If you’re reading this, chances are Dawn Richard was one of your faves from the 2000s girl group Danity Kane. With songs like Show Stopper and Damaged, denying DK and Dawn their rightful praise would be unjust.
Since then, the singer-songwriter has been making a music and fashion footprint all her own in electropop music while embracing her New Orleans culture. Since her career launch on Diddy’s “Making The Band 3” in 2004, the former Dirty Money member has excelled in her own lane as an artist who incorporates southern swag, good ole New Orleans bounce with a hint of feminine sway in her artistry and eye-popping personal style.
“You can see the progression of a young girl that had it in her but didn’t have anyone to help cultivate it to me figuring it out,” the U songstress revealed to us about her style journey that began back in her “Making The Band” days. “Now with my albums and the way in which I choose to love fashion is through the lens of my culture which is New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians and pushing the edge of androgyny.”
We got real with the New Orleans native about her style evolution since her girl group days, the cultural significance of wearing a hand-sewn headdress for her new breed cover while walking with her Washitaw tribe, and her biggest style and makeup regrets in the early 2000s.
On her personal style evolution since her Danity Kane days:
“I always knew that I was a little bit edgy and against the grain. I didn’t mean to be that way but that’s how I always was. Even when I dressed with Danity Kane, I could see that I was always just a little bit untraditional. I remember our first photo shoot we did. We were all in these different outfits, had a blue background behind us and the girls were all so soft. Not [D. Woods] though – she was able to have her own ill look which was dope. I remember they put me in this L.A.M.B. Gwen Stefani dress and I was like, ‘I know for a fact that a Black girl would not pick this Gwen Stefani L.A.M.B. dress.’ I always knew that I was gonna be a little bit off-kilter with it and at first I didn’t know how to cultivate that because I was in a predominantly white group with a Black girl that wasn’t traditional. When I say traditional, I didn’t have a thick body. I was thin and I had been dancing in the NBA so I had a dancer’s body. I was edgier in the sense that I didn’t really have the softer side of things. I was completely unaware of how to cultivate the fashion that I had in my head and how I saw it.
As time has progressed, I’ve started to sit in it more and more and love it. I’ve always had the love of New Orleans, head dresses and costumes. I didn’t get a chance to really funnel it right because I didn’t have support but as I got into Diddy Dirty Money and working with Marni [Senofonte], I got into other stuff. Opportunities got bigger, the checks got bigger and I was able to play with it more. By the time I became indie, fashion really became a passion of mine especially when incorporating New Orleans culture within it. A lot of the headdresses that I’ve worn, a lot of custom pieces that I’ve had made played towards that and I’ve been able to really cultivate my fashion into a statement that’s all my own. There has been a slow evolution, but it’s an evolution that has been had. I found my own lane and what works for me. There’s a literal ‘not a f*ck’ that I had before. When people tell you what you look like, you kind of get scared. I just kind of don’t give a f*ck anymore and it feels good to me. I’m rocking with it and my favorite thing to do in fashion is to stretch the line between reality and fantasy.
On her new breed cover art, embracing her Mardi Gras Indian culture and wearing a headdress sewn by Chief Montana himself:
“That was huge! It’s still very traditional that women are queens and our chiefs are men; there’s no in-between. I never think in that way and that’s why I was talking about fashion and the play between masculinity and femininity. I’m a Leo through and through and when I think of a Leo, I see both sides of the lioness and the lion. That edge and hardness that I have in me that I absolutely love, instead of shunning away from it, I’ve kind of embraced it as I got older. When I talked to Chief Montana, if I was going to say I’m a new breed, I wanted to do something that was completely untraditional – and my entire career has been unconventional and untraditional.
I wanted to create something that was unheard of. It’s never been done and I had some looks. Not all the tribes were happy because they prefer tradition and they’re older, but I just believe that it’s a new time and women can be kings. Men can be queens. We have to stop conforming people to whatever idea they think it is because we’re in a time of possibility. There is so much room to create something that hasn’t been done. Why are we still living in times of ‘what could’ve been’ and not creating ‘what could be’? Chief Montana did it and it was the coolest f*cking experience to be able to wear a chief’s headdress. Not only to wear it, but I was able to mask with it and walk with my tribe with my headdress on. No woman’s supposed to do that and all of the queens were like, ‘You weren’t supposed to do that,’ and I was like, ‘I don’t give a f*ck’ because there’s some young girl sitting around saying, ‘I don’t feel crazy and I could do that.’ You gotta set forth and take the risk.”
On early 2000s fashion and style regrets:
“Every f*cking day, girl! We all have them. I shouldn’t have worn the weave I wore, I shouldn’t have done the makeup choices but I also didn’t know. A lot of times the people doing our makeup weren’t ready to do our skin. A lot of times, I looked crazy in the makeup with too much makeup or the makeup was too dark. Hair was gnarly, weave wasn’t sewn, you could see the sew-in on the side – just crazy sh*t. Of course there are fashion traumas but I think that’s part of it. I’m never afraid of the regrets; I like the recovery and I want to learn from the regrets. I don’t mind failing. That’s what fashion is.”
On 2000s fashion trends she wants to make a comeback:
“I would love for fashion to go back to severe stories with each collection that comes out. I absolutely love what Pyer Moss did with the choir and the whole story behind the collection. In the 2000s, designers were really pushing forth some incredible presentations in fashion. What Alexander McQueen and Versace were doing in the 2000s and supermodels doing extreme stories where the runway was beyond belief. When Naomi was walking at her prime – we don’t have that anymore. Social media has made things so fast and accessible with getting content out that we’re losing the concepts. Designers had concepts and those concepts bled all the way through the year down to the models that they chose. Now you just see moments where nothing sticks anymore because content is moving so fast. I want to go back to a time where concepts created conversation in fashion and art.”
On fashion advice she would give young Dawn:
“B*tch, go for it. I was afraid. I had a lot of people tell me I was ugly, I was a tranny because I didn’t know how to wear things and look a certain way. It was my own peers, my own culture and there were a lot of Black people telling me I wasn’t pretty enough, I wasn’t ‘this’ enough, I wasn’t Black enough, I wasn’t white enough. I got super insecure about the choices I was making and it wasn’t until Diddy Dirty Money and given the reigns on who I was as a female that I was like, ‘Nah, f*ck that.’ I felt like I just blossomed when I was doing hairstyles, bold cuts and the bob that I had. I was taking hella risks. I shaved both sides of my head, I was bald on the side, I had a mohawk. I just went for it and I never gave a f*ck after that about what people thought whereas in the early beginning, I was deathly afraid because I couldn’t take the negativity of how badly I was being perceived in a predominately white group. I thought my peers would be better. It wasn’t kind and I was afraid to be fashionably who I wanted to be.”
On a piece of beauty advice that she’ll always carry with her:
“Don’t trust someone who can’t put on good foundation – ever. Never let someone touch your face who does not understand brown skin or brown hair. If they don’t have a hot stove, don’t trust it. If they don’t know what a hot comb looks like or they don’t have the colors in the palette and they’re not dark enough. If someone doing your makeup only has one foundation and not multiple colors because your sh*t mixes, nope, don’t do it.”