Celebrity stylist and Houston-native Alexander-Julian Gibbson is a man who needs no introduction. With social media feeds that resemble something out a museum, the fashion luminary and influencer of culture has dressed celebrities such as Laverne Cox, Lucky Daye, Tems and Wunmi Mosaku, just to name a few. And while his works are frequented on magazine covers, red carpets and award shows, his recent project with Instagram, titled The Land Of Milk And Honey is instead finding its home on timelines everywhere. Described as “an audit of the American dream,” Gibbson traveled around the country highlighting multiple families of varying cultures — the result, a compilation of photo stories, is nothing short of incredible.
“I was speaking with somebody who I knew had come to America from Nigeria,” Gibbson tells ESSENCE about the inspiration behind the title. “And I began thinking about the immigrants coming to America in search of this like grand land where everything is going to be amazing. They work so hard to come to here and I think that oftentimes they don’t realize the many issues that exist here in America. So I just thought that it might be interesting to kind of just pose that concept of this promised land that people are trying to attain.” Gibbson goes on to explain that he was also influenced by the experiences of those who did not migrate here. “There’s still a a promised land that even those of us who are here are trying to attain, because for lack of a better word, it’s been promised. We’re still waiting, hoping and fighting to live those dreams.”
At the forefront of the project were the fashions, the true standout of TLOMH. “Style and culture go hand in hand,” he says. “Style talks about how you wear clothes, how you move, how you walk, how your clothes are created, just your overall vibe. It’s really hard to highlight culture without talking about style because they inspire each other.” Gibbson shares that when you talk about a place and the people that are from that place, you have to talk about what they look like and why they wear the clothes that they wear. “It’s telling of their environment and of their background — there’s always history to it,” he continues. “So I think it’s important to kind of highlight that history and highlight their contributions to the greater like global fashion scape. We spend a lot of time focusing on the cities like Paris, Milan and New York, but those designers are getting inspired by the greater world.”
That’s what made sourcing the fashions more impactful than Gibbson’s usual day-to-day. “I really tried to work with American-immigrant designers,” he says. “The goal was always to try to match the diaspora with the culture of the family I was shooting. So for the Nigerian- American family that we shot, I pulled. from some Nigerian-American designers. A lot of them actually based in Houston — where we shot the family. There’s this whole concept of Afro-futurism and Black fashion, but I think it was important for me to explore the counterparts of Afro-futurism in these other cultures.”
The same applied to a Haitian family that Gibbson highlighted. “This project for me was a very personal project and I wanted it to be a personal project for anybody that I brought on,” he says. “So I wanted to make sure that the people that were photographing these families had a tie to the cultures and could tell their own stories, and could provide input.” Gibbson insists that because he is not Haitian, himself, he wasn’t the only person needed to bring the vision to life. “It was really important to work with Haitian creatives to make sure that it was informed take on their culture and not just something that I’d read out of a book or on a website,” he says.
The Land Of Milk And Honey kicked off in Gibbson’s native Houston, TX, the same place where the project was birthed. “I’m happy that I actually started the project off with the Nigerian family,” he says. “My experience as being in Nigeria in Houston was one of the things that inspired this project in the first place. So it seemed only right to kind of start with the Nigerian family and have their shoot inspire the rest of the shoots that we did.” Before kicking off the photo series, Gibbson partnered a local Houston restaurant for a dinner with a slew of young, Nigerian creatives to talk about what the American dream meant to them. “That was something that really informed a lot of the questions that we asked the families and really impacted the way that we moved with shooting the rest of these stories,” he says. “It was a big moment for me because the being able to come back and use the platform that I have now to tell these stories that I’ve seen my whole life was really a full-circle moment.”
Ultimately, Gibbson hopes that the body of art can serve as a reminder of the beauty that still exists within our country. “The project started in the middle of the 2020 election,” Gibbson reveals. “We were really hearing some awful rhetoric about going ‘back to where you’ve come from.’ There was a lot of racism and xenophobia and at times it felt hopeless. And then all of the protests that were going on around Black Lives Matter in Georgia, Florida, and everywhere. I remember thinking, ‘what can I do? How can I help?'”
You can continue to follow The Land Of Milk And Honey on Instagram, where it’s just been revealed that five more families will be profiled by Gibbson.