The Tastemaker: Ayanna James

Ayanna James is the costume director for one of television’s biggest shows. Yet despite outfitting Issa and Molly on HBO’s runaway hit Insecure, she says she won’t ever feel as if she has truly arrived. But she did feel pretty close when Ava DuVernay called to personally ask her to style Jay Z’s celebrity-filled, Black-excellence-themed “Family Feud” video last year.
“In 2013, I tweeted to the universe, ‘One day I want to work with Ava,’” she remembers. “Four years and one week later, I got that call. I dropped about 72 f-bombs after I got off the phone.”
The Jamaica-born stylist got her start when she began fashion blogging while studying biochemistry at Florida A&M. She assisted on shoots with artists like Jidenna and Usher before she joined the Insecure team in 2015. Now, she’s responsible for the main characters’ equal parts playful and statement-making looks, which include everything from an A Different World tribute tee to Issa’s iconic N-word sweatshirt, created by Omondi, an indie New York brand run by Kenyan-American designer Recho Omondi.
James mainly chooses looks from Black designers — and that’s on purpose.
“There are so many talented designers of color who don’t have the platform to promote their designs,” she says. “They’re not represented on the red carpet or in films enough, so this is my little way of creating a segue for some of them to break through. Plus, most of what I see in malls or department stores is so boring. Insecure would look like every other show on television if I didn’t aggressively seek out designers of color. This is our show.”
Black Is The New Black is Refinery29’s celebration of 20 Black women who kicked down doors in their fields this past year. Black women who are reminding the world that we are not a trend or “a moment.” We’re here — and we’ve been here. Check out the full list.