The Remedy for Celebrities Who Lose Their Swagger
By LOLA OGUNNAIKE
THE celebrity stylist June Ambrose was ensconced in Bergdorf Goodman’s sun-drenched restaurant, BG, demonstrating the fine art of modern self-portraiture.
“Darling, it’s all about the angles,” she explained as she turned her cheek to the light, extending her arm just so, before snapping a picture of herself with her ever-present iPhone. She tinkered with the photo and then released it into the Twittersphere (or “Juniverse,” as she calls her online world).
“They want exclusive content, and they want access,” Ms. Ambrose said of her most fervent fans, which she lovingly calls her “style socials.” “And they want authenticity and that’s what I give them.”
Her voracious tweeting — 15 to 20 missives a day — has netted her more than 300,000 followers. With Twitter, Ms. Ambrose, who has outfitted everyone from Mary J. Blige to Kelly Ripa, has found an outlet and a platform, a place where she can share her style musings, must-haves and snapshots. “Fashion mags weren’t really recognizing me, so I created my own space,” she said.
“I’m the Anna Wintour of my Twitter page,” she added.
To some, Ms. Ambrose is already a fashion grande dame. Beating out more than 30 peers, she was recently cast as the “style architect” of Simon Cowell’s new television talent contest, “The X Factor.” Her job is to create looks for each of the 17 acts that will win over the judges and television viewers. “This is the biggest styling gig of my career,” she said. “It’s all genres of music and all ages. It’s exhausting, but I’m in creative animal mode and everything is flowing.”
In addition to her “X Factor” duties, Ms. Ambrose is filming a reality TV show of her own, “Styled by June,” which will be shown on VH1 in February. Cameras follow as she tries to rehabilitate the careers of celebrities who have lost their swagger. Think Dr. Drew meets Rachel Zoe. “What we stylists do is very intimate,” she said. “We’re literally stripping someone to their core, and clothing is only the first layer.”
When she’s not racing around with television cameras, she’s overseeing a staff of seven at Modé Squad, her 17-year-old styling company based in the fashion district. In the previous week, she dressed Jay-Z, a longtime client, for the photo shoot for GQ magazine, and the pop sensation Jason Derulo for his latest video. She also outfitted the actor Jaleel White (best known as Steve Urkel) for an event that the two hosted at the Paul Stuart boutique in downtown Manhattan.
Ms. Ambrose, 40, a married mother of two, also wrote daily beauty tips for Revlon’s All Access iPhone app, filled swag bags for her 10-year-old son’s birthday party and readied her family for their three-month stint in Los Angeles, where “The X Factor” tapes. (She and her family live in a two-bedroom condominium in Midtown, overlooking the East River.)
“The husband, the nanny, the two dogs, the kids — they’re all coming,” she said with a deep exhale. “My husband is my manager. My daughter likes to be on set with me, and my son is into photography. It’s a family affair.”
In her 20 years in the styling business, Ms. Ambrose has created some of hip-hop’s most iconic looks. She outfitted Sean Combs in shiny metallic leather suits during his chart-topping years, Busta Rhymes in elaborate caftans (“Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See”) and Missy Elliott in an inflatable rubber contraption that defied logic and gravity (“The Rain”).
Inspired by the famed costume designer Edith Head and emboldened by her close collaborator, the video director Hype Williams, she felt free to push artistic boundaries. “We weren’t making videos, we were making movies,” she said. “I wanted to bring high fashion to urban music, to bring aspiration, imagination, luxury.”
She has succeeded, said several of her music world friends who showed up at Spice Market in the meatpacking district this month, to wish her bon voyage to Los Angeles. “She single-handedly cleaned up hip-hop,” said the producer Swizz Beatz (and husband of Alicia Keys), who was wearing a Maison Martin Margiela jacket, Dolce & Gabbana slacks and Lanvin sneakers. “She took guys who were only used to wearing Timberland boots and baggy jeans, and put them in cuff links and Tom Ford suits.”
Mr. Combs added that Ms. Ambrose was one of the first to put him in Gucci. “She is fashion,” said Mr. Combs, who held a party for her six years ago, to toast her first book, “Effortless Style.” “She lives it and breathes it.”
