Music

Young Thug Gave Stylist Zoe Dupree A Chance, Now He’s Paying It Forward To Black Fashion Designers

Zoe Dupree is not like any other celebrity stylist. He styles with intention and thrives on innovative fashion aesthetics that get the people talking. Perhaps that’s what Young Thug’s fiancee Jerrika Karlae felt when they first met at New York Fashion Week. The connection eventually led to Dupree becoming the man behind Young Thug‘s most iconic fashion look — the cover of his 2016 mixtape Jeffery.

Donning a flowy lavender dress contained by ruffles, the look Thug so confidently wore created quite some commotion and viral memes. A man in a dress delivering some of the best music of 2016 gave the internet a lot to talk about. The discourse reached students sitting in lectures at top-notch colleges such as NYU where the discussion of femininity and masculinity in hip-hop was led by Dupree himself.

Make people talk. That was always the plan, Dupree expressed to Uproxx on his styling career. Helping rising acts such as Lil Keed, Asian Da Brat, and Renni Rucci get in the position to make fashion headlines by paying it forward to up-and-coming Black fashion designers also seems to be part of his plan. There are not that many Black people in the fashion industry as it is, and Zoe Dupree is doing his part to help adjust that.

How did you end up linking up with YSL?

Jerrika Karlae, Thug’s fiancee who is now a rapper, she’s also a designer. Me and her cousin were cool and he was like, “Oh my God, you have to work for my cousin. You have to do her PR.” I do PR on the side as well. He was like, “You’ve got to connect with them. They want to be in New York for fashion week, set some things up for her. I’ll make sure she’s there.” I set up an interview for Jerrika at Fader and that was my first time meeting her but we would see each other out during fashion week. That whole week I saw her at Rihanna’s show, her and Thug, her mom and so it was like, “You’ve got to come to Atlanta. We’ll get some stuff going.” Three weeks later I went to Atlanta to work and she was like, “You know what? You need to just move here.” I remember just packing a suitcase and her and Thug lived in this beautiful townhouse downtown. She was like, “We got extra bedrooms.” They gave me a room on the third floor of the townhouse. I lived with them and then I wound up moving with them to their mansion in Buckhead.

I worked for Thug and Karlae for about maybe three and a half years. About a year and a half ago, I just started focusing on just one artist and I started working with Lil Keed when he got signed. I started doing his styling and just helping him move around day to day.

That’s dope. I always hear about Thug and how he always wants to help out others.

Thug will give you the shirt off his back. He’s a good person. He wants everybody to get whatever you can get out of the situation and make it great for you. I learned a lot of things by just working with him because Thug is a fashionable guy, so for him to even let me come in and just create looks… I got a lot of iconic moments under Thug.

Tell me about those iconic looks.

The thing that I’m most known for is the album cover Jeffery, the dress. I did all the tours. I got to travel on tour with Drake and Thug when we did the London tour. I’ve done festivals, I’ve done music videos, Adidas commercials. I’ve done Vibe, Source, and just different things with Thug. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be able to have those moments and then be able to help create new moments for the new artists.

What was the name of the designer for that dress?

Alessandro Trincone. I met him at New York fashion week. He’s always showing me his new collections.

How did you end up getting that dress for the cover?

I was setting up some PR stuff for Jerrika and Thug just happened to be with her. He was doing an interview so we were all there and we wind up seeing this dress, just randomly out. Thug had already shot the Jeffrey cover. It was just a simple cover but he was like, “Oh my God, got to redo it.”

They wind up sending the dress out and sending it back overseas to Atlanta. I remember this big box coming to the house and he’s like, “All right y’all, we are shooting the cover today.” I remember like it was yesterday. That was a cool moment and it was controversial, too. I was nervous when it came out because I got a lot of hate mail and then I got a lot of like, “Oh my God, this is amazing. This is breaking barriers.” Off that alone, I remember getting a lot of speaking engagements at colleges because some of the professors would do courses around this album cover where they talked about masculinity versus femininity in music. NYU had a big course, Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta University. Everybody had small little lecture groups surrounding this album cover.

What colleges did you speak at?

I talked at Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta.

Now you’re dressing Keed and you’ve created some known looks for him, too. You put him in a jacket from Lady Gaga’s Fame Tour in the “Here” video. What did he say when you guys told him that this was the Lady Gaga jacket?

He was excited. He was like, “What the f*ck?” I just remember him walking and he had this arrogance. He was like, “Man, this jacket is like… Man.” I remember him walking back on set and just giving it his all.

What’s been your experience as a Black stylist?

