Cult Figures | Kenya Hunt

 

Welcome back to our Cult Figures series, where Creative Director Alexa Chung meets with creatives whose work inspires her, and whom she obsessively stalks on Instagram...

 

For Spring 21 Alexa meets with Author, Deputy Editor of Grazia and (we have suspected for some time) Superhero, Kenya Hunt to discuss dressing in lockdown, what 2021 holds, and her new book GIRL: Essays on Black Womanhood.

Cult Figures

Interview by Alexa


Hi Kenya thank you so much for doing this. If it’s alright with you I’m going to dive straight in with some questions:

 

What drew you to the UK to live? Was it the terrible weather?

When I was first starting out in media, it was the British women’s and men’s magazines that the editors who mentored me would pay attention to most. The mags were so creative, and not quite as commercial as what was on newsstands stateside. And I loved the fashion – how eccentric and wildly varying it was. London looked like it was popping. Plus: growing up, I had always wanted to live abroad. But in school, I missed out on the opportunity to study elsewhere like so many friends of mine had done — many of them spending semesters or even years in places like Japan, the Netherlands and Spain. So, when I had a job offer to move to London, I took it and ran.

I think sometimes when you’re not raised in the place you live, you’re able to appreciate the magic on your doorstep more. For instance, when I lived in New York for years I would venture to museums and restaurants that some of my American friends didn’t visit because they had become less dazzled by them. Can you share with us some of your favourite spots in London?

I will forever be a tourist in this town. Whenever I take the train to work, and ride past parliament and Big Ben, I have a pinch-me moment. I never get tired of playing tour guide to the obvious spots when friends and family visit — the Tate Modern and Tate Britain, Columbia Road Flower Market, Borough Market, Greenwich Observatory, Portobello Road, the Wolseley, Tayyab’s, Claridges, the V&A, all of it. But I also love the smaller gems too like the Horniman Museum which is down the road from where I live and looks like it’s straight out of a Wes Anderson film or the much-loved black-owned Caribbean restaurant Fish, Wings and TIngs in Brixton, my favourite place to go for goat curry or Ikoyi in St James place, where I used to regularly meet girlfriends (pre-Covid) for jollof rice.

Is it true that you originally trained as a dancer? If so, what happened to change your career path?

I was a classically trained dancer from the age of 3, but as a student at university I always knew I wanted to work in media. But for a while, I thought I could try my hand at both. While at the University of Virginia as a third year, studying English lit, I went to New York to do a publishing internship and study at the Alvin Ailey school. The summer after I graduated university, I went straight back to New York to audition loads and perform for a super short stint with a satellite company. Then I got a dream job offer at a mag I loved, and didn’t look back.

Working in the fashion media, you're an expert in editing trends for others. How would you describe your own style? Have your style icons changed as you’ve matured?

I’d say at this point, it’s equal parts masculine and feminine. I tend to shop and wear a lot of men’s wear (lately I’ve been wearing men’s from Grace Wales Bonner, Bianca Saunders and Jonathan Anderson) and mix it with hyper feminine pieces by designers like Christopher John Rogers, Simone Rocha and Molly Goddard. It’s also important to me to shop, wear and support work by black designers. And I more than anything, I unapologetically reserve the right to change my mind about my style.

How would you describe British style?

Wildly creative and wonderfully offbeat.

You head up a magazine that acts as a snapshot for a lot of Brits into what’s happening in fashion week to week. Do you feel British people dress differently to those in the US?

People love to describe British fashion as eccentric and American fashion as being comparatively commercial and polished. But actually, I think they both share a lot of similarities now. With everyone seeing and consuming a lot of the same looks and ideas and references and brands on social media. What I’ve always loved about the UK is the sense of individualism here and how people tend to wear things in their own way — and generally with a good sense of humour. I’ve always liked that people don’t take fashion so seriously here that the fun is stripped out of it.

