Words by Don W. | Photography by Robert Stockwell
Wardrobe Stylist Sal Yvat is THE authority on all looks and manner of dress.
In a recent interview with longtime friend Don W. we see that beneath the glitz and glamour is a woman who embodies not only style, but also substance.
Don W.: I saw the pictures you sent me, you stated the photographer’s intention was to show how clothes are a costume for you. Can you explain that?
Sal So Groovy: The photographer, Robert, noticed how clothes can be a barrier between me and another person; you have to get through my closet to really get to know me. His feedback makes sense because even on a shallow level, most people know me for how I dress. Once you get to know me, it’s not just about my clothes; maybe that’s [the same] for a lot of stylish people because I feel like stylish people are intimidating without trying to be.
Do you think that that’s intentional on your part? Are you doing it on purpose?
Not anymore. As I’m growing up and going to therapy, I’m trying to be more vulnerable but when I was younger, absolutely. Wearing slightly too large clothing and making sure my outfit was on 100% was definitely a way for me to protect myself. I’m from the South, I’ve always been really thin and I had crooked teeth and short permed hair. I felt really not cool.. I figured out early on ‘I’m not gonna get bullied if I dress nice’. At a certain time, my style was super intentional, and it was about me hiding from people.
It was like protection, almost like a shield.
It was definitely a shield of protection because I was not good at checking people.
Well, that’s changed!
Yes! Now I can check you very well. [laughs]
So for people whose style is intimidating for others, do you think they should ever scale it back or dumb it down a little bit?
No! Peoples’ intimidation is their problem. If you can’t get beyond someone’s clothes… or exterior that’s a personal thing. It’s JUST peoples’ clothes and how they choose to present themselves. I’m not going to ignore someone if I don’t think that they’re stylish. That’s shallow boots.
What advice would you give to someone that wants to present themselves as a little bit more open or more vulnerable?
Always be yourself and do what works for you. An intention of mine for this year was to be more vulnerable and not hide my expressions. For example, I used to get super high before I would go out to an event. That would stop me from being able to have conversations with people because I was paranoid. I wanted to take steps to let people see my full personality, so I thought ‘maybe I shouldn’t smoke.’ Life is about truly embracing your personality. If you’re a person that isn’t as extroverted, then sobeit. But for me, I had to change my habits to step into a more vulnerable space.
So it’s more about your actions and your personality than what you look like?
Yeah, because people are going to be intimidated [no matter what]. Even if your outfit wasn’t to the T, if you’re pretty or Instagram famous people may feel a way. People find ways, if they have insecurities in themselves, to project that onto other people any way they can figure out.
No matter what you look like.
With the shoot that you did, why did you and the photographer choose those particular garments?
He came to me with the idea of doing a covered look and a more bare, fun look. I was like, OK! I have a lot of fabrics so that works out and I wanted to choose colors that I love. For the covered look, I wrapped up parts of myself that I’m not comfortable with like my little shoulders, arms, and chest. And the bare look was the result of all the visuals I’ve been into lately.
I loved the outfit with the orange hat and the leotard. This is just what I got from it; I feel like it was showing how silly and fun you can be. Would I be correct in that assumption?
Yes! I can be serious sometimes, and back when I used to be so inebriated that having really present conversations were difficult, I may have come off like “whatever.” But if you know me, you know that I play all day. That’s all I do is play. I talk about Spongebob all the time. I collect M&M products. I’m a really silly person when you get beyond my clothes. He really captured my dichotomy.
Yeah, I thought that was really good. It reminded me of this very childlike way of dressing. You know how kids just want to throw on anything that’s bright like a bright silly hat, and big boots but they also want to be able to move. That’s what I got from it.
I used to do that in my mom’s closet a lot. She’d be like “Why do you have my shoes on?” and I’m like I don’t know Mom. I thought I’d be a size 10. Do they seem big? I stuffed them with tissue paper, I don’t know.
So what do you want people to know about you aside from the fact that you’re not as serious as you seem? What’s something people wouldn’t know about you unless they really really got to know you?
I am me, a random 24 year old despite accomplishments or whatever. The more you get to know me [you see that] I’m a lot more kind and sensitive than I let on. I also know I can’t force people to see me that way because people are gonna see me however they want to see me.
Talk about some of the stuff you’re working on right now.
I’m working on The Look Authority and it’s really coming together. It’s so interesting because I started it last year with the intention of creating a store but I hate selling stuff. I don’t like building websites to make a store.
That’s just catering to people, again.
Yeah! That’s what I’m saying. I feel like there are enough stores. Once I stripped away from that, I was like NO I like to produce things, I like to create things, I like to bring other people together to create things and also just like supporting people – how can I put that mission into something that I’m still interested in? I’m just trying to build that. We have some cool things coming up for it soon.
Can you concisely explain what Look Authority is?
It is a digital expression studio that specializes in production with a mission providing a platform for innovative creative people. I want it to be a multimedia hub. My hope is to center people who deserve a larger platform. Even though it’s still growing right now – it’s for people who are making great work, like you for example, and Blu [Bone] we created a video for him.
Look Authority has really taken off. I remember when I was first seeing it on social media and you were developing your marketing strategy and I was following the posts. But from then to now, even without a huge introduction that was saying “hey! This is who we are, this is what we do,” I can see organic growth, I can see people are catching on either way.
They are and I’m grateful. It’s its own ghost entity right now because it’s kind of like “What is Look Authority? What is it?”
It is very mysterious.
It makes people wanna come out and see what it is. We recently sponsored an event, Vitalize, people came and they got to see us do event collaboration. In that case, we held a supportive role and also provided design consultation. We participated in an event yesterday, Double Cup, where we presented a fashion show. The more we’re off the internet and connecting with people, the more people will see what we do.
