Stylist Jason Rembert Dressed Rita Ora, Nicki Minaj, and Ezra Miller. Now He’s Coming for Your Closet.
Jason Rembert has styled some of fashion’s biggest risk-takers. His second New York Fashion Week collection is both personal and political—and it’s dedicated to his mother.
One week before his second New York Fashion Week show, Aliétte designer Jason Rembert sat down for his final round of model casting. He had a type of woman in mind: his mother and the label’s eponym, Louisanne Aliétte Rembert.
“In the world I live in, women are of different sizes and ethnicities and height, so I just wanted to give a chance to women who inspired me,” Rembert said of his decision to hold an open call for models in addition to picking girls from various big agencies. “I feel like I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t give a fair opportunity to women who looked like my grandmother or mom or aunt or sister.”
Rembert’s mother, who raised her five children as a single parent in South Jamaica, Queens and Far Rockaway, Brooklyn, passed away in 2011. She lived to see her son, whom she once dutifully drove to work back when he interned at Elle magazine, begin his career styling Nicki Minaj. Today, Rembert honors her with his unabashedly feminine designs and sees a lot of his mother in his 2-year-old daughter, Harper Aliétte Rembert.
“My daughter is such a strong person,” Rembert said. “She’s bossing me around and confident in her decisions. It’s the same thing with my mom, she knew what she liked and I think the essence of who they both are shows through the collection.”
Rembert is 31 years old, the same age as one of NYFW’s most anticipated designers, Rihanna. He may not be as known outside of the industry as well as Fenty’s creative director is, but the general public has no doubt seen his work.
An industry veteran, Rembert spent the last decade creating stop-and-stare red carpet appearances for some of pop culture’s most dynamic dressers, from Minaj and Rita Ora to the gender-fluid outfits of Ezra Miller and Michael B. Jordan.
Rembert has cornered the market in viral styling—last year, he dressed Miller in a shiny black puffer coat dress by Moncler, which instantly became a meme. (As one tweet summed up, “Ezra Miller dressed like a sassy sleeping bag and somehow pulled it off.”)
“More than anything, I’m into moments,” Rembert said. “When I have moments with talent on carpets, it feels like Christmas. It feels like my birthday.”
Rembert remembers a lot of “moments” growing up. Though Manhattan was a half-hour train ride away, his mother created a community when they lived in Queens and Brooklyn, and the family rarely ventured into the city.
“My mom worked three jobs,” Rembert explained. “We didn’t have the time to come into Manhattan, but sometimes we would go as a family to Times Square to watch a movie. I got my tux for prom at Macy’s or Lord & Taylor.”
Rembert’s mother worked odd jobs at H&R Block and as a toll booth worker to make ends meet. “I grew up in the projects, and even though I was on Section 8 and I got food stamps, I never felt less than,” Rembert said. “I never felt like I was poor. I never felt as if I wasn’t taken care of.”
It was the heyday of Vibe, Quincy Jones’ hip-hop magazine, and Rembert gawked at the fashion he saw in its pages. “That’s probably the only reason I’m in fashion now,” he said. “I remember opening up Vibe back in the day, and seeing profiles of Missa Hylton, then finding out she’s the person who is behind dressing Lil’ Kim in Chanel and Dior.”
Closer to home, Rembert idolized his Uncle Allen, who would wear head-to-toe Burberry, Cartier sunglasses, and fur coats. “It’s in now, but back in the day, 25 years ago, it was so cool,” Rembert said. “Man, I wanted to be like that.” His Aunt JoJo held her own too, mixing high and low brands, matching crazy prints to gaudy shoes effortlessly.
Those were foreign, unpronounceable names for a kid in Far Rockaway. “I didn’t know who Christian Lacroix was; I only knew the brand because Lil Kim wore it,” he said. Rembert kept doing his homework, hitting up his generous older brother, J.R., for designer clothes as gifts.
“In high school, my older brother would buy me whatever I wanted,” Rembert recalled with a smile. “I haven’t made it up to him yet. I would hear Kanye say something on a song, I would hear Pharrell say something on a song, and I’d call my brother like, ‘Hey, you know you missed my last basketball game, can I get this?’” Somehow, it always worked.
Rembert would head into Flushing High School in Prada sneakers, Coogi sweaters, and Pelle Pelle jackets, courtesy of J.R..
After Rembert heard Jay-Z sing about Louis Vuitton boots, he asked for a pair as a graduation gift. “It’s how I became popular,” Rembert shrugged, adding, “It’s not a good thing. You should go to school for school. But yeah, I was a fun kid. Charismatic, talkative, not shy, and caring.”
He graduated a year early, and headed off to college as an Econ major, planning to be an actuary. “Every single person had a pair of Ugg Boots and a Juicy Couture sweatsuit,” Rembert said. “Going to class and seeing everyone in the same outfit, man, it was a lack of identity. I was dressing up every day and getting fly, but I was just not inspired by the school.”
Rembert twice applied to intern at his beloved Vibe, but was turned down two years in a row. One night at 3 a.m., “fed up” with the rejection, he stumbled on a journalism job board and found an unpaid position in the fashion department of Elle.
