"I was actually pre-med in college. I loved the idea of being a doctor. I went to Mount Holyoke and did a self-designed major in race relations, gender, and health. But I was always interested in style. I would be doing my internships and research, and I would think about how I could redesign my lab coat. [Laughs] My friend and I would troll the Teen Vogue intern forum, which was eye-opening. We would be like, 'How do you get in? How?' Like, I had my own privileges and my own advances, but I was still just a girl from Iowa coming to New York saying that I wanted to work in fashion.
Basically, fashion was a hobby. I thought, maybe I should take some extracurriculars so that I can position myself for a fashion internship. I took a costume construction class, I started writing for the school paper, I took some economics courses… Finally, I got an internship at Cookie, which isn't around anymore, and after I got that I didn't turn back. After Cookie I got a job as a fashion assistant at Teen Vogue by cold-emailing them. It was probably a year later that I started [styling] freelance—but eventually I got into the international Vogue offices. I was recommended to work with Giovanna [Battaglia] and that's how I started assisting her. I worked with her for four and a half years. I think you come to a point where you kind of want to be your own boss—and you kind of are, when you're styling—but you’re gathering all this knowledge in a broader context. I've been doing my own thing for a year now, and I'm very proud of what I've done.
How [my work] and social issues merge is still something I think is really interesting. In my shoots, I don't want to show women in a one-dimensional manner. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who I was supposed to be in this world, thinking about how I was supposed to behave as a young black girl. The kind of characters I was seeing in the world were very limited. Now I want to offer different viewpoints for different women. Shooting shirts on four girls who look the same isn't a story. I want to be able to give full identities to the girls I shoot, basically.
I'm a very emotional dresser—I've always used clothes as a tool to stand out. I was picked on for what I was doing stylewise…girls would be like, 'What is she doing with those red socks?' But I'm feeling the red socks. They're giving me my lifeblood in the morning. [Laughs] I get dressed and then I scramble out the door. To think that some people take an hour in the morning to put a face on feels very foreign. It's not where my priorities lie. I just funnel all my money into clothing or jewelry or accessories. I found a blush, though—Nars Seduction. I feel like that's very adult me, and Nars Gilda is very college me.
On makeup days, I wear Maybelline Great Lash in Super Black and I like that it’s easy. It also doesn’t feel like I’m looking vampy, there is a subtlety to it. I very rarely wear eyeliner, but if I do, it's Nars Eyeliner in Night Porter. I'm not going to do a clean line, I'll just smudge it a little bit. A lot of [products] float around between fashion people so for the Nars to stay in my possession means something. Every now and then I look in the mirror and think maybe I should be plucking my eyebrows, so I use this Tweezerman thing just in the middle and then selectively. I’m not a brow shaper, though. I don’t have the patience!
This is Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation in 10. It feels like it’s moisturizing in some way and it gives me a nice dewy look. It’s light to medium coverage—I know very little about technique and I just kind of smooth it all over my face with the Sephora #47 Foundation Brush. I try to blend it around my neck so I’m not one of those people with the hard line. In the past I've used a Bobbi Brown concealer, but I haven't been bothered to get a new one. I’ve never been the type to be like, 'Oh my God, I need concealer.' I have genetically dark circles and even with concealer on people still think I look tired, so might as well avoid the caked-on look.
On random nights when I feel like I need something extra, I’ll put this YSL Lip Stain on in Rouge Vintage that I got from Benjamin Puckey. This is my rare dark lip look. I think of this like, Lauryn Hill meets wet gloss. I like that it has a bit of shine and is not very sticky. I have this perfect Chanel red that I stole from my mom, too, but it somehow sealed itself shut. I keep it because it’s perfect.
I'm a reluctant beauty person, but I care about moisturized skin, and I don’t want to be wrinkled before my time. That's why I wear SPF—I like the CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30. It’s hard for women of color to find lightweight things like these because we don’t want to have that casper effect, but that one is good. I'll also wash my face with CeraVe's Cleanser, because my big sister told me to. It's hydrating and doesn't leave a film on my face. After I cleanse, I put on Olay Regenerist Serum. I've been using those products for like, 10 years. I've always loved trolling the drugstore, I could spend hours in there.
I’ve been traveling pretty nonstop, and when I travel I break out, so I do face masks and things. I actually did one the other night! It was the Dr. Jart Charcoal Sheet Mask, I was so proud of myself. I’m so major, a real adult. I always went to a dermatologist growing up in Iowa and I would get facials there, but since I stopped going home as much, I haven’t had the time to find one here—even though I’ve been living here for almost a decade. I would sometimes get mini facials at Dermalogica—they do face maps and extractions, but I haven't been in years. I prefer the dermatologist's office because it feels like less of a retail situation.
Lately, I’ve been wearing It’s A Piazza Cake from OPI which is a burnt orangey color—I also have a green I like from Nails Inc, but I can't remember the name. I do enjoy a mani-pedi, and I like Tenoverten for that. I recently tried a new place in Bed-Stuy, but I hate chipped nails, so I rather have no polish on. Being in a meeting and having chipped polish…not good.
I’m a former Wen user. [Laughs] I had that routine down for years because it was my favorite thing to use on my hair. But all of a sudden my scalp started getting really sensitive—and I'd never been tender-headed before, so I switched. I use the Wella Conditioner for Coarse Hair now, they used that at my last haircut. Basically I do leave-in conditioner and on days I feel like I need to take really good care of my hair, I put African Shea Butter on it. I say if I’m being very good I wash my hair thoroughly once a week. Sometimes I’ll use coconut oil on it, but I also cook with coconut oil, so it feels like I smell like my food. Vidal Sassoon No Headache Headbands are amazing. I bought 10 while strolling through Walgreens and now I’m down to two or three. I like the style of my hair being up, but [the headband] looking invisible.
Having a good haircut is essential for curly haired girls. I’ve had natural hair since 2001 and I used to press my hair—it was thick enough that it was going to be healthier if I stopped perming it, and it was hard to maintain. My first curly haircut I got was at ION Studio and that changed my life because I used to get my haircut straight. Now for cuts, I go mostly to Miss Jessie's—I like them once I get in there and they’re very hard to make an appointment with. I don't love that they straighten your hair before they cut it, but the products are great. Most recently I went to Ana at Devachan and I really enjoyed my experience there.
I don't sleep with a silk scarf on, or anything. I don't like silk pillowcases either! I felt like when I went natural I didn’t need them. But I also think that people are so obsessed with having perfect curls and that’s why they’re crazy about using it. I’m not about the preservation of that. Sometimes I'll do little braids in the back, but not protective braids. I like my hair in its natural state, and I’m not afraid of frizz—it’s a pejorative [word]. I like the way it is. It’s me."
—as told to ITG
Solange Franklin photographed by Tom Newton at her home in Brooklyn on September 29, 2016.