A Conversation with Wild ‘n Out’s Costume Designer, Satthra San

Last weekend I had the amazing opportunity to spend time backstage at Wild ‘n Out in Brooklyn, New York to see how things work behind the scenes. During my time on set, I sat in on filmings of the show and hung out with cast members, which was somewhat surreal being that I’ve been watching Wild ‘n Out since I was too young to be watching it.

However, what was most exciting is that I got a chance to interview the show’s costume designer, Satthra San. San is the woman behind the eclectic, yet cohesive red and black (and recently gold and platinum) fashions that have become such a huge part of the show. Here’s a closer look at just what that job entails:

Chantè: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, I just have a few questions. Firstly, how did you get to this position in your career?

Satthra: No problem! Do you want the long story or the short story?

C: Either one is fine.

S: Basically, I moved to New York six and a half years ago and started doing sales in fashion. I have a Bachelor’s in design, and I’ve been sewing since I was like thirteen so I actually had a lot of opportunities back home, but I really wanted to be in New York, so I literally left everything. I left a comfortable life and started from scratch here. I didn’t know anyone, I met my roommate online and I found my apartment the weekend I graduated. When I got here I started doing sales in a showroom as an intern and I was there for a year. I met a bunch of stylists. One, in particular, I kept in contact with and a year later I hit her up and she had to fire her assistant that same weekend and she lived down the street from me. I was everything that she needed at that time and she was everything that I needed at that time, so it just kind of fell into place. She did a lot of styling for Atlantic artists such as Wale, B.O.B. and Joe Budden, so that’s how I got my start in the styling world. Her best friend was actually working Wild ‘N Out at the time, this was season six. At the same time, my former boss was moving to London, so I worked my ass off on season 6 and my her best friend adopted me for the next four seasons. Then I graduated to be lead for the past two seasons, seasons ten and eleven. And now, here I am.

C: And now here we are! That’s great. So now that you’ve been in this position for a couple of seasons, what’s your favorite part of the job?

S: Well since I have a design background, all of these jerseys are kind of sort of my visions. Our people, New Jersey Sets, who are based out in California, I give them my inspiration and the things I’m looking for for the season and they come back to me with designs and I’ll say “add a hood” or “add this color panel.” We’ve actually been a couple seasons going trying to achieve these sequin jerseys, so getting to make stuff like that happen is probably my favorite part.

C: That actually flows right into my next question, which is how do the fashions on the show come about? I know the cast all have their different styles, so do they come to you and say “this is what I want” or do you just tell them that’s what they’re going to wear?

S: It’s definitely a collaboration. There are some guys that sort of know exactly what they want and they’ve been on the show for so many years that they just trust us at this point. They just come and kind of look through the jersey racks and anything on these racks they kind of customize however they want. But then there are other cast members, the new ones, that are super excited and just want to put everything together.

C: So how is the work environment? Is it chaotic? It is chill?

S: You know what’s crazy? It all starts at the top. For me, I wanted to build an organized foundation. I wanted it to be so that everyone coming in to work for me knows the lay of the land and is multi-talented. You can’t just be able to do one thing here. You’ve got to do multiple things. For me, I’m on the [sewing] machine, I handle the vinyl cutter, I’ll heat press the names, I’ll make designs on the computer along with putting the clothes onto people.

C: So that again kind of goes into my next question: How much of your personal style goes into the clothes that we see on the show?

S: All of it. But actually, a lot of the things I wouldn’t pick out personally, but I would pick out for a certain person. Like Karlous likes crazy pants so we’ve gotten a lot of the G-Star and Pharell collaboration jeans for him. So like, for the OG cast members I have pieces I specifically hand pick for them, and there are other fillers that I kind of just get just in case someone might want to try it, but most importantly it all just needs to look good on stage and on camera.

C: Okay, final question: Do you also design Nick’s turbans?

S: Unfortunately I do not. Nick has his own team that I’d be happy to connect you with if need be.

C: Thank you! And thank you again for your time.

S: No problem!

