Al Malonga | The_ONES
The Style Files:
The Parisian Fashion Stylist Outfitting Artists in Brooklyn
Six years ago Al Malonga of Wardrobe Breakdown traded Paris for NYC, specifically Dumbo, Brooklyn, where she’s been, in a magical garage-converted-to-loft situation, ever since. “I moved for a change of scenery,” she says. “It seemed like NYC was a better fit for my personality and the way I approach my professional life.”
A stylist and costume designer by trade (and “vintage junkie” at heart), Malonga has outfitted a diverse mix of musicians, actors, and models for projects that span from the silver screen to the printed page. She also steps in as a personal shopper for individual clients whether an artist in need of a bold look for a live show, or a boss babe in need of a wardrobe refresh.
But it’s her own personal style—fresh, effortless, and eclectic with no color too bright and no pattern too bold—that we wanted to document as she does on her Instagram account. “It takes me five minutes to get dressed every morning,” Malonga says. “And I never repeat an outfit. I’d bore myself if I were the type to wear a uniform. I want to be a different person every day.”
To capture one of Malonga’s never-to-be-seen-again looks, we teamed up with photographer Julia Parris to shoot Malonga in her element: an empty lot-turned-park covered in abstract murals where she herself shoots frequently. Then we chatted about finding your own style, the evolution of Dumbo, and her favorite places to thrift.
Talk to us about New York vs Paris style.
Al Malonga: “In Paris everybody is well dressed, but a little uniform and a little safe. Whereas in NYC, self-expression is everything and fashion is generally so much more diverse and daring.”
How would you define your personal style?
AM: “Eclectic and versatile. A mix of genres that depends on the mood of the day: It can be colorful or all-black, minimalist or loudly patterned, a little bit hip-hop streetwear or a little bit Afrocentric or a little bit British punk rock. A lot of unique vintage pieces and a lot of ‘flatform’ shoes and accessories worn in ways other than how they were intended. And my style is always comfortable as I am a ‘former’ tomboy.”
And this is why you’re such a Stan Smith fan, right?
AM: “I have a love affair with Stans because they are so comfy. I basically shop for a living and even though people think it’s so glamorous, it can be pretty tedious and painful when you’re shopping 12 hours a day. I’m always on the move, always running around carrying heavy bags. I’m a bag lady by trade. So there is no wearing uncomfortable shoes. There is no wearing heels. They don’t go with my life. Stans for me are so timeless—they go with everything. I can get away with looking stylish and at the same time being very practical and comfortable.”
How do you like to wear them?
AM: “I do them with dresses, with shorts, with jeans; whatever look I have on, I can throw on the Stans and it’ll still work. And I think they’re perfect when they’re a little lived in. As soon as the stitches get a little bit dirty and darker, you can actually see the shape of the shoe. I also tuck in my laces because I don’t like them flopping around and coming undone. Sometimes I tuck them behind the tongue, then I never need to undo them. That’s also my thing: Not making my shoelaces too tight so I can just slip my sneakers on and off. That’s the goal.”
“It takes me five minutes to get dressed every morning. And I never repeat an outfit. I’d bore myself if I were the type to wear a uniform. I want to be a different person every day.”
—stylist, Al Malonga
How do you pull together a look?
AM: “I don’t feel like I consciously pull ideas from anything in particular. But I love living in NYC because it’s inspiring at all times. People-watching is great, especially in Brooklyn. I mean it’s style porn for me. In the morning, I generally just go to my closet, and I’m like, ‘Oh, I like this shirt, I forgot about this shirt, how am I going to wear it?’ And then I wrap a few things around it and there we go. And it’s never going to be the same outfit twice. I never repeat outfits.”
Do you have a favorite color?
AM: “In all honesty I do not. I think of my style as a blank canvas and I want to be able to use all the colors.”
Do you have any advice for someone struggling to find their own style?
AM: “First shop your own closet! A lot of people forget to do this. If someone hires me for a makeover, first I identify their patterns. People fall into the same patterns all the time. They’ll show me a blouse and say they usually wear it with this skirt. I’ll ask if they ever wear it differently. And they’re like no. Then we go shopping. That’s the second step. Then the third step is going back and pairing their new things with the old things we didn’t discard on the first meeting, and showing them all the different ways they can wear them together. If you want to do this on your own, there are so many ideas available to you—there are style blogs, there’s Pinterest, there’s Tumblr—and you can start by copying looks and finding your own touch.”
So how long have you lived here in Dumbo?
AM: “Six years. When I first moved to Dumbo, it felt like it was still a little bit of a secret gem. Like not everybody knew about it. Some cab drivers didn’t know where to go when I said Dumbo. It was still just a lot of empty warehouses and factory buildings and empty lots. Now it’s much more built up.”
What’s your apartment like?
AM: “I’m right at the edge of Dumbo and Vinegar Hill, where there are a few blocks of cobblestones. The resistance basically—since a lot of modern high-end condos have been built around here recently. It’s really cute with small houses owned by people who have been there for a long time. And I’ve been in the same space the entire time I’ve lived here. It’s a garage converted into a loft and we have a costume shop and studio inside—everything we need. We even have a backyard. It’s very hidden and very tucked away.”
That sounds like the dream! How did you find it?
AM: “On my first trip to New York eight or nine years ago, I met the fairy who lives there. When I moved back here for good, I reached out to the few friends I’d kept in touch with and she was like, ‘sure, move in!’”
You shop for a living. Describe your closet to us.
AM: “It’s a small walk-in closet—sort of a mini hallway that I added shelves and bars to. And it’s pretty organized because there’s so much stuff in it. In it, things are organized by style: long-sleeved with long-sleeved, short-sleeved with short, skirts, shirts, pants, sweaters, cardigans, and so forth.”
Care to share a couple of your favorite NYC thrift stores?
AM: “You need to start in Brooklyn, and hit all the different locations of the L Train Vintage stores.”
Where do you like to hang in your neighborhood?
AM: “Mainly I love Dumbo for the waterfront. My main hang is Brooklyn Bridge Park, where I walk my dog regularly. It has the best view of Manhattan and has parks, benches, art, sculptures, and a carousel. I also go to Superfine every now and again. It’s a great restaurant and bar, with a pool table and a little stage in the back. It’s the neighborhood bar that everyone goes to, and if you say Dumbo, it’s generally the only bar people know about.”
Why does the park in which we shot you have a soft spot in your heart?
AM: “I’m very comfortable and familiar with it—it’s like a landmark of my neighborhood. It’s basically an empty lot where locals come to play soccer and baseball on the weekends. But it’s really colorful; the Peace and Justice mural was painted by Obey Giant many years ago, though I don't know who painted the ground. I live three blocks away and I use this lot to shoot pictures because of all the colors (I’ve taken a lot of #shoesoftheday pics on this floor).”
What’s your approach to documenting your outfits?
AM: “I don’t force it. There’s no calculation behind what I wear. Whatever I’m wearing that day is it. I don’t really do selfies, so if I’m with someone I know and I see a cool background—whatever neighborhood I’m in, wherever I am—I’m like, I want a picture right there. And I’ll set up the shot and decide what I want in the frame and give them the phone and all they have to do is press the button. It doesn’t happen everyday, but if there’s somebody there to shoot the look and if I find a background that I like—great. And if I’m not with anyone that look will never be documented and it’s OK.”
“And I think [Stans are] perfect when they’re a little lived in. As soon as the stitches get a little bit dirty and darker, you can actually see the shape of the shoe.”
—stylist, Al Malonga
The stylist is all about “flatforms” with outfit-spanning style she can pair with skirts, shorts, slacks and everything in between.
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