Fashion Fridays: Manicures + An Interview with Project Runway’s Samantha Black

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Words by Emily Shapiro, Photos by Kevin Ornelas—

Project Runway Sammy B

There’s no doubt, when watching an episode of Project Runway’s season 11, that Samantha Black is the one to know. Along with her fresh design aesthetic and unique choices, especially in the unconventional challenges, this rude gyal with roots in Jamaica radiates style with her own fashion choices in each episode. Whether she’s rocking a leopard headband or an oversized military coat, she stands out from the others and, if you ask her, it’s at least in part due to her West Indian upbringing.

In addition to her talents, Samantha has shown during this season of the popular show (and in our interview) that she is a positive, confident individual who knows who she is and represents it well. We haven’t heard her speak badly about the other designers and, in each episode, she stays true to her style, even stating “I’m a Jamaican girl” in defending one of her designs. So far, it’s paying off. She has already won a challenge and has been in the top for many others.

We had the pleasure of catching up with Ms. Sammy B and managed to find a setting that was worthy of her all-around funkiness. We met at MoMa’s P.S. 1 annex in NYC, at their striking Confetti System installation (see the pics for the general idea), where we got our nail game turned up by celebrity nail artist Naomi Yasuda. We got to talking about Samantha’s career pre-Runway, her twin lines Sammy B and Samantha Black, and yardie style in general. Check out the interview and tune in to The LargeUp Sessions on RadioLily this Thursday night for more Sammy.

Large Up: Let’s start with the basics. Where’d you grow up and all that?

Samantha Black: I was born in the Bronx and I lived in different parts of the city until I was 11 and moved to Connecticut, so I kind of call that home. I grew up in Fairfield, a small beach town in Connecticut, completely random. I used to spend my summers in the Bronx with my dad’s side of the family.

LU: I don’t know about the diversity in Fairfield, but in the Bronx did you live in a West Indian community?

SB: My family is Jamaican so I’m the first born here in the states. When I go home, I walk into a Jamaican household. My mom just kind of chose Connecticut because her friend lived there and she was like, “Oh, it’d be good schools.” Only my immediate family live in Connecticut. Everyone else lives in the Bronx. So we would come down every summer to the Bronx. Parties, holidays— Bronx. My dad’s side of the family, who I’m closer with is, very like “Jamaicans in America.”

LU: Were you always into the arts growing up?

SB: I started art lessons at age five in Queens, and I’ve always taken art lessons. I would always be in the arts and crafts class, making things with lanyard and stuff like that.

Project Runway Sammy B

LU: At what point did you decide, fashion is something I want to do with my life.

SB: In middle school, I took Home Ec. Half the year you do sewing, half the year you do cooking. My mom got me a sewing machine when I was 11 and I just did it for fun. Doll clothes, pillows, stuff like that. When I got into high school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to go to college for and the guy who was giving me art lessons then.—I did sculpture, painting—was like you should really look into fashion design because all my doodles were fashion figures, clothes. And I was like really? I had never even thought about that. At that time fashion wasn’t really cool. So I was like I don’t know about that. I took a pre-college program in Brooklyn at Pratt in fashion design and I was like yes, fashion is it! This is exactly what I want to do. It’s art and clothing, I love to dress. It’s all the things I love mixed together. So then I applied early acceptance to Pratt and got in for fashion. So that’s what I went to school for.

LU: For a lot of West Indian families, the arts is not always supported as a profession. Was your family supportive the whole time?

SB: I lucked out because my mom never wanted to be that parent who told her kid no. I was the only one who was really into the arts. She let me do it but, in the back of her mind, she always kind of hoped that I did something else. My grandfather was like you’re wasting your money sending your kid to school for art, that’s crap. You know West Indians, Jamaicans— they’re like lawyers, doctors, nurses, that’s what you do. I was always kind of in my own world and my mom went with the flow and it kind of just worked. By the time I was a senior, Project Runway came out and my mom was like, “Oh Ok, like peope are into fashion now, oh Michael Kors, he’s on Project Runway.” My senior year, while that show was on, I interned for Michael Kors. After I graduated, I moved to London and worked for Alexander McQueen. So my mom is like “oh ok, she’s on the right path. She’s working with some cool people who actually have some clout in the industry.” Then I came back to the States and worked for Aeropostale’s new company. Aeropostale was a company people knew. So my mom could say “My daughter designs for Aeropostale” and people knew it. My family didn’t mind so much.

Read on for Part 2, as Samantha talks life on Project Runway.