Speaking for style, a friend of mine just played me this Bukwoski poem which begins:

Style is the answer to everything.
A fresh way to approach a dull or dangerous thing
To do a dull thing with style is preferable to doing a dangerous thing without it
To do a dangerous thing with style is what I call art

What is your definition of good style? I think good style starts with the mind.

Are you happy? Is your look today giving you life? When you look in the mirror do you recognise that you are the moment? That you are all the things? That as Marc Jacobs famously says, you are too blessed to be stressed and grateful not hateful? That’s all that matters.

Our Spring 21 collection was partly inspired by American movies, Blue Velvet and Heathers meets The Shining. Basically, anything unsettling and weird. I often find collection -inspiration in movies; is that something you look to for inspiration?

Definitely. In my case, I was heavily inspired by all my mom’s favourite movies, films like the old Diana Ross movie, Mahogany. And then I discovered films like Orfeu Negro and daughters of the dust, both of which stuck with me for very different reasons. And later as a graduate, I discovered all the films that American fashion designers love to reference like Grey Gardens and Butterfield 8 and Rear Window, etc

"What I’ve always loved about the UK is the sense of individualism here and how people tend to wear things in their own way"

 

The past year has been hard on us all, and particularly on mothers who have full time jobs having to adapt to stay at home rules. How have you navigated this pandemic, whilst also being promoted to Deputy Editor AND releasing a book? Or do you have superpowers and that's actually a thing?

It’s been hard. I don’t even know how to answer this question because that period during peak lockdown was such a blur. My husband, Matt, and I really were in the trenches together. I think we still have a bit of PTSD from it (half-joking!) Basically, snacks, books, candles, meditation and long baths (when the kids were finally in bed) got me through.

Tell us about your book ‘Girl’. What inspired you to write it?

Click here to buy Kenya Hunt's new book; Girl: Essays on Black womanhood

 

My love of black women, plain and simple. I wanted to communicate how expansive black womanhood is by zeroing in on the specificity of my experience and of the five women who contributed their stories to the book. I wanted to explore the shared experiences and wildly varying disparities that exist between us, through my experiences as a black American woman living abroad. I hope that black women will read this and feel recognised and seen and inspired to consider new ways to name and define ourselves, apart from the expectations of the world. And I hope that readers of all backgrounds will stop and reflect on the assumptions we make about it each other and how we can move forward with more empathy.

You founded R.O.O.M in 2015 to address the lack of racial diversity in the fashion industry, would she be able to tell our audience a little more about it?

I’ve been writing articles about the dearth of diversity in fashion my entire career and I reached a point in 2015 where I wanted to do something about it that felt more concrete. Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to have some amazing mentors in my life, women like Bethann Hardison. So, I wanted to apply some of the things that I had learned from watching her incredible work advocating for models of colour in America, but here in the UK. I had just started at Elle UK at the time and decided to form a support network for aspiring black and brown fashion journalists, designers, image-makers, to help them get a foot in the door and rise up the ranks.

Do you feel the fashion landscape is changing for the better in terms of inclusiveness and representation?

Fashion definitely looks more diverse now than it did when i started out as an assistant. I’d say the bulk of the change we’ve seen is with the visualisation of representation, with more black and brown women appearing in ad campaigns, on runways and on magazine covers than I’ve ever seen before. But I think we’ve still got a long way to go when it comes to equity and what that looks like behind the scenes and within the power structure of these brands.

Has your approach to dressing changed during the lockdown? All I want are super smart tailored trousers or minuscule dresses now…

Same. I want to wear all the dressy things. The dresses and the bar jackets and the tulle skirts and the jewels and the handbags, all of it.

Final Quick-Fire Qs:

Name a dish you’re terrible at cooking?
Shakshuka

Favourite day of the week, and why?
Sunday, because it’s the slowest day of my week. (Saturday is normally crammed full with errands and weekend admin and obligations with my boys)

What is the book you have read most times?
Most of Toni Morrison and James Baldwin’s essays

Motivational song whilst working?
Up by Cardi B


Most looking forward to in 2021?
A good party…

 

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Photography by Jamie Chung
@shotbychung on insta