Teyana Taylor has glided through this industry on the strength of her fashion.
Imagine a big-haired pre-teen bouncing around during a class trip anticipating a college show by hip-hop spitter Kanye West. Solely based on the dopeness of her hat, security shuffled her off to meet the fashion addict of the hour himself. Cameras flashed, words were exchanged between the Harlem kid and the College Dropout emcee, then–like most young girls–she vowed to never wash her hands again. “It’s so crazy going from him not knowing who I was at all—I wasn’t singing. I wasn’t doing any of that,” she says through a stuffy nose and hoarse throat on a summer morning. “I doubt he even remembers it.”
Cosmically, the two fashion forces would eventually collide again during Yeezy’s infamous Glow in the Dark tour. “He came up to me and was like, ‘This outfit is so dope.’ From there, we became fashion friends. He would send me different designs; I’d send him different designs. We’d piggyback off each other on some fashion shit.” Fast forward, she’s found herself under the Throne-dweller’s music mentorship and afforded opportunities to stretch beyond music far into the landscape of fashion.
Photographer: Karl Ferguson
Stylists: Tiffany Hasbourne, Teyana Taylor
Makeup: Kharizma P
Hair: Latoya Mason
The confident celebutante is by no means struggling to find her style niche. That much is evident on set for today’s cover shoot, where the 21-year-old pulls the majority of her own clothing, slipping in her proverbial two cents at every turn. It’s not bratty or difficult, but refreshing, to see a young talent have complete control of her brand. “I’m one of the few artists who doesn’t have a stylist,” she mentions.
It’s a simple theory: You can’t just dress her up, stick her in front of a camera and make her pretty girl pose in this tucked-away Vault Harlem street wear shop. She floats on set equipped with a black Maison Martin Margiela floor-length jacket, Versace Medusa necklace and Givenchy Rottweiler tee ready for trained eyes. Although she’s completely self-assured here, she continues to fight with and shy away from critics over a style she adamantly claims she resuscitated; a style that’s undeniably an homage to TLC, Aaliyah and Missy Elliott.
In mid-August, Rihanna—red-lipped, snapback-clad and tomboy swagged out—was mistaken for the Harlem chick. A simple retweet from Teyana—which she says was just a salute to her dopeness—sparked an all-out Twitter beef between the Lenox Ave. native and Rihanna’s Navy. On a recent Monday, the curly-haired, barely-legal bombshell took to her balcony at Le Montrose Suite Hotel to air out her grievances about unnecessary attacks against her swag. “Do I think I created this style? No. Did I bring it back? Yes! I branded snapbacks and sneakers. I made it sexy again,” she says with more fervor than an ’09 Kanye. “I’ve always been on my 90s shit, my tomboy shit, my sneakerhead shit. I do feel like I influenced [the style]. I made it okay for female artists to be comfortable in their skin, to be comfortable in street wear, to not always be glamorous 24/7. I would like to think I inspired a lot of artists.”
It’s fair to say this straight-shooter has had a passion for fashion since her diaper days. As a too-grown toddler, Teyana’s mom made her daughter a living Barbie doll, dressing her in designer labels and honing the spunky kid’s instinctual knack for motorcycle jackets and all black everything. Once the bouncy youngin’ from Planet Harlem hit primary school age, she tapped into what she dubs a Rick Owens kind of style. “I have this thing where I like mixing high fashion with Jordans and making it work. I love Alexander Wang, Derrick Lamb, Versace, Margiela. I can go on and on. Givenchy and Rick Owens are some of my favorite lines because you can give it that street wear edge.”
As someone who has witnessed the youngest G.O.O.D. artist’s growth in music and style, Pusha T defines her look as ‘effortless couture,’ a high end-meets-urban look that comes second nature. “Teyana is a natural around-the-way girl. When I look at her, that’s what I see. I don’t know anybody who’s stepping in that lane; everybody else is put together. She comes to you fly. When we were getting off the plane in Qatar, [she wore] fitteds and Celine bags. It’s a lifestyle; it’s how she wears it. She wears it like I wear my sweats and sweatshirts.”
