Bermudian designer stamps her style on Hollywood
Queen & Slim has Shiona Turini’s stamp all over it. She is the costume designer of the romantic drama that is now showing at Speciality Cinema; her efforts have been lauded by the likes of Vanity Fair, The Wall Street Journal and Toronto Life.
As has been typical with the steps along her career path, it was an opportunity that was presented rather than something she set out to do.
“Melina Matsoukas [the director] said she was working on Queen & Slim with Lena Waithe [the screenwriter] and asked if I would be interested in putting together a pitch and applying for the job,” said Ms Turini.
“I’d worked with her and we’re also very good friends, but we’re also excellent collaborators and speak the same visual language. I put a presentation together with another stylist I’d worked with a while back at W magazine, and went for it.”
Queen & Slim stars Jodie Turner-Smith and Academy Award nominee Daniel Kaluuya. On their first date, they are pulled over for a traffic violation by a racist cop; things turn south after Slim shoots the officer in self-defence. The pair go on the run, but when a video of the incident goes viral they become “a symbol of trauma, terror, grief and pain for people all across the country”.
Although she had never worked on a feature film, Ms Turini had an arsenal of experience that got her the role: a commercial for Nike’s Equality campaign; videos for Beyoncé’s Formation and Solange Knowles’s Don’t Touch My Hair and Cranes In The Sky. On television she’s been busy with HBO’s Insecure since the middle of Season Three, and also with Y: The Last Man, a pilot for FX network.
“I had been working in fashion for a number of years, primarily in editorial and styling [and then] started to work on bigger-scale projects, primarily music videos and commercials,” she said.
“For Insecure, I inherited the aesthetics, but with Queen & Slim, the director and writer were creating the world from the ground up — getting the script, assessing it, visualising pulling together references and deciding what we wanted to create for each of these characters. I designed and dressed everyone on the screen, even [the people in the] background.”
To get the mix right took “a lot of research and trusting [her] instinct”.
“I immediately knew what I wanted with the opening scene with Daniel. We were filming in Cleveland and it was freezing.
“The character is a normal guy who works at Costco. On our first meeting we talked about everything: what he wears to church, to dinner with his mother, when he’s going to work; fully picking apart his character and creating a visual list through his wardrobe.”
For Queen, a defence lawyer, the change was dramatic: a form-fitting tiger-print mini dress and snakeskin boots replaced “a simple super-sophisticated white turtleneck” and white pants.
“She’s a woman fighting the good fight,” Ms Turini said.
“She’s out of his league, and you see that from the opening frame. Initially the movie felt very cold, it was very raw. As they move south and the temperatures heat up, the clothing heats up, the wardrobe changes.”
To that end, she collaborated with American fashion designer Dapper Dan, sourcing costumes from the Gucci archives to reflect the couple’s external and internal transformations.
“This is a story of two regular people that go on a date and, in self-defence, kill a police officer and have to go on the run to save themselves,” Ms Turini said.
“It’s a black love story or, as Lena likes to put it, it’s protest art: a black love story, but also a commentary on how black bodies are treated in society.”
Her parents, Leon and Lynnel Turini, were at the movie’s Los Angeles premiere along with her sister, Sharnelle.
“It was very exciting. It was the first time I was sharing my work with my family. My mom finally agrees that I have a job,” the stylist laughed.
To get to where she is now was tough without a set course. Ms Turini credits her family for passing on their work ethic.
“I am always working on a million projects at once. It has always been like that. As a kid, my mother and father made me come with them on their paper route, I worked at Dr Deborah Tuzo’s office, I helped my dad clean at the bakery and then went with my mom to her night job at Coral Beach Club. It taught me the value of hard work. I’ve never stopped grinding and I love it.
“We didn’t have a lot of money and I always wanted to live in fashion, in New York — I had tunnel vision. I found internships to gain experience and I had to sacrifice a lot — financially, and in being away from Bermuda and my family — which was not easy, but I knew what I wanted from a young age.”
Style and fashion are entwined in early childhood memories. In Primary One, she insisted she would “rather go naked” than wear her Harrington Sound Primary School uniform.
In later years, Ms Turini started making her own clothes on her grandmother’s sewing machine without really knowing what she was doing.
“I did not want to be a designer, I just loved clothing and that was the only way I knew how to express myself with it. At the time, I didn’t know there were other jobs or careers in fashion.”
Her mother eventually signed her up for lessons. Ms Turini’s godmother, Yvette Smith, “was very instrumental in teaching [her] the basics”.
“Fashion was always what I wanted to do. I have never set limitations on myself. I’ve never put myself in a box — which is why I think I’ve been able to progress in this industry.
“I’ve kept an open mind about so many different avenues and I think that’s why I have been able to float through it so well.
“If you’d asked me when I was a teenager about styling music videos, that’s not where my head was at. But, when it came my way it was an exciting opportunity.”
With that as background, it is not surprising that she is open to wherever the future takes her.
“I haven’t yet achieved everything I want to achieve. I don’t have a life plan mapped out in that way. I want things that help me grow and make me feel I’m always learning — that excites me.
“I am also very interested in doing more projects and initiatives in Bermuda; I have other interests outside fashion that I want to explore. I also hope that I can inspire other Bermudians who think they’re confined to 21 square miles — they’re not.”
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