Affectionately known as “Q”, Leisel Quamie of kenbarboza.com has styled celebrities such as super model Tyra Banks, Angela Bassett, and Forest Whitaker. With a fresh eye and fabulous sense of style, Leisel dresses clients behind the camera and on the red carpet, infusing personal style with the latest fashion trends.
Clutch: You originally went from working in a legal corporate environment to styling amazing celebrities such as Tyra Banks, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and his wife, Keisha Whitaker, and music artist, Leela James. What inspired your move into the fashion world?
I was always very interested in the fashion world from an early age. Throughout junior high and high school I modeled. After high school I wanted to be a professional model but my parents decided college was better. For that, I’m forever grateful because I obtained my degree, became exposed to other businesses, careers etc., and after ten years I was able to return to the fashion world more focused than ever—doing exactly what I want to do.
Clutch: You’ve personally styled for model and television personality, Tyra Banks, in addition to styling for America’s Next Top Model and The Tyra Banks Show. What has been your experience working for Tyra?
I worked for Tyra Banks for two years, four seasons of Top Model including styling the girls for season 4 and the first season of her talk show. My experience was very rewarding. It was a rung on my ladder of success. I’m still climbing. One of my greatest rewards working for her was that the experience allowed me to meet many great designers and artists in the fashion business.
Clutch: What was your defining moment that made you sit back and say, “I’ve made it!”?
After my tenure ended at The Tyra Banks Show in January 2006, I reexamined my career, where I had been, where I was at the moment, and where I still wanted to go and do. I started writing down everything I wanted to still do and create. I took a long look at the parts of my career that I enjoyed the most. One of those things, was designing, planning, and styling for the red carpet events. I wrote that I wanted to work with artists that love fashion and dress them for the ultimate red carpet, the Oscars and the Grammys. In February 2006 I met Forest Whitaker. We worked together the entire year, and in February 2007 (just a year to the date) I designed, planned and styled his look with an amazing team for the 79th Academy Awards. The icing on the cake was that he won the Oscar for Best Actor and I had styled his entire look that night. That’s when I said, “I’ve made it!” “God is so Good!”
Clutch: Contrary to what many believe there are very few female African American stylists. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in an industry where being a woman of color is considered the minority?
This is a tough one. So many answers, many thoughts come to mind, but you have to be politically correct. I guess the best answer right now is that folks sometimes don’t take you seriously. You are constantly proving in some way that you deserve to be there. It gets old quickly.
Clutch: How do you draw inspiration when styling a client?
I’ve learned that no matter what, really, truly incorporate my client’s essence in their look because if it’s not who they are no matter how expensive or who the designer is, they won’t own the look and in the end they won’t look and feel their best. That’s how folks end up on the worst dress list, basically trying to do too much.
Clutch: In your opinion, are there any rules when it comes to fashion?
Classic clichÃ© “every look/trend/style is not for everybody”
Clutch: Who are some of your favorite designers?
Some of my favorite Designers are Vivienne Westwood and Lanvin for their artistic creations, menswear designer, Domenico Vacca absolute exquisite craftsmanship. And one of my best friends’ rising star sexy, young designs by Hilton Hollis. I also, love shoes and shoe designers like Cesare Paciotti, Feragamo and Gucci. My next move will be to become a shoe designer!
Clutch: Any styling horror stories?
I sent a full look from NYC for Tyra Banks to wear on Jay Leno. I couldn’t be there in person. The dress was fine when it left NYC and when she tried on the first time in LA. But by the time the day of the show came, minutes before she was to walk out in the dress. The zipper got stuck. We had a serious wardrobe malfunction which made her late and then she had to wear jeans and a blouse from her closet. It was a disaster because I assured the designers that she would wear their dress and obviously she couldn’t when the zipper wouldn’t go up.
Clutch: What are your style predictions for the fall/winter 2007?
Sweaters. It’s the “new” jacket.
Clutch: What beauty items do you carry in your clutch? Double stick tape, tape measure, safety pins & mascara and lip gloss.
Clutch: For aspiring stylists, what are some important key factors to keep in mind when entering the business?
I say this to my students all the time at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, stay humble, be hungry and always, always study your craft. I’m always studying. You’re never too big for your britches! It’s a tough business, very fickle. One has to constantly find the strength and motivation from with in. You have to tell yourself that “You are the Top Stylist!” You’ve worked hard and deserve to be here, period.
Clutch: Lastly, what can we expect in the near and far future? Any projects in the works?
I’m excited about this fall. I’m re-launching and re-branding my website this fall. I am doing more costume design for movies and commercials. I am also acquiring my own costume design house by next September 2008 which I’m excited about. And I am going to design women’s shoes and have my own line (for a niche market) out by 2009. I’m looking for young talented shoe designers now. So if any of your readers are interested they can contact me at [email protected]