A Golden Moment with Stylist and Editor Gabriella Karefa-Johnson
As part of our campaign Golden Together, we’re introducing “Golden Moments”: a seven-part interview series highlighting women who are barrier-breakers empowering others to do the same.
These days, you can't walk by a magazine stand without seeing Gabriella Karefa-Johnson's work. The stylist serves as Garage Magazine’s Fashion Director and lends her talents to Vanity Fair and Vogue—where she got her start under the legendary Tonne Goodman—and has styled Hailey Bieber, Billie Eilish and Gigi Hadid for their glossy pages. She's made a name for herself by changing what fashion editorials can and should look like with exuberant styling that celebrates everyone.
We were lucky to work with Gabriella last fall when she styled our Good as Gold campaign starring Paloma Elsesser. This time, we asked her to go in front of the camera as one of the stars of Golden Together. Here, she talks to us about the power of storytelling and developing her own visual language with the goal of altering the fashion landscape as we know it.
Tell us a little but about your career so far. What led to your role as fashion director of Garage and contributor at Vogue?
I think a fair bit of that was all thanks to the cosmos. What was a huge factor was relentless work in very unglamorous internships and assistant styling roles and showing up eager to be the hardest worker in the joint. I made my career the old fashioned way—I climbed the ladder so to speak!
When it comes to the world of styling and fashion, what are the ways you're hoping to make change?
In a lot of ways, being a plus size Black woman in fashion is already a bit of a radical experience. I hope that in the images I create I can broaden representation in front of and behind the camera and tell the visual stories that have long been ignored.
Our series, Golden Moments, focuses on the moment that a barrier was broken. The “aha” moment when you realized your calling and found a way to build a platform, community or space to amplify your voice and that of others. Based on that, can you describe your Golden Moment?
My golden moment happened over margaritas and nachos at a horrible hotel in Palm Springs. I was assisting Tonne Goodman, who was the Fashion Director of Vogue at the time, and I had just been offered a position as Fashion Editor at Garage Magazine. I was terrified to tell her I was leaving because I loved working with her so much and felt like an imposter—some assistant who thinks they can make it as an editor. She knew before I even opened my mouth and said something along the lines of, "I think you should move on, you've learned all you can from me." I realized that I couldn't wait to teach someone all I knew, and I couldn't wait to help a young stylist pursue their dreams.
How do you derive strength and resilience from your community?
At this point I think it's pure osmosis. I am surrounded by fearless women leading the charge in their respective fields. Witnessing their drive to carve out spaces for themselves is my motivation. I often think of my sister Anna who works in sports and marketing—a majority white male dominated space. She forces her presence in every meeting and shines beyond all reasonable expectations.
How do you give back to your community and live out the idea of women supporting women?
A huge tool I have found in actively committing to mutual advancement is platforming other women in my community. When I see great work, I share it, I buy it, I gift it, I use it. “Support” is a verb in my book.
What have been some of the most important connections in your life and how have they helped make you who you are today?
I have always valued mentorship; there is always more to learn. I really value the relationship I have with my former boss Tonne Goodman. She has seen everything I might ever hope to see in my professional life, and she is always there when I need guidance. One of the most helpful things she has taught me is that absolutely everything happens for a reason. In styling we rely so heavily on perfection and precision to communicate an idea in an image and through clothing—she taught me to go with the flow.
As someone with a lot of influence and power, what are the things you hope people understand from your platform?
I hope that I am communicating that there is room in fashion for all of us. I hope that I am proof that this industry does not have to be a rarefied, inaccessible space
When you need advice, who do you go to first and why?
When I need counsel I go to my mother. She is the wisest, shrewdest mind I know. She is a medical doctor and so our professions could not be more opposite, but she always knows how to overcome an obstacle—like all Black women, she is magic!
What are the biggest opportunities you see in your area of expertise when it comes to progress, equity and equality?
The biggest opportunity I see in styling is the possibility of manufacturing an editorial system that includes bigger bodies. When I am empowered to shoot a curve model, and that model looks amazing in the images, the system recognizes that there needs to be clothes for them—and women who look like them—to wear. I see real potential for change in that way.
What are the things that make you most excited about 2021? About the next generation?
I am the most excited about the emergence of a new creative class in 2021 that centers and values Black voices and creativity. The system wasn't built for me and a lot of my contemporaries to succeed—but with the tools gleaned from those who came before us, we are making it happen for ourselves and making a new future for those who come after us!
What does Golden Together mean to you?
Golden Together means recognizing that we are only as strong as the community we've built. The village of women of color that surround me shine so brightly that it radiates outward to everyone they touch—myself included.
SHOP GABRIELLA'S JEWELRY
Pavé Diamond Croissant Dôme Ring
14k Yellow Gold, Natural Diamond
14k Yellow Gold, Natural Diamond
14k Yellow Gold
Double Curb Chain Necklace
Black Onyx Square Signet Ring
14k Yellow Gold, Black Onyx
Bold Link Chain Necklace
14k Yellow Gold, Garnet
Organic Pearl Hoops
Gold Vermeil, Pearl