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Meet Marko Monroe LIZZO’s Stylist

Feature Article »
By Liz Smith, Associate Chair | Associate Professor of Art, Ceramics »

Marko Monroe is currently the stylist for Grammy Award winning artist LIZZO. I had the pleasure of interviewing Marko who graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with an emphasis in sculpture from UCA in 2012. The following questions were submitted by Professors Laws and Smith

Marko Monroe with Lizzo at the Grammy’s

 

Can you tell us, what is your current job(s), including job title(s) and with whom?

I am the creative coordinator, stylist and costume designer for LIZZO.

Can you describe what a typical workday might look like for you as a creative coordinator, stylist, and costume designer to LIZZO?

Well for the last year, it has varied, but I typically get to wake up in a new city because we we’re on tour. I’ll check my emails and access what needs to be done for the week or month ahead. Since this has been such a quick and dramatic rise to success for Lizzo – a lot of events and performances get added at the last minute. This can be quite the headache as finding clothes that work well for her body is difficult. So, I try to get ahead of anything in advanced as things come up – most everything she wears is bespoke.

What is the balance of art making/designing/styling and other research/publicity/non-making work on a day to day basis?

The major projects are where research and design take a larger role. A lot of my fine art work was always super conceptual and I carry that into my work with her. I live and die by theme so when I set a parameter up it’s no different then a school assignment; I think about it as “this is my project, it’s deadline is on XYZ, and I have to communicate an idea that meets the assignments requirements”. I think that’s what keeps it entertaining and where I find the most joy. The every day dress and promotional work outside of larger projects isn’t typically my favorite thing but I still try to find ways to make it fun for myself. Balance is reached by juggling the larger projects with the more day to day, on top of touring. So, I’m fully busy all the time.

Can you describe how being a student in the art department helped to lead you on this path (if it did)? I’m thinking specifically about Studio and Professional Development Courses and/or the departmental community (faculty and other students).

Being a student at UCA may not have specifically led me into this direction but it taught me how to be adaptable, set priorities, execute a vision, have confidence in my intuition and be open to critique. The studio classes were where I learned how to develop the language in which I communicated ideas while being able to share openly with my peers, their criticism… that was essential. The biggest hangup in this field is letting emotions get in front of the grand picture. It’s something that, in those classes, the constant critiques, helped to nullify. I have that with my creative team which doesn’t mean I don’t struggle from time to time – but at least I know it exists!

Did you feel like UCA prepared you well to follow this professional path, understanding that what you are doing now isn’t directly linked to your BFA – sculpture emphasis.

I definitely think that UCA PREPARED me for this professional path. I’ll be honest and say that I should’ve paid more attention to the business side of things. I still have to catch myself before sending emails too early without proofreading. I can still sometimes talk too abstractly about what I’m trying to do or say. There isn’t a direct line between sculpture and styling, but it is all relatively the same – just working with a subject that is alive! I still apply the same principles that I learned in my studies when I dress her : color, texture, shape, proportions, overall silhouettes, balance, etc. The language is the same.

It seems to me that clearly sculptural concerns are a part of how you are making aesthetic decisions, would you agree? If so could you elaborate on this a bit?

Definitely! I mean take for example the most red carpet look for the AMAs. We played with scale as a way to convey humor. The tiny white bag in contrast to her voluminous bright orange dress gave the right amount of focus.

Was there anything about coming from Arkansas that was a benefit to you early in your career? I’m specifically curious if being able to explore the early House of Avalon work here in a smaller venue allowed you to move forward with more confidence in the larger LA scene?

Coming from Arkansas really did help influence my creativity outside of school. School developed my backbone and heart, but the time working on House of Avalon gave me the freedom to not limit where my creativity takes me. I think my biggest take away is always to just follow your intuition because it’s never wrong and will always lead you in the path of what you’re supposed to be doing. Being a creative person, sometimes it’s scary not knowing directly where it’s going to take you but it will take you where it needs to take you and you’ll find ways to make it work as long as you’re having fun and you are fulfilled. In Arkansas we were able to explore these concepts on a smaller scale. We did this with hardly any audience – that definitely had a huge role in our confidence. We were able to be experimental and went through a huge trial and error period, but we were our own critics. It was all necessary in order to understand what was successful. Had I rushed into a big city early on, I don’t think the House of Avalon (would still exist?) would have been as prepared to make it in LA, including myself.

Did your internship with Diana Al-Hadid influence how you thought about using your Arkansas roots as a part of your aesthetic/persona development?

