“Growing up my mom would put on Fashion TV as background noise while she was working and I would sit and watch it with her. It kind of became our bonding ritual every season. I loved watching the models walk and bring life to the clothes. I would say that solidified my interest in fashion but I think subconsciously, I was into fashion from an earlier age. I remember having multiple fights with my mom about what I was going to wear to school. She would make some of my clothes and dress me in all of these layers but I always wanted to wear something different and dress myself. I realized fashion was my form of self-expression. I often think of these moments in my childhood to remind me of how far I’ve come.”
Introducing Tchesmeni Leonard – New York based stylist and creative consultant who lives and breathes fashion, and is one of the coolest girls we like to follow on Instagram. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Tchesmeni credits her early interest in fashion to growing up in a creative household, as well as her inspiring surroundings. Throughout her career, Tchesmeni has worked with high profile stylists like Alastair McKimm and Giovanna Battaglia, as well as brands and publications ranging from Vogue Italia to Cosmopolitan, Calvin Klein, Alexander Wang, Into The Gloss and A Peace Treaty.
We spoke with Tchesmeni about her early years, what made her get into fashion (and the hustle!), her year-round summer uniform, and her advice for aspiring stylists...
TELL US ABOUT YOUR UPBRINGING
I was born and bred in Brooklyn and so are my parents. The Brooklyn lineage runs deep. I’m the youngest of three and grew up in BedStuy. My parents encouraged creativity in our household so I was always in some artistic extracurricular activity. My siblings are much older so being the youngest of three, I had a lot of time on my hands, I was always playing dress up, drawing, allowing my imagination to run wild. My neighborhood provided an unlimited source of inspiration for me. The people, the homes, the local businesses – there were so many characters and so much culture. I would stare out my window or sit on my stoop and observe and absorb everything around me. Brooklyn has changed so much and has sadly lost a lot of the energy that it once had, mainly because the people who created that spirit have had to move. Although Brooklyn has changed, it still remains a big inspiration in my life.
WHAT MADE YOU GET INTO STYLING, AND WHAT WAS THE JOURNEY LIKE?
When I decided to pursue a career in fashion, it wasn’t so easy to make an entrance. I applied to over 100 internships in every area of fashion and received zero replies at first. I kept following up via email and making cold calls (it was much different back then). Eventually one magazine got back to me, O, The Oprah Magazine. I was ecstatic! I went in for an interview and got I an offer to intern in the fashion closet. During my time there I went on a few shoots and instantly knew that I wanted to be a stylist. I was drawn to the energy of being on set, I loved the freedom of creating different characters, and I loved being near beautiful clothes. I went on to intern at Vanity Fair, which was an incredible experience. I was on set with many different stylists and eventually left to intern for a few major stylists that I met through internships. At this point I had been interning for two years and was ready to move up in my career and start assisting. I also needed to start making money. A friend who worked at a creative agency that represented different fashion talent told me about an internship with Alastair McKimm. I loved (still love) Alastair’s work and had decided interning for him would be my last internship and then I would need to decide about my future. He eventually hired me as his second assistant. Alastair is a visionary and my time with him was invaluable; I am forever grateful to him. After my time with Alastair, I assisted a few major stylists and eventually decided I wanted to work at a magazine. I went on to work at Cosmopolitan and Yahoo Style. In between, I freelanced and eventually I decided to go out on my own. I had a few clients so the transition was seamless. It definitely wasn't an easy journey but I am so grateful for the skills I learned and the people I connected with.
YOU'VE WORKED WITH SOME INCREDIBLE BRANDS AND MAGAZINES OVER THE YEARS, WHAT'S BEEN YOUR MOST PROUD MOMENT TO DATE?
Every moment in my career has been incredible. It’s hard to single out one accomplishment because I see my entire career as an accomplishment. It’s been really difficult for African American creatives to break into the industry so I had to force myself into spaces and often times without having the same resources or connections as my peers. I have seen many friends and colleagues leave fashion because the industry can be fickle and competitive.
WHO HAVE BEEN YOUR BIGGEST MENTORS, AND WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE THEY HAVE GIVEN YOU?
Every stylist I have assisted has impacted my career in some capacity. I think the best advice I received has been to think deeply about the subject or character you’re styling – who are they, what do they do, where do they live, who are their friends, what’s their story? That makes all the difference in an editorial.
THE FASHION INDUSTRY HAS CHANGED SO MUCH IN RECENT YEARS, WHAT IS THE MOST EXCITING THING ABOUT FASHION RIGHT NOW?
I love the new talent coming up in fashion right now – designers, photographers, stylists, etc. There is an energy vibrating in fashion at the moment and it reminds me of the same energy I used to see growing up in Brooklyn. It’s free and uninhibited. I love that these creatives are not waiting for the old guard to give them permission to create, they’re creating new spaces for themselves and others. It’s amazing and timely.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR IDEAL SUMMER UNIFORM AND WAYS YOU CAN INCORPORATE A YEAR-ROUND SUMMER LOOK INTO YOUR EVERY DAY LIFE
Something sheer and white paired with a golden tan! I’ve been into cotton gauze and linens as the fabrics feel luxe and comfortable. I also love wearing something simple and adding gold jewelry or a baroque pearl – I love the organic feeling. I love pairing a summer dress or skirt with my favorite chunky knit and a tall boot – the layering of each piece is very chic. It’s very easy to get stuck in a uniform during the colder months but I like to add my favorite summer earrings or a necklace to add a pop of color. And a cute bag to bring in some fun summer energy.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAVORITE PLACE TO SUMMER, AND WHY
Cuba, the energy there is unlike any place I’ve experienced. I often fall in love with places where there is a strong sense of community. The people of Cuba are so joyous, warm, and welcoming. I wish everyone could experience Cuba at least once – it’s magical.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity*