger business than our men’s business, which we kind of knew would happen going into it, and I think we just change with the times and really figure out what’s best with us in terms of how you show and release products. And I think that’s also just a sign of where we are in general in the marketplace and how women and men shop, and how our retailers buy the products. So it’s not surprising that our women’s business is bigger than our men’s business. I think we’ll always be known as a menswear brand first and foremost, but it’s actually also refreshing to have the women’s business grow at the pace it’s been growing.

Can you speak a little bit more about this and your vision for who your female customer is?

MO: Actually, it’s evolving. Our women’s business is still so new, so we’re still learning more information about our Public School Girl. We’re finding out now it’s actually Public School Women as well. They blend, and now we’re learning that Public School is not just a girl line, it’s also a woman’s line, maybe even more so than we thought. So we’re continually learning about our own brand through the people that wear it and buy it. Right now our lines have been blurred in terms of who the girl is. It’s really just this girl who’s transformed into a woman. It’s great to watch.

That’s exciting. It’s almost as if your customer is growing with you.

MO: Yeah, basically. They’re maturing with us, for sure. Do you have any specific muses? MO: I think we have a lot of different ideas of who this woman is – there’s not just one specific girl, but it’s the girl on the go, the girl who lives in a metropolitan city, who knows what’s up and goes from work to drinks, or work to dinner to an art gallery to a party and never really has to change. She’s comfortable in her own skin. Obviously all very cliché, but that’s exactly who we design for in terms of being a New Yorker or being in Tokyo or another big city. Just a girl that’s on the move and very comfortable in what she does. She’s not just one girl. It’s the girl of many faces.

What are some things you find yourself thinking about when you’re designing for women that you didn’t think about when you were designing exclusively for men?

MO: The idea of ease and femininity is something that we never really thought about for men. We’ve kind of softened that up because a lot of women just want to be feminine. And it’s like, what’s the reason you’re buying a Public School women’s dress? We’re not floral and ruffles all the time. We’re different than that. So what’s our take on that? I think that’s the challenge we always have. A good challenge in designing for women, for our customers, is what’s that line of femininity which also makes it very Public School. So we’re always challenging ourselves and figuring out that piece.

In today’s market, department stores, even luxury ones, are full of sale racks. When you go to an industry trade show, it’s a sea of booths for small labels that no one may ever hear of; It can be kind of easy to get discouraged from a designer’s perspective. Do you ever feel that? That there’s just so much out there, and how do you find that voice?

MO: Yeah, we do feel like that. To be a designer and also be conscious of what’s going on, and knowing that nobody really needs to produce another piece of clothing in this world because we have enough to survive. But at the same time you can’t say that because it’s what you do and it’s what you love. It’s refreshing when you see a brand that has a clear voice and understanding of who they are, as opposed to a bunch of brands that are just doing the same thing and fighting for the same thing. I think that gets a little frustrating. Not discouraging, but more frustrating. As an artist, you want to see other people get excited and inspired. It’s exciting when you see a brand that has its own voice, its own creativity, and its own lane.

Public School is a luxury brand, influenced by a streetwear aesthetic. Some would call that ironic, as there are certain socioeconomic factors that come into play there. Also, when a brand is streetwear influenced, there’s a certain authenticity and exclusivity that contributes to the price point, as well as the quality. How do you balance that, and do you have any thoughts on the irony of having to appeal to a “cool” consumer, but also a consumer that can spend a certain amount of money on products of this quality?

MO: The quality and fabrication help dictate those prices, so showing a baseball cap, but in a different fabric, automatically takes it to a designer price because you used designer fabric. We’ve always tried to blend what we love, like the streets and the highs and the lows — for sure. That’s what we always want to do. We just try to blend those pieces in and own our lane. It’s not just street, it’s not just high fashion or designer. It’s just a mosh pit of it all, all in one. And look at the market place – I’m trying to think of any street brands that are like, really street, but offer high-end pricing without the quality matching. Usually it’s just inspired by the street but still very much luxury. You can say that for Vetements, especially; these ideas of street pieces but done in a not-so-street way. It’s not just a basic French terry, there’s always more elements to it, so it makes sense to me, it warrants that. I don’t think of it as streetwear at luxury pricing for no reason. There is a reason for it.

Dao-Yi Chow: There’s perceived value and there’s inherent value. From a streetwear standpoint, I think brands that have been able to take the perceived value, and take the product up to a luxury price point, I think that’s been the magic or allure of what those brands do. But what we do, it’s inherent value; from the fabrications, from where we’re making the clothes, from the trim that we’re developing… there’s tangible reasons why the things cost what they do. I think that there’s a distinction between those two. You have brands or designers who are able to charge more money for goods and position it from a luxury standpoint based on a perceived value, and whether the actual clothes do or do not merit the price points – it’s not my place to say. For the most part, we try to price everything based on what they cost us.

Luxury and designer clothing used to be reserved for a certain segment of the population, and obviously from an economic standpoint it still is, but this explosion, for lack of a better word, of luxury streetwear, what is that telling us about society? How is that a reflection of the changing face of the luxury consumer?

DC: I think it’s sort of a breakdown of barriers, judgement, and people – streetwear is streetwear because it’s what’s happening now. That’s what streetwear has been – what is happening on the street right now. How do we address it, and how do we take that messaging culturally and turn that into something you wear on your body? And so I think that there’s a breakdown of what people think is important now. What used to be important is no longer important, and so in a lot of ways the barriers are down and people can just sort of be who they are and not feel like they have to pretend.

So there’s not a specific mold for the luxury consumer anymore?

