INTERVIEW: Style Expert, Constance White

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

It's not everyday that one gets to sit down with a Magazine Editor, but a few weekends ago I found myself doing just that! I met the lovely and inspirational Constance White, Former Editor-in-Chief for Essence Magazine, Style Expert, & Author of StyleNoir and Queens & Kings of Style. She was in town for the Houston stop of Macy's Black History Month Campaign.  The campaign featured a panel discussion with Constance White and Supermodel Beverly Johnson on the influence of African Americans on Fashion & Style. It was a great event, and I hope all of you were able to attend the event if it arrived in your town! Before the event started, I met with Constance in the Macy's Executive Offices to ask her a few questions about her career and life as Constance White.

When did you first know that you wanted to be a journalist?
I loved reading, even as a little girl. I would say, I first knew that I wanted to be a Journalist when I was in college. I was very interested in directing and I thought if I wasn't going to be a director then I would want to tell a story in a different way; writing those stories. That's really what led me to decide on a career in Journalism.
Where did your inspiration for your first book, Style Noir, come from?
Well I began to feel very strongly that our stories weren't being told. I was emmersed in fashion. I was connected to different areas of fashion & different people in fashion. I was operating in the highest reaches of fashion and a lot of times what black people were contributing wasn't acknowledged.  That was the genesis of Style Noir. I wanted to contribute to telling that story and not only in my everyday work to the extent that I could working at The New York Times, but I also wanted to write a book.

 "I wanted to contribute to telling that story"

How was that? Writing a book versus an editorial for a newspaper or magazine?
It was crazy and extremely rewarding. It was incredibly insane because I had a full time job, working at The New York Times--eventually I did take some time off. It was very challenging, but I wouldn't have had it any other way. I remember it was routine to be up until 2am working on the book, sleep for a couple hours and then go to work in the morning. However, being at work allowed me to do a two for one with my job and my book.  Around that time Black culture was inspiring so many designers. For instance, Jean Paul Gaultier had just shown his collection that was an image to Black people, Black style & Black culture and I was covering it for the New York Times so I also put it in the book.

Having that experience and more, how would you say African Americans themselves and the culture have influenced the fashion industry?
It's been incredible. We're talking about 100s and 100s of years,  literally! From the 1920s and prior in Africa itself and African Americans with that heritage.  In addition, it is everything from the jazz age and the blues eras. One thing I like to talk about specifically is the 1920s. The 1920s were such an incredible, fertile time for America; culturally, industrially & financially. When you think about The Great Gatsby, for example, as a book and as a film and as a remake of the film where black people hardly figure in it..yet the 1920s style was a direct outgrowth of what was happening in the African American community. Dances arose where people were freer in their movements and they needed clothing that went along with this to  move freely. Short hair and the finger waves movement was influenced by the African American community. Think Josephine Baker. It spread to the European American community and it spread around the world.

I just love those  classic finger wave styles & my favorite decade of vintage fashion are the 1920s. I'm a big fan of the flapper dresses, the cloches, the fascinators, everything! It's cool to hear that a lot of that was inspired by African Americans! So tell me, how did you come to work with Macy's for their 2014 Black History Month campaign?
That's a really interesting question, which no one's asked me before. It's interesting because of your first question and I never made the connection.  I've always believed that in order to get the word out about the impact of Black style -- have it acknowledged, celebrated, is education.  All of us just need to be more educated. I'm a big believer in learning. One of the great mediums for learning is film or television. I've always wanted to do a documentary on Black style, so I went to Macy's and said "Macy's with your clout, your interest, and your support of the community and the way the community supports you I want you to support, sponsor, partner on a film that I want to do on Black style". As we were having that conversation they mentioned that they were planning to focus on Black style for their 2014 Black History Month celebration. Organic conversation started on the campaign and now I'm here! Hopefully they'll be doing the film next year.

That'll be nice! I would definitely be first in line to see it! I've really been impressed with Macy's and their Black History Month events and ALL of their cultural diversity campaigns. No other store do what they do with diversity. I think it's really amazing that we have opportunities to hear from you, Beverly, & Joy Sewing about Black History. Just a few more questions. Between being a Journalist, Editor, Style Expert & Author, which one have you enjoyed the most?
Oh my goodness, what were they again? Haha, that one is hard to answer because to me they are all so intertwined...I'll take the fifth on that one! They were all rewarding.
What's next for you?
Well, I want to do the film, which is the video version of the book. I'm a consulting editor for a new silicon valley startup called Ozy dot com. That's been really engaging and interesting to me and will increasingly take up more of my time because the internet is still such a vast area with great potential for all of us. It's a community where Black women have really exploded and taken their power, and it's also the future in many ways of our society. The internet has changed how we communicate. I mean look at you with your phone! You're recording and then you'll turn off the recording and take a picture, then you'll turn that off, and call your girlfriends. It has just changed the way that we live and it's going to continue to do that, so for me it's very important and very interesting to work with OZY.

For more on  Constance White follow her on the following sites:
Purchase Style Noir  on Amazon!

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