Marjon Carlos Is Influential Without the Influencer Title

Marjon Carlos Is Influential Without the Influencer Title

by Evan Ross Katz

There's so much to adore about Marjon Carlos, starting with her name. To paraphrase Stephen Sondheim: "Say it loud and there's music playing, say it soft and it's almost like praying." As a fashion journalist, advice show host and cultural commentator, Carlos is not just ready and willing (that's the easy part, especially these days), but keenly able to discuss, dissect and go deep on a myriad of subjects as high-level as inherited trauma and myopic representation to as low-level, but equally important, as Dorit Kemsley's label obsession on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. ("I put the 'boo' in bougie!" she toldThe Cut when asked what her Housewives tagline would be.)

In fact, there's a whole 30-minute coda to this interview that I cut out for time in which we volleyed back and forth with our thoughts on Beverly Hills, Potomac and the overall state of the Housewives cinematic universe. Because that's the thing about Carlos: she doesn't miss an opportunity to have a meaningful discussion no matter the subject. After finishing the penultimate episode of The White Lotus last night, one of my immediate first thoughts was, "Thank God I convinced Marjon to get into this show so I can get her thoughts."

Thankfully, the internet exists, and Marjon Carlos is a pivotal voice that many like myself can and do seek out. There's her writing, which has been featured in Vogue (where she worked as a senior fashion writer) as well as Essence, Vanity Fair, the Wall Street Journal and i-D (her 2020 profile of Cardi B is required reading) as well as her Instagram Live advice show, Your Favorite Auntie, which just concluded its season season weeks ago and featured the likes of Nicco Annan, Christopher John Rogers and Donté Colley. She's also hard at work on first book, a memoir slash society commentary on class and race.

You just got back from vacation, and I feel like given that we were in this thing — it's weird, I wanna say we were in the pandemic, but we are in the pandemic. Anyway, as of now we're free to travel, those of us who are vaccinated, for now, and I'm just curious what was that to travel for leisure after all of this time cooped up?

It was a little surreal. I had traveled two times before then when I went home to see my family and when I went to LA for just a break, and each time I kind of was like, "How can I do this responsibly? How can I do it ethically?" 'Cause when you go to the airport, people aren't socially distancing. They're all up on you. It's not like, "Oh, six feet," and everyone's being polite and being respectful. No. You see videos of people literally stopping the airplane from leaving the damn airport because they won't put on their mask. So it's a lot of fears. It was really like a journey to get to the journey, but it was really nice to be away. It was a trip to let go, it was a trip to just be with my girlfriends and to reset and not look at my email. I kind of have been struggling with just the world after the pandemic, because we don't have to re-subscribe to these ideals that we had before, and I don't know if we've really learned that lesson completely, so I was a little surprised by people's response to the trip itself.

How are you feeling about the state of New York? And did being elsewhere change anything about your priorities here?

New York is an interesting place right now. Everyone's out in the streets, the traffic is crazy, the Ubers are really expensive, but it doesn't feel like there's anything to do. It still feels like we should be cautious, so it's weird to be back in that respect. And then where my priorities are, it's like, "Okay, I have a lot of work that needs to be done." It's not even just deadlines for stuff that I get paid for, but it's like I need to pursue the things, the passions and re-prioritize where I put my time and where I put my energy, so I think those are things that bubbled to the surface when I got back on dry land.

You describe yourself as hyper-critical. Would you say that's something that you inherited? Or something that you learned in terms of your mode of being?

Well, I have a Virgo moon, so it's really who I am. I'm a hyper-critical person, and it's really about myself that I'm most critical. I think being a journalist, you have to look at things from a different lens than everybody else. I don't take anything just at face value, you've gotta dig deeper. What's the subtext of that? Where is that coming from? That's a quality that definitely has been drummed up because of my job. I also think that, as a Black woman in America, I'm just generally skeptical. And I stay on ready. Plus, I went to grad school and I was literally doing critical race theory before that was a thing that we had to argue about, so critical theory was always a part of my lens and my world in different capacities.

