Fashion

Aleali May is Making Streetwear a Girl’s Game

The Kendrick Lamar stylist talks designing her own pair of Air Jordans, Virgil Abloh's impact and the (female) future of streetwear.
Reading time 6 minutes

Photography by Lenne Chai/ADB Agency

Styling by Evon Chng

Los Angeles may be teeming with stylists, models and influencers, but not all of them can boast being the first woman to design a unisex pair of Air Jordans like our February 2019 cover girl Aleali May can. You may have previously spotted May's killer style on Instagram (@alealimay), an efflortless mix of pieces from her favourite sportswear and luxury brands that she made cool long before it was the order of the day.

Having applied her styling know-how on the likes of Kendrick Lamar, 21 Savage and Wiz Khalifa, the model-slash-stylist is leaving her mark in today’s fashion scene, one sneaker-clad footstep at a time. Below, she talks exclusively to L’Officiel Singapore about designing her own pair of Air Jordans, Virgil Abloh's impact at Louis Vuitton and the future of streetwear.

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Silk top and nylon shorts, Fendi. Leather belt, Chanel. Metal and acetate sunglasses, Prada.

You’ve collaborated with Nike and became the first woman to design a unisex Air Jordan. What did you set out to accomplish with that opportunity?

I just wanted to give praise to the city that raised me, Los Angeles, while fusing streetwear and sportswear in a basketball shoe. With it being unisex, I wanted to have it available for men and women because I wear both’s clothing. It also creates room for anyone to rock them with their personal style or if they’re a fan of the LA Kings or Raiders.

 

What did that feel like, having grown up in those sneakers?

Honestly, it’s still unreal. I hang out with family a lot and seeing my uncle, the guy who would buy me Jordans growing up, still talk about it so much just makes me feel so happy. Family is important to me and it’s definitely a dream to design one.

 

What do the Air Jordans represent to you?

Air Jordans represent the idea of working hard and smart to accomplish your goals. It’s about not giving up on your dream and never accepting defeat. Whether Michael Jordan had the flu or faced difficulties, he still pushed through and created fashion statements whenever he played. That inspires me!

 

Tell us more about your sneaker collection.

My sneaker collection is big! I love different colours, silhouettes, and rare pairs. Many of them were designed by friends and others I’ve bought recently because I could never get them when I was a young girl.

Blending streetwear and high-end fashion gives a lot of kids inspiration that it’s not just one side or the other, you can do both.
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Nylon hoodie and silk skirt, Valentino. Leather boots, 8 by Yoox.

Interestingly, you’ve worked at both Louis Vuitton and Virgil Abloh’s RSVP gallery before Virgil joined the Maison. What do you think about his appointment?

Virgil really represents all of us, across different backgrounds, races, classes and cultures. Blending streetwear and high-end fashion gives a lot of kids inspiration that it’s not just one side or the other, you can do both. I’m so happy and I respect Louis Vuitton for making that stance.

 

Do you have a favourite Louis Vuitton sneaker?

The Archlight LV sneakers. I’ve worn them at the past few Louis Vuitton shows, whether it was the high top, low top or thigh high. I love pieces that look like they’re from space.

 

Who are your style icons?

Aaliyah, Phoebe Philo, Nigo, Pharrell, Kanye, Allen Iverson and Rick Owens.

 

Who would you love to collaborate with in future?

Beyoncé.

 

You grew up as a tomboy, but have your feelings toward feminine clothing changed recently?

As a kid, I was always into feminine clothing but never confident to wear it. I think I’m embracing who I am more, which in turn makes me feel like I can wear anything.

"I’ve always looked for girls who looked like me, and the more we never give up on the goal and encourage one another, the more the squad glows up!"
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Silk dress and leather shoes with crystals, Gucci. Tulle socks, stylist’s own.

Speaking of changes, what are some things you think the streetwear industry could work on?

More women are being represented in streetwear as of recently. I’m excited to see what we all have in store.

 

How do you hope to bring about those changes yourself?

It’s about the people. It’s about doing your homework and understanding what needs to be changed or what we’d like to see more. It’s important to have dialogues with your friends and find ways to execute your ideas through your art, which in my case is design, styling and modeling. I’ve always looked for girls who looked like me, and the more we never give up on the goal and encourage one another, the more the squad glows up!

 

You seem to embody that “Just do it” spirit. What keeps you going?

I practice Nichiren Buddhism with the SGI, an organization founded on the concept of absolute respect for the dignity of all life. It also encourages everyone to fulfill their dreams and never accept defeat. Through this, I’ve always found strength and encouragement, so I feel so grateful. Shouts out to my mentor, Daisaku Ikeda!

Out Now: L'Officiel Singapore's Feb 2019 Issue featuring Aleali May

Credits

Director Lenne Chai / ADB Agency

Cinematographer Joel Wolter

Stylist Evon Chng 

Hair Emily Zempel/Exclusive Artists using Hicks Edges and Hot Tools

Makeup Angelina Cheng using Nars

Producer Milisava Tertovich

Photo Assistant Joel Wolter

Location Special thanks to Palihouse Santa Monica

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