Erykah Badu is one of those rare artists whose image and sound precede her name. Case in point: you can sense her vibrant bohemian aesthetic in Givenchy's radical Spring 2014 campaign even before hearing that she styled it or seeing the ads in which she costars. Since the release of her 1997 neo-soul debut, Baduizm, the South Dallas-bred chanteuse has not only crafted an unforgettable image; she's proven that she has both style and substance.
Last year, Givenchy head Riccardo Tisci rang Badu up to ask if she'd be the face of his Afro-Japanese spring collection. Badu, who credits Tisci with "finishing my musical sentences visually with his designs," obliged — and from the sensual draping to the splashy textiles, her influence was stamped all over the line. Swapping her signature Nefertiti headwrap for a top hat, Badu happily modeled and styled the multicultural collection, whose ads make a welcome statement in fashion with their racially diverse lineup.
We phoned Badu at her Dallas home to talk about working with Tisci (as well as photographers Mert and Marcus, with whom she also worked on Tom Ford's White Patchouli fragrance), why Rihanna excites her and the secret to being a lifelong noncomformist.
Last year, Riccardo reached out and let me know that he was a fan of my music. At the same time, I let him know that I was a fan of his eye. We were talking and he asked me to be the face of his campaign for [Spring] 2014, which was culturally themed and all of the models in the campaign were of color. He thought that the line would particularly speak through me. I said, "OK!" It was the first time I had done anything like that, besides the Tom Ford perfume ad.
How did the shoot compare to the one that you did for Tom Ford?
A lot. It was the same photographers, Mert and Marcus. Every time I shoot with them, it's like we're a little family. They're editing on the spot, and they're so amazing. It makes me feel so comfortable and at home.
Did styling feel like it came naturally to you?
Yeah, I love styling. Riccardo recognized that talent in me and he allowed me to be free with it, choose my garments and layer them.
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What are some of the things that have excited you recently in fashion?
I love watching Rihanna in fashion. I like to see her take chances and risks. I like seeing Naomi Campbell in the forefront. They're bold women who stand out and use their bodies as canvases to introduce this functional art to the world. They carry it in a way that is very inspiring.
Rihanna's an interesting reference because she's really bridged the worlds of music and fashion. Have you seen the relationship between the two change since you started performing?
Definitely. The platform is so big now for marketing. There's a lot of cross-genre. With social media and the Internet, you can see a lot more talent from a single artist than you could before. A lot of people are so multifaceted that they get a chance to use their social networks to display these talents. And we don't have to wait for a magazine; we can see it right away and make a decision for ourselves.
What do you make of more musicians turning to fashion — through collaborations and campaigns — to fund their art?
Well, music has never been lucrative to me. I think my image is more popular than my album sales. The stage is where I shine and pay my bills. But art is art to me. There's nothing new about cross-pollination in art to me because it's all one thing: an expression of who I am. I've always directed all of my videos and been in total control of my image. I write all of the lyrics, stage and produce all of the shows. It's something that comes very naturally to me. It's therapy. It makes me feel awesome, happy, centered and balanced when I can turn out some piece of art — whether the world sees it or not. It's what keeps me going and breathing.
When you released Baduizm, your music and style were instantly iconic. At the time, did you feel like you were doing anything radical in those realms?
Kind of, because I've always been a nonconformist since I was a very small child. I'm one of those artists that never felt like I quite fit in. Too white for the black kids, too black for the white kids. I felt like I was a dangling participle. Once I got a record deal and was able to express some of these things, I saw that I was unique in what I was doing. It's always given me the inspiration to push the ceiling higher and higher, thus only being in competition with my last level.
Hair: Peter Butler
Makeup: Chiho Omae
Manicure: Eri Handa at Melbourne Artists Management
Photographer Assistant: Nick Krasznai
Digital Tech: Erik Swain
Interns: Haley Sherif, Aaron Ealy and Stanton Jacinto
Location: Go Studios