From dressing celebrities for red carpets and music videos to developing the creative direction for fashion magazine editorials and fashion campaigns,it is the stylist who assembles compellingoutfits that enthrall audiences. A stylist’s role is to choose and assemble all the garments and accessories that speak to a story and, most importantly, determine how those elements are placed onto the body. Their choices of an item of clothing or how they arrange an outfit can spark an international trend. To illuminate the essential role of the stylist in fashion photography, as the CMA’s assistant curator with a focus in fashion, along with a curatorial team, I invited three stylists to add their creativity to The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion. Each was tasked with developing an ensemble of clothing to be displayed on a mannequin in the galleries in conjunction with the photographs that compose the main portion of the exhibition.
Arielle Bobb-Willis and Daniel Obasi both work as stylists and photographers, and Jermaine Daley is a stylist who collaborates with photographers. Their ensembles reveal the stylists’ individual perspectives on how fashion can express a range of Black experiences and encourage viewers to compare the experience of viewing fashion in person versus through a photographer’s lens.
Fashion is a remarkable medium that emotionally connects with audiences; many communities see it as a vehicle for self-expression and identity. For Bobb-Willis, Obasi, and Daley, these installations spark an important conversation about how Blackness is a dynamic umbrella where style is a form of unity as well as a platform to voice diverse perspectives vital to the community’s existence.
Daley is a stylist centering his practice on menswear. His installation, Magic Hour, was inspired by the colorful sunsets he saw while visiting the Seychelles. The Plexiglas background, designed by sculptor Marcus Manganni, shines with a prismlike effect, evoking the hues of those singular moments. Daley’s choices convey a fresh take on the traditional men’s suit, illuminating stability and tranquility in this time of turmoil.
Obasi is a Nigerian artist who works in multiple roles across fashion, photography, and film. His installation, At last . . . Love! arose from his interest in confronting the regulation of queer love by Nigerian religious and political systems. The celestial elements of the ensemble reflect some of Obasi’s artistic influences, including Afrofuturism, which is the reimagination of Black experiences through their intersection with science, technology, and art.
Like Obasi, Bobb-Willis is both a stylist and photographer. Her installation, To Be with You, Such a View, draws inspiration from the endless forms created by treating the human body as sculpture. Her process includes modifying thrift-store clothing to complement the contorted shapes created by the body. She says, “Reality is great, but it could be more fun.” Similarly, she wants people to feel a sense of joy when they see her work.