If you've scoped a video by Beyoncé, Solange, Rihanna, Snoop, or Gaga (the list goes on and on) in the last five years, chances are, one ferociously chic woman was leading the team behind the lens. We're talking about director Melina Matsoukas. This inspiring woman has an eye that's earned her platinum status among music's elite — and, after making her acquaintance, we're officially drinking the Kool-Aid. Donning bonkers-in-the-best-way outfits and copping a "I don't give an F" attitude, the statuesque beauty is a force to be reckoned with.
Fresh off of a Grammy win for Rihanna's "We Found Love," the visionary agreed to invite us inside her killer DTLA loft (and closet!). Plus, she gave us the inside scoop on near-death moments and a few hilarious stories that involve our favorite couple in the biz (keep reading…). And, since graphics make her world go round, she rocked five glorious, avant-garde ensembles for your viewing pleasure, too. After peeping our vivid tour, you'll see why this genius is a total chart-topper!
Photographed by Lani Trock
Did you watch TRL and VH1 back in the day and know directing videos was your calling?
"I definitely was an MTV baby, but it wasn't until college when I figured out I wanted to be in film and videos. I started in photography as a kid, and when I got to NYU I just thought it was a natural progression and a way for me to speak to the world. With music videos, I felt like I could be extremely experimental with my art and have fun at the same time. I just love them."
Melina greeted us in a Maison Martin Margiela necklace, Alexander Wang top, Acne skirt, Visvim jacket, vintage fur collar, and Christian Louboutin shoes.
What projects are you currently working on?
"It's important for me as an artist to challenge myself and to continue to grow my body of work into different genres. My foundation is videos and commercials, but I'm beginning to dabble in still work and video-installation pieces. I've been searching for my first film for over a year now. It's a tedious process that involves a lot of reading and developing, but hopefully it will start to manifest itself. I would love to do a film that has a strong character-based story and is intimate, artful, and provocative in some way. I haven't found the exact story that speaks to me yet, but I'm definitely on the hunt."
A great first impression, right?
Music videos like "Upgrade U" were co-directed by the artist (Beyoncé in this case) — how do you balance the work?
"With her, it's a special collaboration. By now we understand each other greatly and she has amazing ideas and input. I usually try to understand her vision and her inspiration for a song or project, and expand and build off of it as best I can. We go back and forth. She pushes me plenty and I like that. And, I try to do the same."
What are the key ingredients needed for a killer music video?
"A good concept, great execution, and an artist who is trusting and willing to dive in without looking down."The only thing making us look down is that Maison Martin Margiela necklace!
What's been the most memorable moment while on set?
"Probably being mobbed in Belfast with Rihanna. Thousands of fans came out to our shoot, and we literally had no way to film without seeing the crowd. Oh, and I've almost killed Beyoncé a few times — she's either taken a fall, which I was responsible for, or tried some daring stunt. She really set the tone for me in terms of an artist who will try and do anything for the art. So, it's what I expect now, but I have to realize that not everyone is Beyoncé. Another memorable moment was when I almost died shooting out of the back of a car on the Wild Belle
set in Jamaica. I was in an open trunk, sitting on the edge of the car, while driving backwards at night. The roads are tight and we came inches from a horrible accident."
What was your reaction when you discovered that you were the first female director to win the award for Best Short Form Music Video at the 2013 Grammys for Rihanna's “We Found Love”?
"It was such an honor, and of course I screamed and jumped and ran around the house like a fool for a minute. It was exciting, but I was so overwhelmed and tired that day that it really took a while to sink in. I had no idea that video would be received in such a great way, and it's definitely an honor for it to be held in such high esteem. I didn't think it was going to win the Grammy, since we were up against some great videos and directors, so it was definitely unexpected."An eclectic and sunny nook.
What are some of your favorite music videos or commercials that you've worked on?
"Definitely the Solange video I did last year — it was such a passion project and it was great to collaborate with such a good friend. She forced me out of my element, and threw me in a foreign land with foreign people where I had to figure it all out on my own. It's not the usual way I work, and it was actually quite satisfying in the end. Also, I'm obsessed with the Sapeur subculture we used in the video, and it was really interesting to work with them and understand their art.
"Another favorite was the Wild Belle video we did in Jamaica shortly before that. It took forever to come up with the concept, but one night it just clicked. The video just kind of came together perfectly, and besides that near-death experience I mentioned earlier, it was the most fun I had on a shoot. Oh, and I can't forget about Snoop's "Sensual Seduction." That's a prime example of an artist not being scared to put their trust in a director. The retroness and the humor are two of my favorite elements of the video. And, I mean, it was Snoop!"
Can you spot Solange in this shot?
What are some old-school videos that have inspired you?
