Al Malonga is a fashion stylist, director and costume designer. She was born in Paris but grew up in Cameroon until the age of 15 when she then moved to Paris. She runs fashion blog wardrobebreakdown.com
She now lives in Brooklyn, New York, working as freelancer doing styling for artists, musicians, theatre shows, films and commercials.
When did you start out?
I don’t know what the normal path is but that’s definitely not what I did. I said it and I did it. When people worked with me and appreciated what I did, it just picked up. Someone referred me et cetera et cetera.
In the first place I kind of did that my whole life. I was doing personal shopping in Paris and then I got here and I realised that my site could become my main career.
How important is the digital world for you?
When I moved here from Paris I didn’t know anybody. I came by myself; I didn’t have a professional network and I didn’t go to school here. I didn’t know anybody. There was nobody I could reach out to. So how would I put out there what I did?
A friend one day, said ‘People stop you all the time on the street for your look and compliment you about your style, so you should probably do a look/style of the day-type of blog’. That’s how, two-and-a-half years ago, I started my blog, Wardrobe Breakdown on Instagram. Then people could find me and see what I do. Organically it started growing. It shows my work and me behind-the-scenes working as well as my personal style.
How does your own background inform what you do?
There’s always some ethnic element to what I do and what I wear no matter what. I’m very eclectic, I don’t like having the same style every day.
I can go from preppy to rock to whatever – hipstery! A few years back Afro-centric, African print became trendy in the US. For me it was funny because I grew up in Cameroon and I was wearing African print and headwraps all my life.
Even when I moved to Paris when I was 15 and then left the house when I was 18. First thing I did was I went to the toubabesque and I bought African fabric. I went to a Senegalese tailor to make me some clothes because I missed it. Back in the day people on the subway in Paris were looking at me like I was crazy. Like I was literally insane.
So yeah, I’m just doing my thing. And I also have 19 years of dreads on me.
Fashion is often perceived as not being diverse. How do you tackle that as a stylist. Do you struggle in the industry?
I’m biracial so that means in a white country I’m considered as black. Which is okay. I lived in a black country and I was considered white. So I know exactly what it’s like to be on both sides.
But you’re talking about the fashion industry. The difference between fashion and style – we can start a very long conversation here – is I would never say that I feel I’m in fashion. I do an editorial every now and then but the fashion industry and the dictatorship of the fashion elite is just not my thing. I’m more into self-expression and personal style; doing what you want to do rather than what magazines tell you to wear. I’m not looking at what’s ‘supposed’ to be going on. I look at the streets around me and within.
So I would say that maybe I could be struggling but I have no reference to be able to tell you that I’m struggling because I’m from somewhere else: it takes a long time to establish your reputation in a new place. I can only speak about my own experiences and I feel like I’m pretty lucky that I started being a stylist in New York three years ago and I work a lot. People appreciate what I do even though it’s not exactly what magazines would want but it’s what the people that I dress love.
I love dressing actors or artists or normal people. I want the clothes to be lived in, I want the clothes to express who they are and I want them to feel different and comfortable and fabulous in it anyway.
What are you up to next?
A series of short films about vote awareness that I will style and will come out before the November elections.
Check out more at wardrobebreakdown.com