Get To Know The Secret Weapon Behind Serena Williams' Style

Kesha McLeod is all about reinvention. The New York native has made a name for herself dressing some of the world’s most powerful bodies — Serena Williams, anyone? McLeod got her start working retail, which helped her craft her fashion sense and solidified that she “really enjoyed putting clothes on people,” as she tells Refinery29. And so she set out to find a way to do just that. Now she’s a veteran stylist with more than 11 years experience, working with the biggest names in entertainment and sports.

She studied Fashion Merchandising at Katherine Gibbs, and interned at a sports agency in New Jersey where her she got her start assisting Lebron James’ stylist. From there, McLeod continued to work her her way up, even spending time working in the music industry. “Most people don’t know that was my start, but it wasn’t what I enjoyed most,” McLeod explains. “With entertainers, a lot of [how someone is styled] goes into how the public, the record label, or manager receives you,” she says, adding it never felt authentic because “you were always creating, you know, a different persona, a different personality.”

Eventually, she started phasing out of working with singers and into athletes, and she became known for “finding the right pieces [for athletes] with necks bigger than the average person, who were taller, or wore a size 17 shoe.” She adds, “they came to me because they knew that I could handle it.” For McLeod, it was a challenge to be able to complete each look. She says the fun of working with an athlete is letting people embrace who they are. “You see these men and these women who’ve been on fields and in courts in uniforms, like Serena Williams. She’s a force on the court, but you meet her and she’s all about (the color) pink and women empowerment. That’s a vibe I love to play with and bring out in her.”

The self-described “visual architect” has also worked with Vernon Davis, Chris Bosh, Serge Ibaka, James Harden, Amar’e Stoudemire, Ne-Yo, Rick Ross, and Venus Williams. Her work goes beyond personal styling, and her talents have been called upon by brands like Nike, New Era, Gatorade, and even Parkwood Entertainment. But she still prefers to work one-on-one. “With an athlete, I can get on the phone with the person who will lead the creative direction.” For McLeod, it’s important to “have that person-to-person conversation,” no matter who they are.

“With Serena, I’ll WhatsApp her, or text her or FaceTime her and say hey, we have x, y, and z next week, what are we doing for this? I’m not talking to her agent or her assistant unless it's to schedule something,” she says of working with the tennis star. “It’s a partnership, so it’s 50/50.” This year, McLeod even got to work with Williams on some of her most monumental fashion moments, like showing off her pregnancy at the 2016 Met Gala. “It was amazing, because that was the first time she debuted her [pregnant body] so it was a whole surreal experience, getting her dressed, watching the whole process, it was new for both of us,” she explains.

“I’ve dressed pregnant women before, but it was her, someone I’ve grown with and watched for [almost] eight years, and now she’s having a baby and needed to do this whole styling reveal moment, so it was amazing.” The stylist also worked with Williams on her wedding. On Instagram, she shared a photo of the wedding party, writing, “beyond honored to be asked to work on such an important day to you @serenawilliams. Months in the making and to finally watch it come together brought tears in my eyes when getting everyone dressed.”

As for what’s next, McLeod doesn’t look toward trends disrupting the fashion industry, instead, she’s looking at emerging talent. “I love the rookie athletes. They inspire me to keep reinventing myself and making things better, new, and fresh. I don’t want to stay the same person all my life, I want to find a way to reinvent myself as well, so watching someone else deal with a different evolution is what gets me going. I think everyone’s self-expression pushes me to open up different lanes and take more risks.”