Stylist and Blogger Aleali May is All About That Laid Back LA Vibe
We could introduce you to Aleali May, but you already know her. You’ve wanted to raid the L.A. native’s closet since she first crept onto social media a few years ago. She has the sexy, tomboy swagger of Aaliyah and the approachability of your best girl friend. But knowing who she is just by image isn’t everything that makes the stylist/blogger so fetching. You want the story behind the girl who makes baggy cargo pants and sneakers look like gold, so we got it.
What better place to sit down with Aleali than somewhere surrounded by a brand that has kept her looking so damn fly from the jump? Our afternoon retreat in Beverly Hills celebrating the launch of Nike’s new Special Field Air Force 1 (SF AF-1 for short) and Long Beach’s first ComplexCon was the perfect place, naturally. Here’s the scoop on everything from her favorite Nikes, to how she really feels about the word "influencer." Better take notes. We sure did.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I started out in retail. My first retail job was when I was 16, at PacSun, and then I moved up to American Apparel because I wanted to be “The American Apparel Girl,” and then I was like, “I don't know if I want to get naked.” I started working at Louis Vuitton when I was going to school in Chicago, [I began] offering styling to my clients at Louis Vuitton and I came up on RSVP Gallery a couple of months before I moved for college. I ended up quitting Louis Vuitton, and then RSVP kind of put me in a place to flourish. I moved back to L.A. about four years ago. Chicago's an amazing city, but I felt like it's not New York or L.A. where you just have opportunities, as far as fashion and modeling. So, that's why I moved back home. Now I'm a fashion blogger as of two years. I really like it. Basically, it's just a space where I post my outfits and experiences. So it's not really like it's my personal story, but I want people who have never seen what streetwear is to get an idea of the girls in this culture, because you don't have too many girls telling that story. So if you look at my blog, it's like, “OK. The girl that's in this type of culture likes to shop here. These are her friends. These are what her friends look like. Her friends are all fresh, too!” It’s really just a place where I'm trying to capture that culture as well as just do my thing. So yeah, that's me.
Have you always been interested in fashion or was there any moment that sparked that interest for you?
I've always been into music and fashion. I've been into fashion since I could dress myself. I used to wear uniforms when I was younger and then my grandmother had to have a sit-down with me and show me what matches what. I remember watching Giambattista Valli’s and Alexander McQueen’s runways on YouTube and I was like, “What is this? I've never seen this before. Where am I? Where is this in the world?” So, I think that’s when I was like, “Yo! This is what I want to do.” My step-mom would subscribe me Teen Vogue magazine, and I actually graduated Best Dressed. Oh, yeah. I was dedicated.
You’re constantly traveling from city to city but how does your hometown influence your personal style?
My hometown definitely influences my personal style, because I like to be high fashion, but I like to be comfortable and chill. I feel like that's LA! LA is kick back, comfortable, chill vibes. I love LA culture. I grew up in South Central so we’d go to the swap meets and grab socks and T-shirts and uniform shop there, too. You saw the jewelry, you saw everything!
“I mean, influencer/blogger, it is what it is. Because some days I consider myself a stylist first. But like a lot of people [say], “Oh, she's a model and a blogger.” I'm like, “That's cool,” you know, because that is a part of what I do. I don’t find anything wrong with it because if you want to be corporate about it, we have to put these people in a category."
Tell us what you like about the Nike SF AF-1.
I love these shoes. Well first of all, I love high top sneakers, so this is the perfect silhouette for me. It's narrow, too. Not too bulky, because bulky shoes are kind of hard to go with every girl's style. I feel like we want to look feminine too, so it has to have some type of sexy to it. My favorite part is actually the two straps. The extra one that comes with the bag I think is the best part. The extra details make it really lit, and I love how it's two different textures. It's just an amazing shoe. Great silhouette. Comfortable, obviously, and it comes in all the colors to match with everything in your closet. I definitely plan on having every pair.
What are some unexpected pieces you would style together with the Nike SF AF-1.
Well, right now I'm wearing them with cargos and a body suit. My other thing is a T-shirt dress. A T-shirt dress and a nice overcoat. What will make these different is throwing in some color. I always wear black, but I feel like if you throw color in, it's going to bring out the shoes more. So whatever piece somebody is leaning towards in their closet, maybe just add a bright color. You know, make it pop.
You've expressed your love of Nike since day one, what is it about the brand that you feel so connected to?
