How Ibrahim Kamara Found His Place in Fashion

Ibrahim Kamara was sitting in a steamy resort room in West Africa not way back, reflecting on a fleeting go to to Gambia, a rustic he as soon as known as dwelling. Born in Sierra Leone in 1990, Mr. Kamara fled to close by Gambia after civil struggle broke out, spending a lot of his childhood with an aunt and uncle earlier than settling in London together with his dad and mom at 16.

After years away, Mr. Kamara, identified to mates as I.B., had returned for a go to with the Senegalese photographer Malick Bodi. Mr. Kamara, now the stylist of alternative for the likes of Virgil Abloh of Louis Vuitton males’s put on and Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy, and just lately named the editor of Dazed journal, was in the method of retracing his previous.

“I’ve been traveling by land and not air in Gambia for six days now, just driving through some of the places where I grew up and soaking it all in,” he mentioned, hunching over his telephone digital camera as a lazy ceiling fan chugged overhead. “How I tell fashion stories has been shaped so much by my early life here, from my community upbringing and being so close to nature to early memories of glimpses of Western magazines and pop videos. I’ve been wanting to come back for some time now. Too long, actually.”

Mr. Kamara was born in Sierra Leone and raised in Gambia earlier than shifting to London when he was 16.Credit…Alexander Coggin for The New York Times

Time is just not one thing Mr. Kamara, 31, has had of late. In an trade the place gifted inventive individuals can toil for years earlier than their first large break, his trajectory from a Central Saint Martins vogue communications graduate to some of the in-demand younger stylists has been meteoric.

At a second when Black illustration in vogue stays a piece in progress, Mr. Kamara’s distinctive voice — he first drew consideration in 2016 with “2026,” a hanging London exhibition that explored the altering nature of Black African masculinity on street-cast fashions in Soweto, South Africa — is upending typical notions of how vogue can relate to race, gender and sexuality.

Currently he types runway reveals and promoting campaigns for high heritage homes like Burberry and Louis Vuitton males’s put on, in addition to Erdem, and previous shoppers embrace Stella McCartney and Dior. His work has appeared in British Vogue, Vogue Italia, System, W and i-D, the place he was a senior editor at massive. And in January of this 12 months, Mr. Kamara was appointed editor in chief of Dazed, a quarterly youth tradition journal.

“An Ib Kamara comes along once in a generation,” mentioned Mr. Abloh, for whom Mr. Kamara additionally types Off-White collections. “His work is a prime example of how diversity can bring out the best of the fashion industry.”

The covers of the September difficulty of Dazed function Rihanna in appears styled by Mr. Kamara.Credit…through DazedCredit…through Dazed

Beyond the Covers

Mr. Kamara’s work tends to flirt on the intersection of uncooked realism, popular culture tropes and the choice realities he creates. Of his debut covers for Dazed, one spotlighted suited Nigerian activists holding their nationwide flag; one other confirmed a younger Black man in a Gucci tracksuit and hightops receiving an injection below the tagline “Freedom Is Coming But Where Are We Going?” Inside, an astronaut, slouching skater, Rastafarian, airline pilot and a businesswoman idled in a line, shifting towards a visor-wearing vaccinator.

“Thank God Ib was not born in Britain,” mentioned Lynette Nylander, the Dazed government editorial director. Ms. Nylander, a former deputy editor at i-D and Teen Vogue, was employed alongside Mr. Kamara, who’s dyslexic and for whom English is just not his first language. The two had bonded over shared Sierra Leonean roots once they met in 2016.

“There aren’t many of us in fashion,” Ms. Nylander mentioned. “But Ib has always been a bit of an outsider, adopting a nonconformist perspective from the world at large and then bringing it inside the fashion establishment. He has such an innate sense of the future, and uses so much color, that his ideas then become almost impossible to ignore.”

Both editors talked concerning the challenges of taking pictures content material in a pandemic, typically utilizing a younger group scattered throughout time zones. For Mr. Kamara, whose business tasks for luxurious manufacturers have budgets which can be typically many instances that of his journal tasks, the problem of “learning how to be creative with nothing” has at instances reminded him of his college days.

His September difficulty, printed final week, is much from beginner, with three covers that includes Rihanna, one the world’s most well-known ladies. In one, she strikes an Amazonian pose in a gold snakeskin bodysuit; in one other she wears a jungle inexperienced Louis Vuitton cap atop an Afro wig of Marge Simpson proportions. The third cowl has her standing tall with a strolling stick in a Burberry string bikini, trench and thigh-high boots. In a playful nod to considered one of her most well-known songs, she’s below an umbrella. The tagline? “The Reign Never Stops.”

Mr. Kamara, who as soon as labored on an advert marketing campaign for Fenty, Rihanna’s clothes and cosmetics model, styled the singer remotely (and notably in appears by key shoppers). In an inside picture, she is in a customized hooded cotton and canvas costume formed like a marijuana blunt by the Jamaican designer Jawara Alleyne.

“I don’t often work with celebrities because many aren’t willing to push themselves creatively or get outside the box,” Mr. Kamara mentioned, twiddling with a big diamond stud gleaming from his ear. “Until recently, I tended to work with my friends as it was just easier. But Rihanna is an exception — she is someone who always takes a risk. She resonates with our readership.”

