When it comes to creative female powerhouses, Melina Matsoukas is not one to go unnamed. Matsoukas, a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, was drawn to photography at a young age, but it was not until college that she discovered her passion for filmography. It was a passion that has allowed her to carve out a unique lane within an industry where very few people look like her.
While music videos have been Matsoukas’s forte (she directed Beyonce’s "Formation" video as well as a number of other classic videos for a wide range of artists), she’s also been the force behind commercial projects for Adidas, Stella McCartney, Lexus, MasterCard and more. And her accomplishments have not gone unrecognized — she’s received a nomination for a Director’s Guild of America award for her short film Negros, Negros and was the first female director to win an MTV VMA Best Video Award for the video for Rihanna’s We Found Love.
While Matsoukas has mastered the art of storytelling through music video, fans will soon be able to watch as she takes her talents to the world of scripted television. This fall Matsoukas will take the helm as director and executive producer of Issa Rae’s upcoming HBO series Insecure.
Matsoukas’s personal style can be effortlessly compared to the masterful works that are featured in her portfolio: ingenious and aesthetically pleasing. We were lucky enough to chat with her about all things denim and, unsurprisingly, even Matsoukas’s denim game is as untouchable as her camera work. We uncovered her obsession with reshaping vintage Levi’s as well as her infatuation with denim-on-denim looks and how she was a part of a classic hip-hop denim moment.
BET: How would you describe your overall style?
Melina Matsoukas: My style really is all over the place. I am very big on mixing and matching. My style is super versatile and doesn’t pertain to any one category. It can be best compared to a mood ring. It is very dependent on the mood I am feeling for the day.
When would you say your love for denim began?
The love story began when I was only a young child [laughs]. As a toddler my favorite piece of clothing was my Oshkosh denim overalls that I would call my Oreos because I could never say Oshkosh. I was literally obsessed with them and wanted to wear them every single day. I’m pretty sure my parents really did let me wear them every day too, which was great. They were so comfy and perfect to me. I loved them so much. I have been obsessing over denim ever since.
How often do you wear denim and how important is it in your wardrobe?
If I could wear denim every single day, I would. As you know, I am a video director and when I’m shooting, my costume consists of denim on denim on denim. My new thing is to see how many different denim-on-denim ensembles I can come up with while on set. Denim is a staple in my closet because it is what I feel most comfortable in while working and even aside from that, it is just so versatile.
What is your favorite style of jean and why?
My favorite style of jean are vintage Levi’s 505 because they are super high-waisted and make my waist and my ass look so good. They never go out of style. I have a massive collection of Levi’s vintage jeans that I get tailored to fit my waist and ass perfectly, and then I get the leg tailored into all different styles from fitted to baggy. I love how great they look and feel.
What is your favorite denim moment in hip-hop and R&B culture?
Wow, this is such a hard question. Off the top of my head, I love Aaliyah and DMX’s denim moment in DMX’s “Back in One Piece” music video. I believe Aaliyah was wearing a white tee with these bedazzled blue jeans and DMX is wearing a baggy denim jacket, a white tee, jeans, and Timberlands. They are hanging out on a stoop and on a fence outside, which is very New York and a classic hip-hop moment.
I also will never forget the first music video I ever worked on set for as an intern, which was for Trina’s “Pull Over.” Trina wore these crazy knee-high Dior denim boots that were laced and had the Dior print on them. I was in love. They were amazing. My cousin was the producer on that video and I actually got to keep the denim Dior boots Trina wore for the video. I could not believe it. They were about two sizes too small, but that did not stop me from trying to cram my feet into them at any chance I had. That was about 15 years ago and I loved them so much, that I only recently gave them away to a friend; that way, if I ever want to try and cram my feet in them again, I still can.
What are some of your favorite denim pieces in your closet?
All of my vintage Levi’s jeans are obviously my favorite, but I own a few denim jackets that are classic denim jackets of different styles. I love them because they go with everything. Oh, and I have my friend Shiona’s denim off-white shirt that I hope she forgot I have because I secretly wear it all the time and I love it so much. I also have these awesome graffiti denim shorts, and my latest favorite is a Stella McCartney denim-on-denim outfit that is a denim and blue lace bustier with high-waisted denim flare capris.
What’s your go-to denim look?
I have two main go-to denim looks that include lots of denim-on-denim, which I especially wear on set, and, of course, my vintage Levi’s, which you probably could’ve already guessed by now. I love to pair my vintage Levi’s with anything and everything. I love that denim can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. Anything goes.
What are some of your favorite denim brands?
Levi’s is definitely my favorite brand for denim. I simply don’t love any other brand of denim as much. Levi’s are original, authentic, genuine and classic. I love that you can rework them to look and fit however you want and they are always flattering. They look great ripped and distressed, baggy, fitted, and dressed up or dressed down. I love them so much that I wear them until they are shredded and torn so much, that my ass is peeking out and they are borderline not appropriate to wear anymore. Every rip and tear adds character. Denim comes and goes into style often, but my Levi’s have longevity. They will never be just a fad.
What are some of your favorite pieces to mix with your denim?
I have this Sade white tee that has a very simple picture of her on it, which is my absolute favorite thing to pair with my vintage Levi’s. I got that shirt at one of Sade’s concerts years ago and it has been washed and worn so many times, that it looks so perfect and vintage with my Levi’s and a pair of heels.
The beauty of denim is that you can literally wear anything with it and you cannot go wrong. You can throw on jeans, a T-shirt, and some slides if you want to look like a bum or you can dress it up and sprinkle some glitter over your denim for a more Diana Ross feel.
Photo by: Jake Rosenberg/The Coveteur