Bryam Villacres Pictures
Clothing / Styling by Dominic Ciambrone, Surgeon + Nahmias
Assistant stylist: Christian Ferreti
Key makeup by Dominique Lerma
There is not a child alive with blank textbooks. 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 sketching and doodling. While most people’s efforts were rewarded with an afternoon of scouring whiteboards in detention, Byrd’s doodles left a lasting impression on his school.
“In fifth grade, I told my elementary school (Crescent Heights Elementary in Los Angeles) that their logo was weak,” says Byrd. “Those are my exact words. This logo sucks. Then I continued to hand draw new graphics. I have always been in the unit, the community, the tribe. I have always been in touch with spirituality even as a young child and the logo turned out to be a drawing of a young me holding up the whole world with all my friends, homies, helping behind me.
“It’s a crazy true story, but I picked up my nephew the other day, who is 5 years old and attends the same school,” she continues. “They kept the logo! It was on his uniform patch. Now I didn’t get credit for it [laughs]. But that’s when I knew I was taken seriously. In 10 years. That’s when I got into branding and graphics.
It’s one thing to be upset with 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 doesn’t remember the old logo exactly, but at age 10 she knew deep down that it didn’t fit the environment she was learning in.
“I grew up in downtown Los Angeles,” she says. “I went to school with Korean kids, Indian kids, Mexican kids. I looked at this logo and thought it didn’t reflect me and my rainbow tribe. It didn’t make me feel good. Seeing this art made me feel something, and that’s when I knew what I wanted to feel.
From her earliest days, Byrd has been attuned to her surroundings, allowing everything she experiences to seep into her personal creativity. It may have started with his grandmother’s eclectic sense of style and affinity for Asian furniture, as Byrd credits time in his home growing up as an influence on his favorite color palettes.
Everything was thrown into the hyperdrive when she arrived in New York to attend St. John’s University. At St. John’s, Byrd earned a degree in theology, a feat that seems out of place on the face of it, but makes perfect 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 pursue her fashion dreams, and inspired by every inch of the five boroughs, she did.
Byrd’s talent was there from the start – a teacher once told her that her creativity was “the only gift she had”, in a somewhat devious compliment – and when she was thrown into a new environment, she blossomed.
“I feel like New York is a special place,” says Byrd. “This [essence] reflected in art and fashion over 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 strange beauty to overstimulating everything.
“To an artist’s mind, this overstimulation makes you like a child saying, ‘Look at this! Look at this!’ She continues, “All of these different vibes offer 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 his very recent return to New York, people tend to live in a bubble. It is 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 side, and getting around in a car is a whole different ballgame than taking the subway. Sure, the weather is good, but the lifestyle has deprived Byrd of one of his most beloved activities, one essential to his personal style.
“I like people watching,” she explains. “Seeing people’s street style is hugely inspiring. You can see a grandpa outfit and think, “I really like how those pants fall on those New Balance, I like that.” Or see a businesswoman and the energy with which her heels hit the concrete. It’s a different vibe, you’re a warrior! And it’s super inspiring.
Given his penchant 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 switch off and gain some peace was difficult until she was introduced to meditation around the age of 12, so the concept of cultivating quiet spaces is very important to her. .
This can be seen in the spaces she creates for herself, both by keeping the elements she surrounds herself with and by designing furniture. Most people may not consciously consider the overall flow and vibe of their living space, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t constantly thinking about it.
“That’s why people are afraid to go on vacation or why they want to leave their house,” she explains. “What doesn’t do you good about your house?” You will do the same when you go to a more beautiful place. When you design a space to be comfortable and visually appealing, no matter how tasteful it affects our mood. If your room is painted black, it creates a much darker mood than yellows or pinks. Seeing how it affects our mental health was my personal reason for getting into furniture design. Spatial design is huge to me.
You could say that there is no more important space to feel comfortable than your own skin. This is why fashion and style play such an important role in our lives. And what is a tattoo if not a fashion that you can’t remove?
Byrd’s tattoo journey began when she was 16 and she had a 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 great precautions to hide the piece—her mother was on board with the decision from the start.
“My mom was always super cool,” she laughs. “She was the hashtag cool mom in high school. She always allowed me to be myself. I wanted my ears pierced all the way to the top of the cartilage, my hair had been dyed since I was in fifth grade, the tattoo was a natural ‘What happens next?’ She said she’d rather me get a tattoo than a piercing, so I opted for the tattoo.
As someone who often finds herself in front of the camera as a model in addition to behind-the-scenes creative direction, Byrd has heard it all from people saying she should avoid getting tattoos. That she won’t be able to find a job. That no brand will hire her if she’s tattooed. Following the mantra of that first ink, Byrd remained faithful.
“I never wanted to fit in with anything, it always freaked me out,” she says. “I got my hands tattooed when I was 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 that I don’t know how to model, but I have a multitude of modeling contracts. I know it will work, so I create my own reality from that perspective. I love art and couldn’t imagine not having tattoos because it leads to living in a more artistic way.
Byrd certainly lives his life artfully, with an emphasis on “living.” While people collect designer clothes or expensive sneakers, many see shopping in the sense of buying art rather than just buying clothes. But these items weren’t meant to be put on a shelf, they were meant to be worn.
“I spend money on my clothes wear them,” she says. “If it gets dirty, yeah, it sucks, you can clean it. And if you can’t, that makes the story more interesting. I feel like in the age of Instagram influencer content, a lot of people dress strictly for photos, but there’s still nothing better than going to dinner in an outfit that you make effort. It feels good.”
Byrd won’t make an exception for the pair of sneakers gifted to him by this issue’s guest creative director, Dominic Ciambrone, a custom Travis Scotts pair with snakeskin. “It’s my new favorite pair of sneakers, it’s crazy,” she exclaims. “I’m going to carry them into the ground. I know a lot of people buy a pair of shoes from Dom and put them on the wall, but the art is that they are shoes. They have functionality and the art is in how you put it together. Art is how people perceive them.
Art and creativity seep into every aspect of Brittany Byrd’s life. She uses her gift to shape the world around her into a place she wants to be while drawing inspiration from all the good things around her. Many yearn to live shrewdly; Brittany Byrd is one of the few who really does.