 

Be the zeitgeist.

What Classifies as an Award Show Fashion Statement?

Unsurprisingly, award shows have always been riddled with celebrity fashion statements. Nights such as The Grammys where all the stars (and cameras) gather are without a doubt a great time to speak up. However, it is also true that TV & Film award shows tend to have more subtle protests, while music award shows are more theatrical.

The point is that they all seem to get political in one way or another.  Some of the most notable recent award show fashion statements include Pharell dressing his backup dancers in hoodies to honor Trayvon Martin at the 2015 Grammys, various stars wearing blue ribbons to the 2017 Oscars to signify support of the ACLU and, of course, Joy Villa in her controversial “Make America Great Again” gown at last year’s Grammys.

This year, many celebrities elected to wear black to the Golden Globes to stand in solidarity with victims of sexual assault. The lack of color on the red carpet was definitely noticeable, but the problem is that it wasn’t really that groundbreaking. Many critiqued the protest by noting that black gowns at an award show are hardly a statement.

On the other hand, many artists at this year’s Grammys adorned white roses to support the cause. This protest, while still simple, seemed to say a little more. The white roses were obviously meant to symbolize something and weren’t easily confused with a regular Grammy accessory.

This difference is huge because a protest is hardly a protest if it doesn’t require much diverting from the status quo. Fashion statements, just like any other protest can’t afford to be subtle if they truly aim to make a difference. While TV & film award shows such as the Golden Globes don’t offer as many opportunities for performance art protests as music award shows do, they do offer just as much public attention, and therefore should be just as bold when it comes to their political fashion statements.

Be the zeitgeist.

 

 

H&M Has Appointed a Diversity Leader, But I’m Not Impressed

Last week H&M became yet another brand to find itself in a PR disaster caused by racial insensitivity. While having a Black boy model a hoodie that reads “Coolest money in the jungle,” was probably not meant to be malicious, it was definitely tone deaf. It showed a complete lack of knowledge and/or understanding of the Black point of view.

Because of this, the Swedish brand announced on Tuesday via Facebook that they would be appointing a diversity leader. This is interesting to me because I’ve seen many people say on social media that incidents such as the monkey hoodie highlight why people of color should have a voice in the conversation when companies make decisions. I’m sure that H&M saw these sentiments as well and this is their attempt at giving the people what they want.

However, I’m not sure that’s enough. While I’ll always be an advocate for people of color having a seat at the table, at this point that shouldn’t be necessary to make better decisions. Being tone deaf stems from ignorance, but there is really no excuse for this kind of ignorance.

We live in an extremely social world in which brands have the ability to truly get to know their consumers and how we think. Moreover, we’re currently in a period in which race/racism is an extremely sensitive topic. Simply paying attention would have alerted H&M that putting a little Black boy in anything that said “monkey” probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

Similarly, simply paying attention (and actually caring) would’ve prevented the makeup brand Tarte from only creating three shades that could possibly work for women of color when they formulated their new Shape Tape Foundation. While reviewing the product, Alissa Ashley stated that we shouldn’t have to beg for inclusion anymore which led to me adopting the same attitude towards all offensive acts from brands.

We should no longer have to ask a brand to consider our point of view after they do something wrong because not initially considering our point of view is a choice. It’s a choice to be ignorant and/or lazy. H&M appointing a diversity leader to prove that its “commitment to addressing diversity and inclusion is genuine” would have felt much more “genuine” if it was done proactively rather than reactively.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

State of the Zeitgeist

2017 was interesting, to say the least. All things considered, I’d say that the one word that sums up this year would have to be “hectic.” From culture to historical events, there was simply a lot going on. As we reexamine the past twelve months and promise ourselves to improve over the next twelve, we’ll have a lot to consider.

The fashion industry, particularly, had a year that merits some reflection. The push for diversity and cultural respect has never been stronger; however, the industry has proven to be completely unprepared for this. PR disasters surrounding appropriation and tokenism plagued 2017 as brands attempted to give consumers what they thought they wanted.

