How Issa Rae’s stylist forged a new path for Black design from stillness
After a quiet period and months of self-reflection, stylist and designer Jason Rembert likely is going to have a busy but memorable September thanks to a major retail collaboration for his clothing line Aliétte and the opportunity to style his star client, Issa Rae, for the virtual 72nd Emmy Awards on Sept. 20.
On the phone in late August, Rembert recounted his pre-COVID-19 travel schedule, one that took him cross-country, from New York to Los Angeles, every three days. “I used to fly in the morning and then back at night so that I could work on both coasts,” the 32-year-old stylist said.
The decreased travel during the pandemic has shifted his focus to much-needed downtime with his family and a creative incubation period, which has given him the kind of calm his typically high-speed schedule of dressing celebrity clients, editorial work and designing two collections a year for Aliétte has not allowed for nearly a decade.
“My life has been on the road. I’ve been traveling and never had a chance to stop,” said Rembert, who also works with Michael B. Jordan, Mariah Carey, Lil Baby, Lizzo and John Boyega. “In March when COVID started, I stopped everything. That stillness turned into a lot of self-reflection, and I was able to figure out my needs, do a lot more research and pay more attention to what I’m presenting to the world.”
Rembert’s creative reflection is now most evident in the way he has pivoted a portion of Aliétte, his high-end brand of dresses, gowns and separates shown during New York Fashion Week and worn by celebrities such as Zendaya, Chloe Bailey, Liza Koshy, Keke Palmer, Billy Porter and activist Tamika D. Mallory. In early April, Rembert said he began to question his design process and the pieces that resulted.
With a gorgeous lineup of red-carpet clothes from the Aliétte main line but no red carpets for clients to attend, Rembert created a new category for his brand, a resort collection of more casual and contemporary-priced pieces that certainly makes sense for life right now. (It debuted on Alietteny.com this spring.) His inspiration was Martinique, the island where Rembert’s family is from, and the collection features tropical printed silk pajama sets, unisex graphic T-shirts, silk eye masks and easy lightweight cotton minidresses, all emblazoned with bold pops of coral, green, bright pink and a dreamy sky blue. The shades are vivid, the prints optimistic, and overall, it’s impossible to miss the positive state of mind Rembert has been in these last few months.
“It’s based off escapism,” he said. “Each collection will be an escape to a new world, a departure. Even if for that 30 seconds you unbox the item, hold it up [and] you think, ‘I’m in Martinique,’ I’m grateful for that. We need to have a lot more of that, to have that escape.”
On Sept. 15, Shopbop.com, which is known for breaking brands that garner a cult-like following, will release Aliétte’s resort collection including exclusive items. Selections range from $100 for an orange T-shirt to $1,500 for a silk dress (a Shopbop exclusive).
“The easy, casual sweatsuits and pajama-set dressing done in bold, vibrant prints are exactly what our customers will be looking for this season,” said Caroline Maguire, fashion director at Shopbop. “Shopbop has been a long-standing partner of Jason’s through his work as a stylist, and seeing him bring his creativity to life through Aliétte has been nothing short of inspiring.”
The turn toward accessible makes sense, and not only because people are generally wearing the kind of loose and silky pajama-style sets, easy print T-shirts and blown-out tie-dye print sweats that comprise the Aliétte resort line. However, beyond the aesthetic, the attainable price points and casual everyday pieces speak to Rembert’s main inspiration for starting Aliétte (and everything he does) — his family, specifically his mother.
“I was making clothing with beautiful and easy silhouettes, but the affordability was missing,” he said. “I thought about my mother, grandmother, aunt. If they saved up for three months, they still couldn’t afford a piece of my clothing, and that weighed heavy on me. People need pieces that they can connect with and that are true to what the environment is and what their pocketbooks can afford. I felt like I was missing both.”
Louisanne Aliétte, Rembert’s late mother (his 3-year-old daughter Harper’s middle name is also Aliétte), is the genesis of Aliétte; Rembert often refers to her when discussing his creative and professional motivation.
“My mom was great because she was great. She was a single mom, raising five kids. She did it all. I’m a testament to how hard she worked,” said the stylist, who grew up in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, N.Y. “She didn’t have much but she had it all. Everything I do is based off of trying to have the same impact as my mother.”
Inclusivity and kindness are part of that legacy, and they are characteristics Rembert is known for in the fashion industry. His work with Rae (and every client, he said) is steeped in collaboration as well as the representation of Black creatives.
“I love having the conversation of change and implementing diversity on your rack,” said the stylist about ensuring Black designers and artists are represented in client fittings. When Rae hosted the Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards in 2018, Rembert dressed the actress in a lineup of all Black brands, including Pyer Moss, Victor Glemaud and Sergio Hudson.
“The publicity [that came after the CFDAs] was not something intentional. We just did the work,” Rembert said. “I told her [that] we should wear all Black designers and she was like, ‘Yes, let’s do it.’”
Rae will again be dressed by Rembert for the Emmys later this month, where her HBO show, “Insecure,” is up for eight awards, including Rae for outstanding actress in a comedy. “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” for which Rae is an executive producer, received three nominations including outstanding variety sketch series.
“It’s the first major carpet since COVID, and I’m feeling amazing about it,” Rembert said. Although the event will be virtual, the work that will go into creating the right look entails the same thought and research as if the Emmys were in person.
“We’re in an age where the leading actress can dress how she wants. They can have personality,” said Rembert about conceptualizing an awards-show look. “It’s not always just about a gown. Sometimes it’s wearing a custom Pyer Moss dress or mentoring a young designer like [Anifa Mvuemba of] Hanifa who may not have ever done a red carpet. But you see the potential in her work and you want to be supportive of that. Or connecting an artist with a designer to create a custom piece. I’ve always done that. I had to be creative and not be dependent on a big house or higher-end brand that a few years ago didn’t see Black women and Black actresses. We as Black stylists who work with amazing Black talent, we had to be creative. It comes from the beginning. Look at June Ambrose and Misa Hylton, they were creative because a lot of these brands were telling them, ‘No.’”
Rembert has been conscious of championing Black talent across the board, not stopping at designers but also mentoring up-and-coming stylists, sharing designer resources and supporting fellow creatives.
“I can remember back when I was younger and eager to be a part of the industry, Jason was one of the few who embraced me,” said Los Angeles-based stylist and creative director Icon Billingsley. “Jason has truly risen to the occasion to put Black creatives to the forefront of his work. He’s always been inclusive and adamant about Black things across the board mattering.”
Rembert admits that the last several months have been an emotional roller coaster, but they have reaffirmed his commitment to supporting his Black colleagues. “I have a responsibility to uplift Black designers, other Black stylists and Black PR companies and allies of other races who share my sentiments,” he said. “I am grateful for community.”
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