Black Girl Crush Series, Part 4: Shala Monroque

In the recently published third issue of the provocative art/fashion magazine, GARAGE, there is no dearth of fascinating images. The magazine, ferocious in size, literally opens itself up to page after page of expressive and intellectual visual dialogues on the subject of time. Simply checking the contributing page you'll find a roll-call of the fashion industry's top imagemakers; famed lensman to the beaumonde, Juergen Teller, shot one of the issue's multiple covers.

However, for me, one of the most striking visuals comes in the form of a small black and white photo of our fourth Black Girl Crush, Shala Monroque. She, GARAGE's Creative Director, is shown as a young tot, her hair perfectly plaited, and her cheeks plump and ripe with baby fat. I suspect the editor and style maven is no more than two when this picture was taken, but her expression here is one she has carried through her adult-life, and one I know well.

Almost inscrutable, I can still tell Shala is deep in thought--as she always is--and I'd like to believe this is why she has become, in turn, the "thinking woman's" style icon some years later.

Declared the "muse of a generation" in 2011 by New York Magazine and the moment's "It Girl" by Town & Country, the St. Lucian editor and writer has dazzled the international art and fashion crowds (and the infamously unflappable designer, Miuccia Prada), with a signature flare and statement-making approach to dress. The term "fashion risk" doesn't really exist in her sartorial lexicon, as she can easily make the unthinkable (i.e. a bejeweled beetle brooch) the very necessary (i.e. Vogue did a full feature on the now must-have accessory).

But it is really when Shala opens her mouth does she make the most powerful impact. A soft, almost undetectable Caribbean lilt gives way to candid discussions on books, gender, race, art, politics, sex, relationships, and more books--her library seemingly as rare, vast, and precious as her shoe collection. Ebbing from the serious to the irreverent, no conversation is quite the same with Shala: a spirit I infused into the Q/A below, where she reveals the influence of writer Maya Angelou, how to navigate New York as a young creative, and her endearing (albeit secret) fascination with celebrity blogs.

Read on to learn more...

Black Girl Crush Series, Part 4: Shala Monroque

Name: Shala Monroque

Birthplace: St.Lucia, West-Indies

Profession: Creative Consultant

Personal Style:  Liberty

Personal Mantra:  "This too shall pass."

1/I love how your blog features a host of female figures--some notable, some unknown, some of the past, some of the now--and there is always such a strong sense of admiration for these women. Who among this assortment do you turn to for inspiration time and time again?

Maya Angelou, for sure.  I just love the authority she speaks with.  I've been reading her poetry since my early teens, and come back to it over and over again. 

Nina Simone: again, that authority.  I love what she stood for -- equality -- and the ways in which she did it. That to me is extremely stylish....Reminds me of a line from a Charles Bukowski poem, "To do a dangerous thing with style, is what I call art."  That line very accurately describes Nina Simone, the artist. 

Miriam Makeba: another woman who did dangerous things with style.  Repeatedly exiled first from her home in South Africa, then America, she never stopped singing for equal rights even in the face of danger.  And she had amazing style.  By her "style" I don't only mean the clothes that she wore, but also the elegance and grace she showed in the face of immense adversity. 

Diana Vreeland is my hero!  I love that she was all about imagination.  Liya Kebede today is one such woman that I admire, as well as Angelina Jolie!

2/As the Creative Director of GARAGE, you've already churned out three envelope-pushing issues on sex, art, fashion, and politics--even packaging Keith Herring-designed condoms into each copy of the recent edition!-- and proven you're not afraid to provoke. What do you think makes you so fearless when it comes to your work?  

The magazine is a team product.  We all come from different directions with different ideas that we want to explore, that's the only important thing.  To express these ideas in the most eloquent ways.  At the end of the day it's about having something to say and not being afraid to say it.

3/But then again, you've always been a bit fearless, coming to New York on your own at 20 to pursue modeling with just one suitcase in tow. What did your early years in the city teach you?

It taught me how to work hard.  New York is a city where you have to be very sharp or you get spat out quite quickly.  You can't remain idle, you have to continually keep educating yourself,on what's going on in the city, and in the world.  New York suffers no fools.  

