Finding Your Center with Creative Icon, Mykel Cortez Smith
Soulivity Editor-at-Large, D’angelo Thompson, got the pleasure of speaking with Mykel Cortez Smith, a globally renowned creative director & fashion expert for over 25 years, in New York, China, Paris and across the world. Enjoy this amazing interview!
DJ: Thank you, Mykel, for taking the time to talk about your journey as a fashion stylist and creative director for close to three decades in the beauty, fashion, and music industries.
DJ: Tell us, what was your first job?
MCS: I assisted someone in the industry on his shoots for a few months, that had his own line in the ’90s. I was part of the casting process, putting the shows together, and watching the stylist. When his line folded, he asked me to come and assist him as he was now styling for different publications and celebrities. I assisted him for a few months before I started going off on my own. I then interned at IKON and at Wilhelmina as a booker, they eventually started sending me on test shoots with the girls as the stylist and then started booking me on jobs.
I got my first editorial with Elle India, then the Alvin Valley Fashion Show, which I styled and cast the show. Later with a line called, “Catch A Fire“ by Cedella Marley (Bob Marley’s Daughter) that I styled, cast, and produced. I had worked with on smaller shows and brands before, but “Catch A Fire” was a pretty big one with fashion editors and many celebrities attending the show. And, we used some of the biggest models in the industry. I knew then, I could be more than just a stylist but a creative director, yet I still didn’t have the confidence.
I still tried to work regular jobs, but I felt trapped and unhappy even though I was good at it. I also have to credit celebrity hairstylist Brittanica Stewart, along with Oscar James, and my mentor Frank Walker for showing me the ropes as well. That’s when I met Naomi Campbell and went with her on a few shoots.
I worked on a set with Richard Avedon, as well.
DJ: Name a few moments you were able to create something that inspired others, especially aspiring stylists?
MCS: I created some pretty kick-ass editorials, especially some beauty editorials for Zink Magazine. I also was the creative director for a show with Cedella Marley’s line, we did shows in New York, then in her home country of Jamaica. We tore the roof off the place. Many editors and stylists from New York were there and they said, “the show could have been anywhere in the world with the beautiful models, energy and collection”.
Currently, I have a lot of younger stylists /models that come to me for advice and inspiration. I have gotten many models (male and female) signed to agencies. Industry influencers like, Mickey Boom Freeman, Brandon Alexander, and Raytell Bridges, who are killing it right now. They all say, “that I inspire them,” but they inspire me as well.
DJ: What inspires you in this ever-changing industry?
MCS: Yes, the fashion and music industries have done a “180” since I started, I mean really changed, and not all for the best. The stress that’s put on the models these days is incredible, they have to have a crazy social media following in order to even get booked.
However, there are so many things that inspire me, I really don’t read a lot of magazines anymore even though maybe I should. I just see it in my head and find inspiration, from hearing a song, or something that’s happening in the world. I was actually inspired by Celine Dion during the time she put together her husband’s funeral; she was truly a beautiful and fashionable widow. You can find inspiration almost anywhere. I am inspired by so many things, it’s like a movie that is constantly playing in my head. It is the sweetness of life that enriches all of our creative experiences.
I hope my work causes an emotional reaction, that’s what it’s all about, like art it sparks a feeling. That’s missing nowadays, creativity is so fast and furious, it’s not always appreciated. There are still some very talented “kids” coming out of school that have something to say.
DJ: What’s the best fashion advice you would give to a woman and or a man?
MCS: Well, I would say find your center and what makes you feel confident and happy. Fashion is crossing so many gender lines now, you can’t get caught up in what everyone else is doing, via media or what you see celebrities doing. You have to dress within your budget and what your profession allows. For instance, now they are allowing sneakers in the workplace which have become just as expensive as a good luxury shoe and you can wear them with a suit. Always invest in good footwear as it’s a compliment to anything you might wear.
As for men, great grooming is essential, good hygiene is a must no matter what shape or size. Good skin and healthy teeth (are) a winner for me. For women, try to work with something that you have, like your real natural hair (and yes, a wig or weave on occasion is great). Invest in a great hairstylist and get a makeup lesson from a pro. Self-care is the best form of self-love.
DJ: As a creative director, name some of the brands you have helped rebrand?
MCS: I can’t say rebrand because most of my projects have been fresh from the start. Our most recent one was with a brand out of Hong Kong named, The Top Owens Collection. It’s a luxury shoe brand designed by Owen Jiang; and, it was our first international collaboration. We were responsible for the press, campaign, and launch, which we did at the Punto Space during Men’s New York Fashion Week in February 2019. It was a total success. We have also spearheaded past campaigns for a luxury store called Bellhaus, that was owned by Shawn Bell and former partner, ABC weatherman Sam Champion. A recent launch was for a phone case called the Handl, that was invented by Allen Hirsh, the list goes on.
We are presently on hold for a Dutch brand out of Amsterdam that makes niche products. So, the future looks very bright and we are very excited about the future!
DJ: In a cutthroat business, where do you find your center, your balance?
MCS: You have to stay focused, and not look at others’ accomplishments as a gauge to what you should be doing. I can’t tell you how many celebs that I have helped or worked with, when they had so little that once they made it, they didn’t look back but went to what they thought was the next best thing or a bigger name, etc. I can’t say it didn’t bother me or hurt me, as I am an artist and I went above and beyond for when they didn’t have it all together.
Nowadays, there are so many with a false sense of entitlement and its mind-boggling.
However, as my business has grown, I’ve learned to move past it all and deal with what’s on the table at the moment. Having a creative director like me on board can be expensive; so, some look also for less experienced talent. I’m happy to be very loyal, I have learned to be smarter with my business practices as protecting my work with a contract.
DJ: I think everything that we do in life, especially our work is our ministry. How has your work impacted lives?
MCS: Yes, exactly it’s a journey, I think. I love when people in the streets of NYC come up to me and say that my work has inspired them in some way. I may not have thousands of followers, but many young creatives tell me how my work has inspired them.
Our work should inspire others, I just focus on the work and not realize how it impacts the audience.
DJ: What advice would you give your younger self?
MCS: It has been said that I have always been ahead of my time. My sister, friends, and teachers always said that they knew I would land where I am at it’s in my blood. I would say to my younger self to save your money (laugh).
DJ: Finish this sentence, I am most grateful for…
MCS: …the gift of vision that God has given me I would be nothing without it. I am also grateful for my business partner, Patrick Edens, who has stuck in there with me since the inception of MCSC.
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