"Smack My Bitch Up
" by the Prodigy — the first time anyone did something through a person's point of view. It was daring and provocative and beautiful. And, I love Jonas Akerlund — he's a legend. Janet Jackson's "Pleasure Principle
" had a simple dance performance and was shot beautifully and intentionally — Janet was oh-so dope! Cee-Lo's "Closet Freak
" has great funk, humor, and special effects. I love Radiohead's "Street Spirit
" because of the black and white speed changes, the airstream trailers, the light, the superimpositions, and the symbolism. Lauryn Hill's "Turn Your Lights Down Low
" has a cool take on one of my favorite movies: Rockers
. Unkle's "Rabbits In Your Headlights" is simple, yet powerful. True art. And, finally, Jay-Z's "99 Problems
" because of its strong, documentary-style imagery from a city I grew up in. It's shot in this beautiful and dynamic way that had never really happened before in rap videos."Melina kicks back in a Preen corset and skirt
What is your typical day like?
"It depends on what project I'm working on. If I'm in the writing process I usually procrastinate all day by reading, watching movies, eating, running my mouth on the phone, napping, and then I'll stay up all night writing. If I'm prepping, I'm scouting locations, wrapping my mind around an idea, looking at wardrobe, running my mouth again, and eating — that seems to be the constant! And, when I'm off-duty, I'm usually trying to get the next job, eating, and trying to find balance in my life. It sounds cliché, but this year I've been trying to actually live my life, and not only work."
Who knew bicycles could double as decor?
What do you do during the days leading up to a shoot?
"First, I write up a fully fleshed-out idea, revise it, and bid it. Then, I'm always told they can't afford it, and I have to cut the budget and my idea — that's my most hated part. You have this incredible concept, and then you have to strip it back. And, somehow, you have to maintain the integrity of the idea. It's difficult.
"Then, when it's finally booked, you start putting a crew together and scouting locations or building sets. At the same time, you're talking to the key people in your crew, explaining your vision on every aspect of the job, art direction, casting, wardrobe, hair, makeup, editing, and lighting. It's really non-stop. There's usually a casting for selecting additional people, and at some point you need to check in with the actual artist. The day before the shoot is reserved for fittings and pre-production meetings where you nail down the plans. Hopefully, then you shoot for about 20 hours over multiple days!"
Melina snagged that collar from an S&M shop — pretty kinky!
Tell us about how you celebrated that Grammy win — we heard it was kind of epic!
"It was the best of times, and the worst of times. I went to the show with some friends and had a blast, but we left early and headed to one of my favorite restaurants in L.A., Son of a Gun
. They only had room at the communal table, so the 20 of us in our gowns and tuxedos sat with a few other people, who I'm sure were not expecting to have a celebrity-filled dinner. It was hilarious and comfortable and the food was outstanding as always.
"Then, we went to a few parties, one at which I lost a very expensive ring that Hoorsenbuhs
had let me borrow for the week. Suddenly, it was my worst nightmare — I was immediately sick and worried I'd be living on the street because I'd have to pay for this ring. But, the world has a funny way of making sure you don't get too big for your britches. I never found the ring — it was an expensive lesson and a memorable night."
In case you were wondering: The chair is from Environment. And, yes, it reminds Melina of Fruity Pebbles, too!
Why did you choose DTLA as your new home?
"I miss NYC and I can't move back at the moment because of my career obligations. So, this is my Faux York in L.A. I lived in West Hollywood for seven years and I just needed a change. I never really explored downtown until now, and I really like it. There are great restaurants and great art, and a few derelicts to keep life interesting."
What was your mantra when designing your one-room space?
"No clutter, keep it simple, throw in pops of color, and have no mantra. Just see what works. I have a bunch of stuff in storage and I'm still on the hunt for the perfect dining-room table — I'm looking for something specific and may have my father build it for me."
Who needs an alarm when you have that natural light?
Where did you hunt for all of your decor?
"All over — I'm obsessed with interior and furniture design. It's actually something I'm interested in getting involved in. Some of my favorite furniture spots in L.A. are Twentieth
, Ligne Roset
, Restoration Hardware
, and a gang of vintage spots. I also love shopping online for furniture — I'm always searching different blogs for what I can't live without."
Melina strikes a pose in front of her tar mirror wearing an Ostwald Helgason jacket and skirt, and Rodarte for Nicholas Kirkwood shoes
How would you describe your style?
"I like to play with clothes and dress according to how I feel that particular day. I'm very much a tomboy, but I wear heels to balance that out. I actually live in heels, and I'm trying to work into a lower form of footwear at the moment. On that note, since I'm typically in a rush, I like easy things that you don't have to think too much about, like jumpsuits. Also, I just love a good outfit, so when I find pieces that work together, I'll wear them a few days in a row. But, I love clothes and I love getting dressed. If I'm not happy with my outfit, it's not a good day. In general, I really just dress for me, so I feel confident and good about myself."
