Music by VICE

The Radical Fashion Designers Behind Solange's 'A Seat at the Table'

We spoke with some of the world's most adventurous designers to learn the stories behind Solange's game-changing music videos for "Cranes in the Sky" and "Don't Touch My Hair."

by Amirah Mercer
Oct 11 2016, 5:00pm

Screenshot via YouTube

If Solange Knowles wears a brand, you know she is genuinely a fan of the work. The artist has long been a champion of forward-thinking, but perhaps lesser-known, designers. And that aesthetic is on full display in the first visuals for her new album, A Seat at the Table.

With help from her stylist, Shiona Turini, the singer-songwriter corralled a band of her favorite emerging designers to outfit some of the scenes in the "Cranes in the Sky" and "Don't Touch My Hair" music videos (that is, when she or her mother, Tina Knowles, weren't creating their own looks). But these weren't just garments she thought would look great on film—these were designers she's had a history of repping, of shouting out on social media, and of coveting, waiting for the perfect moment to unveil a standout piece like Nadine Goepfert's crumpled pink coat.

A Seat at the Table is a deeply personal album. You can feel Solange's fingerprints in every note and lyric. Similarly, every fashion piece was also an intentional choice that reflects the meditative mood of black pride and the celebration of melanins popping. Solange directed the videos for "Cranes in the Sky" and "Don't Touch My Hair" with her husband, music-video director Alan Ferguson, to reveal images of black royalty. With A Seat at the Table, Solange has created an artistic reference point that will forever reflect what it meant to be black in 2016—the pains and the joys.

I spoke to artistic director Carlota Guerrero, who worked closely with Solange and tapped into her own design background to create unique fashion looks on location, as well as a few of the designers, from an eco-friendly upstart to a recent Central Saint Martins grad, to learn how it feels to take a seat at this table.

Carlota Guerrero (left), image courtesy of the artist. Screenshot (right) via YouTube

CARLOTA GUERRERO, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR (BARCELONA)

I've always admired Solange's work, but she discovered mine on Instagram. Her manager asked me to join her last June to art direct a performance at the Tate Modern. We had a beautiful creative connection and kept working together.

Solange and her amazing stylist had a very strong view for both videos. We worked together on every scene. We talked a lot about color, and we were very aware of having coherence everywhere. I was more involved in all of the experimental looks. Solange and I created [the plant dresses] together. The plant earrings Solange wears are from an amazing project on ephemeral Mediterranean jewelry called Keef Palas.

We also created the pink paper dress, the silver foil one, and the one with pink plastic bags, which was inspired by Blanca Miró Skoudy and Claire O'Keefe. Solange and I wanted to reinterpret Issey Miyake's connected dress [from the 90s], so we asked Miss Tina Knowles and Tim White (her amazing tailor) to help us, and they created this purple one in literally two days—we couldn't believe it! Same story for the fringed golden jacket. And Solange did the purple yarn one herself the day after I left.

We spent the whole month of August working together, traveling from New Orleans to New Mexico in a van, shooting every day with very little rest and the funniest situations. My favorite location was White Sands in New Mexico.

I admired Shiona and Solange's work with styling a lot. They had chosen the most amazing pieces from so many different designers. Some of them were so experimental, they just looked like sculptures. I'm a bit more hippie in this area, and I always wanted to have Solange barefoot and almost naked with a random piece of fabric or a plant or a paper or glitter. But I think we managed to balance the three visions very well. They would let me do a look with paper, but then add some beautiful Maryam Nassir Zadeh shoes, so everybody was happy.


Nadine Goepfert (left), image courtesy of the designer. Solange (right) in Goepfert's design. Image courtesy of Carlota Guerrero

NADINE GOEPFERT, DESIGNER (BERLIN)

Shiona contacted me in April, telling me that Solange would love to wear the memory foam pullover for the Met Museum Ball. Usually my work is shown in the context of exhibitions or galleries. That sweater weighs around five kilos [11 pounds]. So it looks very amazing when it's worn, but it's not very comfortable to wear. It's more a conceptual piece. But Shiona said that's probably the reason why Solange fell in love with it.

I couldn't really see Solange wearing this heavy piece on the red carpet. [Solange] contacted me again in August and asked if I could lend her the sweater—but she didn't talk about any music video. She was only talking about shooting for her new album, so I was also quite surprised when I saw it in "Cranes in the Sky."

I have the feeling she really understood what it is about. For her, it's also an art piece and a special piece, and not just a costume. And she also did some of the costuming herself, and I really like that. She's not too shy to create something in that way.

The pullover is part of my [2013] collection, called The Garments May Vary. It's a collection of garments and textiles that change their form, structure, or volume. This project I made to investigate the daily usage of apparel and the movements of the person wearing it. Each of the materials that I used for the collection is to highlight a different form of change. For example, the memory foam, if you squeeze it, it will change its form, and it will slowly get back into its original state.

If you give your garments to stylists, you're often worried if it will be used in a nice way, or maybe you're disappointed at the end, because it's really not the way you want to see your work displayed or shown. But when I saw Solange, I was like, Nobody else could have worn this piece like that.

