Keke Palmer's "Aspirational Street Style" Is About Giving Millennial Designers a Chance
While promoting her latest collection with ShoeDazzle, the actress and her stylist, Mikiel Benyamin, dish on building the actress' sexy, early '00s-inspired wardrobe.
Like many child actors, actress Keke Palmer underwent a major — and public — transformation between being the pint-sized star of Akeelah and the Bee to playing her sassy role on Scream Queens.
Now 23, Palmer has developed a unique fashion sensibility that is unapologetically over-the-top and most definitely one-of-a-kind. With the help of her stylist, former Nylon fashion-closet intern Mikiel Benyamin, also 23, Palmer has been carving out a special niche with her red-carpet and street style, fusing sexy looks from up-and-coming designers — including L.A.-based Bryan Hearns and Kardashian favorite Yousef Akbar — with nods to style stars of the early aughts, like Lil' Kim and Toni Braxton.
Palmer's style prowess most recently landed her a collection with ShoeDazzle, the JustFab affiliate that offers all its styles — including booties, flats and stilettos — for $39.95 each. At the launch of her second collection for the brand, Pret-a-Reporter caught up with the actress and Benyamin (dressed in a hot pink shearling coat left over from one of Palmer's shoots — "When she's done with it, I can have it," he says). We talked shoes, her style evolution and those Leonardo DiCaprio pants.
What were your thoughts when designing this collection? Was the goal to make it more accessible?
I wanted to make it very accessible, which is why I thought ShoeDazzle was such a great partnership. I’m so happy about the relationship we’ve built because they totally get me. It’s all about street but sweet. Keeping it fun but funky — trendy, but the products are made so well so it’s not going to fall apart on you just because they're inexpensive. At the same time, you can get the trends that you can reuse every season, like the high boot with the strings and different cutouts.
Do you have a favorite style from this season’s collection?
Probably the [Noni]. It has a little bit of the essence of a sock boot, which I’m really loving, and a peep toe, which is really fun and cool. Plus, it’s stable, which means it’s not going to hurt when you walk around.
Your personal style has really evolved over the years, and you take so many risks now. Did something precipitate this style evolution?
Totally. I would say it’s what I went through and how I got to the point of really accepting myself. That transition, mentally, really became an external transition as well. I started to become more free. When you accept yourself more, you become confident in your creative choices. You don’t think twice about it, you just go for it.
On the other end of it, I also met Mikiel [Benyamin], my stylist, and he understands aspirational street style, which I couldn’t find in a stylist before. I love street style, I love ‘90s. That’s my vibe. A lot of people wouldn’t be able to help me always elevate that, like when I go on the carpet or when I want to make it glam. They wouldn’t get that; they would glamify it without my character. So working with him is awesome because he gets it, and he knows how to support all these different brands — new ones, too.
Tell me about today's look.
This is a vintage fur. That’s the one thing I love about [Benyamin] is that he always finds crazy vintage pieces, even if it’s at a house. Shout-out to Gabriel Held: He was like a vintage connoisseur out of New York, and I’ve gotten a lot of stuff from him. Mikiel will always find people who, in their homes, have curated old stuff from the early ‘00s and late ‘90s, which is my vibe. That’s where we pick up a lot of stuff. Whether it be Christian Dior or whoever, we get it vintage because it keeps it fresh. This dress is Dsquared2 archive.
Aside from vintage, how do you guys find these underground brands?
[Mikiel and I] are really on the same wavelength. Like the brand Namilia: At first he said, “I don’t know if you want to rock this,” but then I was like, “This is totally up my alley.” So we learn from one another. And he’s always constantly looking and keeping me up-to-date on who’s new. And we always want to try those young designers because that’s also a part of who I am. I don’t always want people that support me — the kids — to think that the look has to be designer. You can make it cool and funky and fresh, and you can also support a new person coming up. There are plenty of millennials out there who are becoming new designers every day.
You recently wrote a book [I Don't Belong to You, out Jan. 31] about self-acceptance. Do you touch on your personal style?
I wrote the book because I found this freedom and I wanted to share it, and I wanted the people who read it to know that I didn’t find [confidence] because I went through a bunch of good stuff. It’s actually because I went through a lot of bad stuff that put me through this point of realizing that the love I was looking for was right in front of me.
It can be taxing, especially as a youth growing up in the industry and trying to find yourself but constantly having a brand that you’re going to grow out of. It’s like — we’re all a brand, ultimately, we all have something that represents us. But what represents us as kids — like, when your dad thinks of you as his little baby girl — that’s not what your friends call you. Your friends call you the girl that’s partying or the girl that’s chill, so that’s the most difficult part of it all is accepting that we’re all going to be different at every stage of our lives, and that it’s OK.
Let’s talk about those Namilia Leonardo DiCaprio looks.
Girl. One was a bikini top, and the other one was those black pants and the black top. I love that look. I love Namilia, I love how daring she is, and her styling really talks. First of all, it was very sexy, but at the same time, there was a panel that went back and forth from Leonardo DiCaprio’s face and an actual rose, so it was telling that ‘90s story of Leo, this heartthrob, and Titanic. It’s giving you all of that in one. And that’s me.
I definitely see that early ‘00s vibe in your AMAs look.
That was a total throwback, with inspiration from Lil' Kim and Toni Braxton. That was Natalia [Fedner]. She does a lot of stuff with Beyonce, too.