Marni Senofonte’s name rings bells in the depths of hip-hop history and its affair with fashion.
Crediting fellow stylist Misa Hylton-Brim for her start, Marni has evolved into a fashion guru to the stars, dressing everyone from Mary J. Blige and Cassie to Beyoncé and Ciara.With 15 years dabbling in celebrity image, she has even been the fashion mind behind some major events: Salt-N-Pepa’s final tour and the Fugees reunion appearance on the 2005 BET Music Awards.
The soulful R&B siren Monica is her most recent style conquest. She adorned Mrs. Brown for “It All Belongs To Me,” pulling out some heavy artillery: the high fashion threads (Comme des Garçons, Balmain), monster shoes (Alexander McQueen) and accessories for the soul queen that most fashionistas die to don.
Last week, I caught up with the pint-sized stylista en route to a Mary vid. She laughed and talked candidly about her Norma Komali beginnings, how she created a style concept for “It All Belongs To Me” and some of her greatest stories with hip-hop’s trailblazers. –Niki McGloster
VIBE VIXEN: I’m so glad I was able to catch you! Now, let’s just start off with how you got into fashion styling.
MARNI: Truth be told, Misa Hylton-Brim. I was working at Norma Komali, the clothing store, and Misa used to always come in and shop for SWV and Total and all these people. We just formed a relationship, and it was funny because she got pregnant with her second baby, right after she had Justin, and needed help. I was helping her out with a Total video, so truly Misa took me from Norma Komali.
So she was like your mentor through that.
She was my mentor in the sense that we didn’t even really know this was a job.
You didn’t think it would be a career?
I had no idea. I doubled majored in entertainment law and film; that was my double major up in Boston. I started working for Norma Komali because she had all these fashion films, and it kinda married to my favorite things. So, the progression into styling for music videos was certainly guided by God because I got to be around music, be around fashion, be around film. It kinda organically became a career, one that I never knew of.
And ever since you’ve been all in.
I helped Misa out while she was pregnant right up until she gave birth to her baby, but I was still working at Norma Komali. Then, Lauryn Hill saw something that I did and tracked me down and and it was Salt-N-Pepa and Lauryn Hill. Like, I literally left Norma Komali and Salt-N-Pepa it went on their last tour. It was kinda crazy. It was funny because they were doing a cover shoot for Us magazine, and they wouldn’t get dressed. Marvet [Britto] knew Norma Komali, and I was in Norma’s PR department, so I brought over each one of them an outfit, never knowing that you had to bring racks and racks of clothing. I brought Sandy something, Cheryl something, Spin something and they loved it. It was on the cover, then they’re like, ‘Come work on the tour!’ I was so young, so I left Norma Komali, went on the road with Naughty by Nature and Salt-N-Pepa. It was the most fun I ever had in my whole life. That was the beginning of the best stories. From there, I went straight to Lauryn Hill, and I was heavy with Lauryn Hill for years.
All of Lauryn’s solo stuff?
Yes, then I did the reunion.
I think it was the BET awards.
They opened up. I did Lauryn when she had the mushroom haircut, the high waist thing, the white shirt and the big bow.
Dope I remember that vividly. Now, recently “It All Belongs To Me” dropped. How long have you been styling Monica, specifically?
I love Monica, but our schedules are always off! I did Monica’s last video which was “Everything To Me,” and that was like almost a year ago. Then I did spot scenes here and there with her, but I did this last video with her and a Jay Leno performance. Whenever I can, I try to do whatever I can for her cause I love that.
Is Monica pretty straight-forward when it comes to what she likes?
You know what? Monica is open. What I love about her is she totally trusts me, and we get so excited when we work together. She’s like, ‘Do you. Even if she doesn’t understand something, she’ll try it on and be like, ‘Oh I get it,’ which is what I love about her. Even though she has specific ideas of what she thinks is good for her body type, she’ll always give you a chance.
She lets you be creative.