Jaimee McKenna (left), image courtesy of the designer. Solange (right) in McKenna's designs. Screenshot via YouTube

JAIMEE MCKENNA, DESIGNER (LONDON)

Shiona her stylist got in contact with me about shooting for a video. I was in the dark [about the project]. I had to send over my whole Fall 2013 collection. I sent six looks out to New Orleans, Fedex'ed over in big boxes. [The looks are] made from lamb's wool. They're all knitted, ribbed jumpers with that knitted, felted lamb's wool that's been pleated. They are really heavy. They kind of bounce just by holding them. They were from my M.A. collection from Central Saint Martins, so they were kind of hanging out in my studio.

When I first saw "Don't Touch My Hair," I thought it was incredible, the visuals. Both of the videos are so sick. I was just like, This is everything. It was nice to see my blue outfits there, too, even though the other looks are incredible.

I've just had A Seat at the Table on while I've been knitting to my new collection. It's a good one to jam to, a good one to work to

Jaclyn Hodes (left), image courtesy of the designer. Solange (right) in Hodes's designs. Image courtesy of Shiona Turini

JACLYN HODES, DESIGNER OF AWAVEAWAKE (LOS ANGELES)

I was told Solange discovered AwaveAwake herself. I don't know how. I did sell my first two collections at Opening Ceremony. I know that she's connected to Carol Lim and Humberto Leon at Opening Ceremony, through Kenzo. Solange asked us for a bunch of dresses in certain shades of color for her 30th birthday celebration. She and all her friends were wearing the pieces. And then she reached out again when they were doing the video. It was really of no surprise to me, because I was already noticing Solange is really into monochromatism. She really likes color blocking, and that's part of our collection. We only use 100 percent natural-color plant dyes, so we don't do patterns. We just stick with this changing color palette every season.

I was so psyched [when I saw the video]. In a way, I've always envisioned Solange wearing AwaveAwake. She's the ideal customer. She's an AwaveAwake woman: super smart, fashion-aware, but in a way where she's referencing things very deeply and very subtly. The aesthetic is informing her message and vice versa. I got asked the question, "Does Solange know AwaveAwake is eco-conscious and sustainable?" And it's like further proving the point that it probably resonates with her because it is, but she's not trying to scream anything. She's just really smooth about it in all that she does.

Also, movement's really important to me. I have a dance background. The clothes are silk, and they're long dresses, so there could be, like, a preciousness, but for me there's not. They're really pieces that you can move and dance with, and that was always something I keep in mind. And her moves were so good throughout the whole thing, from when she was choreographed to when she was freestyling, just moving naturally.

For her to not just have gone to the big designers, but for her to just like what she likes, to be authentic—that's what's so amazing. As a young designer, you're competing, with, in a way, Chanel and name brands, in terms of getting attention or getting picked up. So when someone picks you up and notices you and chooses you to create such a powerful image, then you know you're doing something right.

James Flemons (left), image courtesy of the designer. Solange (right) in Flemons's design. Screenshot via YouTube

JAMES FLEMONS, DESIGNER OF PHLEMUNS (LOS ANGELES)

Solange has worn some of my stuff a few times ,and I did a collaboration with Saint Heron for their store. Our history kind of goes back a few years. I styled the shoot for one of her artists, Moses Sumney, in 2014. The first time she wore one of my pieces was close to a year ago. There's a dress from my spring collection, that every time I posted a photo on my Instagram—we weren't as close as we've become now, she wasn't really following me then—but she kept coming across this one dress, and every time, she would be like, "Oh my gosh, I love this dress, I need it now." I'm like, "You know if you want something, I'll give it to you? I love you, you're amazing." [Laughs] So we've kind of had this budding relationship of her kind of wearing and repping my pieces.

[For "Don't Touch My Hair"] I did the red bralettes and red shorts. I made 30 pieces total. I made them custom. Shiona sent me three photos of pieces that Solange was really interested in, and they kind of left it up to me to decide what the final pieces would be. I made the same bralette in the video, but out of iridescent silk that turns blue or purple depending on how it is in the sun, for my spring collection. So I did that in the red they requested, without the grommets on the bottom. The shorts that are in the video, in my collection they have big cargo pockets, so they just requested those without the pockets.

The sets are gabardine. The pieces they initially sent photos of, one of them was in denim and one was in silk, but they more specifically were looking for it in a red. So I kind of got to choose what fabric it was for the video. I was looking for denim because that's usually what I work with, but it was easier to find a red gabardine, which kind of mimics the weight and weave of denim.

When they reached out to me in August, that was the first bit of information that I had known about it. And they just said they were working on videos for the upcoming album and that was it. I had no idea the impact of how amazing and impactful [the album] was and how beautiful the videos were going to come out.

I was really blown away by everything. It's nothing like anything that's been out in a really long time. It's so personal and so in tune with what's happening in the world and in the black community. I think it's something that'll be marked down in history.

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