At 25, stylist, creative director, and image architect Farren Fucci has achieved what many dream about. In March, he styled Rihanna for a Paper cover story. (He’d previously dressed Bella Hadid for the magazine in December 2016.) She was dressed in vintage Chanel, unbuttoned and topless, a sweaty bottle of 40oz beer in her manicured hand. There was a sumptuous fur coat worn with a sports bra; and her hair shifted from seafoam spikes to lavender tresses and citrus ponytails. Throughout the editorial each look was an amalgamation of luxury, mundanity, and blackness. And they were all created with the kind of context that can only be lived; the kind that a million black girls know but never name. Those smoky nights where one poses against a bag of chips in a nearby bodega, decked out in club-ready couture.
I first saw Fucci’s work on Twitter in December. A lot of my friends followed him and retweeted his Carrie Bradshaw thread, a sermon about hoeism. His posts featured style moments from old television shows, forgotten editorials, and underrated runway collections. They were high-fashion, but also street, sexy, and prim. It was his Polyvore mood boards, though, that really helped him gain visibility in the fashion world. They showed that he was capable of styling seriously, with a careful eye, and caught the attention of Rihanna long before the two worked together. Fucci’s is the kind of Twitter page that makes you forget about time, sifting through GIFS forever, saving looks to your phone for reference.
When we met in March through a mutual friend, Fucci stood tall at 6 feet 3 inches, dressed in baggy leather pants, a motorcycle jacket, and Chanel sneakers. He was reserved and quiet, but I was full of excitement. Fucci’s not just in fashion, but creating it. He’s also black and gay. When I was working in fashion I rarely saw anyone who looked like me. Black bodies are rarely embraced in that realm and almost never arbiters of style. Often we exist only as inspiration, as halves of a whole and as littered affectations.
Despite a few hiccups in our plans to set up an interview, we finally spoke over email, FaceTime, and a phone call about fashion, empowerment, and being a creative.
What’s your earliest memory of being interested in fashion?
When I saw 2004 Rasta Collection for Dior by John Galliano. I was like 13 years old. It was a photograph of Gisele Bundchen by Nick Knight. That was the first image I cut out and put on my wall as a child. I really wanted to be her, she was so badass. I didn’t know anything about her but I knew I loved that outfit. But before then my introduction to fashion was playing with Barbies and Bratz dolls. I took styling them so seriously; I would cut their clothes and make them shorter. I thought their bodies were banging and I always wanted to show that off. I used to fucking murder that game My Scene online. Oh, that was my shit!
What do you think attracted to Barbies, Bratz, the female form?
Honestly, before I was born the doctor told my mom I was a girl and I just thought for a moment, before I had the tools and the language, that I was born in the wrong body. When I dressed Barbie I felt like I was dressing myself. Back then as a kid, you weren’t really allowed to express yourself outside of gender norms and to do anything outside of masculinity was considered “wanting to be a girl”. And I think at that time, I ran with that.
Do you think that played a part in the sort of self-loathing you’ve addressed on Instagram?
Yes, I grew up in a small ass town and I think a smaller town breeds even smaller minds. Anything I did, even my basketball movements were nitpicked. If I did anything “feminine”, like play video games online as a girl character and my mother would come and turn the game off. She’d make me go outside and play basketball. I was forced to do things I didn’t want to do. It was always go outside and shoot and practice.
And how did that impact you?
When I was seventeen years old, I became homeless. I had a boyfriend and my grandparents were very religious and my mom was homophobic. One day I came home from my boyfriend’s and my mom told me that my grandparents said I needed to leave. I didn’t ask any questions, I left. There wasn’t anything I could do. I was who I was and no one was going to change that. It was very difficult, doing everything on my own. I was raised upper middle class, my mother and grandparents gave me a lot, but when I came out there was no more of that. I was working at a gas station, Chilli’s, Wal-Mart, and a clothing store called Maurice’s. It was a hustle, everyday. I stayed with a friend for about three months and then I made it to college. During that time, I was in a physically abusive relationship. Rated R had just come out and that’s what really linked me to Rihanna. We seemed to be going through the same thing. I played “Firebomb” everyday. Every word still hits me. There was so much going on and I ended up moving to another city just to get away. It was dark and scary, but there were fun moments. I went to clubs for the first time, I smoked. I was a bit lost, unstable, but I learned so much.
You posted about “that moment when you finally become comfortable in your own skin” and learning to love yourself, how’d you arrive at that moment?
It was more so a fake it until I make it kind of thing. I knew that no one was gonna treat me with respect, no one else was gonna love me, unless I did first, or at least act like I do. I realized that me beating myself up and being unhappy wasn’t fueling me, it was putting me in situations that I didn’t need to be in. Around people who weren’t good for me. I got tired of it and I cut it out.
Your entry into the fashion realm looks unprecedented and tremendously fast to an outsider. What were your early days of styling before your big breakthrough?
Before I started doing the styling and stuff like that, I was at the point where I had to jump all in. Last year, I gave God an ultimatum and said if I don’t make it quick or fast I don’t know how much longer I can live on this planet. I was at the point where I was nearly about to give up because I wanted to create and the job I was at was not challenging me in anyway. Literally within a week, I jumped full force into that idea. Every time 11:11 hit, I would pray and tell God what I wanted. As soon as I started doing that pattern, (I believe full-heartedly in numerology and I read that 11:11 is the Angel’s time or the time that God hears you the most) I posted the picture of the Hillary Clinton shirt and that day Rihanna hit me up.
What happened after Rihanna got in touch?
