This year, Black History Month has been for the books. Unfortunately, huge fashion houses such as Burberry and Gucci decided to shed a negative light on African Americans and our history through the use of racially-heightened products. From the 7 o’clock news to the injustices plaguing our social media feeds, Black culture is constantly captured from a negative viewpoint. LA based designer, Cheyenne Kimora, has noticed this and decided to utilize her craft in sparking the conversation and illustrating the beauty and eccentric nature of African American culture.
Cheyenne grew up heavily influenced by her Trinidadian culture bestowed upon her by her parents and family. With her mother and grandmother often sewing around her, Cheyenne was exposed to the concept at a young age. Not to mention, her father was also influential in fueling her love for fashion design. Her father worked with leather, making items such as handbags and shoes in the 70s of which Cheyenne passionately tells me that the shoes he made are “shoes that are in style now”. He also owned his own printing shop where she described her fascination with every aspect of the design process from the paint, chemicals used to burn the images into the screen, and the concept of “turning a simple thing into something more dynamic”. Exposure to these ethics at an early aged furthered her drive to pursue fashion design as a hobby and, later a career.
What’s your background experience with fashion design? Did you study it?
It’s so funny because people are always like “did you go to to school for fashion” and I’m like nah, I’m self taught. I started fashion design in 2008 when I was graudating. It was a really positive year, Obama was going into office. It was just super cool time. It was the first black president when I was going to college and I just felt like anything was possible at that time. It was so crazy because I was actually going to go and do aero space engineering because I loved math. Anyways, back to what I was saying, since 2008 I decided I was going to turn myself into a brand and business. In 2008, I didn’t really know how to sew but I knew what design was like. I knew that if i just stayed on top of it and stayed consistent, I could turn it into something real, so that’s where I got my start.
How did you go from aerospace engineering as a major to self-taught designer?
Math and science, I’m all about. So at that time when I’m in that transition between high school and college, I’m like “I enjoy fashion design as well”. When I speak to people, they’re always like “how do you go from aero space engineering as a major to a fashion designer”. It’s because of the math that has to go into both fields especially constructing a simple dress with the measurements and all. You’d be surprised, sometimes I’m dissecting half inches to make a dress. Math is such an important factor in fashion design, so it’s always been a thing for me.
What’s the story behind Cheyenne Kimora? Like, how did this all start?
One of my friends is really the one that boosted my confidence. She asked me one day “hey, my birthday is coming up and I know you’re just like starting to sew, but can you make my birthday dress?” I love birthdays, bro. My birthday is such a moment for me every year, I get to go over my accomplishments and everything. So with her asking me to make her birthday dress, I was shook I’m not gonna lie. I was like, “you really want me to make your birthday dress?” And she like, “I know you can make my dress. I know you can do it and I want you to do it.” It was pressure making this dress so special for her. It ended up being light years ahead of its time. It had applique details, see through parts…it was very risqué, I guess. But since then, other friends starting asking with “hey my birthday’s coming up” or “oh I have this event to go to” and that’s where it started taking off from me. In the early stages of my career, I was focused on being super diligent on producing great detail and quality work. I dont want it to just look good on pictures, I want them to be completely blown away by my work. So far, everyone has been completely blown away by my work, so I’m just super grateful and blessed for that.
Where do you find inspiration?
Ooh, I find inspiration literally everywhere! Cultures inspire me for sure. My inspo changes depending on the times. So, right now black awareness is my main thing, just even for general conversation. Our culture is just so beautiful, something so beautiful that we take for granted. Music is mainly what what inspires me especially hip hop music. Just because of the fact that it is so real, it’s so unfiltered. I love J. Cole and the fact that he has a message. I like 21 savage too even though he has a different message, but the message is still there. So, I think their music has always taught me to don’t be scared to share my story or to express my opinion through my clothing, that’s the main thing that has drove me to produce and create. Oh, and art! I love art. I go to art galleries and museums all the time.
Tell me more about the “You Are Adorned” collection.
The “You Are Adorned” collection is an ongoing collection through the lifespan of Cheyenne Kimora. It is to let black people know that they are loved. And, it’s not just for black people, but it is just for people who feel like their voices aren’t heard and their voices don’t matter. With the “You Are Adorned” collection, it’s just putting a positive light on black people and black experiences. It’s comforting to me to let people know that you’re beautiful and you’re loved. From the gel that you put on your edges, your clothes, and the music you listen to, that’s you and no one can take that from you.