The end goal is to help create a stable fashion community here in Chicago because the fashion community here is really linked to music. When you go to a fashion show there will probably be music performances which aren’t bad but the goal is to create a community that’s strictly about fashion and style and expression that doesn’t have to be tied to a music entity.
Because sometimes we want to see looks, we don’t want to hear local rap.
Right! Like, I love y’all, but I’ve heard it!
Exactly. Love your soundcloud…didn’t come for that. [laughs] Everybody’s hustling, everybody’s working and I respect it. But you’re hustling too. You’re hustling to make a community that’s right for you and your people.
There are many people here who are so so stylish and I feel like they don’t feel fed sometimes. I’m definitely trying to feed the people’s wants without selling them a product… ‘The streets are calling,” as the people say.
And when they’re tired of feeding, they go to New York.
Right! Or LA or something. It’s cool because even I was thinking about leaving but I was like, why leave a place that has so much room for potential? You could actually grow a fashion community here. There would be one if people just stayed and nurtured it, but they give up and go somewhere else. I had to go to sleep and wake up and realize that running away to a new place may not be the answer. I’m from Memphis, repping the south all day, but I’ve learned a lot in Chicago.
Once you get into a new location, everything you learned here you’ll still have with you but you won’t be able to use it. You’ve got to learn the new rules of the new city.
I just don’t want to deal with the stress of New York and I also don’t want the stress of LA, at least not right now.
What is your hope, then, for Chicago? I know you said you want a rooted fashion community that doesn’t have to be linked to music so in an ideal world, what do you see happening?
Hopefully more showrooms. A few people I know are leaning toward the creation of showrooms. They’re so needed here. Designers at SAIC, for example, have these really big avant-garde pieces but they don’t have anywhere to put it or they don’t have anywhere for people to see them.
I also want more fashion shows. Having more stylist curated fashion shows would be super cool, and they can be much longer than designers showing a collection. I want to see the reworking of the idea of a fashion show, and proving a fashion show doesn’t always have to be a designer or a label. The same way there are music shows, there should be fashion showcases. It’s the same thing.
At the Double Cup showcase, there were similar artists and all of them were designers who were showing collections but I think people didn’t expect or realize you can have a stylist curated show which is what you did. Where you’re finding pieces and putting them together rather than creating them from scratch. I feel like people didn’t know what they were getting, but they loved it.
Right, they didn’t know what was going on. Even afterward, people told me they loved my line and I didn’t have time to explain that it’s not my line, but outfits styled by me using pieces I sourced from a few different places. I love creating a fleshed-out show with interesting models, coordinated looks, and music that really amplifies the concept.
Do you think Chicago is ready for all of that? For showrooms? Studios?
They’re going to have to be because we are bringing it. Chicago is going to have to go beyond street wear because I don’t want to see everybody just go and leave to New York or LA.
The reason I ask is that Chicago, for me personally, is all about accessibility in the creative industries. There’s nobody who’s known, even on an international level, that’s inaccessible. I realized how easy it is to be around these people in these spaces so no one’s a “celebrity” necessarily. When people think of fashion, they think of couture and avant-garde, they think of inaccessibility. I wonder if maybe a lot of people have that mentality that they don’t feel like they have access to that or that they have permission to be in those kinds of places.
That’s a really good point. Fashion can be intimidating for people. The legacy of fashion is that, back in the day, you could not go to New York Fashion Week unless you were in all black and you were an editor. You were not allowed in those spaces. Thanks to the internet, the fashion world has opened up to a lot of different people. Especially in Chicago, where the art community is so close-knit, people are like “Come on down!”
So, because it’s in Chicago, it won’t be inaccessible like the stigma is?
Well, I would hope it is more accessible. The Look Authority is accessible. For example, the models in Chicago are not typical “fashion models” – rather the models I like to use are not typical fashion model types. I prefer models who are below 5’8’’ and people who don’t have “normal” body types. Everybody who’s into fashion is not tall and everybody who’s into fashion is not thin, everybody is not on the binary. Why don’t they have the opportunity to be represented?
Truth be told, people whose identities are resting at those intersections are the people with the most style in the first place.
They are stunting on these hoes anyway! Naturally, because they have to. There is an opportunity in Chicago to have “other,” for lack of a better phrase, types of people represented in an honest way.
What’s the next style trend?
We’re most likely going to transition into a more streamlined, unisex and futuristic aesthetic after this wave of maximalism tires us out. Clothing will have to have more utility built in and be convertible, especially because the world’s resources are depleting. We’re going to have to have clothes that have 17 pockets. This might be super in the future trend, but if you look at the new Dior men’s collection and the influence of street wear on high fashion, you can see how utility is playing a part. We’re moving into the world of unisex clothes where more than one body type can fit into it.
As I’m reading the face you’re making, I have to ask are you okay with this?
I’m fine with it! Even Rihanna’s collection Fenty has a fanny pack woven into a garment. It’s very practical. Practicality is coming into it because we don’t have the resources to be doing a lot. We have to do the most in a tamed way.
Right. It’s becoming difficult to buy clothes just for special occasions because of the economy, peoples’ money is funny! Why buy a dress you can only wear once and then not do anything with it afterward besides selling it for less than you bought it for?
I definitely used to be the person who would buy a new outfit just because I would be going to an event. I’m also a person that hasn’t worn the same outfit twice since I was 16 years old and I definitely had to reshape my outlook on that. Why? Why am I doing that? We have to come to a more streamlined outlook where we’re wearing an item one way but it can be transformed into another way later on. Versatility is really important now.
This has been really enlightening! Thanks for letting me interview you.
No, thank you! This reminds me of when Solange called Beyoncé and they interviewed each other over the phone. So cute.
Makeup by Nick Black – Interview edited for clarity.