Editor Alexis Noelle Barnett introduces five innovators who helped her make a groundbreaking magazine
Neu Neu is laser-focussed on change. Born out of the fatigue of seeing diversity campaigns that use the black aesthetic with white people still firmly in control, the New York-based magazine is produced by an entirely black crew. “It’s great to see blackness represented more on screen and in magazines”, says the editor of the magazine Alexis Noelle Barnett, on the eve of its release in MoMA. “I think it is even more important to have black (people) living in Harlem or living in the Midwest, seeing people looking like them, styling for the cover, being behind the camera.”
Featuring Stranger Things’ Caleb McLaughlin, on-the-rise model Sahara Lin, and the tempestuous Azealia Banks, the theme of the debut issue is ‘Youth’. “Azealia was performing for Karl Lagerfeld when she didn't have enough money to get on a train,” Barnett explains. “I think that’s such an inspirational story, being a young black woman, to hear that struggle, it's sometimes a part of success. That’s the Neu Neu mindset.”
As such, the magazine’s first issue showcases up-and-coming creatives that Barnett counts as her peers, and who deserve a bigger platform. “Here in New York, there’s such a network of talented black creators, especially people who work in fashion. When you meet one black stylist, you immediately meet all of their other black friends who work in fashion. It's hard out here, so we look out for each other. I just wanted to bring together people I love on Tumblr and on Instagram.” Dazed asked Barnett to break down the vital talent behind her new issue.
The literal translation of the Italian phrase No Sesso is “no sex/gender”, which is at the core of the non-binary fashion brand designed by Pierre Davis. The gender norm-challenging clothing has earned the attention of Erykah Badu and Kelela, who don the shape-shifting garments that change to fit the body shape of the wearer “like transformers”, and take months of careful hand stitching.
“Pierre Davis of No Sesso has generated such a buzz in the industry and rightfully so”, says Barnett. “They’ve really created this mission of using clothing as a way of being disruptive and creating a conversation about the importance of inclusivity.”
Ali’s industrial silver chains have adorned the necks and waists of downtown It girls and musicians like Rihanna and Cardi B. More recently, she designed every piece of jewellery for Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. visuals. He even wore one of her chokers at the Grammys.
Ali has reimagined classic items like the chunky crucifix, ID bracelets, and the hip-skirting wallet chain, and provided pieces for a lot of the styled shoots in the first issue of Neu Neu. “She has such an amazing eye”, says Barnett. “We did an interview in this issue with her – you don’t see too many black women designing. It’s really inspiring to see behind the scenes of a brand where a black woman is taking charge of the designs.”
Mel’Renee has incredible taste. Having styled for the likes of Interview and Shön, her name is gaining traction in the New York art scene. Here, her arresting looks grace the alternative cover of the issue with model Sahara Lin. “She’s someone whose eye I really trust, and I’m so grateful we were able to work together on this issue. Her style is almost like a bougie aunt from the early 2000s who always has on the right kind of boot.”
“You can see the references to early iconic black fashion moments in a lot of her looks, but reimagined for now. Mel really knows how to make outfits that stay true to her personal style but still reinvents what’s trendy today”, Barnett adds.
RAYMOND GEE AND BRENDON HAWKINS
Working with local stylist Raymond Gee and photographer Brendon Hawkins has attracted controversy to Neu Neu already. “They were behind our ‘Hidden Flame’ editorial, which garnered a lot of negative attention online because a photo featured a black man in a thong – which I think speaks volumes”, explains Barnett. Hawkins deliberately curated the looks to explore sexuality and identity, specifically from the black gaze. She continues: “I can’t stress how talented these two are, both individually and as a duo. Brendon has such a perspective that I think is important to be seen, especially in 2018 and especially within our community.”
Neu Neu is onsale now online and at MOMA PS1