I am very happy to feature Claire Sulmers from the Fashion Bomb as a Monday Style Icon on BGLH. The Fashion Bomb is an award-winning blog that shines a spotlight on urban fashion which is often overlooked in mainstream media.
Since its inception in August 2006, The Fashion Bomb has been named Blog to Watch by Women’s Wear Daily, Blog of the Moment by Teen Vogue, and has been featured in Upscale and Uptown magazines. Newspapers such as New York Metro have also caught The Fashion Bomb bug, as have college newspapers, such as Howard University’s Hilltop and Harvard University’s Crimson. A weekly contributor to AOL Black Voices, Claire has been tapped as a style expert for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post. The Fashion Bomb was also nominated Best Fashion & Style Blog and Blog of the Year in the 2008 Black Weblog Awards.
Claire is a journalist and Harvard graduate with Haitian and Bahamian roots. I asked her about her hair, her take on the fashion world and her experience as a blogger.
BGLH: Why did you decide to go natural?
Claire: Braids were always my style of choice in my younger years. I had one disastrous run in with a perm in the 7th grade and it was just not working! Fly aways, gel–it wasn’t flattering. My mom didn’t really know what to do with my hair, so we started with braids (weave braided into my natural hair). Around sophomore year in college, I was tired of not being able to find hairdressers that worked, tired of taking out old hair and replacing it with new, tired of braids falling out (very embarrassing!). I figured I could have the same look of braids with my own hair and decided to start with locks in 2001. It was tough going from full, long braids to short tiny twists, but the style got better after a few months. My choice of natural hair surely also had to do with my concentration in African American studies and wanting to be proud of my hair and my race. Lastly, I wanted to be a girl who didn’t need enhancements or anything extra to look fly.
BGLH: When and how did you transition into natural hair?
Claire: It was in 2001. I went to a natural hair salon in Boston and the hairdresser partitioned my hair into little coils. It took a while of not washing and meticulous care to get it to lock. I remember I was a counselor at a summer camp for 10–14 year olds in Dorchester at the time. When I initially got the style, I wasn’t 100% confident with my look, so I came in with a head scarf. Of course the kids wanted to see what was going on underneath, but I didn’t want to show them. They persisted and, during lunch, one of the bad little boys actually tried to rip my scarf off my head!
Then the class I taught, a group of about 14 girls, teased me, saying I looked “Like an African” (this was supposed to be an insult which is sad if you think about the messages younger black children receive). Another time a guy my age approached our group and talked to us for a bit, but then went on his way. One of the little girls said, “If you had your old braids, he would’ve asked for your phone number.” It was crazy dealing with the transition around a bunch of immature kids, but let me tell ya, my skin got thick pretty quickly!
The whole situation underlined, to me, that most black women grow up thinking their natural hair is not ideal, and are encouraged to wear weaves or straight hair so that they’ll look attractive. Obviously that’s a lie, but it’s a deeply entrenched message we’re fed from a very young age.
BGLH: Why did you choose to lock?
Claire: I’m very low maintenance and it seemed like an easy style to care for. Though I have this ‘fashionista’ reputation, I can get ready in 30 minutes. I also never liked sitting around in a beauty salon or depending on anyone else for my look.
BGLH: How does your natural hair express who you are?
Claire: My whole life goal when it comes to blogging and writing is to highlight the intrinsic beauty of black women. In my personal life, I feel that if I wear a weave, for example, that’s saying that I don’t think that who I am is beautiful enough to show the world. So my hair expresses my belief in the beauty of my natural hair, even if the mainstream tries to tell us everyday that our hair isn’t ‘good enough.’
BGLH: Describe your regimen. What products do you use?
Claire: I’ve been told I should wash my hair every two weeks, but I work out a lot, so I prefer to wash it once a week. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to do this, but I generally get lots of conditioner, like Jane Carter Solution Nutrient Replenishing Conditioner, and just put it in my hair while it’s a little damp and have it sit for a couple hours under a shower cap. Then I wash my hair with Creme of Nature Kiwi & Citrus Ultra Moisturizing Shampoo.
I moisturize with Olive Oil (like Olive Oil you get from the supermarket), then also use Carol’s Daughter Hair Milk and a small amount of Glycerin. I twist my Hair with Jamaican Mango & Lime Lock Gro. Then I braid or twist it up into bumps. When it is set, I moisturize with Organic Root Stimulator Olive Oil Moisturizing Lotion, Carol’s Daughter Black Vanilla Leave In Conditioner, or Jane Carter Solution Revitalizing Leave in Conditioner. I also use a mixture of Glycerin with water in a spray bottle to moisturize. I braid it up almost every night with a scarf.