Let's be hyper-critical for a second. What are your thoughts on Bennifer 2021? It seems like everyone, regardless of investment in it, seems forced to have a POV.

I feel like everyone has thoughts on Bennifer. My boyfriend even has thoughts on Bennifer and that's not his lane at all. I bet my dad does. Look, celebrity culture is America's greatest export. We don't really have any other natural resources besides celebrities. We also don't have a monarchy, so it's like if you combine those two things. And J.Lo is such a seminal text because she was the reason why we have google images. She's the literal reason. There was a cultural reset when they got together, and I think that maybe we're thinking it's another cultural reset too, because it's a weird time, right? We're kind of living in a topsy-turvy time where anything goes, where on Jan 6 of this year there was an insurrection at the capitol, and then we're living in a pandemic. So why wouldn't J.Lo and Ben Affleck get married again? Anything is possible right now, and because this is like our biggest thing we sell to the world, it's going to be amplified.

I like that perspective of almost being less, "Why would they get back together?" and more "Why wouldn't they?" It's like, of course, they would get back together. It's 2021.

It's 2021. Her ex, apparently, cheated on her with a Southern Charm cast member. It's like, "Of course he did." I feel like anything is possible now.

Steering things back to you. You grew up in Dallas and went to mostly white schools, but then would attend church on the weekends where you were immersed with Black folks. How did this impact your understanding of the world and where you fit into it?

I feel like a lot of Black kids who grew up in that dynamic kind of spoke two languages. I just bobbed and weaved in a lot of different spaces because I had to, for survival methods, figure out the lingua franca of each community that I was existing within. I think it was my brothers who taught me to be myself ultimately. Watching them navigate that space was really important 'cause they were older than me. Because at that point, when I grew up, being a Black girl and sounding like this was not the move. There were no Zendayas, there were no Malia or Sasha Obamas. There was a very particular idea of what a Black girl looked like and what she sounded like. And I think my brothers taught me, like, "Just be yourself and that will ultimately…" I know that's so cheesy, but it's ultimately the most rewarding and empowering thing. Just being myself has been super empowering, but in that I've had to address a lot of trauma and a lot of pain and a lot of just, like, lies about myself and about ideals. What is beautiful? What is desirable? Who is sexy? What is valuable? What isn't valuable? So there's a lot of unlearning and undoing. And I still, at 38, doing that work, but I feel a lot more comfortable in my skin now, just as myself and who I am, and I think there are a lot more Black women and Black people in the public eye who reflect the many different ways of being a Black person in America. It's not just a very myopic representation.

You write and speak a lot about generational trauma and the ways in which it's inherited. We are speaking on July 27, and just hours ago, Simone Biles withdrew from the team final due to medical issues, which she's come forward and stated were mental health related. She had spoken to the New York Times in the days leading up to the Olympics and was asked to name the happiest moment of her career, she said, "Honestly, probably my time off." I'm just curious about your thoughts on this, and if you think it's connected at all to generational trauma?

Growing up in the environments that I did, I didn't think that I had the right to say no, and I didn't think that I had the right to push back if I felt uncomfortable or I felt taken advantage of or disregarded, because the fear of retaliation is so significant and fierce for Black women, especially. I definitely feel like that's a generational shift. My mother would have taken it on her chin. She had to. My dad did too. They felt like they had no other options. And I feel like this generation is actually saying, "No, I'm not gonna take that. I don't feel good about that." I think it signifies and signals to other Black women that you can say no. And I think that as much as we applaud those women, we have to provide them space to do that, because they can't just do it alone. So I think it's really — it's time. Basically, it's just time for this. I read your post about it, when you see something like that, what do you think? Is it really impactful to you as well? And does it shift your thinking?

Without question. I'm really moved by her athletic prowess, obviously, but especially everything that came from her after the Larry Nassar investigation, and her coming forward about what she'd endured and that bravery. I feel like to stay in the sport, not just for love of the sport, but for the love of the girls coming after her, it's really quite profound. It's also sad, because it sounds like she's choosing to live in her trauma. And again, it's her choice, she's choosing that, but it still doesn't make it less — it just shouldn't be the choice that she has to make.

