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On a recent Zoom interview with THR, June Ambrose’s infectious spirit seemed to jump out of the frame. These days, when the always-in-demand stylist, costume designer and creative director isn’t juggling her starry musician client list (Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott, Puff, Busta Rhymes and more), she’s preparing for the debut in the fall of the first Puma collection under her own creative direction as well as serving as a fashion adviser and investor in the fitness company Clmbr. On top of all that, she’s about to turn the big five-oh after 30 years in the business.
“I feel about 25,” she laughs before talking about what it was like starting out in the early ’90s. “People always thought stylists were kind of one-dimensional and that it was like playing dress-up,” she says. “The impact in urban music was so much more powerful than just being dress-up. It changed everything and gave the artists a new superpower and confidence. It opened doors that were unimaginable and sat them in the front rows of Paris and Milan and on the cover of high-fashion magazines.”
Early on, the worlds of fashion and music were not connected the way they are now, and most major fashion houses would not even lend clothes to hip-hop artists.
Ambrose was responsible for crafting the looks behind hip-hop’s most iconic videos — she famously styled Elliott in puffy trash-bag chic for “The Rain” and made then-Puff Daddy synonymous with shiny suits with “Mo Money Mo Problems” with Mase. Ambrose sought to shake up the then-prevailing rock ‘n’ roll style with something that brought a newly authentic sense of opulence, even decadence.
“I didn’t come up under another stylist or costume designer, I came up from the theater,” she says. “Most of the artists felt like they had to be themselves because they were telling poetic narratives from their lives.” By contrast, she thought, ” ‘Let’s imagine the person that you want to become’ — that was life-changing because it helped them to separate their personal personas from their artistic personas, and it gave them just a little bit more space to play.” As Blige tells THR, “Beyond being one of the best stylists of our time, she gives you the freedom to feel great about doing you.”
The stylist’s inspirations were “Japanese animation, beautiful old movies that I loved and books on how to develop a costume. That was my education,” recalls Ambrose, who would often create her own pieces. “Before I could get into a fashion house, I had to understand how couture was made and design pieces that I had imagined in my head.”
In DJ Khaled’s new “Sorry Not Sorry” video, she outfitted Jay-Z (he calls her his “secretary of style”) in a posh Alexander McQueen tux but wanted to switch things up. “I wanted to be kind of cocky,” she explains, and she had a honking cocktail ring made by Dynasty and Soull Ogun, twin sister jewelry designers from Brooklyn, and added a multicolored-gem tennis bracelet with an assist from her 16-year-old daughter, Summer Chamblin, who was along with her on set. (She also has a son, Chance Chamblin, a film student.)
“People say, ‘How do you stay so relevant?’ It’s because I listen to the 16-year-olds. I listen to the 20-year-olds,” says Ambrose, adding, “In interviews, they’re always asking what would you tell the young June and I’m always like, ‘What would the young June tell me?’ When I was in my 20s I was like a 6-year-old, always looking for answers, and I asked a lot of questions. I still have questions; I still challenge myself. I still want to be nervous when I take on anything new. I don’t want to lose that.”
A version of this story first appeared in the June 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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