get in formation with beyoncé’s stylist marni senofonte
Marni Senofonte reveals what it’s like to work alongside Queen B on the most talked about music video of the year.
In April of this year, Beyoncé released her sixth studio album, and second full length visual album. It made titanic waves through the creative industries, and changed the way we think about music videos forever. The cinematic visuals echoed an extremely well documented personal narrative about Jay Z's alleged extramarital affairs, spoke up for black female empowerment, and held enough cultural relevance that it was even premiered on HBO.
Featuring a unique collection of contributors and guest artists, the sound of Lemonade was totally new; varied, innovative and wholly representative of 2016. The visuals were no different. Several critically acclaimed filmmakers were responsible for the execution of Lemonade; Jonas Akerlund, Mark Romanek, Melina Matsoukas, amongst others… but the film would be nothing without the right wardrobe.
Marni Senofonte is the stylist behind some of the most iconic looks from Lemonade, and won the award for Best Styling in a Music Video at this year's UK Music Video Awards for the Formation video, which, even though it appears over the end credits of Lemonade, seems to summarise the overarching spirit and style of the whole film. The styling in the video is an imitable mix of the timeless and futuristic.
We spoke to Marni about her incredible year, reflecting on the juggernaut that is Lemonade, and translating clothes from idea, to sketch, to the video shoot, and though to a promo tour, and working alongside the 'creative force' that is Beyoncé.
Hi Marni! When the video came out, there were lots of fashion editors and publications that raced to identify the looks as soon as it came out. Does it flatter you that people strive to unpick your work?
Whatever I do, I kind of like it to marinate for a minute, let people figure things out and let people try to understand it. With this project I wanted to make it seem like, you know 'are they in costumes, or are they in modern day clothing?' I wanted to make sure that you didn't know where you were. We released the Formation video, we did the Superbowl, and we went right into preparation for the tour, so it was just a whirlwind. It's just been so non-stop. I haven't even had a second to think about it yet!
It is so impressive when you look back at a body of work, and it's this huge universe that you've created!
It is a little crazy, when I look at the shows now, that's kind of what we were doing! There's a Victorian touch in so many collections right now and I think to myself, 'Oh, I wish I had that back then', but then, maybe the reason I'm thinking that is because we created it.
There were so many themes, images, conversations and dialogues to come out of Formation, and Lemonade. Was it a challenge to translate that into the clothes, or does that make it easy, because there's so much there?
Beyoncé is such a creative force, and she's such a great person to bring ideas to, but there was no real 'we're going to do this'. It just kind of organically created itself, in a way. But it was important for me to put these women into couture clothing. It's like the new version of what a plantation owner would look like, this is what these beautiful black women would be looking like. It was just important for me to not go too costume-y, but to take real modern day Givenchy couture and put it on these women. It's almost like this is what it should be.
Where do you start on such a big project like this?
Each song represented an emotion, so I kind of went off of the emotion first. With the Formation video, take the red Gucci dress from the new collection. I saw that, and then I had this whole vision of 'this is the new Gucci', and the 'old school Gucci kinda thing'. This new designer who came into this house you know, kind of totally fucked it up! Twisted it up! But the homage to the old too, which was kind of where Beyoncé was at the time. I was like, 'you're about to fuck up the world with what you're about to say!' It was kind of a parallel, a subliminal twist that a fashion person was able to play with.
The clothes in Lemonade are so integral to the narrative. Have you always wanted to tell stories through clothes? Has that always been a part of what you wanted to do?
It was really great that we were able to have this thread through the entire project. There was nothing random in the tour clothing, in the video… even the red carpets! Everything kept this thread going. And we ask how we can do it differently or how can we modernise it? What is the next stage of this?
I wanted to talk about the difference between editorial stills and a music video like this. How do they differ?
Editorial is so much easier, you can create anything! Anything that Beyoncé has to have movement in, you really need an engineering degree! To look a certain way, to have it be able to move, to have nothing fall out… If you take Beyoncé away, you still have 20 dancers, it's just this huge production, and everyone has to live within this same world. When you do videos, it takes so much more.
How much influence does Beyonce have on the styling?
In every aspect of everything she does, she is so completely your partner. She's an artist that lets you be an artist as well, which is really awesome. She of course has her ideas, but she's always open to the person that's working with her.
Where does your responsibility as a stylist lie? The artist? Fashion labels? Yourself?
Definitely a responsibility to myself, and to the artist. The greatest thing with Beyoncé is because she is so established and I think all creative begins and ends with her, so you never have to talk to a whole bunch of record company people who know nothing about fashion. But I think the responsibility lies with her.
Let's talk more about the tour. How easy was it to translate everything from the video to the stage?
Not that it wasn't difficult, but it wasn't impossible. I had conversations with everyone, this was before the album was out and I explained all of the different emotions and the feel and the vibe of the project. It's hard for designers to design performance clothing; there was a lot of stuff that we got that we weren't able to use, because you couldn't perform in it. Needless to say everything was beautiful, but it is a funny process to take a sketch and see what life comes out of the sketch.
What advice would you give to someone who would love to do what you do?
First of all, it's completely possible. It's more possible now than it's ever been, truth be told. There's no boundaries and there's no limits to anything now because you have this platform where you have the ability to have millions of people see your work. But you have to follow it up with something!
Text Tom Ivin