Photos by Bryam Villacres
Wardrobe /Styling by Dominic Ciambrone, Surgeon + Nahmias
Style Assist: Christian Ferreti
Key Makeup by Dominique Lerma
There isn’t a child alive with pristine school books. Doodling in the margins while making a half-hearted effort to pay attention is a rite of passage for every student. Brittany Byrd was no exception, as she spent hours drawing and scribbling. Whereas most people’s efforts were rewarded with an afternoon scrubbing whiteboards in detention, Byrd’s doodles left a lasting impression on her school.
“In fifth grade, I told my elementary school (Crescent Heights Elementary in Los Angeles) that their logo was weak,” Byrd says. “Those were my exact words. This logo sucks. Then I went on to hand-draw new graphics. I’ve always been into unity, community, tribe. I was always in touch with spirituality, even as a young kid, and the logo turned out to be a drawing of a young me holding up the whole world with all of my friends, my homies, helping behind me.
“It’s a crazy, true story, but I picked up my nephew the other day, who is 5 and attends the same school,” she continues. “They kept the logo! It was on the crest on his uniform. Now, I didn’t get any credit for it [laughs]. But that’s when I knew I was being taken seriously. At 10. That’s when I got into branding and graphics.”
It’s one thing to be upset about your school’s logo, but it’s a completely different thing to go out and do the work to change it. Aside from its muted colors, Byrd can’t recall exactly what the old logo was, but at age 10 she knew at her core that it didn’t fit the environment where she was learning.
“I grew up in mid-city Los Angeles,” she says. “I went to school with Korean kids, Indian kids, Mexican kids. I looked at that logo and thought, this doesn’t reflect me and my rainbow tribe. It didn’t make me feel good. Seeing that art made me feel something, and that’s when I knew how I wanted to feel.”
From her earliest days, Byrd has been tuned in to her surroundings, allowing everything she experiences to seep into her personal creativity. It may have started with her grandmother’s eclectic sense of style and affinity for Asian furniture, as Byrd attributes the time spent in her house growing up as an influence on her preferred color palettes.
Everything was thrown into hyperdrive when she arrived in New York City to attend St. John’s University. At St. John’s, Byrd earned a degree in theology, a feat that seems out of character at first glance but makes complete sense three minutes into a conversation with the artist. But theology wasn’t the only reason Byrd moved to the city—she came to New York to make her fashion dreams come true and, inspired by every inch of the Five Boroughs, she made it happen.
Byrd’s talent was present from the beginning—a teacher once told her that her creativity was “the only gift she had,” in a somewhat backhanded compliment—and when thrown into a new environment, she flourished.
“I feel like New York is a special place,” Byrd says. “That [essence] is reflected in art and fashion throughout the decades. Whether it’s a subculture like the punk scene or the hip-hop scene, [New York] is a vortex for artists. Yes, it’s chaotic. Yes, it smells like piss. But there’s a weird beauty in the overstimulation of everything.
“For an artist’s mind, that overstimulation makes you like a kid going, ‘Look at that! Look at that!’” she continues. “All those different vibes provide an escape from a more mundane reality. Especially after COVID, there’s a renaissance of creatives doing a lot of special things.”
In Los Angeles, where Byrd grew up and lived until making her very recent return to New York, people tend to live in a bubble. It’s not necessarily a lifestyle choice as much as it is influenced by the environment. People aren’t stacked on top of each other on the left coast, and commuting by car is an entirely different ballgame than riding the subway. Sure, the weather is great, but the lifestyle deprived Byrd of one of her most beloved activities, an activity that is key to her personal style.
“I love people watching,” she explains. “Seeing people’s street style is a huge inspiration. You can see a grandpa outfit and think, ‘I really like how those trousers fall on those New Balances, that is appealing to me.’ Or see a corporate woman and the energy with which her heels are hitting the concrete. That’s a different vibe—you are a warrior! And that is super inspiring.”
Given her fondness for chaotic simulation, Byrd also experiences the downside of having a brain that is always moving at a million miles an hour. Finding a way to turn off and get some peace was difficult until she was introduced to meditation around age 12, so the concept of cultivating calm spaces is very important to her.
This is apparent in the spaces she creates for herself, both by curating the elements she surrounds herself with and designing items of furniture. Most people may not consider the overall flow and mood of their living space consciously, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t constantly on their mind.
“It’s the reason why people have FOMO about going on vacation or why they want to leave their house,” she explains. “What about your home doesn’t make you feel good? You’re going to be doing the same thing when you go somewhere that is more beautiful. When you design a space to be comfortable and visually appealing to whoever’s taste it is, it affects our mood. If your room is painted black, that creates a much darker mood than yellows or pinks. Seeing how that affects our mental health was my personal reason for getting into furniture design. Spatial design is huge to me.”
You could argue that there is no more important space to feel comfortable in than your own skin. That’s why fashion and style play such a paramount role in our lives. And what is a tattoo if not fashion you’re unable to take off?
Byrd’s tattoo journey began when she was 16 and she had script inked into her inner bicep reading “Stay True.” Unlike most teenagers, she didn’t make a clandestine trip to the tattoo parlor or take extensive precautions to hide the piece—her mother was on board with the decision from the start.
“My mom was always hella cool,” she laughs. “She was the hashtag cool mom in high school. She always allowed me to be myself. I wanted my ears pierced to the top of the cartilage, my hair’s been dyed since I’ve been in the fifth grade, the tattoo was a natural ‘What’s next?’ She said she’d rather me get a tattoo than a piercing, so I went with the tattoo.”
As someone who often finds herself in front of the camera modeling in addition to behind the scenes creative directing, Byrd has heard it all from people saying she should shy away from getting tattooed. That she won’t be able to get a job. That no brand will hire her if she’s tattooed. Following the mantra of that first ink, Byrd has stayed true.
“I didn’t ever want to fit into anything, that always freaked me out,” she says. “I got my hands tatted at 18 because I didn’t want to work in an office. If that’s what they don’t want, that’s what I’ll get [laughs]. Being in front of the camera, people would say I couldn’t model, but I have a multitude of modeling contracts. I know it’s going to work, so I create my own reality from that perspective. I love art, and I couldn’t imagine not having tattoos because it leads to living more artfully.”
Byrd certainly lives her life artfully, with the key emphasis on “living.” As people collect designer fashion or expensive sneakers, many see the purchases more along the lines of buying some art rather than just getting some clothes. But these items weren’t designed to sit on a shelf, they were meant to be worn.
“I spend money on my clothes to wear them,” she says. “If it gets dirty, yeah, that sucks, you can clean it. And if you can’t, it makes the story more interesting. I feel in this Instagram-influencer content era a lot of people get dressed strictly for photos, but there’s still nothing better than going to dinner in an outfit you put effort into. That feels good.”
Byrd isn’t going to be making an exception for the pair of sneakers she was given by this issue’s guest creative director, Dominic Ciambrone—a custom pair of Travis Scotts with snake skin. “They’re my new favorite pair of sneakers, they’re crazy,” she exclaims. “I’m going to wear these into the ground. I know a lot of people get a pair of Dom’s shoes and put them on the wall, but the art of it is that they’re shoes. They have a functionality and the art is in how you put it together. The art is how people perceive them.”
Art and creativity seep into every aspect of Brittany Byrd’s life. She uses her gift to mold the world around her into a place she wants to be while taking inspiration from all of the good things surrounding her. Many aspire to live artfully; Brittany Byrd is one of the rare few who truly do.