Breakfast with Marni Senofonte, LA-based super-stylist to Beyoncé and Kendall Jenner, was never going to be a slice of toast. She emerges from the lift lobby in her smart Mayfair hotel, hugs me, finds us a corner table, takes off her sunglasses, hails a waitress and orders as follows: an almond milk cappuccino, a double-shot espresso, a cup of ice, some turkey bacon (“Very, very burnt, please”), a baguette with butter, mashed avocado on rye toast and fresh pineapple juice.
When the drinks arrive, Senofonte stirs two sugar cubes into the cappuccino, takes a sip and puts the cup down in its saucer, never to be touched again. A few moments later, she inquires after the double-shot espresso, which turns out to have gone into the cappuccino when she wanted it on the side. The double shot appears, and Senofonte pours it over the ice. Now she needs a straw. This arrives, along with the turkey bacon and the avocado toast, but the bacon isn’t crisp enough, so it goes back. Senofonte cuts the avocado toast into tiny pieces, pushes them around the plate, but doesn’t eat any. The turkey bacon reappears, crispier, but still not crisp enough. “That’s OK,” she says cheerfully. “I don’t really need to eat this stuff, I just need to smell it in the morning.” She picks up a shard of the bacon in her pointed fingernails and waves it around like a cigarette for the rest of our conversation. By now, our table is almost collapsing under the piled-up plates, but the only thing Senofonte consumes is the double-shot espresso, which she inhales through the straw in one gulp. “That’s the only part I really need,” she explains. “The cappuccino, that’s only there to make me look like an adult.”
Senofonte does breakfast the way she does everything: attention-grabbing, high-energy, ultra-perfectionist while flirting with crazy. That’s her vibe, even at 7.45am. After the visual spectacular of Beyoncé’s Lemonade album, the arresting Black Panther imagery of last year’s Super Bowl performance, a pregnancy-reveal Instagram post that became global breaking news, Beyoncé is now not only significant as a music artist, but also one of the most powerful visual influencers in contemporary culture. That makes Senofonte, who has been central to Beyoncé’s styling team since Lemonade, near as dammit the Anna Wintour of the social media age, in terms of the dominion she wields over what we want to wear. Those puff sleeves that are everywhere now, for example, may have begun on the catwalk, but took off when Senofonte made them a visual refrain in Lemonade. “I go into Topshop or Zara now and it’s all pouffy sleeves, and I’m like, we were doing that two years ago!” she says, delighted. “Tim White, who is Beyoncé’s tailor, and the whole wardrobe department literally wanted to kill me with all the pouffy sleeves I kept asking for. And now look! I’m so validated.”
The addition to her client roster of Kardashian-dynasty supermodel Kendall Jenner represents Senofonte’s expansion beyond music and into fashion, introducing Jenner’s 83m Instagram followers to her style. Today, however, she is in London as an emissary from the court of Beyoncé. In seven months’ time, Beyoncé will perform at Coachella music festival, and the scale of the Beyoncé machine is such that the advance organisation necessary more closely resembles that for a state visit than for a mere stage performance. For the designers who dream of dressing Beyoncé, Senofonte is her woman on Earth; her schedule while in London for meetings about Coachella, and Beyoncé’s athleisure brand Ivy Park, is packed. An initial plan for us to go shopping together had to be abandoned in favour of an early breakfast. The night before we meet, I get another text that seems to want to cancel me altogether, but turns out to be for her personal trainer, sent to me by accident. “We’re good! Come early as you like!!” she clarifies by text as I am going to bed. (She is the same on WhatsApp as she is IRL: big on exclaimers, short on full stops.) In the morning, the phone buzzes again with texts sent overnight (“can’t wait to see you!”).
As a stylist to Beyoncé – and before her, Lauryn Hill and P Diddy, among others – Senofonte has had a long career already, but “in music, not fashion. That’s where I wanted to be, because I always felt like music influences fashion more than the other way around.” After decades when music was “sort of looked down upon” by the fashion elite, the emergence of sophisticated, multilayered aesthetics such as the one Senofonte has helped Beyoncé build has turned the tables. The world’s voracious appetite for fashion content can no longer be satisfied by the politesse of the catwalk. Rihanna in an omelette-yellow dress at the Met Gala, Taylor Swift in a bath of jewels, Beyoncé standing her ground in a burning house in a high-necked Victorian lace gown: these are fashion moments with the stadium-sized power to hold our attention.
Senofonte doesn’t just pick out Beyoncé’s outfits, she helps craft her iconography. For the singer’s most recent birthday, a roll call of her famous friends, including Michelle Obama and Serena Williams, were photographed wearing the wide-brim hat, braids and necklace that made up one of Lemonade’s key looks. Like a Warhol screenprint of Monroe or Elvis, the group portrait has a style that transcends the glamour of even the most famous sitter.
Senofonte is a new type of stylist for a new era of fashion. Case in point: she hasn’t worn black for 20 years, since she was a styling assistant in New York. “Twenty years ago, when I was working for Norma Kamali, she did a ban on black one season. I haven’t worn a piece of black clothing since. I don’t have a black pair of socks or pants.” Not allowing herself the safety net of black “shaped my clothing identity”, Senofonte says. She has carved out a bold aesthetic that is perfect for 2017, when “there are so many visuals out there that you have to be really extreme – almost comical – to separate yourself. And it’s relentless. If I style a great outfit for a client these days, we don’t save it for a big event. We put it on Instagram right away and then I go figure out another one.”