And she is not one for understatement. Ms. Ambrose is often seen zipping around New York City in oversize black sunglasses, bold red lipstick and a giant turban. “I love a good lid,” she declared. “I like the punctuation of a hat. I like the drama.”
Her conversation is as colorful as her impressive wardrobe. In fact, she’s created an entire Ambrosian lexicon of her own. “I don’t say things are hot, I say they’re haute,” she purred. “Glamour-flage” (rhymes with “camouflage”) is another favorite. Definition? To wear Brobdingnagian accessories in a stylized effort to shield or distract. How about using it in a sentence? At the Bergdorf lunch, she donned a Miu Miu wool cap, which she had bought moments earlier to “glamour-flage her hair.”
“I don’t love my curl today,” she admitted with a self-deprecating chuckle.
She’s quick to point out her flaws. The imperceptible scar on her lip from a childhood fall. Her unattractive toes, brutalized by her love of perilously high stilettos. “I’m on my second pair of feet,” she said. “The heels have to be at least six inches. I’m vertically challenged. I’m 5-3. If I took off my shoes, you’d feel sorry for me.”
Ms. Ambrose grew up on East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx, in a one-bedroom tenement she shared with her single mother and older sister. As a teenager in the ’80s, she dressed in elaborate get-ups to glamour-flage her severe acne. She was often teased as the odd duck. “I’d wear a ponytail with watches in my hair or mismatched tights,” she said. “They didn’t know what to make of me.”
Her dream to attend LaGuardia High School (the “Fame” school) was dashed when she blew her audition, but she flourished at Julia Richman Talented Unlimited High School, a small public school on the Upper East Side. “If I wasn’t in the play, I was costume designing,” she said. Upon graduating, she skipped college and landed a good job as an office administrator at S. G. Warburg & Company, a London investment bank.
But after two years, she decided finance wasn’t for her. Her mother was devastated, but Ms. Ambrose, armed with a lean stock portfolio she cobbled together while working there, felt liberated. She lived off her portfolio earnings while interning at MCA Records, where she began styling up-and-coming groups, Ultramagnetic MC’s and 702. Before long, she was traveling the globe and styling bigger players like Ms. Blige, Enrique Iglesias, the Backstreet Boys, Will Smith and Mariah Carey.
“I introduced Puffy to J. Lo,” she said. “They met on the set of the ‘Been Around the World’ video, and the rest is history.”
Nowadays, she is the one being introduced. In addition to styling, she is finishing a capsule line for Selima Optique that hits stores this coming spring, and has plans to start an accessories, apparel and home furnishings collection.
“My goal is to bring effortless style to the masses,” she said, finishing her lunch. “With some punctuation, of course.”
Large Avatars for Everyone!
VH1 grabbed up one of the queens of celebrity style, June Ambrose, to give them one of their first fashion docu-reality shows.
“The June Ambrose Project,” (working title) a half-hour docu-series, is scheduled to premiere in early 2012.
June, who has a son, Chance, and daughter, Summer, with her hubby Marc, has been styling and designing wardrobe for over 20 years for A-list folks like Sean Combs, Alicia Keys, Kelly Ripa, Kim Cattrall, Jay Z, and Mary J Blige. So we may just get to see her in action with some of these folks.
Here's the breakdown of the show from VH1:
In “The June Ambrose Project,” June and her team of tireless assistants will take on a mix of up-and-coming and established celebrity clients – some actors, some musicians -- who would like to re-imagine their looks and brands. Each episode will chronicle an image makeover and overall rebranding, culminating in a visually stunning event designed to focus on the celebrity’s new look.
In addition to makeovers, viewers will get to see how June juggles her family life, CEO of her celebrity styling house Mode Squad and her burgeoning empire. Adding to June’s to-do list is a record label, books and a plethora of assignments ranging from celebrity clients, fashion shows and photo shoots to emergency style interventions for friends she can never turn down.
“We at VH1 are so thrilled to dive into the fashion world with none other than the industry’s top styling icon, June Ambrose,” said Jeff Olde, EVP, Original Programming and Production VH1. “June is a true original and a creative force of nature who will offer our viewers an exclusive peek behind the curtain into her world of celeb fashion and branding.”
Last edited by Janard Williams; 08-11-2011 at 08:48 PM.
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