There is a category of fashion voices that I admire a lot, a group of creatives that contributes to the fantasy of an always growing field, where almost everything is in the public eye: I’m talking about stylists, or rather, celebrity stylists that, through the looks chosen for their clients, make the red carpet a place full of messages and emotions.
Among the most powerful celebrity stylists in the world (they have just been included among the most important stylists of the decade by The Hollywood Reporter), we find Wayman Bannerman and Micah McDonald, known as Wayman + Micah: the duo’s clients list includes Tessa Thompson, Regina King, KiKi Layne, Logan Browning and Lizzy Caplan, and their work is characterized by colorful choices and elaborate and “unpredictable” details; behind their work, we find the desire to represent the client’s personality at her/his best, the respect for her/his origins and wishes, the inspiration coming from their grandmothers and mothers and the will to express the voice of emerging or less-known designers.
How do they do that? Thanks to their knowledge of fabrics and of red carpet history, to their personalized kits, specifically tailored for every client, to the great passion for fashion (after all, they are big patrons of their industry) and the courage in taking risks that, in the end, always pay off.
Since I’m a huge fan of their work, I couldn’t miss the chance to meet them in person in LA, precisely in their studio: surrounded by opulent dresses and shoes of all kinds: Wayman and Micah told us about their creative process, their style, their passion for coats and shoes, and the relationship with their customers. In other words, they opened the doors of the “magic behind the magic,” the one that is not seen on the red carpet, but that turns each dress into a love letter made of fabric, which is then made authentic by the person who wears it.
Can you explain to us a little bit about your creative process, how did you end up in the styling world?
W: First we were friends. We both lived in New York working as fashion assistants at the time when we first met and we met one random night at a party uptown in New York: I came to the party with a friend of mine and Micah came to the party too, and a mutual friend at that time introduced us one another and said, “You both work in fashion, you guys should meet each other, you should share some ideas, exchange stories and experiences.” It was a Friday night late party and I was like, “I’m good, I don’t want to talk about work or anything, I don’t really need to do it right now.” [laughs] So, somehow, we ended up having a conversation and we realized we both had a lot of common interests, and we hang out and talked all night and then we all started hanging out as a crew, which became really fun. We would do things together socially and professionally as well; then two years later, when we were doing vision boards together in January, now you take that part of the story…
M: At the top of the year we were working at our vision boards, we both had left different corporates of fashion and we had a mutual understanding – as friends talking about everything – that we wanted to move specifically into the celebrity styling space. So we were doing our vision boards, Wayman had a lot of magazine subscriptions and we were able to do that at his house, we used all his magazines, we were just cutting out things we wanted for life, finance, friends, family and when we got to the work section, we started cutting out just different potential celebrities that we would love to work with and we kept cutting out the exact same faces over and over again, just kept cutting out the same people and playing it cool at first, saying things like, “You know what? I think that’s someone you should go after, I think they are your brand, your aesthetic, you two would work well together and vice versa” and with some people, it was like “I don’t know what to tell you, man, let’s let the best man win” and that kept happening…so I was like, “You know what, we have done things together, different photoshoots and things of that nature, and we work so well together, why don’t we try to acquire them together versus losing them to an opposing force?” That was 2013 and one of those individuals we were thinking of was Forest Whitaker because we knew he had “The Butler” coming out and there would be a long press tour, something we both were very passionate and interested in, and that was our first client together. And then more clients started coming together, and we were needed both in NY and LA simultaneously, so it kept building and building and then we were like, “Ok, I guess this is a thing, let’s get to the courthouse and sign an LLC.” [laughs]
“We had a mutual understanding – as friends talking about everything – that we wanted to move specifically into the celebrity styling space.”
“We started cutting out just different potential celebrities that we would love to work with and we kept cutting out the exact same faces over and over again…”
Talking about your specific styling work, what can you tell us about your styling kit?
M: We are passionate about our kits, we have kind of your conventional things and they’re like double-sided tape, safety pins for pinning things, and we have other things, other secrets that aren’t normally in kits, while the office is organized overall by supplies, but then for our clients, we have tailored kits, with specific things that we know that work best for them, and that’s how we just kind of keep everything working.
I’m seeing, for example, Regina Hall’s, Tessa Thompson’s, it’s all organized…
M: That’s the magic under the magic, which is what you all see on the red carpet. [laughs]
About your clients instead, how do you match their personality with your ideas and then with the event? I mean, it changes every time, so it must be a challenge…
W: That’s a fun challenge that we love to take on because each woman is such an individual in their own light and they have their own perspectives, their own needs, their own way of thinking, the things they like to convey you know from day to day, as well as us since we are creators as well. Usually when we are going to major events and dressing clients we all have a conversation with our clients about it, sometimes we get to the point where they are just like, “Whatever you guys consider the best, show me the best” and that’s it. [laughs] But we always offer to have a conversation first, to make sure it’s collaborative, to make sure that whatever they are wearing they feel it, they understand what they are wearing, who they are wearing, why they are wearing it, so they can convey a best lead to translate on the red carpet.
“For our clients, we have tailored kits, with specific things that we know that work best for them.”