“Just with everything that we’ve been through over time, I just want to let people know that they’re loved, they’re adorned.”-Cheyenne Kimora
Your work is so amazing. The detailing seems so intricate with the crystals. Is there a meaning behind the crystals?
All the crystal embellishments and all the things are a great detail for the clothing and really makes the pants pop and the jacket pop. Through my brand, I just want people to know that despite what you’re going through and all the bad things you hear about our culture, just know that you are loved. You are adorned and that what the crystals are supposed to symbolize. It’s technical, but it means so much to me.
Describe your process for creating a piece, any of your pieces.
Let’s do the durag as an example. The process always starts with the message. Like what am I trying to do here and what am I trying to come across with it. I did my research and gathered info on it and I was so shook by it. So, then I was like how can I bring attention to the fact of how beautiful our culture is. So, then I went to find fabrics that have a sheen to it to highlight it and make it pop. I knew how I wanted the end results to be, but I wanted to do it in a delicate and intricate way. With choosing the fabrics, there were others to choose from. I was just like no, that’s not it. Randomly, I came across a fabric from my vendor and I was like, “this is the fabric! This is what we need.” The design in general is all about fabric. It’s about how the light hits it, of course, and how the fit is. Also, the fact that I’m using everyday pieces has played a big factor as well because I want to make the items functional, of course. Sometimes I get so into the message, I design as I’m going. I’m always thinking about the end result and connecting it to the message I’m trying to convey.
Name one celebrity you would love to see sporting your pieces.
Oh my gosh. So boom, Solange. Like hello. I would definitely see her in the durag hands down. She has the message, the vibe, etc. If I had to use anyone to categorize where my brand falls, it’ll definitely be what she has going on. She’s just everything to me, so definitely Solange. Just how Solange carries herself, she’s just so unbothered. You can tell that she’s the unbothered black girl that knows how to turn up. And that’s me personally. I could really see her stunting in my pieces. She’s a major inspo to me. When she came out with A Seat At The Table, she just covered so many different topics with “Don’t Touch My Hair” and the little talks with her mom. It was such a beautiful piece of work, it made it more than just music. It was a conversation that was being had throughout the album. It inspired me a ton to push the envelope more with the pieces I create.
What’s your main goal with your brand?
I just want to change the story and push the envelope, and change the perception of how people see us. I want to highlight good things about our culture to make people who aren’t aware of our culture who are just ignorant to black ideas and culture. Like no, we aren’t just on your 7 o’clock news. We like to laugh, we like to smile, we want to be in love. We’re human too and that’s my whole thing. With my brand in general, I feel like in order to change a person’s perspective you have to enlighten them, period. Through my brand, the energy, the shoots, and the messages, I’m just educating people who are not the same color as me, so they can gradually become more comfortable when they are around someone who is a little different from them. I also want to let people who are the same complexion as me know that “hey, you’re different but you’re loved and you are beautiful”. That’s really what the whole brand is about, so people can know this is our culture and that we’re beautiful in essence and glory and when the light and sun hits us, how our melanin shines…that’s what I really want to highlight with all of the content that I put out.
What can we expect from Cheyenne Kimora in 2019?
Ooh, okay so…definitely more content that can spark more conversation for sure. As far as pieces go, we have a lot of things lined up. I can’t say what it is, of course, but definitely playing with color for sure and then still keeping the “adorned” vibes with all the crystals embellishments. And showing more of my everyday life. I just feel like incorporating more of who I am as a designer into a lot of the styling, so people can better understand who I am as a person. And hopefully to get it on more people. My art director, Chantel, and I are really particular on who we want to place in the pieces because we want to make sure the message is strong and comes through. Throughout this year, it’s going to be compilation of black experiences and everyday black things. The most important part is the black experience which will be seen through the content I’ll release. I’m excited to put out a lot of the content we’ve been producing. 2019 is going to be fun and interesting.
Similar to Pyer Moss, Cheyenne Kimora captures the true beauty of Black culture backed by a strong message which highlights the African American way of life. As Cheyenne Kimora puts it, “being a fashion designer you have the platform to let your voice by heard through your art…I feel like if we don’t have the conversation, people will try to turn it negative. When someone doesn’t understand it’s only up to us to educate. I feel like, to me, I have to be that person.” Through the use of crystals, consistency, and a strong passion backing her beliefs, Cheyenne Kimora is driving the “uncomfortable” conversation that the fashion industry has long ignored. And with the recent events in the fashion industry, and current climate of society, there is no better time to start the conversation than now.
[Interview was edited and arranged to fit the format of this document.]