erykah badu makes fashion styling an art form

In advance of her styling debut at New York Fashion Week, i-D meets the the iconic musician who once turned a tablecloth into a look for a music video.

by Antwaun Sargent
12 February 2016, 3:15pm

"I have never styled a fashion show before," admits Erykah Badu. But the singer says past fashion collaborations with "fashion friends" like Riccardo Tisci (for Givenchy's spring/summer 14 ad campaign) and designer Tom Ford, who asked the musician to serve as the face of one his fragrances, have given her the confidence to "follow her own vision."

On Saturday, during New York Fashion Week, Badu will officially add "stylist" to her resume, at the fall/winter 16 menswear presentation of New York-based brand Pyer Moss. Kerby Jean-Raymond, the young New York designer behind the label, has long admired the queen of Neo-Soul and eternal fashion muse. "I hope in my career I become Erykah's fashion counterpart," he says. "She's never oversaturated the market she has always done things that felt right — things that have always felt deeply personal and connected to herself." That's why Jean-Raymond is turning over the reigns of his presentation to Badu to style however she sees fit.

Related: How Police Shootings and Personal Loss Have Inspired the Fashion of Pyer Moss

What can we expect from the collaboration? Badu says, "I predict that it will be like sympathetic vibrations — that means when two lightweight objects vibrate toward each other. It will be a natural match." i-D caught up with the singer to talk fashion, depression, and styling as an artform.

What drew you to Pyer Moss' aesthetic?
I have a pretty masculine style and I like the silhouettes of menswear. There were these leather and shearling Pyer Moss overalls, that were brought to me. I wear overalls every day and I have never seen them quite done in that way. Then there was also this flight suit that was pretty awesome. It was perfect for my hats and accessories, and the layering that I do. I fell in love with it. If I was a designer I would design those pieces for myself.

How are you envisioning blending your personal aesthetic with the styling of the show?
It's the approach that I take to any other art I create: total instinct. My aesthetic eye never lets me down. I throw everything in then start to eliminate and pull back until we see the simplest unique combination. I would guess that I could do it in my sleep. It's what I do. I am really excited about experimenting.

How has the theme of the show, "double bind," influenced your process?
A double bind is an emotionally distressing dilemma in communication in which an individual or group receives two or more conflicting messages and one message negates the other. In this show, [Kerby's] dealing with the human experience of depression, or bipolarism. Which is something we don't really talk about as much as we should. We all go through many depressions all the time and as a result we find coping mechanisms and self-medicate. As a result, we sometimes become semi-delusional in our vision. I think this concept is really interesting especially coupled with fashion.

Accessories have defined your personal style over the years. Will you incorporate them into the show?
Yes, in a very mature way. I am going to have to be really creative and thoughtful when I am putting my touch on top of [Kerby's] so that it becomes one breathing organism. In the tradition of creating an artwork, you don't know what you are going to get until you are actually there doing it.

Is there a particular song of yours that suits the ethos of the collection?
I would probably apply about 20 of my songs to what [Kerby's] trying to communicate this season. My music is about the human struggle and experience and the enlightenment we receive as a result of getting those lessons.

You've become a symbol of individuality in fashion, with your collaborations with Tom Ford and Givenchy. In what ways does fashion inform who you are?
It's all art to me. I call fashion "functional art." Art that moves with you and changes with you, that forms to fit your mood. It's all art: the way I read, the way I cook, the way I do my hair, all of it is some kind of aesthetic that makes me happy — that makes me feel good. I don't feel obligated to do any particular thing. I am just quite intuitive with what feels and looks good artistically.

How will your past collaborations with Riccardo Tisci inform your new styling gig?
Riccardo Tisci encouraged me to style myself for those [Givenchy] shoots because he wanted to capture whatever it was that he was drawn to with my eye. I don't really keep up with fashion too much. But with style I do my thing. What I am learning this time is, less is more. Sometimes it's good to let my Grace Jones flow and sometimes my Eve from Genesis is quite appropriate.

Is Grace Jones your fashion icon?
I think she's everyone's fashion icon. It's not just because she's brave or colorful or eccentric, it's because she is precise. She knows what to do exactly! She has a way of making layers of things fit and become one body. That's a gift. It's not something that you go to school for or learn from studying someone hard enough. The movement comes from her heart through her arms and fingertips — she's actually a creator.

What was your earliest fashion memory?
In my video for "On & On," I took a tablecloth and made it into a dress and head wrap and showed up at the junk joint. But my first real influence or memory is when I was a little kid. I have always been attracted to things that don't conform. When I was entering high school, everybody was kind of avant-garde there. There were musicians, singers, painters, and I said, "Oh, this is what we are doing? Okay." It gave me the confidence to be a free spirit and express myself. I saw the kids dressing in different kinds of ways and being influenced by punk rock, Europe, and Japan, and making their own clothes. I was surrounded by that kind of thing in high school and it became my world. My mom is pretty stylish too!

Does she influence your style at all?My mom was called Twiggy because she was a really thin and tall, with a pixie haircut and huge eyes. I saw her and her friends going out in the 1970s in the age of polyester jumpsuits fitted with big hats, wide belts, and black, black, mascara. She was very stylish and did makeup for Ebony Fashion Fair. It influenced me a great deal.


Text Antwaun Sargent
Image courtesy Erykah Badu

New York
Erykah Badu
Pyer Moss
Kerby Jean Raymond
fashion interviews
fall/winter 16
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