Keeping It Funky With Sal Yvat
Interview by LaChelle Chrysanne
Everyday when we wake up and get dressed, we put together outfits that say something about who we are. Though fashion is a large part of American culture, having a distinct personal style takes wearing clothes to the next level. I haven’t met anyone with style quite like Memphis-bred stylist, Sal Yvat. From working with Nike and buzzworthy singer-songwriter Ravyn Lenae, to styling an entire cast of women for a stage play, Sal is well on her way to becoming a well-known stylist in the fashion world. We chatted with her about her southern upbringing, why she’s inspired by church ladies, best methods for thrift shopping and how to hone your personal style.
UC: You're originally from Memphis and moved to Chicago to study at Columbia College. During your time at Columbia we met and you styled me at a photoshoot. Tell me about your southern upbringing and what led you to go to art school in Chicago.
Sal Yvat: I went to Ridgeway High School in Memphis and I was in theater. We had this lighting tech guy named Alex Nahon and we were kind of cool. He went to Columbia and recommended it to me because I was telling people I want to go to school for fashion. I didn't really know what I wanted to do in fashion but I just knew I didn't want to go to a regular school. I only applied to Columbia and told my mom I'm either going to Columbia or I'm staying in Memphis. I got accepted! Much thanks to Alex because I'd never heard of Columbia before he told me about it.
As far as my southern heritage and upbringing, I think it definitely influences my style. I'm super into the concept of Sunday's best. You should always look your best, for yourself or for whoever you believe in or worship. That is definitely reflected in my personal style and what I do.
UC: What do you feel are some of the main differences between the south and the midwest?
Sal Yvat: In the South we're kind of funky, more playful and even gaudy. Sometimes I joke and say southern people are the closest to our OG ancestors from the motherland, so we get it. I think Midwesterners are pretty bland. Most people who I think are kind of saucy in Chicago are from St. Louis or Atlanta or somewhere like that. I think it's because in the south it's warmer and there’s a greater opportunity to be colorful. It's colder in Chicago so I understand why they're bland.
UC: As a native midwesterner, I'll try not to take offense to that.
Sal Yvat: I'm sorry *laughs*
UC: How did you get into fashion and styling, was it something you always knew you wanted to do?
Sal Yvat: I've always loved fashion. I've always gone to church and Sunday's best has had an influence on me because I was always at church and had to look good--it kind of molded me into who I am. My mom always dresses nice, I've always been her mini-me as she calls me. When I was younger I used to draw a lot and I actually wanted to be a fashion designer first but just kind of let that dream go. Once I became a senior in high school and had to pick a college, I was looking at Columbia. They had a fashion business program and I thought that maybe I can open a store or something like that. Once I got to Columbia, I took a fashion styling class and I was like ‘wow this is amazing!’.
UC: Have you ever seen Mahogany?
Sal Yvat: I have not seen Mahogany which is crazy, I know.
UC: *gasps* You went to school in Chicago to study fashion and you’ve never seen Mahogany? The film where Queen Diana Ross styled and designed her own wardrobe?!
Sal Yvat: I know and everyone always tells me I remind them of her in that movie so I’m rude for not having seen it yet.
UC: Yes, you need to watch it, it’s a classic. Do you still have a desire to get into design at all?
Sal Yvat: Not necessarily fashion design but probably accessory/product design.
UC: What type of product?
Sal Yvat: I would say things that kind of reflect me and my aesthetic. I'm really into sunglasses. I have a thing for bags and bracelets, I also make earrings.
UC: That’s really cool. Switching gears a bit here, let’s talk about young Sal. I feel like middle school is when everyone starts to really dress themselves for the first time. What was your style like in middle school?
Sal Yvat: Wow. In 8th grade, I started to figure out who I was and I remember this girl pointed out my style to me. She was like ‘you just be putting stuff on and you make it look good’ and I think that was when I kind of transitioned to a punk rock type of theme. I started to get really into slip-on Vans and skinny jeans and button-down shirts with cropped moto jackets. I would wear tote bags, I was really into matching my bag with my shoes. I remember I had these pair of slip-on Vans with hearts on them, they weren’t real Vans but I loved them because of the hearts. I went to the beauty supply store one day and I saw there was a bag with the same kind of hearts on them and I was like ‘this is fate! So I had to buy the bag and I just kept trying to do that. I would have a checker print scarf and a checker print purse and then I found some checker print shoes, that was my theme. I also went to a school where we wore uniforms.
UC: So accessorizing was how you were able to express yourself?
Sal Yvat: Yes. That was my style, I was weird.
"Be comfortable with yourself, know how you like to dress your body and don’t let any outside force dictate that"
UC: Are interested in pursuing further aside from the styling fashion styling?
Sal Yvat: Designing earrings is my newest thing, it gives me a chance to be super creative and play with shapes.. I'm really just trying to culminate all of my interests into one entity which is what I call The Look Authority. We had our first Fashion Show last month with AMFM in Chicago. The brand is a mixture my own creative concepts, a blog, my designs, and (soon to come) events.
UC: I've noticed that when you've styled certain clients, you’ve created certain things such as earrings and other accessories. What is that process like? It seems like you're able to get your clients to trust your creative vision.
Sal Yvat: I really try to understand people and be open to their ideas. I know I'm real extra and loud and clanky and I’m still working on losing myself in the work so I can just be the vessel and transporter in the process of making someone look their best. I always try to remember that I'm here to amplify them and it’s my job to take what they want and add a little bit of me.