DC: Yeah, I think that’s also from a consumer standpoint, that people are not like, “oh, it’s from this European house and it costs $2,000 and that means that it’s luxury.” Luxury has opened up. The definition of what luxury is has broadened.

There’s a lot of conversation now in fashion press with regards to sustainability and technology. Beyond recycled textiles, what’s the future of fashion as you guys see it with regards to these topics? How do you see the industry evolving, and how are you addressing it in your own work?

DC: The fashion industry in general needs to figure out how to affect its carbon imprint on the world. We were actually in Copenhagen at a summit on fashion sustainability. So for us, it needs to start with being responsible, and not just being responsible in the things we do and create but being responsible for what we imagine, think about, and ideate. Nothing is being created without the thought or the intent, so the intent needs to come from a sustainable place, and we try to work with as few factories as possible. We try to have visibility and clarity on where the products that we’re using are coming from, but ultimately we are not 100% guaranteed. We’re also in a business that makes things we really don’t need. That’s tough to say as a designer, as a person who has a career in fashion. What we do is not very sustainable at all. I think we’re trying to think about it more and affect it in ways where we’re looking at the life cycles of garments that we create and the materials they come from. In a couple of upcoming collaborations, that is sort of the main idea and the main rallying point that we’re trying to get behind. So I think in general, our thought process needs to be sustainable, the ideas need to be sustainable, and then subsequently what we produce and create off of those ideas will be more sustainable. But, at the same time, I wouldn’t say that we are torch bearers.

Speaking of collaborations, you’ve collaborated with a wide array of brands including Tumi, J. Crew, Oliver Peoples, Fitbit, Jordan – could you explain how collaborations really work and why you’re so drawn to doing them?

MO: You know, collaborations are obviously the meeting point in the middle of the two brands. Each brand shares in the other’s aesthetic, but for us when we do these collaborations we’re really just working with the best in what they do that actually fit our lifestyle outside of what we do. So, to work with Tumi, it’s easy because we travel so much, designing luggage was easy for us. It’s like, what do we want from our luggage? And we obviously pick and choose which ones are best for us and the brand. We grew up wearing Jordans. We travel all the time. I wear glasses all the time. So it comes from a true place. It’s not like we’re pulling them out of a hat just to do them. It’s actually coming from things that we’re going to use, and that’s how we design it. It’s how we’re going to use it. We’re not doing it for anybody else, really.

You have a collaboration with Moët that’s coming out also. Can you tell me a little bit more about that.

MO: We’re going to be drinking a lot. (laughs) I guess that’s a start, right? There’s the reason for that one.

DC: Moët is sort of a culmination of this idea of celebration for us, having moments to be able to celebrate and share with other people. And that process actually was really cool because we were able to travel out to Epernay where the wine and the champagne are made. And how the Maison treats it as such an artform. It was eye-opening to see that entire process and see how important that process is to the brand. That was one of the perks of being able to collab with a brand like Moët, which has hundreds and hundreds of years of experience and history.

You’ve been outspoken with regards to your support of Black Lives Matter, and your Fall runway show included caps printed with the slogan “Make America New York.” How important are political movements to fashion, both as an industry and also in direct relation to the clothes that we wear? And does one sort of inform the other?

MO: What’s going on in the current climate of the world is very much where we draw inspiration from. What’s going on right now is what we’re thinking about when designing those collections. We are aware of whatever is going on in the world, in our culture and that’s what we try to put on the runway. So, if it’s about politics then it’s about politics. Black Lives Matter, for me, was the moment when I was just really frustrated. I definitely could have been way more outspoken. It’s cool to have a voice and for it to be listened to for a second. For the runway when we did “Make America New York”– what’s great about New York is that it’s a city that is a melting pot and you can’t hide that fact.

You have a call to action that you label WNL, which has multiple meanings; Where New York Lives, We Need Leaders… Can you explain a little bit more about this?

MO: WNL just sort of started out as an internal mantra, and when we say call to action it’s not really a call to action to anyone else other than ourselves. Originally, it was just highlighting and focusing on friends of ours who we felt were leaders in their particular industry, from a creative standpoint. It’s slowly morphed into more than just a platform where, especially now in this climate, we can express and demonstrate whatever our feelings of activism are and align with other groups and organizations who feel similarly. It’s not meant to be a preachy thing at all and hopefully it doesn’t come off that way. But it’s a reminder to ourselves that we need to do something bigger than clothes or making money. I think it’s a helpful reminder for us to be able to focus on our career, while simultaneously focusing on helping each other or helping people who don’t have as much, or helping people to give a voice to those who might not have one.

And is there any specific charity or philanthropic initiative that you guys are currently working on or actively working on with Public School, as far as that’s concerned?

DC: We work with several organizations. There’s an organization that I’m a board member of that’s called Apex for Youth. It’s the largest Asian American mentoring program here in the states that provides mentorship and college preparation for children of all ethnicities, but focused on Asian Americans that live below the poverty line. We also work with the National Center for Learning Disabilities, and we are planning to partner with the ACLU. We donated the proceeds from the sales of our runway show hats to the ACLU. We’re trying to stay active.

   For more information about Public School, please visit PublicSchoolNYC.com – Makeup/Grooming by Laura Stiassni using Sisley @The Wall Group, Hair by Lizzie Arneson @ BRIDGE using Oribe. Art Direction by Louis Liu, Editor Marc Sifuentes, Photographer’s 1st Assistant Mariah Postlethwaite, 2nd Assistant Tom McKiver, Photo Intern Jeremy Hall, BTS DP/Digital Manager Casey Showalter, Senior Digital Tech Nick Korompilas, Production by XTheStudio. Special Thanks to Pier59 Studios.