On a mission to find a designer to feature as a guest agent, I found one too good to resist—Joanna de’Shay of Black Russian Label, who launched her brand in college, is doing some fun and interesting things with her designs that has a unique flair.
Born in Accra, Ghana on the Western Coast of Africa, de’Shay has had a passion for fashion even as a college coed. While attending Arizona State University in 1998 studying Business, she took some fashion classes until the program was suspended. In 2010, the aspiring designer entered the Phoenix Fashion Week inaugural Emerging Designer Competition. She won and her designer brand Black Russian Label, was born. I recently caught up with the designer for an e-interview to discuss her urban-centric and to invite her to share her style and entertainment faves. Here’s what’s on her radar!
Favorite in fashion. My absolute favorite item right now is a stylish, comfy jumpsuit. I find myself running around a lot and wearing many hats all in the same 24-hour span of time. What I desire most is to look stylish while doing it all. My fave jumpsuit right now is the BRL Nomad Jumpsuit (left). Flattering cut, great pattern, and just the right amount of embellishments.
Favorite in beauty. My favorite beauty item right now is MAC Lipglass (shown is Russian Red). I cannot live without my gloss and the lip-glass has just a hint of color and sheen which gives your lips that wet look without being sticky or caky.
Favorite in entertainment. I am a lover of music—real music, with lyrics that provoke thought and evoke emotions. I have found some new favorites like Ellie Goulding, Sia, Ed Sheeran but still love my Jill Scott, Adele and Anthony Hamilton.
Favorite in edibles. This is a tough one since I am such a foodie, but it is a close tie between Thai and Indian food. Me and curry go hand in hand and the spicier the better.
How did you come up with the cool moniker? I have to give the credit for the name to my sister Jacque Taylor who is a marketing genius. It was on one of our many phone calls where I was going on about not knowing what to call the brand. I am sure she was probably at her wits end with having to have the same conversation with me and she just simply said, “It’s not that hard, we are different and I mean how many black Russians do you know here in Arizona?” There it was, a name that was at the core of who we were as people. Our mom is Russian and dad Nigerian. We were all born in West Africa but had never framed our cultural heritage. I screamed “YES, that’s it—Black Russian label!”
Describe a favorite piece you have designed from your line. One of my absolutely favorite things I have designed is from my first collection A Salute to Denim back in 2010 that won at Phoenix Fashion Week that year. It’s of course another jumpsuit and was so raw and edgy in its design that I just loved seeing it come down the runway or be photographed. I am actually thinking of reengineering it in a different fabrication and re-releasing it next season. The piece was called “Urban Flight” and was my take on a sexy, “Top Gun” flight suit (below).
Name someone past or present, real or fictional who you would like to design a piece for. Michelle Obama—classic, trend conscious but not trendy and with impeccable taste and a well curated closet. She also has a great understanding of her body type and how to enhance it.
Trend you love. Shirt dresses and long vests are really hot right now and I love them. They just add this very effortless, European feel and can really dress up a very basic outfit. Try a belted, denim shirt dress instead of jeans on a first date and throw on a long vest over a sporty look or even a plain white tee and ripped jeans, grab a colorful bag and there you have it—simple and chic.
Trend you hate. Please please please, stop with the culottes. It is the strangest length and width and unless you are six feet tall, makes you look stocky and frumpy. I have seen some that have been well designed, but it is a really tricky length to pull off.
Accessory you can’t live without. I can not live without earrings, real or costume, big or small, just frames the face and makes you look pulled together.
What’s your style profile: Classicist, Minimalist, Mademoiselle, Contemporary, Glamazon, Bohemian, or Rocker? All of them! It literally depends on the mood I am in, the weather, the event, whether my hair behaves, etc. I will say though that no matter the style profile I exhibit that day, it is all about ensuring that the fit is flattering and that I am not looking like I’m playing dress up. There is something to be said for wearing the style and not letting the style wear you.
Favorite cocktail. Moscow Mule
Advice to aspiring designers:
Invest in your art. Take classes, learn to sew, learn to draw and keep working at your craft.
Don’t try so hard to be like everyone else. Be original and innovative even when they say you are off-base or crazy. Sometimes being visionary means that you will see things that others can’t.
Build a network of people you can trust and whose opinions you value. As an entrepreneur it is often times a solo act, so it is imperative to build your own team, your own tribe of people that you can use as a sounding board. Mentors, advisors, interns and friends.
Tips for selecting wardrobe essentials:
Fit is everything. If it fits well, you will wear it and feel amazing in it. Focus on the fit.
Trend conscious not trendy. All trends are not for everyone. It’s okay to acknowledge a trend and even like it but know that based on your body type, skin tone or even hair color, that this trend will not be flattering. Be aware of the trend but don’t feel like you have to be a slave to it.
Foundation garments. Okay, I am an absolute stickler for this one because if you don’t have the proper foundation garment, you could ruin a whole look, the line of silhouette of the garment, and just plain look disheveled. Spend the money to get a proper fitting bra and shape wear and underwear with no lines. At the end of the day, dressing and selecting a wardrobe is just like building a house, if you don’t spend the time and money on the foundation, the lines and cracks will begin to show through that beautiful paint.
Favorite vacation spot. Hawaii.
Finish this statement. If I wasn’t a designer, I would be a … Professional dancer.
Discover more about Joanna de’Shay and her designs at blackrussianlabel.com.