A close-up on those fierce Rodarte for Nicholas Kirkwood kicks.
Who is your style icon?
"My mother — she always plays by her own rules, and doesn't care about trends and other people's opinions. She always rocks a red lip and she loves shopping for vintage clothing. Too bad I'm not her size!"
What trends are you loving right now? Any trends you hate?
"I love having fun with colors, and I hate that everyone looks the same. Is that considered a trend? Weak, right? And, I'm into menswear for women."
Check out Melina's MTV Video Music Award — congrats!
Who are your favorite designers to wear and who do you love working with? Do the two ever overlap?
, Commes De Garçons
, and Kenzo
are some of the designers I love. I'm not sure if I've actually shot any of their pieces, but I'm working on a couple of fashion films with a couple designers I can't mention at the moment. I'd love to do more fashion pieces, and I will work for clothes — just putting that out there!"All the essentials for a bedside table: tissues, lamp, fresh flowers, and a gold skull.
We love your ombre locks! How do you maintain the color?
"I actually don't maintain it at all! I cut it all off about four years ago, and last year I weaved-it-up while it was growing back. One of my weaves was blonde, so I dyed the part of my hair that was left out of the weave the same blonde, which is just the rim. Anyway, the weave came out and I was too lazy to do anything with it, so I just started throwing it up in a bun. I used to have really curly hair, but it's so damaged from straightening and coloring it. I'm trying to figure out where I want to go next with it, so I've just been letting it do its own thing. Hence, the ombre locks are really just a grown-out dye job."
What's your philosophy on bold makeup? Only for evening or totally day-to-night?
"I think I got into bold makeup a little too late in life, so I say go for it whenever you want! I don't really live by anyone's rules, so I just do whatever I feel that day. I've been playing a lot with color recently, and I'm addicted to lash extensions. Primarily, I just wear a bright lip and some eyebrow pencil. Add those lashes, and you're good to go for wherever the day or night takes you."
Wearing a Mary Katrantzou top, Alexander Wang pants, and Miu Miu shoes in her Fruity Pebbles chair.
Where do you shop 'til you drop around town? What about on the web?
"I'm actually the worst online shopper. I don't do it, because I need to try on clothes, and do a little stupid dance in them and see how they make me feel before I commit. I'm always at Opening Ceremony
and I dabble in Bergdorfs
, Creatures of Comfort
, American Rag
, The Way We Wore
, and a downtown vintage spot I can't divulge."
Our golden girl wore a Melody Ehsani faux watch, a Jacquie Aiche filigree bracelet, and Jennifer Meyer rings throughout the shoot.
You're a major foodie. What are your top five restaurants in L.A. right now?
"Oh boy, I hate these questions — it's so hard to choose! In no particular order I love: Matsuhisa
, Merkato, Yang Chow
, Son of a Gun
, Madeo, and when I cook in my kitchen."
How do you maintain such a rocking body with all that eating you do?
"I dress appropriately!"The art in her home is so polite, it even lends a hand!
What's with the skulls — where did that obsession come from?
"That was accidental. I used to live in this stupid-huge house that I paid way too much for, and spent way too much on and totally regret. Anyways, the home had a lot of rooms and I collected the skulls while traveling so I could spread them out. Now, since they all live in one room, it seems like I'm obsessed. As my brother would say, 'I got mad heads.'"
You travel a ton. What's your favorite piece you've brought back with you?
"Maybe my felt rocks from Hong Kong. I fell in love with that city because of its great design element. I found these felt rocks that I wanted, and I snuck them into our props for a commercial I was shooting. After the shoot, I swiped them and carried them on the plane. Going through customs was quite an experience. I must have looked like She-Ra!"
Believe us, they truly look like tiny boulders!
You are of Greek, Jewish, Jamaican, and Cuban descent — is there one nationality you identify with most? How do you think that blend creeps into your style?
"At the end of the day, I'm a black woman. I see race and culture as different entities and my experience is that of a black woman. I love that because of my different cultures, I've been exposed to so many different influences, ideas, views, foods, and experiences, and in terms of culture I wouldn't say I identify with any of those the most, because I'm American. But, my descent definitely plays a part in how I was raised and what I believe in."
In such a male-dominated industry, what is your advice to young female readers who want a career like yours?
"Set your goals and go for it one step at a time. Work hard and educate yourself every step of the way. Never stop learning, listening, or seeing. I still am."
Lounging in a Commes De Garçons shirt, Céline pants, and Stella McCartney shoes