February may be over, but we aren't done with our New Black History series quite yet. Today we feature celebrity stylist Wouri Vice. Born and bred right here in New York City and now a veteran of the fashion game, Wouri began his career on a high note, styling none other than Alicia Keys during the rise of her global fame. And he's never looked back since. Watch and read his story and find out what black history means to him below.
Let’s start with a brief introduction. Tell us your name, where you are from, and what you do.
Wouri Vice: My name is Wouri Vice. I am from Harlem, USA and I am an image consultant and fashion stylist.
What's your background? Tell us a little bit about what brought you to where you're at today.
WV: I was born and raised in New York, went to school at a performing arts high school here and have always been into fashion. I was like a super eccentric kid in school that used to wear like, one green sock, one blue sock, one red sleeve or one blue sleeve. It was a whole thing. Initially I wanted to be a fashion journalist, and that brought me to North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina, where I joined the fashion troupe and started to create clothes. And that is how I started earning my tuition, by cutting up jeans and different stuff.
That began the journey, but North Carolina wasn't really moving at the same pace that New York was moving. Ended up coming back home and interning at Giorgio Armani for a little while, and then 9-11 happened. And during that time there was a transition in what I wanted to do, so I was in between leaving North Carolina, coming to FIT in New York, and I started working at a real estate agency and a movie theater. The movie theater was my high school job, so I always worked there on the weekends so I could have free tickets. But through that job I learned extreme customer service and just how to deal with people.
So there was the real estate job, there was the movie theater, and a friend of mine was going on tour because her life was growing, and that friend was Alicia Keys. So, she asked me if I would go on tour with her. I said yes, and that was pretty much the beginning of a career. And that was 18 years ago. I was only 21.
So you started out in fashion by styling for Alicia?
WV: I did. She's the first client that I ever had, and I like to say that when it comes to styling, I went to the school of Keys because everything that I know or have acquired, I learned from working with her. She gave me that platform, she gave me that space. I learned how to be on set. I learned how to pay attention. It just manifested into something beyond my dreams. But it's like situations would come up, like first Oscars, first Grammys, and you just have to rise to the occasion and be in it. Thank God, I've had some OGs in my life that have looked out for me, like Patty Wilson and Misa Hylton, to give me advice along the way. And yeah, it's been very interesting, to say the least.
Because I know your list is extensive, are there some people that you've worked with that people may not be familiar with outside of Alicia Keys?
WV: I've worked with Kerry Washington, Taraji Henson. Currently working with her. Andrew Day. I've had my hand in a couple of different pots over time. Angela Bassett. Viola Davis. I did a lot of covers with Essence Magazine which, in turn, introduced me to a lot of black women. So, I can't even sit here and rattle them all off the top of my head because I have something like 16, 17 covers and multiple inside stories. So, that one magazine helped to shape my career, in a sense. It was God's vessel for me. He would send me clients through the magazine.
What does black history mean to you?
WV: Black history means a lot to me. It's become something more, as I've gotten older, as I see the transformation of black people and how resilient we are. For me, black history is every day, because the 41 years of my life is black history. But I love that it's a time for facts and information about how resilient and how great we are as a people. It's known. It becomes known. And it's a time to highlight that and showcase that, especially in a country where it's diminished every day. Just to walk down the street and the fear of authority attacking you because of the color of your skin. It's the one month where it's like, "It's okay, I've got a black friend." You know what I mean? Like black is cool for a whole month, so I kind of dig it in that way. But black history is everyday for me.
How do you feel about the new black history?
WV: It's funny, because I often have conversations with my friends, and it goes twofold for me. You know when you have a pair of sneakers and everybody's like, "Oh my God. When did you get those?" And you're like, "I've been had them." That's what new black history feels like to me. We've been doing this. We've been innovators, we've been millionaires, we've been billionaires.
Like I said, Black History Month is every day. But again, I'm happy that people are having a chance to receive that information, so that there becomes an awareness within the world of the power we have. That's also a double-edged sword, because that power is what sometimes makes people fear us. Public Enemy spoke about it in the '80s: “Fear of a Black Planet.” So, it's twofold. Certain things I have been kept a secret so that we wouldn't be attacked for that greatness. But we're in a space where it's being highlighted, so let's celebrate it.
What does the culture mean to you?
WV: Sneaker culture has grown so much. I was addicted to shoes in high school. Shoes were my thing. Shoes of different colors. I love loafers. I loved dirty bucks. I loved oxfords. I like monk straps. And it was about color. How many flavors can I get? The same way that brothers were doing it with sneakers, I was just doing it with shoes. I didn't get my first pair of actual name brand sneakers until I was probably 22 years old, which is what probably made me become a fanatic of shoes, because I started so late.
The culture's been here for awhile. I mean, fat laces or no laces in your adidas shell toes. The African American community broke that shoe. We made adidas a thing through music. So, the two go hand in hand.
You’re from Harlem, which is a hub for culture. Has that also inspired your creativity and love for fashion?
WV: Absolutely. My love for fashion comes from my beginnings of just being a New Yorker, before being a Harlemite; being a New Yorker, period. You can ride the train and see somebody coming up from LES. You can see somebody coming from Koreatown, Little Italy, El Barrio. Brooklyn had their own flavor with the Girbaud jeans and the Guess jeans. There's so many little intricacies that go into a New Yorker's style, that I literally would just people watch. I still do it to this day. It's a little bit harder than it used to be because we used to have pockets. You could go by Astor Place and see what the skaters were doing, and you could go on Fulton Street or Jamaica Ave and see how people were rocking their clothes. It's a little bit harder to do with the gentrification of New York, but it's still there. It's a thing.
I eventually did come back to the neighborhood, and that was definitely one of the things that I used when styling Alicia Keys, because we grew up together. So, I knew the Harlem girl that was inside of her. I knew that side of Hell's Kitchen that was in her. So, the leathers and the boots and the way the jeans had to fit a certain way and they had to be cuffed over your sneaker a certain way. It had to be right or people were going to talk about you. Which goes back to the culture.
Do you feel like you're a part of black history?
WV: Absolutely. I am a part of black history. At this point, I hope I've left behind a legacy. I'm in certain people's DNAs, like Addie Samuel, she's an amazing stylist. We worked together before she became this mega stylist. Jason Rembert, who is a designer and a stylist, I am a part of his DNA. Between those names that I just mentioned, I mean, Jason and Addie alone—look at black history and what's happening in Hollywood right now—they've got their hand on that pole. So, yeah, I am a part of black history.