While creatives congregate in almost any area, there is arguably a magnifying glass on larger cities like Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York City. “We are a gigantic ecosystem consisting of free thinking, goal oriented individuals dedicated to disrupting the status quo,” Dylan Ali tells ESSENCE.
The 25-year-old creative is multifaceted. While cultivating a popular following for her DJing and mixing, she has also growing fashion audience due to her often independent editorials. “This is my first large scale project. Since nightlife has been shut down, I had a rough few months in the spring figuring out my artistic purpose.”
Ali’s latest project “La Douceur,” which is exclusively premiering on ESSENCE.com, highlights the Black and Latin artists who are emerging in New York City. “My artistic community is my backbone. My peers and friends are my muses. I will always highlight the talent that drives fashion, media, culture, innovation, and social change,” Ali says with conviction. Through the editorial, the models explore femininity, identity, vulnerability, heritage and sexuality by modeling historic hairstyles in a series of photos.
Captured by photographer Savion Spellman and New Orleans based videographer Joienille, “La Douceur” celebrates the softness of Black and Brown womanhood while showcasing the models in contrasting presentations—from power-suits to striking mullets and up-dos. “Our community is the future of the world,” Ali declares.
Below, ESSENCE spoke with the curator about her latest project and what she hopes to see in the industry in 2021.
ESSENCE: What makes the creative community in New York City so special?
Ali: My peers show up to my gigs, help me in my time of need, share my work, vouch [so] that I receive opportunities I’ve always dreamed of, and motivate me to continue pursuing my vision in my darkest hours. My artistic community is my backbone. My peers and friends are my muses.
What does this project mean to you?
Ali: The suits and mullets are an homage to the “powerful business woman” of the past while the hair, model casting, and curation highlight the future of young Black and Latin women creatives emerging in New York City. The bold colors and sharp silhouettes are a minimalist, nontraditional interpretation of modern femininity. The second outfits are an elevated, surrealist interpretation of how the models express themselves in their day to day on their urban playground. This is a more intimate depiction of softness where we pair boldly colored and textured street style silhouettes with drag wigs.
My best friend Quran Bell and I made all six mullets by hand and styled three drag wigs each in the span of a few days. In early October, we drove to New York and executed the concept by the end of the week. After months of pitching to publications we finally landed here. My first art directed editorial in a publication centered around celebrating sisterhood, community, survival, and particularly Black women. So, I’m grateful for being patient with my vision.
ESSENCE: Why is the mullet so special?
Ali: I think it’s a fun non-gendered hairstyle that works on any head shape because it’s cut to frame your face. In middle school I followed a lot of Black emo and scene queens who rocked them effortlessly but, I was too young for my mom to let me wear fake hair and I didn’t want to cut my natural hair. As soon as I fell back into my obsession with vintage hairstyles in 2019, I began cutting wigs into mullets and began evolving my styles from there.
ESSENCE: What would you like to see change in the industry in 2021?
Ali: I would like to see more Black people in positions of power, more Black owned publications run by Black people for Black people, a stronger collective stance against racism, transphobia, violence and abuse of power within the industry, and or people to actually listen to Black women when we speak up instead of silencing us. More importantly, no more fake inclusion. Hire us, pay us, believe us, listen to us, and support us.
Models: Alicia Drayton (@aliciadrayton_) Arnell Banahene (@readynelly) Taylor Thompkins (@taylorthompkins) Amanda Baez (@neeoonspicee) Yazmine Rosario (@yazmine.r) Dylan Ali (@dylanali_)
Crew: Art Direction by Dylan Ali, Shot by Savion Spellman (@boneeesss) Video by Joienille (@joienille) Produced by Aili Nicholson (@localhunni) Hair by Quran Bell & Dylan Ali (@qur5n) Makeup by Quran Bell Styled by Chanel Hardin (@whoizzzshe) assisted by Dylan Ali Photo retouching by Jim Deuce (@deucejim).