For this year’s Emmys, “When They See Us” actress Isis King found herself in a bit of a predicament. While she knew she would be attending the after-parties, she hadn’t planned on attending the actual event, until she got a call days before the awards show.
“Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD asked me to attend the Emmys with her. I was excited, but I didn’t have anything to wear for it!” King told HelloBeautiful.
So what was she do? First, she was out of town in Iowa for the 2019 LGBTQ Presidential Forum, her stylist was out of commission and her schedule was packed, so spending time shopping for a new dress and getting it fitted just wasn’t going to work.
Looking at pictures of her gorgeous gown, she did something to look so good. What was her secret? Well, last week on social media, the transgender actress shared she did what she does best: Made it work.
“People have asked about my #Emmys dress. My stylist couldn’t pull threw in time so I altered the gown on the left that I already had. Cut the top off, added straps, added pleats to create a stiff ruffle-esque foundation at knee, and added tulle. Most was hand work btw!” she captioned on Instagram.
Adding, “Haven’t had time to be in a designing mood lately, but sometimes you have to pull out your skills. I would never usually alter something already made because I’m pretty cocky about my designing craft, but sometimes you have to work magic! You can take the girl from designing, but you can’t take designing from the girl. Can’t believe I’ve been a Fashion Designer for 20 years WOWWWW.”
We sat down with Isis, the first trans model to compete on America’s Next Top Model, to talk about how she pulled this dress together last minute, her acting debut on Ava DuVernay’s limited series When They See Us and shining at the Emmys with her trans sisters.
HelloBeautiful: Girl, your dress was stunning. How did you pull this off?
Isis King: It was all last minute! I wanted to have something with sequins and pulled some fabric to make a new dress, but realized I didn’t have the time to make something from scratch. So I looked in my closet, pulled this dress out and I was like OK I can work with this.
HB: Walk us through the process.
IK: [Long story short], I knew the chiffon straps had to come off, so I added a strap to give me some support. Then I looked at the bottom of the dress and started folding and pleating it to picture what it would look like. And it looked really cool, couture-like, but I had to add some comfortable fabric underneath because with all the parties afterward, it didn’t want to be itchy all night. [Laughs] So I added some tulle, sewing each layer, which I did by hand. And there we go!
HB: Wow! How long did it take?
IK: Well, with the strap breaking the needles a few times and me working with fabrics I hadn’t worked with before, it took me maybe four hours altogether.
HB: The response to your post was huge. Did you expect that?
IK: I was really shocked because I have way before Top Model, I was a designer and over the years I have posted plenty of my designs and it didn’t get the same attention. But when I posted this dress, people were loving it! And I am like, this is great, but also, I can do way more than just altering!
HB: Honestly, when I saw a picture of you and Niecy Nash [who played your mother in When They See Us], I knew she was wearing Christian Siriano. So looking at you side-by-side, I thought you were wearing him as well!
IK: It’s funny because when Niecy saw me she said, “Like mother, like daughter!”
HB: What an amazing night for “When They See Us,” especially Jharrel Jerome who played your brother. My heart almost stopped when Angela Bassett opened the envelope and then I saw the look of relief on her face, I just knew he had won. What was the atmosphere in the auditorium like when his name was called?
IK: It was electric! I stood up for both Jharrel and Billy Porter [who won Lead Actor In A Drama Series for Pose]. The night before, I saw both of them at a party and told them to get their speeches ready. They both laughed, but here we are! It was so amazing to be there and see their wins in person.
Also, to be on set with Jharrel, watching him and acting with him, especially our scenes together of him playing a teen and adult Korey Wise and me as Marci Wise, his trans sister, it was amazing to witness. He’s such a brilliant actor.
HB: Well, you’re pretty good too Isis. You held your own in those scenes with Niecy and Jharrel.
IK: Why thank you! I’ve been acting for 10 years before this and this was my big first role! I have been craving a role that was more than just being the pretty trans woman. I wanted to be a real character and have an opportunity to show what I’m capable of. I was clear [when I read the script] that I am ready for this. Once I got cast and got on set, I just wanted to make Ava proud.
HB: There were scenes when you played Norman, Marci before her transition. Being a trans woman was that at all triggering?
IK: You know what? No. When I was in the make-up, I was OK. I even asked Ava if I could have sideburns because I have never had that before. They even added hair to my lip and I bound my chest, (which gave me so much respect for those who do bind.) I was able to walk the streets of Harlem as Norman and no one knew who I was!
I was in disguise, really acting. And for the first time, I was doing something different as an actress. It wasn’t triggering, more like exhilarating.
IK: Amazing. It was a great night to be with them and Dominique Jackson (Elektra from Pose), we go way back to the ballroom scene. And Janet [Mock], we’ve been girlfriends since 2011, and Angelica Ross, who’ve I known since 2009. So to be there, hug one another and celebrate us was very special. There was something very powerful to be trans women in our really cool garb and our sunkissed skin and to know that we BELONGED there.
And I look forward to more of these moments when we can hold those statues, and have more stories [with trans leads] outside of Pose. That time is coming.
HB: Finally, what’s next for you?
IK: So much. Last month, I walked the Savage x Fenty at New York Fashion Week, which was a dream come true. Rihanna told me my walk was fine and I literally froze up. [Laughs]. I am also going to be doing some more ads for Gabrielle Union’s “I’m Perfect” New York & Company Collection too. That, and auditioning for roles, taking those meetings and working on some influencer projects.
Sometimes it feels like I’m playing catch up. it’s been 11 years since Top Model and I see that now they do want to hear my voice. So the takeover continues. It’s slow, but I am planting my seeds and being positive about my journey. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
This interview had been edited for length and clarity.