I agree. I think people expect us to make the tough choices, to say the things that no one else will say, to take the L. And we do it because no one else will. You can even look at elections. Black women rally to get the support and the votes out, and we've helped win several elections. So it's like, we do this shit and we do it because no one else will, but why do we have to? And why are we left alone, in a lot of ways, to do that?

I wanna ask you about a comment you left under my comment on a post about Leandra Medine on The Cut's Instagram. How's that for a mouthful? For context, Medine is the founder of former fashion blog, ManRepeller. A recent appearance on The Cutting Room Floor with host Recho Omondi drew criticism from Medine's clumsiness when speaking about her privilege. A lot of commenters, mine included, we're dragging Medine, but you saw it differently. You commented, quote, "but she stays covered and booked." Bad behavior continues to be rewarded while Black creatives go largely ignored and suppressed, this is but a drop in the bucket. Your comment received hundreds of likes, and I'm just curious for your thoughts.

I think that maybe the reason why I commented on your thing was like, "Push it forward. Go a step farther." Because I think I know what you wanna say, but you're not saying it, which kind of goes back to our hyper-critical character trait, right? Because let's look at it from a different perspective. Yeah, we can all talk mess, but the girl still had an article that I think performed better than any article that week for The Cut. She will continue to stay booked, she will continue to stay busy, and I think that we can all be like, "Oh my god, that's so crazy that she would say such a thing," but what's learned? What changes?

It's also, to connect this back to our earlier conversation, not that crazy that she would say that. It's like having the reaction of thinking it's so crazy, kind of reminds me of the Ben Affleck/J.Lo of it all, which is that if you use your 2021 brain here, it's not surprising that Leandra continues to walk through this world with immense privilege and without a great amount of introspection.

It was interesting that people were surprised. I didn't expect her to have grown. I don't think people know what the subtlety of white privilege looks like all the time. I think that we have large conversations about privilege, racism and race and all these types of things. I think we understand what very big examples of racism look like. We understand segregation, we understand very markedly racist things. But the subtle insidious nature of racism and how it appears, I don't think we know how to talk about it. And so when that conversation began to make its rounds, I was like, "It's not just what she said, it's also the other things around the privilege," which is that she's still gonna get booked and she's still gonna have a career and people are still going to subscribe to her largely successful and popular newsletter. She's not going anywhere, she will be fine.

And then you think, too, how many people that listen to that podcast will then subscribe to The Cutting Room Floor and actually stay for the Black creator that created the space for this interview.

Exactly. And then Recho had her own drama too, because people were like, "Oh, she's anti-Semitic." This is what's interesting to me. I think we're getting off topic now 'cause we're still consumed with this idea of bullying or this idea of getting on someone or whatnot, and I think that really the larger thing is just accountability. I think that that's what frustrates us the most, is just the lack of accountability and that there's still largely none, and still Black women have to apologize at the end of the day. So I think that that was a really interesting moment, an example of how little we have changed. It's only been a year since the reckoning of 2020, and so there's a lot more to come.

Let's talk some more about social media. You've spoken about being shadowbanned from platforms like Instagram. What has it been like for you watching your work subjugated and then it being done so without explanation?

It's literally the most frustrating thing in the world, and I think it kind of comes back to why I commented, in some part, on the Leandra post. I created a show, Your Favorite Auntie, during quarantine. It's an advice show every Thursday, 7PM, Instagram Live. I feel like I was reported and I literally could not post content, literally could not post the Lives that I was doing. I don't understand why you would create a social media platform to then punish people for using the social media platform, and I don't understand why there's not a real filter on here that protects people like myself. We're just creating content that's not harmful, that's not assaultive...

That's native to the platform.

