Power suits: A Q&A with cast and co-creator of new photo series championing diversity

The scarcity of diversity in mainstream media is what inspired stylist Bee Diamondhead to cast, dress and capture the motley crew of individuals in a new visual essay. “We try to cast authentic people. Authentic to me,” says the Joburg-based creative director, who alongside photographer Aart Verrips created the series.

“Everyone that we cast is on a mission in their individual crafts, trying to find their way in the world; to be the best at what we do and recognised as such.”

Next-door neighbours, Aart and Bee recently started collaborating on projects such as this one. “We spend a ton of time together and in that time we meet lot of interesting, beautiful characters. So we decided we’d like to shoot portraits of them in our free time.”

For the styling, Bee says she chose to play around with the “work place suit” to create a “sort of armor to get through the day. To navigate all of life’s fresh difficulties.”

Bee – who has recently worked on fashion designer Thebe Magugu’s upcoming campaign, created the artwork for M(x)Blouse’s new EP (along with Aart), to name a few – says she continues to witness a lack of diverse representation working in the media industry. “I do styling for money and often have to dress people that have been cast for ads, photoshoots et cetera, and its generally the same person. Or what media is selling as ‘cool’.

“I’m dedicated to preserving the African aesthetic. I’ve grown up all over Southern Africa. From rural to township to town and have a natural understanding and knowledge of who we are. Without turning it into ‘art’. I try to bring a modern but very tangible visual message into fashion.

“It’s important that I create for my little nieces, nephews, cousins all over Africa and they’ll understand what I’m putting forward.”

We chatted to (most of) the cast of Bee and Aart’s latest campaign to find out how their power suits made them feel.

Sarah Sin Who are you? I am many things. I am a student, a city slicker. I’m a millennial of the 21st century, a life-enthusiast. What do you do? I’m studying a general BA at UCT, majoring in English and Gender Studies. What are you wearing? I’m wearing a huge Men’s Hugo Boss suit jacket Bee’s pinned me in and my old pair of Vans. How are you feeling in this photo? I remember being quite cold during this shoot, late April is pretty much the beginning of winter in Johannesburg. I felt surprisingly comfortable and at ease; being shot and directed by the wonderful Aart and elaborate Bee, who were simply encouraging me to bask in the glamour of it all. Where have you been? I’ve been many places; and will continue to move forward in directions of integration, equality, female empowerment and success.

Oratile MashaziWho are you? I’m an artist, working as a writer and making music in Johannesburg. How did you feel in this photo? Bold and sexy, like a queen of industry. I also felt happy and honoured to be on set with so much talent, it’s very inspiring. Where have you been? I’ve been here, building myself and my work up to a point of self-mastery and confidence. Where are you going? Wherever creativity takes me.

Rahim RawjeeWho are you? Nothing and Everything all at the same time. What do you do? Things that make me happy, right now it’s designing for my made to measure luxury brand Row-G, continue developing O school, an initiative for the future workforce with my brilliant nephew, Sameer and launching the Row-G Tailoring Academy. How are you feeling in this photo? Sexy. Where have you been? Learning, evolving, growing, observing, discovering and having fun! Where are you going? Where Love takes me.

Candice ShepstoneWho are you? A 16-year-old girl. What do you do? I model, go to school and play basketball. What are you wearing? A fabulous suit. How do you feel in this shot? Confident. I feel like I’m just beginning.

Bee DiamondheadWho are you? A 32-year-old black female creative. What do you do? I’m a fashion and creative director.  What are you wearing in this photo? A Pinafore jumpsuit by Cape Town-based designer Selfi. A trench coat I made with fabric I bought on a trip to Cameroon. A vintage YSL waist coat, vintage YSL earrings and my old beat up Vans. How do you feeling in this photograph? Relaxed. I’ve been working getting people through hair and make-up since 8am and my shot is the last one of the day. It’s been fun but I’m glad I can finally chill. Where have you been? Sometimes it feels like everywhere. Like it’s been a lot. Living in woke times. I can also be very dramatic and blow things out of proportion. So these shoots are my quiet zone; my safe space where I get to create and just focus on that. Where are you going to? Continuing to play and blow shit out of proportion.

Ross “Archy” Sey (left)Who are you? I am, for the most part, a creative. What do you do? I am studying a general BA in psychology and philosophy at Wits university now, which takes up most of my time. But I try to do some freelance modelling, I am also a musician so I work on music from time to time, and then recently I’ve started up a brand called Bigfoot&Wildboy and so managing the brands progress and hosting events also takes up a lot of my time. What are you wearing? During the shoot I wore some worn out Chuck Taylor’s, a special pair of 100% Cashmere Row-G pants, a plain white shirt, and a cropped suit jacket. How do you feel in this photograph? Pretty comfortable, I was with my brother. Being around someone you’re close to generally makes things better. And some of my other friends were also there, so I felt comfortable.

Erin GrantWho are you? To be honest I am still trying to figure that out. At my core I am a very sociable, people orientated person. But I’m definitely comfortable being alone and having that time to myself. What do you do? Studying Law at Wits but when I have time to do what I want; I love listening to music and reading my favorite comics (Ms Marvel and Dr Strange). What are you wearing? Bee put me in a vintage Yves Saint Laurent pin stripe mini skirt and blazer suit, with my dad’s old French Quarter tee and an amazing vintage fur. How are you feeling in this photo? Really happy and super comfortable. I had to try my best not to sing along to the music that way playing. Where have you been? Born and raised in Joburg! I haven’t had the opportunity to do much traveling but I do plan to. Where are you going? Ideally in a few years I’ll be a qualified humanitarian lawyer and maybe not too long after that a primary school teacher. I love the idea of helping people and working with children so hopefully that’s where I’ll end up.

Aviwe “Verticle” MtetiWho are you? An all-round artist, singer songwriter, actor and model. What do you do? I do commercial mainstream modeling and I make music. How are you feeling in this photo? I feel jiggy AF ⚡️⚡️in these clothes, they portray my character. Where have you been? I’m originally from Cape Town, and I just moved here in Johannesburg to work on my music, which is going really well and as planned. Where are you going? Around the world is where I’m heading. I’m planning to travel the world with my talents.

Callum Alexander SeyWho are you? A young man shuffling along. What do you do? I am currently studying towards a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Wits; I write the odd bit of poetry. What are you wearing? Since I’m unaware of the brands, I will explain what I’m wearing from my perspective: my old tattered skateboarding sneakers that I’ve hand-sewn back together on the one side. A lovely purple suit. The T-shirt underneath the lovely suit displays a candid Taylor Swift, I must admit I’m not too familiar with her work but I do hope she’s alright with lying on my chest. How do you feel in these photographs? This is the first photoshoot that I’ve done with my younger brother, so I’m glad that we were able to – quite literally – hold hands through this experience. I’m also having fun, even though my face probably tells a very different story – a bit of a fire in the belly, ice in the mind situation. Where have you been? I’ll take this to mean physically because attempting to explain where I’ve been in my head would be like trying to jump off a bridge into a shot glass blindfolded. I’ve travelled around South Africa quite extensively with my family, with my favourite place being Arniston. I’ve also been to Britain, my homeland, but that was only once a long time ago. I’d love to go back to immerse myself in the culture and find out about my Glaswegian roots. Where are you going to? In a perfect world, I’m heading straight for a big forest where I can grow a great beard, tinker on little mechanical things and read.

Credits:
Fashion director: Bee Diamondhead 
Photographer: Aart Verrips
Photographer’s assistant: Simz 
Hair and make-up: Nicci Allen and Louis Frits

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