BGLH: As a fashionista, how does your hair complement your style? And from a fashion perspective, what are the benefits of natural hair?
Claire: Fashion is all about having a unique style and look, so my hair asserts my personality as well as my style. In fashion, you’ll see people with blue hair, buzz cuts, shaved sides, designs…my personal style is pretty conservative, but my dreads kind of add a little funk (especially when they’re a tad on the wild side).
I’m not sure if there are benefits of natural hair from a fashion perspective. Fashion, like any other industry, is pretty slow to come over to the natural hair movement; there is still a bit of a stigma attached to dreads (people think you’re a rasta, that you smoke weed, that you’re some sort of granola type who only wears hemp–I’m none of the above). Then again in fashion everything goes, so in some ways it’s totally cool and acceptable.
BGLH: Did you have a background in fashion before starting The Fashion Bomb?
Claire: I wrote fashion for Real Simple Magazine in New York for 4 years; was a fashion intern at Upscale Magazine. I really took the experiences and knowledge I was gaining at my 10–6 and brought it to blogging. It would have been inappropriate to talk about Beyonce in an article for Real Simple, so I got my celebrity fix and shopping jones taken care of online.
BGLH: What need does your blog fulfill that traditional media does not?
Claire: We focus on black women and fashion whereas it seems black women don’t exist on most fashion blogs OR if they do exist, they’re being insulted or lampooned. I read lots of fashion websites, and they tend to report on Amber Rose and Kanye West, for example, but the readers of those blogs say things like “Why won’t Kanye go away?!?” “Amber is so tacky!” At the Fashion Bomb we actually appreciate the movements and waves made by trendsetters like Rihanna, Kanye, and Amber. We’re all about celebrating our people rather than tearing them down. We’re about looking at them as style stars instead of wannabes or nuisances. And generally, we try to keep it positive.
BGLH: You recently moved to Paris. How is it going?
Claire: I’m teaching English and freelancing until I land my plum job. Paris is absolutely gorgeous and I’m happy I made the move. In New York a fun weekend trip would be to Boston or Connecticut. Now a fun weekend trip is to St. Tropez or Monaco.
I’m holding fast to my dreams and just waiting to see how everything pans out.
BGLH: Your focus is urban fashion; do you think Black women are more heavily asserting their unique expressions of style and beauty?
Claire: Black women have always been trendsetters. From Salt & Pepa to even Denise Huxtable or TLC, black woman always have b een funky, bold, and brazen. Now I think people are paying more attention to what we’ve been doing all along. And if it’s black women versus other races, I’d say black culture is distinctive and rooted in a very storied history. Black people did ‘without’ for so long, so now that we can buy things and have incomes, we go for the biggest, boldest, and brightest. Bling Bling was penned by a rapper for a reason. While other races may have been enjoying diamonds for years, we just came to the party. If we can buy diamonds, we want big diamonds. And not just diamond earrings, we want diamond chains, gold teeth, and gold plated everything. I think black people are coming into more money now that historical barriers are being broken down, which might mean even more extroverted style. But I think the need to stand out and look ‘polished’ has been a part of our culture for a long time.
BGLH: You mention that Black women have always been trendsetters. Why, then, is the fashion industry so hesitant to embrace them?
Claire: On one side black women set trends, but fashion is a business, and fashion companies are not looking for who is setting trends, but who is buying. There is a pervasive stereotype that minorities don’t have as much disposable income as others (though we spend). Since we don’t spend, we don’t matter–we’re ignored and invisible. Why have an ad featuring a woman of color for Louis Vuitton if black women don’t buy Louis Vuitton?
The truth is that we spend money (I know I do!). But percentage wise, the black women who will throw down on some Louboutins or Chanel are significantly less than the percentage of other races who would or could do the same. In fashion, as in most industries, the only color that matters is green.
It’s also true that multicultural women will buy a luxury brand regardless of the color of the woman in the ad. The perception is that white women would be turned off by a similar ad. This is not scientific, but it’s understood to be true. Lastly, white is seen as aspirational, and therefore luxurious, in the minds of most in the world. Not the case for minorities, unfortunately.
BGLH: What are some highlights of your career as a fashion blogger?
Claire: Going to the Yves Saint Laurent show in Paris; Going to the Zac Posen show and meeting him backstage. Meeting Marc Jacobs at the Takashi Murakami opening gala at the Brooklyn Museum. All of Paris Fashion Week.
BGLH: What are your dreams for the Fashion Bomb?
Claire: I’d like do a series of e‑books, complete a few more celebrity interviews, and just become a bigger, more recognized website. I’d also like to bring Milan, Paris, and New York Fashion Weeks to our ever growing audience of smart, savvy multicultural women.