Renée Elise Goldsberry’s Quarantine Photo Shoot Highlights the Work of Black Designers
With the help of her stylist, Sarah Slutsky, the Hamilton star showed off some stunning designs, and spoke with InStyle about how the pandemic is changing fashion.
While the past few months have been nothing short of challenging, our time quarantining at home hasn’t been without its benefits. We’ve taken the chance to slow down, reflect, and make better choices in all areas of our life, including how we consume and shop for fashion.
On the slightly lighter side of things, we also got the chance to stream Hamilton via Disney+, viewing the award-winning musical from the comfort of our couch. Yet, even after the credits rolled, actress Renée Elise Goldsberry, who played Angelica Schuyler, continued to leave us inspired.
When press appearances to promote the show turned virtual, she and her stylist, Sarah Slutsky, realized that all her clothes — dresses and items meant to highlight the talent of Black designers — would barely be seen. So, they devised a plan, opting to do a full photo shoot along with the talented photographer Ragan Henderson, a student at NYU.
“I was like, ‘Renée, it's such a shame. People are only going to see you from shoulders, mid-chest up. Why not use your yard and your spacious home where we can be away from each other, and put a little mini photo shoot together?’" Slutsy told InStyle, adding how important it was to showcase Black-owned fashion brands.
“Diverse representation in the brands that I call in [when dressing clients] has always been on my mind, but, it's obviously more important than ever to make sure that we're talking about it, and making sure people know that there are so many different types of talent, and people creating incredible fashion," she continued. "It just seemed like the perfect moment to really hone in on that.”
Goldsberry felt the same.
“We wanted to celebrate the moment and take it as seriously as possible, even though we were social distancing and staying at home,” she explained. “The season of Hamilton coming out really was the summer of both social distancing and also Black Lives Matter. Everybody was taking a personal account of what we do and what we don't do to create an equal playing field. Even Black people. Obviously, we had to ask ourselves those questions, as opposed to just pointing the finger at other people. And so, we were excited about the opportunity of celebrating Black designers.”
On the day of the shoot, the team made sure to take every safety precaution necessary. Goldsberry used her Connecticut home as a backdrop, posing in pieces from Cushnie, Pyer Moss, and Mateo New York — just to name a few.
“I was shocked [at the result] because I walk around my house, taking pictures all the time with me and my kids, and they don't look as beautiful,” said Goldsberry. “Of course, I'm not wearing these clothes. And, I don't have the talent that Ragan Henderson has, or the talent that Sarah Slutsky has. But it was just our lighting; it was God's lighting and just really creative minds coming together.”
Something we’ve repeatedly asked ourselves over the past few months is whether or not the pandemic will change fashion forever. Both Slutsky and Goldsberry agree that this time at home has been one of evolution and reflection, with the opportunity to give purchases more thought before checking out.
“I often tell my friends and family members that it’s so much more than just, ‘Oh, that's a pretty thing, and I want it, or maybe I need it,’” said Slutsky, who has also made a point to focus on sustainability throughout her styling career. “You're bringing an item into your home with your dollar bill. In a way, if you stop and think about it, you're voting. You're giving money. You're saying to an organization over and over and over again, ‘I believe in you, I support you.’ I feel like it's been an incredible opportunity for people to slow down and think about what they bring into their space. It's a good time to renew habit. I've been hopeful that people really will start thinking, ‘I love this fashion item. It's important to me to learn where it came from, who makes it.’
Goldsberry added that it’s also a good time to think about personal preference over the opinions of others.
“We're asking ourselves ‘What do I feel comfortable wearing?’ As opposed to, ‘What is everyone going to think about me wearing this?’ Because we're spending so much time alone, I think that will inform our choices when we come out of this pandemic.”
Aside from rethinking the way we shop and where we spend our money, this summer has also been the perfect time for Hamilton to be released to the masses.
“Hamilton became famous because it was an exclusive ticket, but that was always upsetting to us because we believe that everyone should have access to art,” Goldsberry told us. “The beauty of it coming out now is you can see how beautiful the hearts are of Lin-Manuel Miranda and our producers. They definitely put it out now because they felt that the world needs theater. And it's dark. And to keep this, to covet this, to hoard this until it can go out onto the big screen, as originally planned, would not have been the right thing to do. This was about giving people access to what we think is so important, and that is theater. So, I'm grateful that they made that choice."
While the decision to release Hamilton on Disney+ was made before George Floyd's murder, it added another layer of significance, she continued. "They didn't know that we would take this time to try to activate our government, and activate our communities to live up to the promises that we pledge allegiance to. But that also is a miracle, because baked into the formula of Hamilton is the opportunity to really question what we were founded on and ask ourselves ‘Are we living up to it?’ Hamilton really is a gateway into making those kinds of demands from ourselves, from our families, and from our country," she said.
"It’s really a perfect time to give the gift of the theater, and also challenge all of us to ask ourselves these questions, and celebrate what's good about our country and what needs to be better about our country.”