“We always offer to have a conversation first, to make sure it’s collaborative, to make sure that whatever they are wearing they feel it, they understand what they are wearing, who they are wearing, why they are wearing it, so they can convey a best lead to translate on the red carpet.”
Do you also create a mood board when you have to present an idea?
W: Yeah, we actually do mood boards, we enjoy it because it allows us to find things that we don’t necessarily see with our naked in the day-to-day. It allows us to do the research, to dig in, to go back and forth with ideas which we like to do also before we present it to a client, and then once we have a mood board we have a vision, we have a statement, we have a voice, and that’s cool for us to do.
Where do you mostly find inspiration when it comes to creating mood boards and looks?
M: We are big red carpet historians so things that we are inspired from the past, but really the clients themselves inspire us, we are blessed to work with a lot of strong individuals and smart women who have taken the time to know themselves and it’s exciting to be able to take that into consideration. And just do that, the research of speaking with them, the research of what makes sense in terms of aesthetic, the direction of which we want it to take, as Wayman said, “even among the research, that itself starts to unfold.” You are digging for images, digging for knowledge, understanding what works, what does not work, what’s appropriate, what’s enigmatic, what’s exciting, what can be pushed and still be appreciated.
Since you mentioned history, do you have a favorite period/person/moment at which you look at when it comes to inspiration?
W: A lot of our inspiration starts with the conversations about our parents and ancestors, as well, we talk about our grandmothers, our mothers, our sisters, our cousins, about what we saw growing up in school… Both of our grandmothers loved ornate earrings, bold statements, my grandmother loved really big pearls. Much of our inspiration stands from what we saw as kids and growing up, just kind of things that stuck with us through time. I had this conversation with Micah, I told him that growing up my mother would put on a red lip and earrings and she wasn’t going anywhere but she just wanted to do it to feel good about herself while she was at home. Grandmas are an amazing inspiration; we love to reflect and share their stories back and forth, every now and then, it makes us feel good.
“You are digging for images, digging for knowledge, understanding what works, what does not work, what’s appropriate, what’s enigmatic, what’s exciting, what can be pushed and still be appreciated.”
Do you have a memory with one of your clients that you are particularly fond of?
W: So many [laugh].
M: Once Regina King was heading to HFPA event or something along the Awards Season contenders track and I think it was only the second or third week we were working with her: so this is fresh, she’s heading up to her car as we are packing up things to leave her house and she is like, “I love you guys, I hope that’s not too early to say but I just really love you.” It was the most endearing moment, it was wonderful, [laughs] and then our love affair has continued.
W: There are so many, one of our most memorable nights was the Oscars day and night in 2018, we had three women for the ceremony and then we had about nine for the day, for Oscar parties, and they all just individually stood out in their own individual ways, and it was just beautiful to see so many women of color just shine and be so opulent and gorgeous, happy, it made us feel magical.
Have you ever had an epic-fail while doing a styling?
M: Epic-fail? It wasn’t our fault. [laughs] I don’t know because when things need a fix we just go right into the calm crisis mode, I’m like, “Wayman come back here, look at that” and we are like, “Ok, just give us 5 minutes” and we go from there, but we are just always obsessing over everything until the last minute. So, no epic-fails. [laughs]
What are some changes that you would love to see more in the styling world?
W: I think it’s happening right now, but I would love to see more diversity on the red carpet, not just wearing certain designers, there are upcoming designers and other designers with various cultural backgrounds being displayed and, you know having their voice being shown to the world. I just want to see more of them, I want to continue to see them expanding the range of designers for the Award Season and red carpets as well, I think it’s happening you know.
“It was just beautiful to see so many women of color just shine and be so opulent and gorgeous, happy, it made us feel magical.”
Do you have some favorite designers for your clients but also for yourself to wear?
M: Of course. [laughs] Both for ourselves and our clients we love Gucci, Prada… But then we also love emerging African American designers, like Christopher John Rogers, they are doing great things and they are pioneers in their field, they truly are trailblazers for what’s going on and I think working with them is really passionate for us and our clients have such a sense of pride wearing those pieces coming from them, people who share their same background and heritage, as they are trailblazers in what they are doing they love the support them and the energy is always great.
You attend fashion weeks, was there a collection or piece from the last collections that left you in awe?
W: We attended the shows in Paris, I believe it was February or March, it was the Paris Couture Week, and we attended the Valentino Couture show, that was our last show of the season and we just melted internally, externally, we were on our way back here to do the Oscars and we were just talking about the show for hours, it was so beautiful, so romantic, just like fashion heaven.
M: Pierpaolo Piccioli is so great, he’s such a cool guy, every season we are excited to see his work, he’s just full of energy, excitement and passion, and the way he has celebrated women who look like our grandmothers or mothers, what he has done for them is unbelievable, he’s just so talented.
What’s your go-to-look?
W: Black. [laughs]
M: Designer black. You know, it’s so funny I had a friend who said to me, “You have so many sweats and such relaxed clothing, you are like a high-end hobo” and I was like, “we’ll take it, I’m perfectly fine with that.” [laughs]
What are your favorite accessories for yourselves?