I'm a person that's always been about the history of something, the origin. Nike has this strong history that dates back to before you even thought of. They've always been consistent. Like, over how many years has Nike always had something that you’ve wanted? They’re elite, exclusive. They're highly curated. Great marketing. Everything they do is so on point. It's something I reflect on and think about how I want my personal brand to be. Nike has always been something people aspire to. They’ve just always been ahead, always will be. They're the top.
Is this always something that you saw yourself doing? How did it all start?
I was just posting pictures on Tumblr because I used to reblog them and I thought, “I work at RSVP Gallery. I see cool people. I’ll take a photo of it, post it on my Tumblr.” Then I started Instagram. Tumblr just puts notes on it to show how many people saw it. But Instagram was really good for networking and I was going for every opportunity, because when I moved to Chicago, I didn't have any family or friends. I went to Chicago to go to school and my mom was like, “Why? It's so cold there!” I was just like, “I don't know. I’ll let you know when I get there.” Then I kind of took that leap. Don’t ever second guess your intuition - if it says go, just go. Same thing when I moved back to LA, because my idea was to move to New York after Chicago, but something told me to move back to LA right now. First of all, when I was on Tumblr the word “influencer” didn't exist yet. So, I didn't know the title of what I wanted to do. I want to style, I want to model, and I want to look good in a lot of outfits. How do I do that? It was trying to figure that part out, and then the title came later.
I wanted to ask you, because some people don’t like the term influencer/blogger. How you do feel about those words?
I mean, influencer/blogger, it is what it is. Because some days I consider myself a stylist first. But like a lot of people [say], “Oh, she's a model and a blogger.” I'm like, “That's cool,” you know, because that is a part of what I do. I don’t find anything wrong with it because if you want to be corporate about it, we have to put these people in a category. They're not athletes, nor are they models that we went to an agency and hired. What are they? These people are the cool people. It would be weird if it just said “cool people” so I'm like, influencer is good. I don't mind.
How many pairs in your Nike collection and which pair is your absolute favorite?
I have a really large closet of sneakers. I can't say how many. My favorite pair? I'm the type of person, say, when I received these Special Fields I just kept wearing them. I just wear them every day until I'm done, but I'm usually never done. I usually wear a different pair just because another pair came, but right now I would say these [Special Field Air Force 1]. Usually it's a Nike Mid, Air Force Mid. Like I said, I love high top shoes, so the Mids, all whites, are just clean. Like, that's really all you need in your closet. If you're starting a shoe collection, just cop a sweet pair of white ones and you're good.
Who are the most inspiring women in your life?
My mother, my grandmother, my step-mom, too. My mom was super laid-back, chill, Sade vibes. My grandmother was more like, “I like to wear furs and pearls.” And then my stepmother, she's half German and half African-American and she's always been into fashion. It's funny, because she would bring me clothes back from Germany because I was so small I couldn't fit in regular clothes. So she helped me with outfits, too. They all have different styles so I kind of just took everything in.
What are some fashion icons that you look up to?
Pharrell. I kind of like the behind-the-scenes kind of people. I love Christine Centenera, she's the editor for Vogue Australia. She has the most swag. The editor of Vogue Spain, Barbara Martelo, is so dope. She always wears, like, a white tee with like some jeans and some boots, and I'm like, “Yes!” But the whole fit would be Saint Laurent. You know what I mean? She just wears it with Ray-Bans and wears her hair super natural, side part. They don't try too hard.
What are three hidden gems in L.A.?
1. Wasteland on Melrose. I'm always selling my stuff there, but they have amazing stuff! I just bought some Ann Demeulemeester velvet, velour pants. They're like a deep blue—so nice. And I got them for 80 bucks.
2. Depop app. It looks just like Instagram. I buy all my vintage Calvin Klein pieces from there. That's not LA. It can be in LA because you can meet the person in-person.
3. H. Lorenzo. I love H. Lorenzo. They sell Raf Simons and things like that. I love the space because they have these Transformers on the outside. I just like when it mixes art and fashion because you're getting an experience in shopping. They have two Takashi Murakami pieces in there, too. They have experimental brands, like things that you could definitely see Lady Gaga wearing.
What does MISSBISH mean to you?
MISSBISH. I feel like when I hear that, I flip my hair. You know like…MISSBISH…definitely sounds like bossy bish. Bossy bish–you know, girls that are doing their thing. Creating their own way. Elite. I mean, it’s parallel with Nike. It’s top tier. As far as highlighting women, it's definitely something that's not really around. So it feels like it needs to exist too, you know?
Photos by: The Neue School