The editorial side of fashion also had a pretty unfortunate year. Most notably, the Terry Richardson scandal disrupted many collaborations. In addition, multiple bloggers were vocal about the discrete advertising and bias found in many magazines. What’s worst is that the disconnect between consumers and brands and the unethical journalism were simply icing on a cake of runway shows that many viewed as “boring.”

The hip-hop industry, on the other hand, had a year that was far from boring. Most of the many projects that came out this year found themselves on one end of the spectrum, complete trash or certified hit. The abundance of collaborations and mumble rap generated so much noise that it was easy to miss the lackluster work.

I must admit, though, I am disappointed with just how much lackluster work there was to miss. I, like many others, was hoping that the introduction of the Trump administration would inspire some brilliant music as well as fashion. Instead, all we got was a few powerful protests, but many more empty ones.

My hope is that going into 2018 we’ll find inspiration in both our 2017 failures and successes, creatively and socially. While New Year’s resolutions are a bit cliche, they do help us to be honest with ourselves and seek improvement. So my hope is that every creative and/or activist who comes across this dedicates themselves to contributing to the spirit of the times in a way that is no less than phenomenal in 2018.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

Unapologetic

I pride myself in my long coffin shaped nails. My colorful claws are a pretty constant conversation starter, and while I must admit that I enjoy the attention, that’s not why I started wearing them. When I first decided to wear long nails, it wasn’t because I relished the thought of white women calling me “fierce,” or my mother asking me when I planned on cutting them, or middle-aged Black women regularly grabbing my hands to get a better look. When I first started wearing long nails it was simply because I thought they were pretty.

However, they’ve surprisingly opened my eyes to a lot. While acrylic nails are nothing more than colorful extensions to my fingertips, they’ve garnered me even more creepy male gaze, an odd and somewhat uncomfortable kind of admiration from girls that I do not know and countless pieces of unsolicited advice from older women. All of which I’ve found to be rooted in stereotypes.

When people look at my nails they equate me to caricatures such as Joi from “Friday,” which is odd because I act nothing like the purposely over the top character. I know that in most cases the connection is accidental, but it’s still strange. Something as simple as my nails has labeled me as “obnoxious,” “ghetto” and most favorably “fierce.” And yes, those are actual comments I’ve received/heard.

Of course, those aren’t everyone’s reactions. When I’m on campus at Howard, I’m just another girl with long nails. It’s when I venture outside that I’m not quite sure to expect. They’re either “really pretty” or “a bit much” depending on the setting in which I find myself. This unexpected social aspect of having long nails has made me think a lot.

One person who crosses my mind often as I contemplate if my nails are even worth all the hassle is a teacher from my elementary school named Ms. Miller. She had nails even longer than the ones I wear today, and she talked with her hands a lot, so it was hard to miss them. I sometimes heard other teachers and even students whisper about Ms. Miller’s nails, and I’m sure she did too, but she always wore them with such confidence. As a little girl I didn’t think much of this, but now it means the world to me.

I know Ms. Miller probably received Joi comparisons of her own, and if she still has longs nails, she probably still does. However, I’ve found both Joi and Ms. Miller to be sources of inspiration. In both Joi’s over the top finger pointing and Ms. Miller’s quiet, unbothered demeanor was a sense of confidence that I can’t help but admire.

Because of them, I flaunt my long nails even harder after every disapproving comment. Just like cutting my hair or choosing to wear makeup every day, having long nails has taught me to be unapologetic. I never asked for anyone’s approval or opinion on these matters, and I never will.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

What’s The Verdict on Logomania?

Okay, I get it. Everyone hates people who feel the need to overtly flaunt designer labels. It’s obnoxious and as the cliche saying goes, “fashion is about style, not about designers.” Also, it’s been proven that showing off designer labels is a tactic the lower class uses to attempt to give the appearance of being upper class.

All of that is true, but it does not change how fly you feel when you look in the mirror in a head-to-toe designer look, or even wearing just one attention-grabbing designer piece. This is a one of a kind feeling. It’s definitely not the same feeling you get when you pull together random pieces and make a look; it’s arguably better, depending on your mood.

