Dancing to a Different Beat

These individuals have bucked convention and found fulfilling jobs off the beaten path

at Vibe magazine, and he had not yet cut his first album. Still feeling his way toward a hit, Maxwell was also still trying to sculpt an image, and was always wearing hats.

Once Davis saw the texture of his hair, they agreed he should grow it long and wear it natural-rather like Davis’ own hair. By the time Maxwell had his first hit single, “Sumthin’, Sumthin’,” he also had a sexy, slightly retro look punctuated by wild, ode-to-Einstein hair. Davis calls it “freedom hair.”

Davis has an eye for what works from head to toe, particularly for musical artists who have a message to convey, not just through song, but through their own personal style. Davis is a stylist who specializes in that very area: developing, refining and redefining the personal presentation of mega-stars including Luther Vandross, Diana Ross, Herbie Hancock, Abbey Lincoln and L.L. Cool J, among others. Creating their looks-in magazines, concerts, videos and print advertising-is her bread and butter.

Whether their forte is pop, jazz, or hip-hop, Davis’ goal with each client is the same: “to make their [personal] presentation an equal representation of their music.” For that reason, Davis has turned away work for people whose songs she can’t appreciate. “If I don’t hear it, it’s hard to see it. So, part of my turning work away is luxury, but part is knowing how I work, and when I won’t be the best person for that job.”

Davis claims strong people skills, a healthy sense of others’ individuality and a gut for risk as key to her success. Creating an image is hard, she says, but nurturing consistency is harder. “You’ll work with someone for a while and develop a look that works. We’ll do a great photo shoot with them and then a video and they look fabulous. Then you’ll see them in some TV interview a few weeks later, lo
oking a wreck,” she says, laughing.

Raised in Washington, D.C., Davis moved to the Big Apple to major in theater at New York University when she was 18. For extra money, she assisted her aunt, Joanne Butler, a prominent stylist who was working exclusively with the renowned fashion photographer, Richard Avedon. By 1984, Davis was in her junior year, making $50 a day on fashion shoots and training beside fashion icons. Shortly thereafter, she quit school to pursue a fashion career full time.

While Davis may have abbreviated her formal education, she has an unswerving commitment to learning all she can about her industry and her craft and expresses little interest in those who don’t. Bemoaning the fact that many of today’s stylists are little more than glorified personal shoppers, Davis insists that “there’s an importance to knowing your fashion history.” Black or white, she says, stylists “need to know more than who Gucci or Armani are. You need to know who Patrick Kelly and Willie Smith were.”

Having worked her way through the ranks of apprenticeships and fashion editor positions (including one at Essence), she went out on her

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