THE OUTNET’S Head of Content, Claudia Mahoney, got to reunite with Fashion Director at Grazia UK and one of the stars of our Wardrobe Stories campaign Kenya Hunt. In case you missed their live conversation about Kenya’s new book Girl, being a Black American woman in London and her past life as a dancer — we made sure to save some of the best bits…
Kenya Loves… Cashmere
Claudia: And there she is! How are you?
Kenya: I’m well, how are you? Good to see you.
Claudia: Well, it’s our absolute, absolute pleasure. And a particular pleasure for me, knowing you, to have you with us this evening and for those people who don’t know about Kenya, she is the Fashion Director at Grazia UK and also author of, Girl. So, how are you feeling in this week of the book being birthed into the world then?
Kenya: I’m feeling a range of emotion, you know, excited, grateful, nervous, tired, exhausted, but again just really relieved at the same time. It’s finally out there after like this whirlwind of you know, the corona-coaster as they’ve bene calling it in the office!
Claudia: I should also say that you are a star of our Wardrobe Stories campaign that we shot, gosh it was back in the bit where we could sort of be a bit out and about in the summer. Aside an incredible roster of Emma Corrin, Naomi Shimada, Julia Sarr Jamois and Alex Eagle — and that was a really interesting process, I wondered if you found it interesting as well. So, we were talking to you about the things in our wardrobe that mean the most to you. You’re normally editing other people, is it interesting to kind of like analyze your own wardrobe?
Kenya: It was, it was quite a really illuminating experience for me because that’s exactly, I’m usually looking outward and assessing other people’s styling choices and the way that they fashion themselves or looking at shows and runways and making sense of that. And so, I mean, I always had a vision of, a visualization of myself in my head, but then it was interesting to sort of hear how I was seen by others and it made me realize, ‘oh, yeah, I do wear a lot of trench coats and a lot of cashmere jumpers and longer hemlines and maxi skirts.’ So, I mean I just associated myself with wearing like a jumper and denim and like loud earrings and I thought that was my uniform and there were all these other aspects that I just hadn’t even thought about and then I began to see the pattern, so that was fun actually to think through my choices.
Claudia: Well, we loved having you and Kenya, you looked gorgeous in all of the images and also, you’re our most-watched video on IGTV. Which I can understand because you’re so authentic in the way that you speak about your approach to fashion being a bit more about storytelling and that sort of cerebral thought process. You know, you’ve got that insider knowledge from behind the scenes in the creative process, so you’ve seen the storytelling process from their original creative idea through to seeing it landing in the shops or online.
Kenya: Yeah, I mean, it’s true. I think it’s that, one of the things I love most about my job is actually getting time to get to know the creatives behind the clothing because you see a garment hanging on a rack and you just think surface-value, ‘oh, that’s a really nice top or dress or pair of trousers.’ But we rarely think about the process and the thought and the time and the care that goes into making that and the effort and the love and all of that. So, I I really have appreciated getting to develop relationships with a lot of these designers and really seeing what goes into it, and also keeping their businesses afloat during a year like this one which has been really difficult and challenging. So, it just gives me an extra layer of appreciation for what I wear.
Claudia: So, clearly from your accent you didn’t grow up in the UK, so I wanted to ask you a little bit about your journey from the states to the UK and I was reading in your book, I loved your observations about the differences between New York cab drivers and London taxi drivers. In New York it’s definitely silent and in the UK we share our life stories.
Kenya: Yes! Yeah that was in the chapter I wrote called ‘An American in London.’ Which I was sort of just talking about my journey here as an ex-pat. But there are some very real differences that sometimes I find funny. Because I think we make these snap judgements about people that we very-rarely vocalize but I think there’s something about being in a cab during a car-ride that you know is fleeting and you figure you’re probably never going to see this person again that makes you think ‘you know what, I’m just gonna say what I think.’ It becomes a confessional space! it’s in those moments and in those brutally-honest discussions that are outside of my echo-chamber that I’ve really feel like I get a real sort of view and also am forced to kind of debate in ways that I wouldn’t necessarily… in my social network or at a dinner party or work gathering where I’m usually surrounded by mostly like-minded people.
Claudia: Did you move to the UK for the job at Elle?
