Since her big break starring on Netflix's Master of None, for which she won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series, Lena Waithe's career has been on a rocketship, acting, writing, and producing, all the while proving herself a formidable up-and-turning-it style icon.
And that’s thanks largely to her stylist Tiffany Hasbourne, who’s been instrumental in helping Waithe use fashion as a means of powerful express, including the custom Carolina Herrera rainbow cape, the Shirley Chisholm hoodie at the 2018 MTV Movie & TV Awards and, most recently, the Black Lives Matter T-shirt Waithe wore to a Golden Globes brunch.
Hasbourne has had a winding career that’s taken her from styling Missy Elliot, 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes, Nas and more, to costuming on Disney channel original movies, to working on hit shows like HBO’s Ballers and FX’s Atlanta.
Right before she left to do Atlanta season two, Hasbourne was approached by one of the Ballers set costumers telling her about a friend who was like a little sister, who was nominated for an Emmy. That friend was Lena Waithe. “Basically she told me her style. I sent her a couple of pictures. She told me what she thought she wanted and told me she was talking to someone but thought I was a better fit and ‘Let’s do this,” Hasbourne recalled in an interview over the phone with Out about her and Waithe’s first meeting.
The work began immediately in preparation for the Emmys and hit a snafu when the designer that was to outfit Lena in her suit backed out last minute. “Instead of panicking, we knew we had to move forward. So it was just like, ‘What’s our next option?’” So Hasbourne reached out to designer Jhoanna Alba, who made Lena a custom suit in a week. It ended up being the suit Waithe wore when she picked up her first Emmy. “I was in shock with how quickly within seconds of an award show everything had just changed. I didn’t know to what extent how but I just knew.”
What sort of conversations did Lena have with you in the beginning about how she saw her style?
She explained to me that she was a female who loved to wear men’s clothing. And so she wanted a suit for the Emmys. It was then my job to figure out how to still put the divine feminine energy into a masculine suit. And that was what we got in her Emmy suit. It was basically this black tuxedo with gold embroidery leaves on it.
— Jarett Wieselman (@JarettSays) September 18, 2017
Lena is a self-professed sneakerhead with a clear love of Jordan’s. How do you fit her love of sneakers into the looks you help create?
Both of us are sneakerheads. We don’t just love them, we collect them all the time. Our biggest challenge is how to get sneakers that are either hard to acquire or that nobody can get. So over the past couple of years we have built relationships with different brands. It’s all about pairing. The other day we did Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen — Lena’s a huge Whitney Houston fan and so we took a Whitney T-shirt and Pharrell’s “Human Race” Adidas shoes and paired it with an MCM jacket. It’s always trying to figure out how to coordinate an exclusive sneaker with her outfit and making sure she has a stand-out piece that not everybody has.
Perhaps Lena’s biggest style moment to date came last May at the Met Gala, when she stepped out in the rainbow Carolina Herrera. How did that look come together?
[Creative director of Carolina Herrera] Wes Gordon gave us over eight different ideas for a cape and ironically the options were black, red or blue. At first I asked Wes if he had gold because we kept just trying to push the envelope with this cape. And finally Wes said to us, “What would you think if we did a rainbow cape?” and I’ll never forget they gave us two or three options and I called Lena and I said, “Listen, the theme at this years Met Gala is Catholicism” and she was like, “I know.” I asked her what we wanna do and she said “We wanna make a statement and we want to be represented.” That is another one of those moments where she walks out and because of her boldness and confidence, even with what some saw as a controversial theme, everyone loved it — okay, so not everyone. But she represented a voice that needed to be represented and it was adored and accepted. That was a prime example of being confident in who you are and what you represent and using your platform for people who cannot speak up for themselves.
I want to also ask about the Shirley Chisholm hoodie. How did that come about?
Basically Lena and I have a thing in which I always ask her what this speech or what this event is about because she usually has a point of reference. She had an image of Shirley and was like “I need to incorporate this image into my look.” So basically I had to find a high-quality version of the image, have it printed and designed a T-shirt and sweatshirt for her to wear. (She chose the T-shirt, which she wore over another Jhoanna Alba design.)
Lena has described herself as a “soft stud” and I’m curious how you see that impacting or dictating the outfits that you and she select?
Listen, if I was to speak for Lena I would probably get it wrong but I think, image-wise, how I would describe her as a soft stud is because she has that wonderful stud energy but the soft comes from her still being in touch with that feminine energy. So let’s talk about Golden Globes, for instance. You want to wear a turtleneck and a suit and a chain, right? But how do we soften that? So if you notice, it was a soft, lightweight, cowl-neck turtleneck under a tuxedo that is perfectly tailored to her body because at the end of the day, she has wonderful height and hips, so we’re always taking stud looks and softening them to make them her.
Has Lena taught you anything about the LGBTQ+ community that you weren’t thinking about before?
Since I started working with her I didn’t realize how much they weren’t represented in the workplace, like how much transgender people deal with discrimination. One of the things that I love about Lena is how much she makes it a priority to speak up and be open with who she is, and giving other people that confidence to do so. How many people do you know that are willing to take a chance at the Vogue-sponsored Met Gala to say “I want to stand and be the voice for everyone that can’t be heard.”
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