Even as fluid as her affair with fashion has been, her music solstice has yet to peak. When the sassy NYC native first bum rushed record labels’ radars under Pharrell’s other-worldly Star Trak/Interscope label in 2006, it was apparent that the hip-hop genre had a boy-meets-girl chick on its hands. Her breakout cut “Google Me” generated some Gen-Y love but the hardworking signee was missing her mark. Though her music didn’t initially soar, her striking style widely held eyes captive. “I was 16; I was dressed my age. I had my Jordans, my fitteds, my snapbacks. I was typecast for being age-appropriate. Once I got older and matured more, it was still a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation. When I was dressed in my streetwear, I was gay. Then, I do one shoot, show some skin and now I’m not a virgin. I can’t win for losing.”
Amidst being bashed for having what was seen as a male-dominated sartorial taste, Taylor was in a less-than-ideal label situation, at no fault of the N.E.R.D. frontman. “I never really put any pressure on Pharrell about the situation. I didn’t really have time to focus on who was wrong or who was right or where things went wrong because I was always working.”
While waiting in the rafters of her Interscope deal, Teyana strategically secured three vocal placements on West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on a L.A. studio session whim. Ever the approval-seeking narcissist, Yeezy asked Teyana to listen to his album. While there, she capitalized on being in the presence of what would become one of his greatest works. “I hadn’t been in the booth in so long. They had to drag me out,” she laughs. Luckily, her in with Yeezy & Co. provided her a new outlook on her music career beyond Interscope. In January 2012, she announced the official and amicable split from Star Trak. “Pharrell is very supportive and he’s very happy for me. I respect him for that.”
Under the calculated Island Def Jam imprint, G.O.O.D. Music, the Louis Vuitton Don has enlisted a team of not only creatively forward lyricists, singers, scribes and producers (who happen to expand Ye’s über artsy vision), he’s thoughtfully gathered an arsenal of fashion assassins. For the stand-alone G.O.O.D. Music princess, her timing and placement among this particular all boys club is all too fitting. “Even beyond the music, I’ll always have fashion,” she spews exactly. And it’s wonderfully apparent, even though not always respected.
Mingling with entertainment heavyweights has allowed her to choreograph, double as a stylist and even help design Yeezy’s most recent, leather-accented Paris Fashion Week offerings. “When he did his first line, people were pretty harsh, so I guess when he did his second line, he wanted to make sure everything was just right.” She recalls, “I definitely think me being there brought a whole different breed to it. There were already people there from London and Paris, and I definitely think I was more urban.”
Rumblings of The Miseducation of Teyana Taylor infiltrated the inter-webs in March, around the same time she was making a few PFW appearances. People slowly latched on to the slightly comprehensive project that featured old and new cuts. With overly anxious fans waiting on Cruel Summer (on which the songwriter snatched up two feature spots), Pusha’s solo debut and other G.O.O.D. vets’ efforts on the horizon, could Teyana find her projects on the back burner? She reassures of her spot-lit moment.
“That ain’t ever gone happen,” she says. “I deserve more credit because it wasn’t like I could be a socialite and be comfortable with that. I’m designing, I’m helping ‘Ye design his line, I’m dancing, but people don’t want to see me do good. You can go to YouTube and see I have a million things that I’ve choreographed that is so blind to people. I’m not worried because the right people know what I do. When people like Beyoncé and Hov come up to you and they tell you to keep pushing, that’s what inspires me. Beyoncé came up to me like, Oh my god, I love “Her Room.” I’m so proud of you. That’s all that matters; I see Hov and his nickname for me is either Lil Swag or Superstar. It feels good to sit in the room with Bey, Hov, Spike Lee, and John Legend, and Ryan Leslie, just in a room talking kicking our feet up drinking wine. I’ve been around too much greatness to let anyone put me down.”
Pusha T sheds light on her work ethic. “She’ll stay in the studio all day, all night. She just doesn’t leave. She’ll be holding up in a writing room. Whatever the case may be she just doesn’t leave. Even if she’s not working on anything she’s just trying not to miss anything or miss opportunity. Working in the whole G.O.O.D. Music family man, records come from nowhere, ideas come from nowhere. You can always miss something, you can miss something huge.”
While Teyana gallivants the globe and keeps her Instagram filled to the brim with vintage threads and classic athletic gear, the only focus is her developing debut album. Snagging time in the studio whenever, however, she’s painfully aware of others’ expectations of her. Most importantly, her own.
“I’m at a point in my life where I’m ready to really, really start working and let it be bigger than the clothes and the fashion. I’m not comfortable being a profile. I want to be an entertainer and that’s what’s going to happen. Hopefully second time’s a charm.”—Niki McGloster