Right! And I spend hours on this thing. I spend hours away from the people that I care about, like my boyfriend's studying and is like, "What the fuck are you doing?" And I'm like, "I don't know, I'm just talking to Dante Colley right now," like let it go! And it became this thing where it felt punitive. I know I have a good product, but I can't get it to people, and then to watch people who you feel are just phoning it in, really win and succeed at this thing, it's like-- this feels very personal. It just does. And I know it's not just me. Black TikTokers have said, "No, we're not creating any more dances, we're not producing more content." So many Black creators I've spoken to have had issues of being suppressed, and then Instagram came out and admitted that there was a thing now that filters out insensitive commentary or some shit like that, and as soon as I fixed that module, it's like, "Oh, I got to see pretty much everyone of color." Why can we not address the racism in tech? This isn't me just having a hissy fit, this is like an actual issue around unconscious bias and creating spaces where people are, again, penalized literally just for being Black and on the internet. I can't think of anything more unjust. I need to stay off the Internet anyway because I've got to focus, but it's hard not to when you are a cultural critic, when you are a journalist, you need to know what people are talking about, but like you're saying, you definitely have to take your time out, but it does stop the bag for sure.

I wanna talk about fashion. I know that you're someone that's been interested in fashion throughout your life, and we talked about how the world is topsy turvy right now, and I think in addition to that, fashion is in a weird place right now. The industry itself is not known for being the most agile, to say the least. I'm just curious, are you still as fascinated with fashion today as you were at the apex of your interest in it?

Oh no. The most interested I was in fashion was probably when I was in high school. I grew up in the Dallas suburbs, and it was kind of a wasteland in a lot of ways — It's not what it is today, which is like this bustling new city — and I was obsessed with fashion, and I wasn't bitter and I wasn't jaded. But no, I'm not as obsessed with fashion now. I'm obsessed with style. I think style is something completely different, and I fucking love clothes, and I love the power that clothes have, and I think that's what keeps me locked in, but the industry itself, the way that it's operated, and the gatekeeping… I'm not interested in that at all. At all.

How would you describe your style?

I think it's really evolving. Fashion was, or I should say clothes, were a big distraction over quarantine. I was at a place where I could finally really indulge in the shit that I wanted to wear. I was just collecting, but in my own little way. I'd have a bad day and I'd be like, "You know what? You should buy that JW Anderson dress you can wear nowhere." I find that the clothes I'm most drawn to, for lack of a better word, are grown woman clothes. It's like, I'm not a kid. I'm 38 years old. I don't need to try to be something that I'm not. I love to buy clothes that I know I'm really gonna love years from now. I know we talk about that a lot, but do we really live it? I think I'm a bit more intentional with my style. I'm really a big dress woman. I love beautiful, beautiful dresses. I like figuring out my shape 'cause it's different now — I'm going through my thick Rihanna stage, so things fit a little differently — so I had to figure out what really works on me now. It's like rich auntie shit!

What is it about the term auntie that you embrace most?

Well, I'm a literal auntie, I have two nieces, I have a nephew, that's what they call me. And then, because I am 38 and I've been in this game for over ten years, I see the young generation of fashion folks and how they're coming up and what they're doing and they come to me and they ask me for advice. I just think of it in that respect, where it's like, "Yeah, I'm kind of an auntie to you." But then, also, like, my aunties were so fucking flying and they still are, and I think the thing I love the most was that they lived by their own rules. As a young girl, I just remember being attracted to TV characters or fictional characters in books, movies, movie characters, women who were fiercely independent, who carved their own way and did their own thing. I think the auntie, typically, is that in a family. She's a female figure that has kind of carved out her own niche. And I think that there's nothing more empowering than that.

Are there any celebrities that you look at today and think they have really great style? I ask this because I feel like you mentioned earlier, this difference between fashion and style, which I think is really fascinating. That makes me think a lot about — do you watch The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills?

Of course. Yeah, of course I do. Of course, Evan.

Wait, I knew that. We've literally conversed about these women and their foibles. Those women have fashion, many of them, few if any have style, and I think that there's an increase of reverence for people with fashion, because fashion can often be unattainable because of literally economic reasons. So I'm curious, which celebrities do you think have good style?