This is a great question! Partially, yes. I think during my time at school I was kind of embarrassed that I was still in Arkansas having been from there. But, once I moved away, I realized that it was a special and unique quality about who I am. Especially all of my house of Avalon (HOA) adventures – they taught me how to take things less seriously and played a major role in how I think of styling. I’m not limited by what other stylists are doing in the sense that I don’t have to play by the same rules and that freedom I think came from all of my years playing in Arkansas with the HOA.

Was the Homo-Erotic Aesthetic used in your HOA work received very differently in LA than it was here in Little Rock? Does that aesthetic influence your style decisions with LIZZO (thinking about her belief in showing body positivity). I think of the idea of “The Other” in art history, representing and glorifying often underrepresented people, lifestyles, body types etc.?

The Homo-Erotic aesthetic in my HOA work was definitely not as shocking in LA compared to Little Rock. They’re used to seeing stuff like that, so it wasn’t a surprise. With LIZZO, I try to keep a sexiness about what we do with her wardrobe. Ultimately, she is sexy and no matter her body type we want to push that forward. Recently at the Lakers game she got some negative criticism about the oversize shirt with the butt cut out. She was dancing to her song and turned around showing her thong. An outfit with an ass out?!? I don’t think I’ve ever done that for HOA! 😉 But she had two layers of tights on plus black fishnets but still received a ton of criticism. I think that just goes to show that the world is willing to except a big African-American woman only if they fit into the parameters they find acceptable. On the contrary, if she was a typical size body, I don’t think she would’ve gotten any flack for that at all, which is sad. She looked stunning and if people didn’t like it – well that’s their own issue!

Are you still doing your House of Avalon work? Are you still connected with the original members? Is Grant (another UCA alumni) still a part of the group? How do you balance the work with HOA and LIZZO?

I still do work with HOA. But my time away has really pushed them to figure out how to GET things DONE on their own. The growth is evident. I don’t have as much time to commit on their projects because this job is so consuming but I’m always there for part of the conversation. I just don’t make as many looks for them anymore because I’m never home. I was upset this year because for Halloween everyone went as Coneheads and I missed Halloween by one day. It truly was the saddest moment for me this year. Grant is still a member and is thriving – his art has really transformed into more of a performance and it’s brilliant -he is a superstar.

Can you list your top 5 most amazing experiences since graduating from UCA and give some details about each one?

1) Working with Diana al Hadid – My time with Diana for my internship was legendary. I learned so much about discipline and practice and commitment. I was introduced to podcasts (lol) I was introduced to New York and the freedom that comes with it. This allowed me to explore myself in ways I hadn’t in the past and ultimately give me all the inspiration I needed when I move back home. It freed me.

2) Throwing queer parties with the House of Avalon- This role allowed me to really take ownership of a concept and bring it to fruition in a space that was real. I have so many great memories of people / so much love. We were really able to carve a safe space for people to come and be themselves, to live with no inhibition, no judgment! And in the south I feel like that was so important. It’s one of the proudest moments I’ve had as a creative.

3) Moving to LA – this was a difficult choice so soon after the election (of Trump), we were in a pickle; do we stay home to help our community or do we let it go in order to save ourselves. We all had bigger plans and intentions for ourselves so ultimately chose the latter. It was one of the hardest things we’ve had to do but with one of the greatest outcomes. I’m not gonna lie though the first year was super tough for me. I was the happiest I’ve been in a long time before we left, we had a thriving club, I had a great job I got to release creativity in multiple forms, and we were giving back to the community. When we got to LA all that was stripped away and we were surrounded by lots of negative energy vampires etc. so it took a toll on me but it wasn’t long after (1.5 years) that I started working with LIZZO and that was my escape.

4) BET PERFORMANCE – I choose this because not only did I get to bring in the influences of those I look up to in the aesthetic choices I made for the performance but I actually got to design every look. Twenty one looks specifically designed for one performance, seeing it all in reality was a crazy experience! I’ll never forget that feeling – pure gratitude.

5) Traveling – I think one of things I’m most grateful for with this position is the traveling. I’ve been to Europe six times in 2019 alone. Growing up I never would’ve thought I’d be able to do that! I always wanted to travel and see the world and now I am. It’s a wild experience.

Do you have advice for UCA students? You are in an amazing place and I know they are going to want to hear your suggestions!

My advice would be to follow your intuition whatever that may be. Don’t judge or box yourself into a certain set of parameters that you feel like you have to uphold because, if you’re creative, you’ll find ways to navigate through those spaces and settle into what suits you best. Listen… Listen to your teachers they know what’s up!

Marko Monroe, @marko_monroe
H.O.A.
Creative Coordinator / Designer / Stylist for LIZZO