And she appreciates it and enjoys it so much that it’s always fun with her. She’ll look at me sideways and be like, ‘I don’t know,’ then she’ll put it on and she’ll be like, ‘Okay, Marni.’ [Laughs] Really the treatment didn’t even call for the fashion, not at the level that we really came with.
Did you work closely with Brandy’s stylist to come up with what they would wear together on-screen?
Well what we would do, we had a conversation before and we came up with the black leather, the really strong and powerful look for where they come out of the house and blow up the car. So, it wasn’t like we planned it all out but it kinda all came together. It looked like we shopped together, but we didn’t.
When Monica goes into her verse, she almost has a menswear aesthetic. Where did that concept come from?
Well we were toying. I had the Tom Ford tuxedo pants, which are like everything [laughs]! We originally were thinking, Oh, they’re side-by-side, there could be a tuxedo look, but we were running out of time so we didn’t get to shoot them in both. Actually the tuxedo thing, we were gonna do for Clive Davis event. It was such a hot look, and it so suits her because she’s a lady and a boss. She’s a badass, so every little bit of her personality was in all of the outfits. It was a little representation of the kind of woman she is and Brandy as well.
Which pieces did you love the most?
Well, I love the tuxedo look cause it was like the Tom Ford pants and the Dolce and Gabbana shirt. And I loved the Balmain look. That’s my shirt actually [laughs].
Sacrifices in fashion! [Laughs] Who designed the gowns?
That Monica pink gown? That sheer one? It’s Wesley Nault. I love him. He’s really, really super amazing. We did a Halston one-shoulder with a big Lanvin necklace, kind of grown and sleek and sexy. You didn’t get to see much of it, but there was a cute little fur moment by Rick Owens. I think it’s when she cuts his tie.
Vixens really raved about the fashion, so what stores would be the best to visit and try to recreate it?
Honestly, Zara is such an amazing store! It looks conservative, but there’s so many interesting pieces between Zara and TopShop. It’s like Opening Ceremony. Opening Ceremony’s price point is a little bit higher than Zara’s and the TopShop, but you can always find some new and edgy designers who kinda resemble those really, really expensive designers. Their turnover is so quick between Zara, Forever 21 and H&M and they’re so on pulse of these quick turnover fashions that once you see something, they’ve knocked it off already so it’s better to go there and try to find these looks that we may not be able to afford.
Let me tell you something, I shop there regularly, and there’s a whole slew of things you would never think came from Zara that are in these videos or on these girls. It’s like taking that as their canvas and embellishing it yourself. You know, adding rhinestones or spikes or studs to give it that extra oomph.
Mixing is kinda like the key to styling high-end stuff anyway. Now with spring approaching, what three specific items do you feel a girl should have for the spring?
For spring? Well, obviously, pastels. I love the mint greens and the baby pinks and the light lilacs, so definitely some pastels. Definitely a wedged sneaker. I think everybody has knocked off the Isabel Marant wedged sneaker, but there’s so many companies who did a cute little wedged sneaker, so it’ll be cute and fun. The last? A hot pair of sunglasses. I always think every spring to get a fresh pair of sunglasses.
Nice! You’ve style a lot of people thus far in your career. Which female celebrity are you dying to get your hands?
Truthfully, I think it’s Gwen Stefani. Because a lot of my girls, like Cassie and Ciara, our styles are so similar, so they can come over and shop out of my closet. I feel the same way about Gwen, but the thing about Gwen is she’s a little bit older and a little more established. There’s something about Gwen, from when she started to now, like the evolution of her. I feel like I would be shopping for myself; I think it would be so much fun. Like, it’s kinda reminiscent of Lauryn. I had so much fun with Lauryn because it was everything I wished I could get [for myself]. I would make a pair of denim gauchos and she would appreciate it, and I would like fuck with all this Adidas stuff and turn it into all this other stuff and she would wear it. So it’s kinda like I live vicariously through Gwen Stefani and Lauryn Hill.