Kenya: I had a job opportunity, Metro International, offered me a role of Global Style Director and I’ve always wanted to live abroad so I was like ‘great, why not?’ It was finally my chance to do it, I didn’t study abroad like so many other friends did. So, you know, race and identity didn’t really factor into the equation. But, it was during the course of living here that I developed a heightened understanding of myself and the world as a Black American woman and how those interlocking systems of oppression have impacted me in my life but also how I have, I developed a sort of deeper understanding of my place in the world and also you know, my experience in relation to the diaspora. I engaged with the idea of blackness and race here in a different way than I would have in the states, basically.
Claudia: The other thing, that sort of slight tangent that you told me on set, you’d grown up as a trained dancer! We’ve been so lucky and some of the amazing women we’ve spoken to are Frankie Hayward and Sophie Apollonia and the sense that I got from them about being a dancer, it’s not just the artistry and raw talent that’s required but also the discipline and athleticism. Do you have that sort of discipline still and do you apply that now in your life?
Kenya: I definitely think discipline, I don’t know if I have the moves anymore though. It’s funny, we shot Frankie for the cover of Grazia for our last fashion issue. And, seeing her move on set, I mean she’s got such a natural, the purity of her line and the way she moves, she’s so beautiful and elegant.
Claudia: You have to be quite disciplined to be a writer, haven’t you? Because you’ve got to get into the right frame of mind, you’ve got to be focused, you’ve got to be ruthless with yourself in terms of your self-edit and critiquing yourself.
Kenya: Absolutely, yeah, 100%. And so, I think that, especially writing while working and while mothering kids, I have to be disciplined in terms of just finding the time to do it. So, I think that’s definitely and also, just coming up as a writer because as a dancer you’re constantly receiving feedback, constructive feedback about your positioning and your line and your performance and I think that taught me how to be receptive to feedback and edits as a young writer coming up and even now, every writer needs to be edited. Even when writing the book, I welcome feedback and edits and I think that’s something that I learned when I was coming up as a young dancer.
Claudia: I was just gonna ask about the psychology of clothes in lockdown and about wearing things like activewear and so forth, but also about dressing up to feel better. Do you do that?
Kenya: Oh, all the time, I very much have, you know, even just growing up before I’d even thought about like working in this industry, I’ve always viewed clothes as a way to, to feel better or at least to sort of help lift the mood. And so, yeah, absolutely. Especially as an American I will never-ever, five more evers, get used to the weather here. Like, when it gets like grey, and that’s when I tend to pull out brighter clothing. My instinct, I mean I love a navy and a black and a grey but when the weather is like that, that’s when I tend to gravitate towards brighter color.
Claudia: Kenya, I’m going to let you go before your battery runs out and claim back your Friday evening. I want to thank you so, so much for joining us and for anyone who hasn’t gone and ordered their book, you must. It’s really, honestly, I’m finding it so interesting your, I find it so profoundly emotional, I read the epilogue in the book, so emotional, so beautifully written, so pertinent, it’s for all women, and I think it’s a really, really insightful and interesting book for our times, but for all times as well.
Kenya: Thank you!
Claudia: Anyway, we thank you so much as well for being part of Wardrobe Stories, a friend to THE OUTNET and I’m glad you’re finding some time to carve out for yourself again.
Kenya: Thank you! Trying my best. Well have a good night tonight, we’re going to decorate our tree finally.
Reconnecting with herself
“It’s crazy because I’ve been on like this book treadmill lately, so I feel like I need to get back to the stuff that makes me feel sane. Which is meditating and yoga and doing a barre class, but it’s hard finding the time lately to do that. I have a WhatsApp group of really close friends who, we’re actually going through this sort of life coaching things together. We’re seeing this amazing woman in California who is incredible. So, she’s been really talking us through and coaching us through the importance of self-care. So, I’m really kind of trying to get back to ring-fencing time to take care of myself physically because also it’s like you know, it impacts things like cortisol levels and stress levels.”
“I love seeing women, no matter where you sit on the spectrum of womanhood and where that is like using ‘girl’ as a term of love because I do think it’s a kind of love language. For me personally, with this book being the love letter to Black women that it is, and also knowing my own experience with it and how I grew up hearing my mother and my aunt and their girlfriends using to mean so many different things, it just made sense for me to title the book that. And I really want to sort of write and explore my own experiences and history with that word.”
To me, America still very much feels like home even though I’ve lived here for you know, quite a long time now, I moved here just before the Obamas were inaugurated. So, I mean, when I tell people that they go ‘oh, you’re a Londoner.’ But I still very much feel like a Virginian, which is where I grew up.