The Firsts, with UK Elle’s Kenya Hunt
Charisse Kenion | Thursday April 4th 2019
“The Firsts” is a series of conversations where women share those moments that aren’t always talked about, in the hope that they inspire, encourage and comfort.
As Deputy Editor of British Elle, Kenya Hunt is the name on a lot of lips right now. The magazine has been looking amazing over the past two years. It has included the highly acclaimed February cover of Stormzy and Jourdan Dunn and the mega cover starring a stunningly pregnant Slick Woods, which was a part of the historical wave of September issues featuring black women. We are long time admirers of Kenya and we are inspired by her level of brilliance. We will be watching and supporting her as she continues to pave the way for all women of colour. Please join us to discover some of this trailblazer’s “Firsts.”
When we first sit down to talk ‘Firsts’, Kenya lets me know, and wants the readers to know, that she’s in the final weeks of maternity leave, and is therefore feeling like she’s in a ‘weepy place’. Read on to find out more about the truly awe-inspiring life of this Virginian-living-in-London. A life that, by the way, includes: being Global Style Director of Metro Newspapers, winning a New York Association of Black Journalists Award for Feature Writing, completing a Masters in Literature in Art at Oxford University (while on maternity leave!) and being the founder of ROOM Mentoring.
The first time I…
Felt fashion move me, was the first time I was covering shows in Paris. I had scored a ticket to the Alexander McQueen show; there’s nothing like that feeling when you get to go to your first big show. I remember feeling so pleased that a ticket had come through. It was the collection that coincided with the release of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. It was quite futuristic and a really big moment at the time, as the video was also premiering on SHOWStudio while they were livestreaming the actual show. It not only felt like a moment because of those incredible amphibian-like shoes, but the show was such an immersive experience. It was this opportunity where you got to see the video, hear the song, and experience this digital moment, which really opened the floodgates for livestreaming of fashion shows. I just remember feeling goosebumps. It felt like a moment in history in terms of the way we consume fashion. We didn’t know it at the time, but that turned out to be Alexander McQueen’s last show.
I knew I wanted to be in fashion was when I was six years old. I was just in Virginia, visiting my parents, not so long ago. My parents had kept a school book, where, each year, I would fill out who my best friends were, the names of my teachers, what I wanted to be when I grew up, things like that. I hadn’t looked at it since I was in high school, but I was showing it to my son, and looking back I saw that, at the age of six, I had written that I wanted to be a fashion designer and a ballet teacher. I just found it so ironic that I wound up working in the fashion space. My mom was an avid reader of Elle and Vogue, as well as Essence and Ebony, and my parents bought a lot of youth magazines for me, so I grew up consuming magazines from an early age, being fascinated by them as a medium for story-telling. Also, movies were such an influential factor; like Mahogany, which has become such a definitive black girl magic reference point, for everyone from Rihanna to Solange.
I felt homesick. My first weekend away from home when I was at University. I grew up in the Virginia Beach area and went to school about three and a half hours away by car – far away enough that you had to stay in a dorm. I remember feeling so homesick and missing the comforts of home, but also being excited. It definitely prepared me for travelling abroad.
I realised beauty was a thing that could be measured or compared. I think, growing up, I was conscious of it because of conversations that would happen around magazines. The fact that we weren’t represented as women of colour. I remember questioning why and pointing it out. It became a talking point with my mom, or I would hear her discussing it with her girlfriends. That’s when I first became conscious of this notion of beauty. I grew up in the South in the States, at a time when ‘good’ and bad’ hair was a real talking point. My mom was so good at giving me a really strong sense of self that didn’t rely on any of that, and she did a great job of teaching me that beauty comes in all shades and textures. It gave me this desire to promote healthier, more positive images that show that femininity, or blackness, does not rest on one particular look.
I travelled solo. The first time was in my mid-twenties, after a break-up. I just decided to fly to the Bahamas. I think the flights were on sale, and we had discussed potentially taking a trip. I decided to go on my own to purge the relationship out of my system. Something interesting happens when you travel solo; you have to have dinner alone, go out alone. I just remember feeling like it was peak-adulting – sitting in a restaurant on my own, with a book in hand. You feel like you stick out like a sore thumb, and also, it can be boring at times, but it ended up being a really nice experience. And that was before we were completely addicted to our phones…
I felt like yes, this is the thing I’m meant to do. When I started ROOM, a mentorship program for students of colour, who aspire to work in media in fashion. I remember the first or second group gathering, watching them bond with each other, connect with each other and give each other jobs. It was a memorable time that really made me realise: this is why I’m here. I’m a big believer in the fact that those of us who are fortunate to end up being in a certain position, have a certain responsibility to help bring people up with us. Travelling the shows and wearing fun clothes are a nice perk, but the most important part is being able to see this new wave of people come through.
I felt racism in my career. There was a real blatant, awkward moment when I was really quite young. I had pitched a story on the spike in the number of teenage moms in a certain area. It wasn’t a fully fleshed-out pitch yet, but it was an idea. The reason why she [my editor] shot it down wasn’t because it wasn’t fully fleshed-out. She said: ‘that piece won’t work because it will just be about black girls in inner cities, and no-one wants to read that.’ It was pretty shocking. I haven’t experienced something as blatant as that since; it’s more nuanced now.
I felt powerful. When I birthed my first son. There is nothing like popping out a little human. I just had the experience six months ago of popping out a second one, so maybe it’s still fresh in my mind! Often people are like, ‘oh if I can get this job, or work in this city, I can do anything.’ But I think, if you can grow a human out of nothing, and pop that person out, and manage to stay present and look after that person, then you really can do anything. That working mother juggle struggle is real. The first time I had my son I wanted to roar! I was so happy I survived it, but then, you realise there’s a long road ahead of keeping them well-adjusted, and alive. It made me feel powerful in a scary but awe-inspiring way.