UC: You've done some work with Nike, you’ve styled Raven Lanae who I love. What are some game-changing styling gigs that you've done and when did you get to the point where you were like ‘yes, this is what I’m meant to do’?
Sal Yvat: My first like game-changing job was with Victory Garden’s Theatre. I styled a cast of women for The House That Will Not Stand which is written by a Black playwright. It was a cast of seven Black women which is almost unheard of in play world. That was my first big job and I got to do two looks per cast member, so in total it was 14 looks. I feel like that was a game-changer because I was booked by someone who was outside of my friend circle who saw something in me based on the work that I had made with my friends. I was able to recreate historical looks and it really gave me more confidence.
UC: I could totally see you styling like Solange or Rihanna who are some of the biggest Black style icons right now. Who are some celebrities you would die if you were able to style?
Sal Yvat: Definitely, Leiomy who's one of my favorite voguers. I first saw her on America's Best Dance Crew. I love that she's so athletic and I just love dancers especially voguers. BbyMutha and Queen Key are also on my radar. I would also love to style Angela Bassett but that’s just because I think she's just the best.
UC: She is the best and she looks good in every color too.
Sal Yvat: Yeah it's like Angela Bassett, what do you drink every day? Are you eating honey? What is it?
UC: One of the first things I noticed about you when we worked together is that you love music and you love a good vibe. When we were shooting it was like the music really helped get into your zone. How does music inspire your creative process as a stylish?
Sal Yvat: I love music. My first love is dancing so I have a visceral connection to music the same way a musician or a producer does. It just puts me in this place where I can center my thoughts and this rhythm where I’m able to fine tune the vibe. Music really elevates the mood and look I’m going for….. kind of like activates another creative side of me.
UC: We were talking today and you said this outfit that you have on right now, you just bought today. How much do you shop?
Sal Yvat: I actually don't bulk shop that much, surprisingly. I buy like one shirt or one pair of pants every other week or month. I'm on vacation technically so I did come to spend but I can tell you how much! This dress was like $6, the jacket was $8, the hat was $10 and my shoes were like $9.
UC: Do you have any tips for people when they go thrifting?
Sal Yvat: I would say look for pieces not an outfit and try to find things that don't look dated. I feel like this jacket I’m wearing looks thrifted but a name brand company or fashion house probably could have made it, you know what I mean? Don't get overwhelmed when you're shopping. You may have a large number of things that you like but you have to learn how to streamline what you really want, unless you can use all of it and you can afford it. For example, when I'm on a budget and shopping like I was today, I went to the dress section I went through the whole section and I picked about five that I wanted. After I picked what I wanted, I looked at them asked myself if I’m going to wear any of those items more than once. I also asked myself if I have enough shoes in my closet to go with the items I’m buying. I ask myself these type of questions to make sure I’m getting longevity out of something and I'm not just buying it just because I see it. I don't like to spend more than $10 per item at the thrift store.
UC: If you had to wear one outfit every single day for a week what would that look like?
Sal Yvat: Oh is it like per season or is it's like an all-weather outfit?
UC: Someone says to you, ‘Listen, you got to wear this same outfit every single day for seven days.’ what would that look like?
Sal Yvat: Well, I’m going to go with an all-weather look, just so I don't get caught lacking. I love to be cozy so I would say something like a baggy suit and then underneath I would probably have like a corset, white tee, or like a bandeau top or a bodysuit. If my hair isn't done I will have a hat on like I'm wearing today *laughs*. If hair is done, it would be laid, pimp shade to the side. I always have on a big pair of earrings. As far as shoes go I probably would wear sliding mules or something like a low heel to give me a little action, a little sauce. The suit would need to be a color like pink, blue, red and maybe have my initial on the back, you know what I mean? A little sauce!
UC: Sounds fly, do you have any style icons?
Sal Yvat: Oh my gosh, so many! Of course, Solange. I think she's everybody style icon at this point.
UC: She’s been killin it for a while. I remember when she was wearing banana pants.
Sal Yvat: Yes! When she was wearing the box braids. Of course Erykah Badu as well. I love church women and their hats. I like my mom’s style, she's really classy. I like classic 1960s Twiggy, Shirley Kurata, architecture, Japanese design methods, Wes Anderson’s characters. Grace Jones, I love her androgyny. I also just like random people on the street. I get inspiration from everybody, even the postman, I love postman pants I love the army and people in uniform. Uniforms say so much without saying anything.
UC: In your wildest dreams, where do you see yourself at next year?
Sal Yvat: I would be a curator for a fashion exhibit at a museum. Another dream would be working as a celebrity’s personal stylist or maybe the key stylist in a recurring TV show or a film.
UC: Styling allows us to express ourselves and make statements. For those of us who are just now beginning to hone in on our own taste and what looks good on us. What would you say is a good starting point for mastering our personal style?
Sal Yvat: Be comfortable with yourself, know how you like to dress your body and don’t let any outside force dictate that. It doesn't matter your gender, sexuality or your size. Obviously, you want to make sure your clothes fit you how you like but if you want to wear mini skirts everyday for the rest of your life, do that. Just be comfortable because style is really confidence in expression. Find out who you are and how you like to see your body and do that.
Follow Sal on social media at @SalSoGroovy and check out her curated playlist below: