When it comes to capitalizing on their cache, artists in 2016 have long moved past the band t-shirt and department store perfume. From Kanye West to Jessica Simpson, it seems like everyone with enough name recognition has traded the studio for a storefront.
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The “lifestyle” niche, though, has featured mostly actors and reality stars (think Gwyneth Patrow, one of the genre’s architects, with Goop) marketing exclusive products via highly aspirational, Instagram-worthy photo spreads. Enter Solange Knowles, whose Saint Heron site — which already has a devout following for its impeccable curation of the latest in offbeat R&B, hip-hop, and dance music, as well as a forward-thinking mix of news and culture coverage — is relaunching its online store. As the younger Knowles told Billboard backstage at Minton’s, a jazz club in Harlem where she was hosting a benefit for New Orleans’s Contemporary Arts Center last Wednesday night (March 23), the revamped store will feature “everything from crystal candies to vinyl to ceramics.”
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“What I’m most proud of with the e-commerce site is that it’s not just invested in fashion,” Solange added — a sentiment that might surprise those familiar with the trend-setting star’s aesthetic. “It’s more invested in the conversation and cultivation of diversity in design as a whole.” Creating what Solange calls “a community of young creatives” has been the brand’s mission from the start. “In my experience, as a young black artist, you have to fulfill an archetype, or be a token — and I was unwilling to do that,” she said.
Instead, Knowles’s own eclectic taste informs Saint Heron’s inclusive point of view. “I try to reach back to when I was a teenager: I loved Kelis and I loved Tweet, but I also loved Sun Ra, and I also loved Miles Davis…but I also loved Lil Boosie,” said Solange, laughing. “I loved politics, I loved art, I loved Bjork — I love so many things, and I think as a young black woman, we don’t get the opportunities in mainstream media to express all of those sides of ourselves.”
Fashion, of course, is still integral to the singer’s self-expression. Though she cites FUBU and No Limit as two of the brands she’d like to emulate with Saint Heron’s online shop, this isn’t actually Solange’s first retail rodeo: she was a partner and creative director at now-dormant New Orleans boutique Exodus Goods. With her own venture, she’s putting a new spin on “for us, by us” — an idea she sees in the work of one of the first designers featured in the online shop, James Flemons.
“He’s so inspired by ’90s R&B girl groups, the silhouettes and the DIY-ness of that era,” she said of the designer, whose first Phlemuns for Saint Heron dress — a peach, off-the-shoulder number with a hint of Western flair (it has a matching neckerchief) — she wore to the benefit. “We are grounded in R&B culture. That’s the foundation of Saint Heron, and it was all about deconstructing materials that you had at home — bandanna tops, things like that. That’s something that we immediately recognized in him.”
Knowles plans to continue “supporting young emerging designers and designers of color” within Saint Heron’s shop, but not at any price — the dress is under $200, and a selection of skin care products from Folie (the line developed by Urban Bush Babes co-founder Nikisha Brunson) is under $50. “It isn’t like an ‘exclusive club’,” she concluded. “It’s open to everyone.”