This past week, Millennium Male contributor, Natasha “Tottie” Weston spoke to celebrity wardrobe stylist and image consultant, Sam DeSalu to discuss men, hip hop, and fashion. Sam has styled for BET’s 106 & Park and has worked with some of the best in the industry to include: Tyrese, Ryan Leslie, and Kate Shindle, just to name a few. Check out the interview as we talked to Sam about the recent controversy surrounding males in hip hop embracing their sexuality, style, his career, advice to males wanting to explore fashion, and more.
Sam was very open and honest about his views on this topic and made it clear that he’s not a judgmental person so speaking on a subject such as this was difficult.
Natasha: Let’s talk about “Men, Hip Hop and Fashion.” When I think of the “millennium male,” Sam DeSalu comes to mind. Not only because you’re a celebrity stylist but because you also have a unique taste in fashion. You also may have some insight into this topic being a male that works in hip hop from a fashion aspect. Tell me a little about yourself, your background and where your love for fashion originated.
Sam: “I was born in Nigeria, came to America in 91. Grew up and raised in Chicago. Raised by single mother, one sibling. My passion for fashion came when I moved to New York City in 09. I was inspired by the fashion industry and every one that was doing it around me. I was like, you know, let me see what’s up! So I started pursing a career in styling and that’s how I got to where I am now.”
Natasha: Cool, so did you go to school for fashion or is it something that you just jumped right into?
Sam:”Something I jumped into. I went to school for marketing so I guess that helped me with my networking skills but I didn’t go to school for fashion.”
Natasha: So do your marketing skills play a part in your company now and how you conduct business?
Natasha: Ok, well let’s get right to what I wanted to talk with you about. As you know, there’s been lots of talk about some of the top media figures and icons in hip hop who are “coming out of the closet.” For decades, fashion has been a form of free expression and I’ve found that men who choose to express themselves through fashion are sometimes classified as being homosexual or if they wear their pants too tight it’s “gay.” What’s your take on the issue at hand and how do you think fashion plays a part in hip hop with men and their sexuality?
Sam: “That’s a tough question. People say what you wear makes you gay but clothes aren’t gay! It’s the person in the clothes that can make it what is. So for instance, I wear my pants fitted because I’m over the whole baggy look and some people may consider that gay but I’m like ok because I wear my pants fitted that makes me gay? No, that’s not what it is. I can wear fitted pants and make it look good and then a gay guy can wear it and then people will say oh that’s gay..I mean that’s a tough question to be honest with you because I feel like fashion is just a way of expressing yourself through your clothes. It’s really no gay or not gay. That’s a hard question you kinda stumped me right there (laugh)!”
Natasha: (Laugh) Over the years, I’ve heard people make assumptions about men specifically (and I’m not even speaking about women with fashion because it’s typical with men) who express themselves through their own personal style or through the types of clothes that they wear but don’t you think that’s something that should be a personal thing? Do you think it has anything to do with self esteem and a person knowing who they are as far as what they wear influence them?
Sam:“I mean, someone that I respect in the rap industry is Andre 3000 because growing up and following his style, I mean, people probably thought he was gay. And now his style is respected because it’s what’s in style now. But he’s ahead of the time. He was doing things that people are doing now like wearing colored slacks, wearing his clothes fitted, wearing blazers with different shirts. I know everyone is going crazy because Frank Ocean came out and said he was gay, but I really don’t care because the man still makes good music and I’m still gonna support him and buy his albums.”
Natasha: What are your views on how men’s fashion differs from women’s in a sense of expression?
Sam: “I feel like women have it easier because they can express themselves in so many ways with what they wear and they won’t be considered gay or straight. But if a guy wears certain things, he’s looked at as being homosexual and really it could just be his style and him being unique. People, well ignorant people (excuse the word) criticize what they don’t know and what they don’t understand. Back to Andre 3000, growing up and watching his style, he wore some crazy stuff that people probably didn’t really get and they were probably thinking, this dude is probably gay or crazy but he was expressing himself and people judged him. So I feel like men are limited to what they can wear without being scrutinized and judged. Women have it easy, they can wear whatever and express themselves in any other way and it will be looked at as creative but if a guy does it he’s labeled as gay or just weird.”