4/You just published an article on Fifty Shades of Grey in Harper's Bazaar and I found that you're very adventurous with the pen, from the syntax to the subject. How does a piece evolve for you and what rules do you find yourself breaking as a writer?

I'm always thinking: it never really stops. It's sometimes a problem as I'd like to switch off at times, but you know, it keeps going. 

I'm always making calculations in my head, so for example, when thinking of Fifty Shades..., one would not naturally think of Zora Neale Hurston but somehow she came into the equation.  She had done all this amazing anthropological work in the 30's through the Guggenheim and had recorded these ancient African practices which might have been lost to a wider audience. 

Here was a single African American woman doing research on among other things, African sexuality.  I wanted to tie that in there, as well.  As a Black woman, it made sense to me to speak from my history, as well, not only from contemporary popular culture. You know my background treats sex in a different way than is showcased by popular culture.  I just try to say what I'm thinking when I write.

5/You introduced me to this idea of the "jamet" recently, a term the St. Lucian culture uses to define women who are sexually liberated, do as they wish, and can be found "dancing on tables." What about this figured resonated with you and what do you think the modern woman can learn from the "jamet"?

First off, I want to make it clear that it is used derrogatively.  Yet as a child I somehow found that the Jamets had more fun and I wanted to be one. 

They laughed louder, they just seemed more free. 

I don't mean to imply that sexual liberation needs to be the same as sexual carelessness. I think that these women enjoyed and celebrated their sexuality, their femininity, their freedom and that maybe there is something of value to take from that. 

It's not that they dance on tables, because that doesn't even really exist where I come from; it's not exactly the same thing. It's more that the idea they have of themselves does not come from the mind of a man, it is unhindered by that. The idea of themselves comes from themselves. They are liberated women, that's all...or that's what my child's eye saw.

6/In turn, you have such a great perspective on relationships between men and women, and always offer great advice on matters of the heart. I'm curious, though, what is the best piece of advice you've ever received on the subject?

My mother always taught me to respect myself!  

7/Style and fashion are huge forces in your life, and your personal style is quite inspiring, but I've always felt that personal style evolves when the individual has a strong grasp of who they are. When did you have that moment when you said,"This is me and this is how I express that through my clothes"?  

I think since I was very young.  I learnt to comb my own hair, braid it, cornrow it, etc.;  I always tweaked my school uniforms to make it my own. I'm not sure I did it as a fashion statement but it was just one more way to express myself. 

I think I'm very expressive, always have been, whether through dance, dress, writing, acting, etc.. 

I remember one day wanting to know if my mother would hear me if I screamed at the top of my lungs many miles away.  I never thought, "Well that's an absurd thing to do."  It was an idea that I wanted to explore and just did it.  That's another form of self expression.  I think maybe I'm just less inhibited: when I have something to say, whether it's through clothes or otherwise.

8/You're constantly being photographed at fashion shows, for magazine spreads, at parties, and on red carpets, but I'm curious if you ever get "fashion fatigue"? How do you keep fashion new?

Absolutely I get fashion fatigue.  Can you imagine talking about clothes all day?  It must be the most boring thing to do. 

I love clothes and enjoy it, but it can't be my whole world--absolutely not.  When I get fashion fatigue I just wear a uniform: the same pair of jeans, for example, with a rotation of button-down shirts.  The same coat, etc..  Or, I go to museums, or the movies.  I go out into the world.  The mind needs diversity.  Fashion feeds off of it.

9/I think one fun thing people wouldn't expect to discover about you is that you have the quirkiest little fascination with Black celebrity blogs--or rather the comments left on these sites. What's the draw there?

I love words.  I love how different people arrange them.  I'm interested in different points of view.  Reading these comments opens a window to a world I'm not too familiar with.  

10/We recently joked that if ever you were made a patron saint (Saint Shala!), people would pray to you for an open mind. Do you have a pathos that keeps you judgement-free?

Maybe because I grew up in  a family that was far from perfect, I had to believe that the reason people do bad things is not usually so straightforward.  Y'know, we are all human and not without faults; I'm big on compassion.

11/Lastly, what does success look like to you? 

Health, family, friends, love, living one's dreams.  

Keep up with Shala's musings through her inventive blog and be sure to purchase the third issue of GARAGE, out now.

Black Girl Crush Series, Part 4: Shala Monroque