I’ve always said my favorite “celebrities” are writers, stylists, and designers. I’ll take Fran Lebowitz over Uma Thurman any day. So when I have the opportunity to interview someone whose work I really admire I’m basically living my best life. Fashion journalist and brand consultant Marjon Carlos is one of these people. Her writing has actually influenced me. And I’m not the only one. Marjon was able to convince Anna Wintour to let her write a Gucci Mane series for Vogue.com. Marjon’s authentic voice comes from the heart, and her experiences and perspective lend themselves to an awakening within an industry not often as dimensional as we would like.
What is your earliest fashion memory?
I think I was always interested in fashion and presentation–I didn’t need to be pushed into it. I just loved dressing up and shopping. From a young age I was helping my mom get dressed for her big events, and she would consult me while she was running around her closet. I just had an instinct and really strong opinions–so much so that my father would let me pick out these crazy, designer dresses for church at this small boutique in Dallas. It was a very extravagant take on “Sunday best”, but I loved it–the ability to pick out a piece that was expressive, progressive, and a reflection of my tastes. I always tell my dad that it can’t be a surprise that I wound up in this industry.
After studying Journalism, did you envision pursuing a career in the fashion industry?
Thing is, I didn’t study journalism–I was a liberal arts nerd. I studied Gender Studies in college and although I had a column in the college newspaper, I really learned to write through osmosis. I read the work of writers I respected and culled a voice as my politics started to crystallize. I definitely knew I would work in fashion somehow, but I just didn’t know how to get my break. In 2005, when I was coming out of college, it seemed like fashion was impenetrable unless you were a “daughter of” or a “friend of”. I had to come through the side door in a lot of ways.
What pushed you to go back to school and get your Master’s Degree in African American Studies?
Living in New York, really. Growing up in Dallas, Texas race was stratified along these stark binaries of “white”, “black”, “latina”, and “other”. There was hardly any mixing of cultures and races, although Texas in and of itself is an amalgam of so many. So I was living in New York, in culturally diverse neighborhoods for the first time in my life, and watching how gentrification was pouring into the city, how the impact of race, class, and gender was affecting how we experienced life in such a small environment. At the same time, my racial consciousness was coming into focus. I was really seeing myself as a black woman and forming the language to speak to that experience. It felt natural to go back and unpack all this in the classroom, learn my history, and figure out my intervention.
So, given your background, what is your reaction to the recent influx in allegations of cultural appropriation in creative circles?
It’s a pained reaction, because I wonder if we’re being trolled. Honestly, how many controversies can we count this year alone that have set off social media furor and backlash from consumers, and yet designers, magazines, and photographers still reproduce images that are wildly offensive, inaccurate, and revisionist? How many thinkpieces have been written on the subject? The materials are at people’s disposal and yet as much progress as we make, we continue to make huge steps backwards…
I’ve sat in conference rooms and tried to explain why the homogenous casting at, say, Balenciaga is racist or why Marc Jacobs’s use of dreads in his Spring 2017 collection would upset WOC. Sometimes people get it and sometimes they don’t, but I do think fundamentally it’s an HR issue. To incorporate more representation doesn’t always mean having more models of color on a runway, but instead, a diverse range of designers working for a house, photographers creating images and campaigns, directors coordinating production, or stylists pulling together the vision. We need more POC in the decision making room to voice concerns and push forth images and ideas that are more reflective of the world we actually live in. But moreover, I want to see more POC making content on their own, developing magazines, ‘zines, and websites. Having a huge, mainstream title behind you is sexy as hell, but I want us to own a stake in this industry like never before, rather being called upon when it suits an editor’s whims/needs.
What is some of the best career advice you’ve received?
I just read this incredible piece in The New Yorker by Toni Morrison on jobs and how we value them. She wrote about how her father taught her a valuable lesson as a young girl working as a domestic, and she’s applied to her career ever since. She said:
“1. Whatever the work is, do it well—not for the boss but for yourself.
2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you.