“Tomboy, sexy, athletic” is how Senofonte describes her own look. “I don’t exude the sexiness so much. It’s sort of in me,” she says, which sounds like an annoying statement written down but isn’t, somehow. Senofonte is wearing Vetements graffiti trainers and grey Champion sweatpants; she says these were “like, $40, so I bought five pairs and cut some of them off to turn them into skirts”, a statement that I don’t even understand, but it’s too late, because she’s moved on to tell me about her jacket, which seems to feature abstract globe artichokes, but it’s hard to tell when both the jacket and a navy plaid shirt are tied around her waist, giving her silhouette a sort of streetwear-vibe bustle. On top, she wears a navy and white striped T-shirt with a strip of fake fur along each sleeve: I would have said Fendi, but it turns out to be Zara. She is in her 40s, I would guess, with glowy LA skin and the kind of body that doesn’t often skip training sessions. There is much to look at, but mostly I am staring at her eyelashes. They are extensions (I think), but instead of the Love Island furry-spider kind, Senofonte has on each eye maybe seven or eight fine, extremely long lashes that accentuate her bone structure. I didn’t even know this look was a thing until five minutes ago, and now I want it. That’s styling for you.
Senofonte worked in various roles for Kamali – sales assistant, public relations, personal assistant – until a chance encounter brought the realisation that she wanted to be a stylist. “So one day Puff Daddy’s babymama, Misa [Hylton Brim], walks in. She’s a stylist, and she looks like she’s just stepped out of a music video: black girl, blond girl, stacks of cash. And straight away I’m like: I love you. She introduced me to the urban hip-hop world.”
Not long after, Senofonte selected Kamali looks for a Salt-N-Pepa appearance; they loved them so much that Senofonte left her job and went on the road, styling their tour. Lauryn Hill came next, followed by the occasional Beyoncé job. It was a strong, solid, below-the-radar styling career until two years ago, when a broken-off engagement coincided with her promotion to the inner circle of Beyoncé’s team. “The timing was insane. Lemonade came at a time when life was like, pelting lemons at me, you know? The last two years have been incredible. The Super Bowl, Lemonade, Formation, award shows. Just the sheer amount of content. And in that time Beyoncé has had two babies, which is insane.”
Being Beyoncé’s stylist is tricky, because the iconography of Beyoncé is that her beauty comes from within, that her glow is innate. Beyoncé is not a fashion plate, she is a goddess. Logically, we know the image-making behind a visual album such as Lemonade must be the work of a team of creatives, but its power derives from the belief that it comes from a single soul. Senofonte starts to stumble over her words, on this subject. “I don’t like to talk too much about Beyoncé personally, because… I guess I am protective. I would never want to say anything about her that could be misconstrued. It’s her story.”
The pregnancy photo Senofonte styled is off limits – “It’s too personal” – a surprising take on a photo with 11m likes. “I don’t want to talk about the big moments in her life. I don’t want to take away from her narrative.”
While she “wouldn’t presume to speak” for Beyoncé, Lemonade was “a continuation of what Beyoncé has always stood for, which is empowering women. That’s where I come from.” Senofonte’s grandmother was head pattern cutter at a Diane von Furstenberg factory in the Pennsylvania town where she grew up, “plus she made everyone’s wedding gowns, she made dinner every night, she had five sons, she fixed the roof. Whatever needed to be done, she figured it out. I am my grandmother. That’s where I come from and that’s why I’m drawn to amazing, strong women.”
Some of Senofonte’s most powerful looks in Lemonade came in the visual landscaping of its racial politics. “I would hate to put my meaning on it, because that’s not my place. You listen to the words of a song and what it means to you is what it means to you. That’s art. But we were on a plantation with Beyoncé and all these beautiful African American women, and I said, what if these women owned the plantation? What if they were in, like, Givenchy haute couture? Wouldn’t that be amazing? For me, those women were like Beyoncé in another era. Because if Beyoncé was on this plantation, you just know she’d be walking round in fricking couture. Right?”
Kim Kardashian, an old friend, passed on Senofonte’s phone number to her model sister Kendall Jenner earlier this year. “The thing I love about Kendall and these new models is, they are like the 90s supermodels. They finish a shoot and walk out on to the street where the paparazzi are in a full look and with all their makeup on, and just own it. They are like little rock stars.”
Along with Gigi Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski, Jenner is one of a new crop of young models whose personal style is pored over by teenage fans. “All those girls have a strong game so, in a nice way, it’s like style wars, on the street.” Jenner, Senofonte says, has a real fashion eye: “She loves to shop vintage. And not just the pretty, curated, expensive vintage stores. I mean the ones where you have to dig, you know? And I love that even though she has this insane body, so basically she can wear anything, she understands and appreciates tailoring. But mainly I like that she’s grounded and so chill, and always organised and on time. She’s a good kid.”
Speaking of which, I have to ask, obviously. What’s Beyoncé, you know, really like? “She’s this… amazing talent. And all I can say about her personally is that she’s the hardest working human being I have ever met. Like, hands down, in my whole life. She’s unbelievable. She really is what everyone thinks she is. Isn’t that, like, crazy?”
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