Christen Johnson is a personal stylist whose brands, Black Women Who Style and Project Style University, are aimed towards wardrobe stylists who need an extra push and knowledge in their field.
By Tonaé Lee
Special to the AFRO
Hey Style Fanatic readers, happy fashion month! September is a month of runway shows, collection launches and a plethora of other stylishly geared exhibitions and events. With the expansion of Baltimore’s fashion scene over the past few years, it was only right to hear about all things style and fashion from some professionals deep in the game. Streetwear, couture, ready-to-wear and sustainable fashion brands are all over the city, hidden in plain sight, along with wardrobe styling services.
I was able to sit down with Personal Stylist Christen Johnson and Fashion Designer Damien Villanova to talk about their first fashion encounters and what they’ve learned in the industry. Showcasing and assisting with major events like Baltimore Fashion Week, these two would know best when it comes to talking style and the industry.
Born and raised in Baltimore County, Johnson has pursued her personal styling business, Sophisticated Chic Brand, for over the past eight years, recently adding “Style Coach” to her resume. She developed educational brands called Black Women Who Style and Project Style University, which are aimed towards wardrobe stylists who need an extra push and knowledge in their field. “I teach them all about mindset shifting and business fundamentals, which is something most stylists don’t think about,” Johnson said.
AFRO: Why Fashion?
Johnson: Fashion is a form of art that many people fail to realize and can span from many different avenues like drawing, modeling and singing, which are all talents I’ve explored while growing up. Fashion was something I began to gravitate towards at a young age. Ever since the third grade when my mother allowed me to start picking out my own clothes for school, I had an obsession with putting outfits together. And that obsession grew bigger and bigger as I got older and started having more control over my appearance.
AFRO: What is a stylist? What sets you apart from other stylists in the industry?
Johnson: A stylist is someone that uses their fashion knowledge and expertise to curate an outfit or multiple outfits for a specific audience. There are so many different types of stylists that exist, from editorial and commercial stylists to personal and wardrobe stylists. I started off in the editorial styling sector in 2014 and transitioned into personal styling in 2016. I’ve learned so much from that transition alone, which has made me the stylist that I am today.
For me, styling has always been more than just dressing people in cute outfits. My mission has always been focused on educating my clients, transforming their lives, building their confidence and really helping them to see themselves for who they were created to be.
Streetwear, couture, ready-to-wear and sustainable fashion brands are all over the city, hidden in plain sight, along with wardrobe styling services.
AFRO: Where do you go for inspiration?
Johnson: My love for fashion was also influenced by my father and sister. My dad won best dressed in high school and grew up working in retail. My sister was the first fashion influencer I could relate to. I used to always steal her clothes and wear them when she wasn’t around. But overall, social media has been a big inspiration for me. Being able to see how other people put outfits together and what they’re buying or investing in definitely influences me. Social media makes it so much easier for stylists and fashion creatives to access brands and get their hands on designs that may not be accessible in their city or hometown.
AFRO: With the Fall season approaching, what trends do you love the most?
Johnson: I think I’m speaking for everyone when I say I love boots! Fall is the perfect season to bring out your boots and style them in a variety of ways. I love booties and knee high boots with dresses, jeans, shorts, leggings, biker shorts and honestly anything. Here are some of my favorite trends of the season:
- Leather jackets and leggings
- Trench coats
- Chunky sweaters
AFRO: Where are you currently shopping?
Johnson: I love a good department store for the variety of brands and products. Nordstrom is my go-to for shopping for myself and my clients. I’m also getting more into designer brands because I’m really big on quality.
AFRO: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received during your journey?
Johnson: The best advice I received during my journey thus far was actually negative. I remember a more seasoned stylist, who didn’t look like me, told me that I wouldn’t be able to make a ton of money as a stylist. This statement actually forced me to work harder and prove her statement to me false. I knew there were a lot of successful stylists out there and I was determined to figure out what they were doing to meet their financial goals. That was a pivotal moment in my career because that is when I realized, styling was more than just styling. I was inspired to do so much more in the industry, like coaching, hosting events, speaking and teaching to bring more success to my styling business. Being a stylist isn’t easy and there aren’t many resources that are provided to stylists to help them be successful. My biggest advice for stylists would be to remain confident in themselves and to keep pushing no matter what their current circumstances look like.
From Stylist to Designers, these roles hold a lot of responsibility in the fashion game. Let’s be real, where would we be without the direction of a good stylist and the fresh ideas of designers? This leads us to our next special guest, Damien Villanova, fashion designer and creative from the DMV area!
An exotic leather handbag producer, Villanova established the Damien Lee brand to provide representation for African Americans in the unique leather market. Established in 2009, Villanova and his brand have been featured in numerous fashion publications, as well as shown on major runways, such as New York Fashion Week. Mixing his love for high fashion and sustainability, he has created handbags to please just about any wardrobe.
“I would describe the Damien Lee brand as practical, but unique,” Villanova shared.
AFRO: What was your first fashion memory?
Villanova: Working at the Diplomat in Old town Mall downtown, a men’s clothing store. It was most memorable because the appeal as the employee was to always embody the coveted look. Sharing my fashion sense and making others feel their best was amazing.
AFRO: How did you know fashion design was for you?
Villanova: I actually had no idea that it was for me. I stumbled across it. Once I couldn’t have what others had, I wanted what no one else would have. When I was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, there just happened to be a number of leather sewers and I sketched a briefcase, they brought my design to life. My wife even wanted one. I took it to church and others wanted one. Damien Lee grew from there!
AFRO: Which celebrity would you love to see in your designs?
Villanova: Angela Bassett. She is bold and exudes elegance and power.
AFRO: With the Fall season approaching, what trends do you love the most?
Villanova: I’m into the tailored knits this season but mostly I’m very into the saturated colors for this Fall season – the purples, reds, pinks; the warm and cool tones of orange and gray. I’m also a huge fan of the pale yellows and the rich greens. I actually unknowingly hit a lot of these colors in Sunrise/ Sunset Collection for Baltimore Fashion Week
AFRO: Tell us about your experience with Baltimore Fashion Week.
Villanova: The experience has been enlightening, nothing but professional and I would absolutely love to be a part of another season.
AFRO: What should we be on the lookout for next from the Damien Lee brand?
Villanova: From the Beaches to The Deep. We’ll be curating a collection totally inspired from a business trip I took to the Dominican Republic. The beaches, the waters, the sea life was so invigorating, so inspirational!
AFRO: Any last words before we wrap up?
Villanova: “It’s about legacy. My greatest inspiration is my wife and children. I want to leave something behind for my children. So far it feels like my daughter, Lauryn, will take the torch and keep on running,” Villanova shares with excitement.
The Baltimore fashion scene is evolving everyday. With new creatives, innovating ideas and more access I am super excited to see the industry in a few years!
Want to keep up with these two? Follow Christen at @SophisticatedChicBrand on Instagram, and catch the Damien Lee Brand at @ShopDamienLee.
Follow Tonaé Lee, the beauty behind the brand, on Instagram @stylefanaticstylings, Facebook – www.facebook.com/misstonaelee and connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/company/style-fanatic-stylings.
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