Natasha: So would you say that Andre 3000 was a trendsetter and knew who he was because he stepped out of the box and did things that most men at that time wouldn’t do and now it’s the norm?
Natasha: I took a look at your portfolio and I noticed that your choice of styles, for both your male and female clients, are mostly black, tailored, leather, blazer’d looks. Are these “Sam staples?” Tell me about your choices in what you style your clients in.
Sam: “I’m a fan of the tailored look. The tailored look is very euro, and that’s my style. When I’m dressing my clients, I try to give them the tailored look because it just gives a well-polished look. Loose clothes don’t compliment your shape or figure and black is a universal color that a lot of the clients like, so I can’t argue with them. When I try to put them in color they’re like no, I’d rather wear this. Leather jackets are just in no matter the season.”
Natasha: With some of your clients being top players in the r&b and hip hop world, how do you style them without “crossing lines?” How do you differentiate things that you like versus things that they may not care for?
Sam: “Whenever you are styling a client, you never want to take them out of their element. You want to take their look and enhance it. That’s all I do, so I never really cross any lines. I pretty much stay in the guidelines and take their look from 0 to 10. Before you work with any client, you have to do your research.”
Natasha: What is the importance of dressing and speaking well for men in specialized industries such as fashion?
Sam: “For me, dressing and speaking well as far as for what I do, is a must because that’s how I attract most of my clients. When my clients see me well dressed, they are attracted to me and they want to know what I do. And then when they find out what I do and that I’m a stylist that attracts them to me and makes them want to work with me. And speaking well, well, you have to be able to sell yourself. If you don’t speak well, it’s kind of hard for potential clients to understand what you are trying to tell them.”
Natasha: What advice would you give to a young person or male in hip hop that wants to explore fashion (or a career in fashion) freely without being improperly labeled?
Sam: “My advice is just DO YOU because a lot of people in fashion who made it big did them and didn’t care what people thought. Fashion is meant to be explored, just be free. That’s the only advice, just do you and don’t follow guidelines. I know that’s a sucky answer but it’s the best!”
Natasha: (laugh) When closing, Sam was asked if he wanted to add any last words to the discussion and he stated:
Sam:“I’m not a judgmental person. When Frank Ocean came out it was like, oh well, there are a lot of gay people. This is just another one, its not gonna make or break the industry. I’m straight and I’m not a judgmental person at all. Whether straight or gay, I can be friends with you as long as we both respect each other to the point where I understand that you’re gay and I respect that and you respect the fact that I’m straight. I have a couple people that I work with that are gay but do I judge? No. At the end of the day we are all working together to make it in the industry, it just so happens that our sexual preferences are different. I’m a God fearing person and was raised in the church. I am not a homosexual but I won’t judge anyone because they are and I won’t stop being friends with people because they are. That’s how I live, that’s how I roll. The people that are judging and looking down on these people are wrong. Nobody’s perfect.”
Natasha: What clients are you currently working with and what are some of your upcoming projects?
Sam: “I’m still working with Tyrese and I have a couple private clients that I work with as well. I’m staying away from the whole celebrity thing because I feel like that market is saturated. Everybody wants to style a celebrity, everybody wants to style somebody famous but what people fail to understand is that market is saturated and you’re going into a market where you can’t really make any money because all of these celebrities are already scooped up. So with doing more image consulting and personal shopping, I’m focusing more on the executives in the industry who have the money, the executives who sign the celebrities’ checks. I’m trying to get paid, forget trying to be popular! Popularity is played out and popularity doesn’t pay the bills! A lot of these celebrities don’t have really good budgets anyway, so why not go into a market that isn’t saturated and there is plenty of money to be made. I also have a couple of other big ventures that I’m dabbling in now. I’m working on a clothing line, I’m kinda keeping it top secret but I’ll tell you! It going to be really nice, very high end, very Givenchy-Alexander Wang feel to it. I’m very excited because I have some major people backing me so I’m looking forward to dropping that sometime next year.”
MM would like to thank Sam for sitting down with us to discuss such a touchy subject. Stay in touch with this Millennium Male by following him on Twitter @SamDesalu, @Forefront_Image and visiting his website: www.samdesalu.com
Natasha “Tottie” Weston