3. Your real life is with us, your family.
4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.”
I’m trying to live and work by these rules going forward.
Is there one particular topic that you have yet to write about, but would like to?
These days I’ve been thinking a lot about how female friendships and intraracial politics play out in the fashion world. It’s not really discussed publicly, but there is a surprising amount of friction amongst minority circles in the industry and I’m fascinated by the chasm. It’s a phenomenon that cuts across racial and cultural groups–even generations! For me, I see it as distracting, slowing from the good we could be doing by operating as a collective. It can be isolating when you already feel like you’re on the fringes and it plays into the hands of the antiquated idea of “There can only be one.” I look forward to figuring out ways we can all help build networks of support and how we can show up for one another in positive and affirming ways.
How would you describe your personal style?
My personal style is really evolving, which is interesting. I think in fashion you take in so much product and observe so much personal style in your everyday that you’re susceptible to trying things that aren’t for you or taking on other personas–I’ve been a victim to that. So I’ve had to really identify who I am and how I want to express that. One thing I’ve identified is a love for vintage. I’ll indulge in designer pieces at sample sales and things like that, but do I really need to go broke trying to keep up with mercurial trends? No. So my vintage pieces are about quality, great, sleek lines, and ultimately telling a story. I’m into white-on-white, too. I don’t know why, but I don’t think there is anything chicer. I also love younger designers and supporting them. Maki Oh, Area, Marques’ Almeida, Lorod, Miaou–real favorites of mine. I look to women like Rihanna, Fran Lebowitz, and Tracee Ellis Ross for cues–they have it down–and I won’t even lie, Bella Hadid has caught my eye lately. And I love the way my friends dress with confidence, like Chelsea Zalopany, Paloma Elsesser, and Emmanuel Olunkwa. They inspire me with their real love for and sway over clothes.
What is a typical day in the life for you?
My days are so different now! I usually get up around 9 and start reading emails, prioritizing which ones I need to get to first. I light a Palo Santo stick and turn on music to get some inspiring vibes going. Scroll through Insta, Twitter, and the news to get my fix. After my morning yerba mate, I’ll work out at my local gym. I have really been going hard these couple of months and I love that I actually have time now to take care of myself, mentally and physically. Afterwards, I’ll shower and get ready to either head into the city for meetings or over to A/D/O, my workspace in Greenpoint. I am either working on a pitch, deck, or an article, so I’ll get in a zone, put my head down, and just go–fielding emails, writing, or taking business calls. My friend is the Director of Culture at A/D/O so we’ll take little breaks and gossip, then more work. Since it’s summer, I think a wine happy hour is pretty mandatory, then I may head into the city for an event or meet up with friends for dinner. I’ll unwind with horrible television, talk on the phone, or listen to music.
Which accomplishment are you most proud of at this point in your career?
I’m honestly proud of all the work I did at Vogue.com as Senior Fashion Writer. I worked with an incredible team of heavy hitters for nearly three years, got to interview so many of my heroes, made life-long friends, and went on so many adventures. I was given a tremendous freedom to tell the stories of WOC and POC in fashion and culture, and I took it and I just ran with it. Bringing Gucci Mane up to Anna Wintour’s office to film his Gucci SS17 review, traveling to Nigeria for Lagos Fashion Week, hanging with Migos, attending the Met Gala…. But what’s more is that it made an impact: so many young women and men have written me to tell me how much my work has affected them. It’s cray. This girl I used to babysit told me her high school classmate did a Black History Month presentation on me for school–I don’t think it gets cooler than that.
What are you up to this summer?
I’m trying to travel, tan, eat well, and be kind to myself. I needed a moment to breathe after leaving Vogue, so while I’m working as a freelance writer and brand consultant, I’m really just trying to take stock of my priorities, future goals, and live my best life. I’ll be headed to Texas and L.A. at the end of July, Jamaica in August for a girls strip, and I just came back from Maine with my family. It’s important for me to reconnect with my roots and to finally get some peace of mind.