Meet the 2020 Breakthrough Styling Star Championing Black Women

The Colchester-born stylist has 2020 firmly in her grasp and isn’t letting go anytime soon. A force to be reckoned with, her 90s-inspired, eclectic styling has earned her an impressive list of clients from Mahalia to Kojey Radical.

Words by Eni Subair

Huddled up with her cousins, trying to emulate the latest viral MTV uptempo hit, was a constant recurrence in Natalie Roar’s household growing up. Roar would excitedly ruminate on ways to echo Beyonce’s midriff-baring cropped jacket in Lose My Breath and pour over Missy Elliot’s embellished inky double denim separates in Get your Freak On. 

Little did Roar know, this was simply a prelude to her creative alignment, as 2019 scored the stylist one of her fondest styling accreditations to-date – styling soulful crooner Mahalia for the What You Did video, no-longer did she have to fantasise. Natalie tells BRICKS: “It felt like I was on the set of the music videos I would watch growing up and be in awe of. I grew up on music videos. I grew up devouring them from the styling to the music, I always wondered how I could recreate them.” 

Roar’s story lends itself to an intrinsically innovative and glittering narrative. Growing up in Colchester, the now 28-year-old stylist pined for a more stimulating outlet, turning to performing arts to sate her appetite. She explains, “I wanted to do musical theatre from the age of six, I went to dancing classes and then continued until I reached college. At that point, I had begun to question whether performing arts was the right path for me. I applied to a great uni, and I got accepted however I couldn’t afford it as I didn’t get a scholarship, and I thought, ‘What am I going to do with my life?’. It felt as though my whole life had been leading up to that very moment.”

Remaining undeterred, the stylist began to explore further artistic fields: “I was subscribed to the ASOS magazine and for me, it was relatable, inspiring and inclusive. I could finally see some representation and I didn’t feel patronised or condescended when reading it, and that was such a new thing to experience. At roughly age 19, I remember being sprawled out on my bed reading it and I said to my mum, ‘I’m going to work here one day’,” she says. 

After sending out mass emails to the team – “I sent some emotional spiel!” – Roar then embarked on a journey with the global online retailer, maintaining an impenetrable lengthy relationship. She continues, “When I finished uni, they offered me a job, but I was going to Paris for 3 months and they held it for me. I carried on freelancing for them and would go back and forth.” Roar’s desire to learn French in 2013 meant she ended up extending a trip that was initially intended to be three months to two years while she shadowed a multitude of stylists. “I assisted Anna Trevlyn on shoots with Karl Lagerfeld. However, I’d do that one job and then I’d be back at the beginning. Personally, I think the fashion industry in France at that time was not as easily accessible.”

Eventually, the stylist made her way back to ASOS and worked on a slew of stupendous cover stories, hastily garnering some impressive names under her belt: Kehlani, Paloma Elessar and Rina Sawayama, to name a few. 

Mahalia and Ella Mai styled by Natalie Roar

Taking a leap of faith can be daunting: In 2018, Roar decided to fully immerse herself in the freelance sphere where she struck up a relationship with Mahalia meeting on the set of Kojey Radical’s music video Water. Roar ended up styling her in the video for the infectious aforementioned track, What You Did featuring fellow Brit Ella Mai. Emitting an innate ‘90s vibe, the duo nonchalantly sings about their partners who were dishonest while weaving in Cam’ron and Juelz Santana collaborative hit, Oh Boy from 2002. Dressed in a conspicuous lime green Penny Lane coat, hoodie and tracksuit combination and an unforgettable monochrome look during a particularly hazy, dream-like scene, Mahalia’s entire wardrobe oozed a sense of nostalgia and poise.

So, what fuels her when working on a new project? “I prefer to start looking at brands or rising designers. But essentially, I prefer gaining inspiration through references that aren’t necessarily tied to fashion, perhaps nature documentaries or things that feel artistic. I think it can sometimes be so easy to fall into a trap and end up recreating someone else’s work when using mood boards, so you have to really make sure it remains true to you. When a brand or artist approaches you, they want to see your vision.” 

2019 marked yet another major milestone in her career, as her third music video earned her a nomination for Best Styling at the 2019 MTV EMA’s, thanks to her work in Kojey Radical’s 25 video.“My first thought was ‘Did I actually style that video?’ [laughs], I’m my harshest critic, I think I’m getting better at it, but I find it hard to look back at my work. A lot of the time you do work and move on, so it was nice to reflect.”

Terms like inclusivity and diversity are often tossed around in creative fields, so much so they’re often disregarded as simply buzzworthy terminology. In some ways, the industry seems as though it’s slowly dismantling archaic infrastructures – Tyler Mitchell’s recent hypnotizing SS20 campaign for J.W. Anderson homes in beautifully on black euphoria, and the 2019 BFC’s New Wave Creatives list included an impressive line-up of black creative talent from photographer Campbell Addy to powerhouse stylist Solange Franklin Reed. However, award ceremonies like the recent BAFTA awards still reveal the gaping lack of representation that POC artists have become frustratingly familiar with. Joaquin Phoenix’s brutally honest acceptance speech encouraged Hollywood heavyweights to reflect upon their privilege and champion people of colour both behind and in front of the camera. To put it simply, do better. 

Others have also spoken out on the issue, including rapper Tyler the Creator who perfectly illustrated his frustrations about the music industry, labelling his first ever Grammy win last month a ‘backhanded compliment’. He further stated that although he was grateful for the acknowledgement, it was also a bittersweet moment as he explained black artists were often categorised as urban or rap artists. He said, “I’m half and half on it. On the one side I am very grateful that what I made can be acknowledged in a world like this…but it sucks that whenever we, and I mean guys that look like me, do anything that’s genre-bending or anything, they always put it in a rap or urban category.” 

With such a politically-charged era upon us, where do black creatives and POC comfortably sit? “I find it so inspiring seeing my peers and people I look up to being recognised for their talent, like Ib Kamara and Mischa Notcutt. It makes me super happy, but sceptical about the longevity of these things. Are we just a trend? It’s a weird thing because we’re here and not going anywhere but I’d be interested to see in the next decade how this translates into other industries. I just hope that it doesn’t turn into a thing where there can only be one creative being celebrated at a time.”

As for her plans, she hopes to continue forming alliances with women of colour.“I’ve subconsciously made that a focus. I want more of that and I’m looking forward to working in TV, film and doing costume design,” she explains. 

On the ‘gram we can look forward to her sporting (perhaps simultaneously) sturdy Dr Martens and Penny Lane coats. Plus, when she’s feeling particularly old school? Timberlands. “They’re all making a comeback for sure, but I think the everyday shoe will be making their way into the conversation and culture.” Donna Summer, Diana Ross and Tracee Ellis Ross have contributed significantly to her sartorial choices, most notably Tracee she continues, “She makes me so excited grow up!”. And should we ever get the chance to take a peek at her wardrobe, a series of playful sartorial options await, “It’s like stepping into a fancy dress shop!”