And in the end, that’s the goal of fashion: to make you feel good. It does not matter what’s in season, it does not matter what’s on the runway in Milan, it does not matter what the magazines are pushing this month. What matters is how you feel when you look in the mirror, and ultimately, logomania undoubtedly gives you an elevated feeling when you look in the mirror.

Moreover, let’s not forget that we loved logomania at some point. It’s been a while, but when Lil Kim brought the trend to the hip-hop world, we couldn’t get enough of it. Seeing your favorite rapper in an entirely Gucci or Louis outfit was basically a reminder of exactly why you thought they were the coolest thing on the planet. Of course, countless trends (many of which we can all agree to never speak of again) have come and gone since that time, but our love for labels has only toned down, not died.

I know it’s corny, I know it’s obnoxious, I know it’s more stylish to put together devastating looks without the help of designers and I know that it’s not what Bill Gates does (even though we really shouldn’t be modeling ourselves after rich white men), but the allure of showing off labels is undeniable. I’m not saying you should only wear pieces that have graced a runway, because you should definitely still create your own style. However, I am saying that if you should ever feel the occasional need to step out completely covered in your favorite designer and make sure everyone is aware of it, do not let anyone make you feel bad about it.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

Hip-Hop Needs New Style Icons

A couple of weeks ago Beyonce was Lil Kim for Halloween, and it was everything. Bey recreated just a few of Kim’s iconic looks, but she had plenty to pick from. Lil Kim’s reign as Queen B has been marked by unforgettable looks; from the colorful “Crush on You” video looks, to the purple jumpsuit and pasty at the 1999 VMAs. It’s also no secret that Kim brought styles such as logomania and bright colored hair to the hip-hop community.

However, she isn’t the only hip-hop style icon. We can’t forget Andre 3000 who’s been pushing gender norms and giving uniquely stylish looks since the early 1990s. There’s also trendsetter, Missy Elliot; self-proclaimed pretty boy, A$AP Rocky and even the OGs, Salt-N-Pepa. All of these people brought their dynamic personal style onto the scene with them when they entered the spotlight.

These artists found their place in a long tradition of Black celebrities setting fashion trends for their peers in their respective industries as well as their fans. Another industry where this is common is sports, specifically the NBA. Interestingly enough, many style icons in sports find their fashion inspiration in hip-hop stars and vice-versa. This is a longstanding relationship between fashion, hip-hop, sports and the Black community.

This brings me to a question: “Who is taking on that legacy now?” One could argue that A$AP Rocky, Kanye and Rihanna are today’s hip-hop style icons, but that answer isn’t sufficient for me.  A$AP Rocky is great, but he’s one person who represents one niche of hip-hop at a time when the genre is arguably more diverse than ever. Kanye simply isn’t a style icon anymore, you can look at any Yeezy runway and see what I mean. His “designs” have essentially become the material for Twitter jokes. Finally, there’s Rihanna. Rih is undoubtedly a style icon, but despite her feature on N.E.R.D.’s “Lemon,” she’s not a rapper, and I can’t count anyone who is hip-hop adjacent as a true hip-hop style icon.

This gross lack of someone to take the torch is dissatisfying, to say the least. The worst part is that a style icon is nothing more than someone who consistently dresses strangely and does it well, and I’m convinced plenty of today’s rappers could do that. Today’s rappers are weirdos, but for some reason, they’d rather wear jeans and a t-shirt or poorly curated head to toe designer than display that weirdness in their wardrobe. In an industry where everyone works so hard to prove that they’re different, no one really wants to be different anymore.

Fashion is a huge part of building a brand. There are plenty of past names in the hip-hop industry that are still identifiable by the fashion that was unique to them, but we don’t see that anymore. This lack of style makes artists forgettable and leaves fans like me bored. We all know that fashion needs hip-hop, but it seems that we’ve forgotten that hip-hop needs fashion.

Be the zeitgeist.