When #TeamESSENCE gets together for any cover, it’s always our goal to make magic. From assistants to photographers to creative directors, our staff strives to craft issues that embody the beauty of what it means to be Black. This month we’re thrilled to feature actor Billy Porter on our cover, styled by iconic celebrity stylist Jason Rembert, the man behind some of your favorites like Issa Rae, Marsai Martin and Odell Beckham, Jr.
But for both the ESSENCE team and Rembert, the past few months have been among the most challenging. We’ve had to deal with the COVID-19 crisis since late winter, and this cycle, we produced our July/August 2020 issue in the midst of civil unrest. As we were wrapping up a summer close, the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor rocked the world. Like so many, the ESSENCE insiders who worked on this issue are sick of the constant disadvantages Black lives have continued to endure for centuries, along with blatant racism and police brutality.
“At times I feel helpless,” Rembert tells ESSENCE. “I hope that I’m able to either have change or support change.”
The creative was chosen to style the July/August 2020 ESSENCE cover featuring Billy Porter not only for his talent but for his visionary approach to using fashion to make a political statement. And it was through Rembert’s own emerging womenswear label, Aliétte, which Porter wears on the cover, that the designer and ESSENCE made a personal statement on all that is happening to Black Americans.
“If you weren’t posting about George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, I didn’t feel comfortable supporting your brand,” he reveals.
And like the man behind it, Rembert’s custom Aliétte design also makes a statement. Designed for Porter in this moment, it features hues from the African American flag. The dress includes a deep cut with a hint of green on the right shoulder accentuated in black stars, while most of the gown includes a soft maroon finish. “I’ve shot some amazing projects. Nothing resonates to my family more than when I work with ESSENCE,” concludes Rembert. “Black-owned brands, from the beginning of my career, have been very important to me.”
As Rembert began to craft the looks for the cover, he initially had no plans to feature his own design. “The only reason why this one was set was because [Chief Content and Creative Officer] MoAnA Luu asked for it,” he says. “But my looks never would have been on set ever,” he says.
But Luu was deeply interested in supporting his emerging brand, and she asked him directly about his own availability to design the dress, he reveals. From there, the 48-hour process began. And the rest, as we say, was magic.
“ESSENCE is a magazine that holds value to us as Black people,” Rembert adds. “So when you wear a Black designer, it’s so much more.”