Covers from Mr. Kamara’s debut points.Credit…Alberto Rodriguez for Dazed. Styling by Ib Kamara with Daniel Obasi & Ola Ebiti.Credit…Paolo Roversi/Art + Commerce/Dazed Magazine difficulty 272

Young persons are nonetheless seeking to magazines, Mr. Kamara mentioned. They simply need to see themselves higher represented. Which means trying past Paris, London and New York to typically ignored cities in Africa and Asia, utilizing native writers and photographers to highlight these cultures, after which making a dreamlike vogue universe to inform these tales, create narratives and push them into the mainstream.

“There’s an innocence and urgency that has remained untouched in Ibrahim’s work,” mentioned the photographer Paolo Roversi, a longtime collaborator, including that he cherished his buddy’s skill to “create hats with pasta, or mix something found on the street with an haute couture outfit.”

“He is completely true to himself, and that’s where his vision comes from,” Mr. Roversi mentioned. “But his debut Dazed cover shoots were also a great example of how fashion can retain a dreamy, escapist aspect and still be a social commentary.”

A shoot styled by Mr. Kamara for i-D journal in 2020, utilizing fashions from faculties and group facilities in Sierra Leone.Credit…Paolo Roversi/Art + Commerce

The Move to Fashion

One distinctive thread operating by means of a lot of Mr. Kamara’s work is his fixation with present affairs. It comes, in half, from his earliest reminiscences in Africa and watching different worlds emerge by means of CNN and BBC. There can also be a close to forensic method to element, honed when he spent three years learning sciences to please his dad and mom, who hoped he would grow to be a health care provider. Eventually, depressing, he moved towards vogue.

“Breaking that to my family was one of the hardest things — it was harder than coming out to my parents because African parents put so much pressure on careers and degrees,” Mr. Kamara mentioned. It was his transfer to London and the sense of non-public freedom he discovered there that propelled his inventive self-confidence.

“There was this dreamlike feeling for a time, this sense of wonder that came from growing up between two very different worlds, that really made me who I am,” he mentioned. “I wanted to harness that while still maintaining clear anchors to reality.”

At one level he thought he needed to be a designer, in order to discover what would in the end grow to be foundations of his work: notions of queerness, gender exploration and fluidity, in addition to Black and distinctively African magnificence. Then got here a brief and unsuccessful stint in public relations, earlier than a pivotal job aiding Barry Kamen, the late stylist who was on the forefront of the 1980s Buffalo scene.

“I realized styling could be a quicker way to tell the stories I wanted to tell,” Mr. Kamara mentioned, pointing to the director Quentin Tarantino, the composer Hans Zimmer and Diana Vreeland as inspirations, because of their skill to create instantly recognizable “worlds” that have been distinctly their very own.

(One individual Mr. Kamara doesn’t spend a number of time styling is himself.) A devotee of a white tee and black pants, he, like many high-profile inventive individuals, mentioned he’s “obsessed with clothes, just as long as they are not on me.”

“I’m still honing my own language,” he mentioned. “I love what I do, so much that when I’m not working, you will still find me constantly researching. I have my notebook with me most times during the day.”

Looks styled by Mr. Kamara for the Givenchy spring 2022 assortment.Credit…through Burberry“He knows how to make my vision come true,” mentioned Riccardo Tisci, the Givenchy inventive director.Credit…through Burberry

Mr. Kamara seems each candy and nonetheless somewhat stunned about his skilled success. At the identical time, he’s quietly steely about his proper to affect and form the style firmament. Mr. Tisci famous that whereas each he and Mr. Kamara have been “quite shy people,” they used work to precise themselves boldly.

“He knows how to make my vision come true,” Mr. Tisci mentioned of Mr. Kamara’s affect, calling his latest spring-summer 2022 males’s put on presentation, styled by Mr. Kamara, “the moment where I really found myself at Burberry.”

Ms. Nylander mentioned that whereas she and Mr. Kamara had each been “nervous” about their Dazed appointments, he had satisfied her that it was not simply an thrilling alternative however “one that was bigger than the both of us.”

The vogue trade as a complete is vulnerable to the tokenization of Black expertise. “Ultimately, there still aren’t many younger Black editors, especially at the top of the tree, who can make real decisions in magazines,” she mentioned. “The mission now is to communicate well beyond art school kids and industry people.”

What could also be tougher to navigate is being continuously in demand. Mr. Kamara’s brief go to to Gambia had been his first private journey “in literally years,” he mentioned, and he mentioned punishing schedule had “taken a toll.” So can the balancing act required by social media. Instagram might have launched Mr. Kamara to a number of key collaborators, just like the South African photographer Kristin Lee Moolman, however even for individuals who have risen to highly effective positions, it might probably create insecurities.

“In fashion, even if you are always looking forward, you often feel like you are only as good as your last work,” Mr. Kamara mentioned. “So sometimes that grid can make me feel a little haunted.”

“I hope I inspire people of all colors and backgrounds to unapologetically express themselves,” he mentioned. “That’s the outsider’s legacy. You do your own thing, then hopefully the world catches up to it one day.”