#Face2FaceTime: D’Angelo’s Stylist Stefan Campbell

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Yolanda Hadid and Stefan Campbell on the set of ‘Making a Model’ / Kevin Tachman

“When I was four years old, my aunt took me to a movie—Mahogany with Diana Ross. And in the first 90 seconds of the movie, I was hooked,” stylist Stefan Campbell tells me over FaceTime about the inciting incident that steered him towards a career in fashion. “You have to see the opening credits. Because I was sitting in the theater, and it was like movie magic to my eyes. And I knew fashion was where I wanted to be.”

Campbell, who has worked as a stylist for boldfaced names like Beyoncé, Barack Obama and D’Angelo, landed a job at a fashion forecasting company at 21, but to supplement his income, Campbell worked nights at a club called The Roxy. "I had to be at work at 8:30 in the morning, and I’d work from 8 to around 6. And then I would go out around 10 and stay out until around 2. And the funny thing is, I still kind of have those hours. I’m up until maybe 2 or 3 and back [at work] again at 6:30."

He had a chance meeting with Vogue journalist Jonathan Van Meter while he was still studying at FIT. Van Meter workshopped what the "kids" wanted to see in the pages of the venerated publication, and would hang out with Campbell and his friends at their dorm, quizzing them about what was cool. "I gathered all my nightclub friends, and we took Jonathan back to the FIT dorms and we told him what we loved about Vogue and why it was important to us.”

Campbell pivoted to a gig at Vibe as a style editor, where he set the style agenda for hip-hop, just as it was taking off. Since then, he’s contributed to scores of fashion titles—GQ, Paper, Vanity Fair and Vogue—and worked independently as a one-man business. Most recently, he acted as creative director on Making a Model with Yolanda Hadid. We caught up over FaceTime to chat how Campbell established a career in clothing.

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D’Angelo on Saturday Night Live in 2015, styled by Stefan Campbell / Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
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D’Angelo on Saturday Night Live in 2015, styled by Stefan Campbell / Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

How did you come to work with D'Angelo?

Stefan Campbell: D'Angelo took a big break from the music business. He hadn’t recorded anything or been seen from except for a few mugshots. [laughs] But it was time for the world to experience him again. And when we first worked together at the beginning of his career, we did a photo with a photographer by the name of Ben Watts. I totally played into all the stereotypes of the sexiness of D'Angelo back then. The body and the muscles, all the things that we loved about the "Untitled" video. No, I did not style it, but what styling was there?

Cut to: I am a contributing stylist to GQ, and it was time for D’Angelo to be reintroduced to the world. So I thought, how am I going to do this? So, he and I clicked.

The pictures were, I believe, successful. He started to use what we created in the magazine as publicity pictures around the world, which was really flattering. But when his album finally came out—or his CD came out—it was, how are we going to introduce D’Angelo to the world as an artist and not just in a fashion magazine talking about his past journey? This is his new D’Angelo.

I started to look at Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. I started to look at Easy Rider … tough, strong, iconic versions of the renegade. And those were my inspirations for D’Angelo’s return. That was [made] very public on Saturday Night Live. I wanted to put him in ponchos. Nobody was doing ponchos. And I wanted to make him Western. A black cowboy? [laughs] At first, Instagram was mocking me. One person said, "Oh my God. Who did this amazing look on D'Angelo? He’s a global, hip-hop cowboy." And they just got it.

From then on, you started to see ponchos, ponchos on the runway. People were looking just like him. There was a movie called The Hateful Eight. And on the cover of New York Magazine, there was Samuel L. Jackson looking exactly like D’Angelo images that were out earlier in the year. It was really incredible to watch. So we did this tour, and it worked. He got nominated for three Grammy Awards, and he won two of them. I was really proud of him; he did a great job. He embraced what we’re doing.

Recently, Complex did a sneaker shopping video with Jonah Hill. He said in the video something to the effect of “Don't let people put you in clothes. Fuck that!” I thought it was interesting because everyone thinks he’s a style god. Do celebrities need stylists?

Campbell: It’s rare for me to ever talk about clients I work with. The way that Jonah expressed himself is the way that I want [celebrities] to feel. I don’t want people to know that I style or work with people. I love the fact that people can think that that artist came up with it on their own. That’s part of the magic of it, to me. I think it’s more important for people to buy into the artistic fantasy of the artist. I love thinking that an actress can walk down a red carpet and that is her personal style. But we broke that illusion by asking her who she’s wearing, and she says “My stylist.” And then the stylist posts on Instagram. Jonah Hill wants people to buy into that. I’m a real artist. I think that if he doesn't have a stylist, he has a really good publicist who can get him the things he needs. I’m going to look closer to see how he’s rocking it, and how he’s putting things together. 

What looks have you created in tandem with a celebrity who has gone on to bigger things?

Campbell: I’ve had a pretty substantial career at this point. When I started my journey in styling, the first magazine that I was able to help create was Vibe magazine. Within Vibe, the idea of what hip-hop culture was supposed to represent didn’t necessarily work with my narrative of how I think it should be represented. So I added a lot of glam into what was then an industry based around a lot of realness and, I don't want to say ghetto attitude, because I don’t know what that means really, but more like a gangster rap aesthetic. Add skateboarding into hip-hop. Add snowboarding into hip-hop. Making the silhouettes really thin and sleek.

One of the shoots that I loved doing in the beginning, there were two that were very impactful. There was a clothing line called Sabotage, and it was all tech. I dedicated eight pages to an unknown brand that was all about the future of fashion. I wanted to use high-tech sneakers. I used soccer shoes that looked really modern, and I started a wave of high-tech looking sneakers.

And then I did a shoot that was called “Game Boy,” and it was a hybrid of all sports. I did snowboarding and hockey and rollerblading, and then people really started to embrace the hockey jersey in fashion. I shot Chanel for Vibe, and of course, Chanel and Vibe didn’t really go hand in hand. All of a sudden, you started to see hip-hop artists wearing the Chanel that I was shooting at Vibe in the early days, like Salt n’ Pepa in Chanel. And that was a huge thing back then.

Did you ever work with Obama?

Campbell: I will tell you this. I had the privilege of meeting the First Lady and the president and the First Lady has her own stylist. Obama is the president. He doesn’t have a stylist. He dresses the way he wants. If you do a shoot with him, and he’s wearing a tie that you don’t think is nice enough for the picture, you can let him know that maybe he should try another one. But it’s not something that you can insist on doing; you can just suggest it. I’m just saying, there are ways of working with people as powerful as the most powerful people in the world.

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