When I first started posting looks, I didn’t expect anything to happen. When I was in the city to give Rihanna the shirt, I thought about the Paper interview in which they christened me “Rihanna’s favorite.” At first I didn’t like that, I thought it was a bit pretentious until she called me that herself. But when I was in New York City, I hit up Sandra, who wrote the piece. She was really an advocate for me, she got the vision. We had an impromptu meeting and I told her my vision for Bella. Me and Bella had become really cool through DM’s and texting, really a lot of life advice and suggestions and that eventually lead towards some fashion ideas. The whole idea from our shoot with Bella was to make her break out of the shell that I felt the fashion industry was putting her in. I felt like fashion wasn’t allowing her to be as edgy as she could be and I wanted to help show that. They already had a concept with a cover for someone else but when I told them the idea they were amazed and decided to go with that instead.
Rihanna rented out an entire nightclub just so the two of you can grab a drink, what is it outside of styling that you think makes her feel comfortable with you?
I think it has a lot to do with my transparency. I share a lot of things online and I’m genuine in that way. After we shot the Paper cover, I asked her why me out of all of her millions of fans, and she said that my genuineness and authenticity speaks through my social media and it even made her feel comfortable enough to do something as bold as give me her personal number.
“If it’s something you want to do, pursue it. You know your purpose, it’s that little thing you keep thinking about. Listen to that, follow your heart, it will all come true. It’s gonna be hard as fuck, but believe you can get out of any rut.”
Why are you so transparent online?
I used to be very reserved and quiet in real life. Social media was a way for me to share my thoughts, I’m better at writing my feelings and ideas down. It was easy for me to say whatever I thought and there was no one that could stop me, so why not be transparent? I’ve thought about making another instagram but I don’t really care. I’m gonna say what I want from my page, I don’t need to hide. I’m not scared of anyone. There was no decision making to be transparent, I just have nothing I feel I need to hide. You either like me or you don’t.
How do you choose the women you work with? It is only through social?
I like edgy girls. I like girls who smoke weed and wear Chanel. A bad bitch, someone who is confident in her sexuality. That’s my favorite type of woman. I always want to celebrate her sexy, I think regardless of body type, hair color, ethnicity, there’s that innate sex appeal I try to bring out. I like to work with women I actually like as people and they have to have good energy.
You’ve talked a lot about your “hoesthetic” for women, wanting them to feel liberated and empowered, are the approaches to this aesthetic different for women of color whose bodies are often policed and criticized, is there a different responsibility you feel you might have when dressing the black body?
I don’t approach it differently at all. I believe every woman should be allowed to dress the way that they want and that’s how I create looks. We use our own gaze, not the white one, not the male one, not one focused on “class”. This is their world. We dress for ourselves here. If you understand good, if not, next.
Most people seem to have forgotten that there was a time when men who were interested in fashion were immediately thought of as gay. Musicians, athletes, and celebrities have changed that publically. Contemporary media outlets often cite straight male rappers as “fashion icons” but very rarely do gay men who started certain trends get press. What are your thoughts on that?
I think that’s pretty wack. I was wearing shit that straight men are wearing now when I was in eleventh grade. That was in 2006. It’s interesting because minority groups create these trends that the mass take on years later but now I’m happy we are starting to see change. There are gay men who have paved the way for me and others. Men like Andre Leon Talley and Edward Enninful. I hope one day I become a fashion icon but I do feel like the pit that gay men are in sometimes starts in our own communities. A lot of times gay men, in my experience, have been unsupportive and catty in fashion. I think there’s a territorial type of thing. They’re territorial towards friends who happen to be their clients and I’m a new person that a lot of people want to work with. I don’t think they think there’s enough room for all of us. There’s still that idea that there can only be one. I don’t compete with anyone. You automatically lose when you do that. There’s so much of a fight with gays and fashion but how can we advance as a community if we aren’t even for each other?
Do you think fashion truly believes in that rhetoric?
I don’t think they believe that fully, but I think they have favorites. It’s all about connections, it’s all about how you move. If I would've came into the industry with 100 followers and no network, I would’ve gotten treated with a who are you? The thing that leveled the playing field was that I had Bella and Rihanna in my corner, truly there to help me. It wasn’t that a magazine could ask me to style them, they didn’t even have them to style. It was known, they were doing it to work with me. Paper had been actively trying to get Rih and they couldn’t. Having the pop star and model of our time endorse me definitely has given me so much. If it wasn’t for Rih or Bella, I’d probably still be posting Polyvore looks on Twitter. They have the world’s stage, not just fashion’s. I’m forever thankful that they’ve given me this platform.
Now after directing and styling two magazine covers of your own what do you think about most fashion covers today?
I think people need to take more risks. Stop making models look the same in every shoot. Transform these girls. Allow them to really model. Make them a character. Bella had so much fun becoming another person on set. I think people get so scared of being labeled a cultural appropriator but there are still so many ways to transform someone without offending. Fashion needs to get back to that. Bring theatrics back. Transformation. Even on the runway shows, why are they only just walking down the runway. Do something else, we need more, we want more.
What would say to the dreamers facing obstacles that might feel permanent, the one’s who haven’t never interned, and are miles away from big cities?
It might seem lame but look at me. I was from North Carolina, the most boring place. Don’t give up. That is it, believe in yourself. If it’s something you want to do, pursue it. You know your purpose, it’s that little thing you keep thinking about. Listen to that, follow your heart, it will all come true. It’s gonna be hard as fuck, but believe you can get out of any rut.