“I had seen the Elle logo before, knew the spelling, but I didn’t know the extent of what it meant to fashion,” Rembert said. When he woke up a few hours later, there was an email in his inbox asking if he could come in to interview.
Rembert rolled into the Hearst Tower on 57th Street in Manhattan wearing a purple velvet blazer from Macy’s with a white button-up shirt and a gray stripe DKNY trouser. He finished the look off with brown Coach loafers. “I thought it was amazing,” Rembert said. “It was hideous. Horrible. The colors were disgusting. It was the ugliest outfit; I remember it like it was yesterday.” He got the job.
The next six months were fashion bootcamp for Rembert, who would commute into the city every day with $20 from his mother. He’d only ever dressed himself before, and was suddenly thrust in a fashion closet full of women’s clothes. “I learned a lot about brands then,” he said. “I learned what creative directors were, and I learned to work my ass off. That’s the most important thing.”
It was the “golden era” of Elle, Rembert recalled, and he relished the chance to go into work everyday for fashion director Nina Garcia. “I instantly knew fashion was my calling,” he said. “If you wake up every day, go to work and make zero dollars, lose money, and still go home happy every day? Keep doing it.”
But Rembert noticed he was the only black man on staff. It was impossible not to. “Oh, 100 percent, I was the only one who even looked like me,” he said. “It wasn’t until I interned a year later when I saw an editor who was black. It affects you. I was very vulnerable in telling people that I didn’t know about women’s fashion, and they were patient and diligent in teaching me. I just learned, basically.”
And Rembert just worked, borrowing his mother’s car to drive to pick up big wardrobe bags and deliver the goods to photoshoots. He logged hours as a salesman in Nordstrom for extra cash. His fellow interns all went to Cosi for lunch, but Rembert couldn’t afford his own. He told his mother he felt left out, so she went to Costco and bought salad ingredients, making something off the menu for him to bring in to work everyday.
After Elle and W, Rembert had one year of school left, but by now the last thing he wanted to do with his life was be an actuary. Against his family’s wishes—only his mother supported the decision—Rembert dropped out of college and tried his hand at styling. His first clients were Electrik Red, an R&B girl group signed with Def Jam.
Work begot more work, and Rembert began working in the hip-hop world he idolized, styling the singer Lloyd. One day, while working with the rapper Wale, Rembert got a call requesting he work on a magazine comer with an up-and-comer named Nicki Minaj. Shortly after, A$AP Rocky’s people called. “I knew who A$AP Rocky was,” Rembert said. “He’s a cool Harlem kid.” While working with Rocky, he was introduced to another new artist named Rita Ora, whom he ended up styling for seven years.
“I think it’s important to work with someone who is authentically them,” Rembert mused. “I think it’s important when you see certain moments in history with stylists and talent that will always be special. Law Roach and Zendaya, Brandon Maxwell and Lady Gaga, Mariel Haenn and Rihanna. Man, it’s just magic.”
Rembert has a quick smile and a gentle wit; he’s not a rabble rouser who will call out problems in the industry, but he does want to champion inclusion through his visibility. He worries that fashion people can “get in their bubbles.”
“It’s important to look outside of who you are,” he said. “A lot of times I see some of the biggest brands and I look at their front row, and they don’t have anyone who looks like the world. There’s only one type of girl. That’s not the world, and if you’re not being a human first and looking at the world as a human, then I don’t care to support you.”
Rembert made the “leap of faith” into designing clothes last year, though he had been mulling over the project for two years before that. “You know when someone texts you, and you respond to the text in your head, but you never actually respond to the text? That was me with deciding to design,” he said. “In my head, I responded; ‘Yes, man I’m doing it, it’s going to get done.’ But it took until February 2019.”
He first wanted to design menswear, and thought about making all the samples in his size 38 pants. But he was drawn to women’s textiles and silhouettes, and wanted to champion the “unapologetic” femininity he sees in his daughter.
Rembert had already given Harper the middle name Aliétte, after his mother, who was known by most as Weezy. “My grandmother gave all of her daughters French middle names that start with A, because my family is from Martinique,” he explained. “I loved that name when I was younger, but no one ever called my mother that.”
Working with a team of two outside of a design studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Rembert also enlists his partner, Brittany, for help with “every single thing.” His pieces are made in a factory in New York, and he spoke to The Daily Beast the day before he was scheduled to finish his spring collection.
Finishing touches for the runway show included casting models, consulting with his hair and makeup teams, settling on what music will play, and making sure his tailoring was on point. “That’s the most important thing about styling,” Rembert said. “You can get the cheapest dress and tailor it so it looks expensive, but the couture dress with bad tailoring is always going to look cheap.”
Rembert’s mother passed away at the beginning of his career. “She got to see me style Nicki Minaj, which was cool,” he remembered. Six months before her death, Rembert picked out her outfits for a family trip.
“More than anything, this show is about her,” Rembert said of his spring collection. “And it’s about women, honestly, being themselves. Everything my mom did in life, she did with excellence. For me, a lot of times women are told they can only be a homemaker, or only a mother, or only someone’s wife. But no, she can be whatever the hell she wants, and she can be better than you are at doing it.”