My overall experience as a Black stylist, it’s been… it’s a lot of fun. Just coming from Philadelphia — growing up there, it’s kind of like a black cloud. I’m able to meet people. I’m able to network, I’m able to make money. I’m able to make people look good. It’s just a really, really good feeling being a Black stylist.

How are you using fashion to get the artists that you’re working with messaging and personality across?

One thing I always do working with a new client is study them and look at past pictures versus stuff that I do with them now. I’m a big researcher. I love the mainstream brands and I use them in and out with my styling. The thing that separates me is that I use up-and-coming Black designers. It could be a mom-and-pop shop, it could be just something fresh off Instagram. I’m always giving different Black designers opportunities. So I always like to take those small brands and mix it in with my artists to for one, to give them a look that nobody has done or, having involved in pieces that no one’s used before. It makes them trend and it helps the brand as well.

Can you give me an example of a time you’ve done that and the artist was very interested in the designers look?

My friend, Jeff Spicoli, has a brand called Dare To Be Different and he has these flannel pants. He had this like crisscross cage on them and they were double-sided. I remember him contacting me on Instagram about working together. He had these pants and I remember getting them on Thug. Thug put the outfit on and the next day, it was on Vogue. Also with those pants, I was on a tour with Thug and Jaden Smith. I actually gave Jaden a pair of pants on behalf of Thug. The next thing you know, I walk out to watch the show, and I see Jaden with the pants on.

I’m pretty sure that was life-changing for your friend, Jeff.

It really was.

How does that make you feel to be able to help out your friends in that way?

Naturally, I just like to help. I feel like my gift is to help people look good, help people connect the dots and help people get what they need.

How do you use styling to help a new artist breakthrough?

I’m always edging the clients to just go big, go hard, and kind of step out the box. I’m always telling them “Oh let’s do this, some crazy sh*t that doesn’t make sense. Let’s just put some of those crazy looks together that you might not see day-to-day and let’s just go viral with it.” I feel like those kinds of moments right there get people talking because everybody’s not going to like what you put together. But as long as people are talking, it’s going to do what it needs to do. It’s not going to be a horrible look, but it’s going to be just some hard, out of this world kind of pieces. Crazy things that I have in my mind where I’m able to get through to the artists.

When’s a time that you convinced an artist to step out of the box and they just went crazy?

One time, Keed was going to the BET awards and he wanted to wear a suit. I remember getting this bright-ass lime green suit and it was kind of oversize with a jacket and very bell bottom-ish pants. He had red hair at the time and I remember his hair started bleeding on the blazer and it messed it up. So we took a piece of his date’s dress and cut it, put it over the spots and it was kind of like a handkerchief kind of thing. I remember we went outside and he took a picture, and everybody was talking about the outfit. It was good stuff and bad. It went viral and that was a crazy moment. That night, everybody was wearing lime green. I remember Ella Mai wore green and a bunch of different artists popped out with lime green suits that night.

2019 was definitely the year of lime green.

Everybody wanted to be slime and all that.

Who are some of your favorite Black designers and why?

I love LaQuan Smith. We’re actually cool friends. I met him through a colleague of mine. The first time meeting him, I had used this stuff on Thug. I went to a couple of his shows and his showroom and I was able to see his pieces. It’s just so good to see an African-American male dominating this industry. People think of fashion as a white-dominated industry. It’s always good to see Black people rising to the occasion. I’m really proud of him. I like him as a designer. I like Pyer Moss, he’s another designer. I actually got to work with him when Keed walked in their New York fashion week show. I got to see the pieces and how eclectic his style was. Everything was androgynous. They’re maybe two of my favorite Black designers.

What advice or encouragement would you have for aspiring Black creatives?

Be yourself. There’s nothing like just being authentic. Pray every night, keep God all in your business because he’ll basically help you to get where you need to be. Ask questions, educate yourself, read books, search the internet. Be around like-minded people. Everybody can’t go where you’re going in life. You probably can’t take your best friend. You probably can’t take your brother and your sister. Everybody’s not meant to be on your front row. You got to sometimes give people some balcony seats or maybe some seats outside the stadium on the lawn. You’ll learn it along the journey.

What’s next for you?

I do a virtual style school. It’s basically online. Whoever’s an aspiring stylist, they can come join the class. It’s a two- to three-hour course where I give them free game, like how I got started. Also, telling them the ins and outs. I’m going to do that once a month. Zoechella is my annual birthday party where all my celebrity clients come and perform. That’s going to be July 4th weekend. We’re also doing a versus fashion show. I’m battling another stylist. We’re using Black designers and it’s going to be a party on a boat ride.

Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.

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