M: I love sunglasses, I love frames.
W: I love rings.
What do you have too many of in your closets?
W: Shoes, for both of us.
M: And coats, we do so much coat shopping and we live in LA, so it’s like every time we go to New York and for all the February fashion weeks, we just make sure we wear a different coat every day, we just love coats. We constantly buy coats and we just look at them like, “This is nice, I’m going to put on some shorts cause it’s hot” but I love my coats.
Do you prefer sneakers or more elegant models?
M: Both, you know. [laughs]
W: We have a lot of shoes that hurt, but they look amazing.
M: We plan them out for events and we are like, “Ok so we know the venue, it’s really close and we will be seated down all the time for dinner, okay I can take these out for dinner” or “Oh no it’s an exhibit, and we are walking, yeah I’m not wearing those.” [laughs]
What do you think it’s a piece of clothing or accessory that should deserve a closet of its own?
W: Definitely coats, we have a lot of coats, denim jackets and other jackets that are perfect for the LA weather. Leather biker jackets, they take off so much space in your actual closet, I can’t get everything you know, and I realize I can’t get to it because it has been taken up by coats like I had a situation where I bought a shirt because I couldn’t find the shirt that I was looking for originally, so I bought it again, and as soon as I got it again, I realized the other shirt I was looking for was standing right in front of my face the whole time.
M: He is going to build out the guest bedroom which is right across the hall, we just need to build you a closet room, it’s getting a little bit insane. We are very big patrons of our industry as well so it’s tough when we are doing jobs where we have to shop because we always find ourselves in the men’s section and we are like, “we are not supposed to be there, we are supposed to be in the women’s section shopping for the job!” So, we are big shoppers.
“Shoes, for both of us.”
“We have a lot of shoes that hurt, but they look amazing.”
“He is going to build out the guest bedroom which is right across the hall, we just need to build you a closet room, it’s getting a little bit insane.”
What’s currently at the top of your fashion wish-list?
W: I don’t know, maybe more rings for me. I like to have rings to switch out. That’s one of the newest one, which I love. I’m always into buying accessories and jewelry… Oh, there it is, I want to get or better said I want someone to get me a new Cartier Love Bracelet.
M: I wanted to say the same.
About your personal style, how did it evolve over the years?
W: He always makes fun of me about this, but in New York I used to wear Mavi jeans that wear wide legged.
M: He has come a long way [laughs].
W: I was working!
M: And it’s fun because I get to be the one who remembers all the jackets and they were all halfway up my leg… Full disclosure, I’m from Ohio and I moved to New York, and the first New Yorkers do that so that’s what I went and did. We definitely evolved into luxury convert. [laughs] Anything stretchy, and black. We just walk around looking like background singers.
“We definitely evolved into luxury convert.”
What’s fashion for you?
M: Expression, it’s you, it’s personal, it’s how you express yourself without having to say a single word. It’s how you show your journey, your evolution. It’s everything, it’s your past, your present and your future.
W: Through fashion, you can convey so much about how you’re feeling, what your current mood is, or even the mood you want to project, you can live through fashion and just experience life in ways that you experience looks, and we love that fashion allows you to be an individual, allow you to be a voice, it allows you to have multiple voices as well, and we love to have people around that understand fashion as self-expression.
Do you have a look that you are particularly proud of among those that you made over your career?
W: Would it be cocky if we say so many? [laughs]
M: I totally agree, we just pour so much about ourselves into the looks that we portray, and we just want to always make sure that you see that passion, you see that care, you see that attention to details. The looks themselves are our pride and how we make people feel, we have clients who say to us, “You never try to change me, you just make me feel like the best version of myself.” That is the goal. It’s the best feeling to hear it from their mouth to our ears, it’s so gratifying for us and we just enjoy that they are able to express themselves and they look comfortable with expressing themselves. So that makes us feel pride and joy.
“We have clients who say to us, ‘You never try to change me, you just make me feel like the best version of myself.’ That is the goal.”
When you create a look, is there a detail/fabric or something that you try to work with?
M: Very much so. We kind of start with what we want to see in our head first. We took the time to understand fabrics and constructions, so we know that duchess satin is not going to give the flow that chiffon would, but it would get the structure of the shoulder or the sleeve that we want, so really what we do, is we say, “this is the ultimate of what we want, what we see in our head, we’ll sketch it out, now what realistic factors work here?” We’ll take everything into consideration with our textile knowledge.
What about your future projects and stylings?
W: Expect a lot of fun, expect a lot of range, expect a lot of newness, as we mentioned we like to experience various designers, so we would like to give a lot of designers new designing opportunities; we like to provide opportunities for creatives in the accessory department as well; we like to collaborate and sometimes we take a little risk but it pays off and we enjoy it. So, more risks for us, always!
M: We know that either one of us can’t sleep the night before like, “Oh my God, is this good? This is gonna be alright?” and if we are feeling that way, we probably know it’s going to be alright. [laughs] Even when we know, still the night before we call each other and we say, “You love it right? ‘Cause I love it, but you love it right?” [laughs]
W: Right, I’m good with that. [laughs]