That's a really good point, especially when it comes to Dorit. Who has great style? The number one style icon of my life is Rihanna, she really is like my lone star. I love her so much, and I love that right now she's experimenting and she's kind of a chameleon. I do fuck with the people who are uniformed dressers, and are like, "I wear this every single day," like Fran Lebowitz who has incredible style as a uniform, and I believe that she's one of the great living style icons. But then there are people who, like Rihanna, are a bit more emotional, and I like that type of emotional dressing. I'd say Tracee Ellis Ross, always just hits. No Vogue cover, but is still the fucking one.


Who else has really amazing style? I mean, you talk about her a lot, Tilda Swinton. I think she has incredible style. Who else is there?

Those are great examples! I wanna talk about burnout, 'cause there's something that you've spoken about before, and it's something we sort of mentioned up top, which I think correlates to your vacation recently, and is a feeling that I think a lot of people are feeling. What is burnout and how does burnout manifest itself beyond just your work life? Because I feel burnout, at least speaking for me, it doesn't just affect my nine to five.

I think the most potent example that I have of burnout was after I left Vogue in 2017. I was probably 20 or 30 pounds lighter than I am now, and creatively just stunted. I remember people being like, "Why would you leave that job? Why would you do that?" I remember the idea of valuing your well-being over your career ascent was frowned upon, and now, obviously, there's been a cultural reset as we were saying before, and people are leaving their jobs and becoming entrepreneurs and going freelance and realizing maybe I can make more money working for a tech company, maybe I can make more money working for myself and so on. I think that that's amazing because we have to recalibrate our minds around work and what we give up and what we keep for ourselves. Burnout can also come in the sense of having no personal life, and that for me is very important, to have a rich family and community of friends around me. I really value my boyfriend, and I really value that relationship and nourishing that part of myself. As much as I'm overly ambitious and super career-oriented, if you're not your best, who are you doing this for?

Your Favorite Auntie was born in quarantine, and really was about connection and community, and these are ideas that existed before quarantine, it will exist after, but they were really necessary in a unique way throughout quarantine, this search for connection that so many of us felt. How are you thinking about how you wanna see the show grow and develop, especially when people's attentions are no longer as easy to lasso, perhaps, as they were throughout quarantine?

Eventually, I'd love for it to be on television. I'd love for it to be a talk show, a new kind of a talk show. I want to take it off Instagram. I just don't think that it's compatible with that platform 'cause now people are hitting me up on a Thursday night, they're like, "Oh, do you wanna go to dinner?" I think we're going to take a hiatus and ask ourselves, "Is it a podcast for now, and then it becomes a television show?" Because you do a podcast, so you know the work that goes into that. it's a little world that you're creating and you have to really put a lot of energy and effort into it. I have an intern that helps me and she's incredible. If I did not have her, I could not do it. I don't know how to do GIFs and reels and memes, all that type of shit.

So to wrap up. Yes, I am an interviewer. You are an interviewer. Beyond chemistry, what do you think it is that makes for good conversation?

Follow-up questions, disarming people at the top by letting them talk about what they wanna talk about. I work a lot on my nerves because when you're interviewing people who are really famous — I don't know, do you get nervous when you interview famous-famous people?


I have to really get in a place where it's like, enjoy yourself, I'm there to ask real questions, I'm there to get to know you, I really am. A really tell-tale sign is if I can talk to you on the phone. Do you talk on the phone a lot? I love talking on the phone.

It's my favorite pastime.

I just love talking on the phone. I just wanna know. I wanna go deep. Let's go deep. This is why we're here.

Welcome to "Wear Me Out,"a column by pop culture fiend Evan Ross Katz that takes a look at the week in celebrity dressing. From award shows and movie premieres to grocery store runs, he'll keep you up to date on what your favorite celebs have recently worn to the biggest and most inconsequential events.

Photography: Shana Trajanoska