If you're a Project Runway stan, you probably recognize Samantha Black from season 11 and Allstars season four. We're still shook everytime we think about her winning unconventional look made of contact paper, wire mesh, calla lilies and green leaves from her first season. Black's resume dates back to 2005 when she interned at Alexander McQueen's design studio in London, landing her first job as Aeropostale's women's denim designer a year later. (Moment of silence for Aeropostale and all our high school memories.) It wasn't until 2009, however, that the Brooklyn-born Jamaican designer launched her own namesake label, Sammy B, slowly but surely gaining the attention of stylists to stars like Kehlani and Yara Shahidi, and the costume designer for HBO's Insecure. Last year marked the biggest moment of her career to date when Beyoncé posted multiple pics to IG in a Sammy B two-piece suit, which obviously sold out shortly after. Fresh off the runway debut of her New York-inspired 212 collection, As/Is talked to the rising fashion star about how she got her clothes to the most iconic celebrity alive, her inspiration, and more.
You were on Project Runway, season 11 and Allstars season four. How did that experience prepare you as a designer?
"Project Runway initially set me back a bit, truthfully. However, after Allstars, I started doing pop-up shops all over the U.S, which gained me knowledge of consumers that I now apply to my line. I feel it makes me a better designer because at the end of the day, you want people to actually purchase your clothes."
Puh-lease describe Tim Gunn for us. What's he like?
"Tim Gunn is exactly what you see on TV. He’s very authentic, speaks the same, and has the same kind of interest in the designers. Tim still takes the subway — that’s how real he is."
So Beyoncé, as in BEYONCÉ, wore one of your suits! How did that happen and did you faint?
"I didn’t faint, surprisingly, but I definitely held my breath for way longer than I should have. That all happened because of the amazing [stylist] Zerina Akers. She owns a wide leg trouser of mine, and thought the colorway and fabric would be great for Beyoncé. And I found out ... that she actually wore it, but it wasn’t a reality until she posted the photos late on a Tuesday night, unbeknownst to me. Everyone saw before I actually did, so when I made it to my phone I had a ton of texts like, 'Is that you?'"
Who's the number one person you really want to dress who hasn't worn Sammy B yet?
"The baddest gyal Rihanna!"
You just debuted this amazing 212 collection, obviously NY-inspired! What about NYC in particular inspired you?
"My 212 collection is inspired by '90s NYC. It’s my modern take on what '90s fashion, style, and music meant to me. Mixed in with a lil dance hall queen!"
What's your absolute favorite piece from the collection?
"Honestly it's hard for me to answer because I have a few favorites. But I’m going to go with my opening look. [It's a] three-piece set: a skinny pant, turtle neck and denim jacket, all printed with my new ‘B’. My last name Black was always [regarded] by my family as very important, I’m black, and most of all it just feels cool to own my version of a MCM or Fendi. My parents used to rock MCM Dapper Dan clothes when I was younger, and it’s my take on that in my signature black and white palette."
From the outside looking in, fashion seems so glamorous, and it can be, but what are the not so glamorous parts of being a designer that people don't really talk about?
"So many ups and downs. One week a win, next week not so much. Lots of pressure and lots of trying to keep the attention of people who have so much stimulation thrown at them daily. There’s a lot of 'in the trenches' moments. Before my 212 show I, slept four hours in two days. And that was for a 20-minute runway show. But when it’s glamorous, it’s glamorous!"
You've always included models of color who vary in complexion and hair texture in your shows. Recently the larger industry has been making more strides towards diversity, but what room do you still see for improvement?
"There is still much room for improvement on actually including designers of color. Editors and people of influence can be helpful by shining some light on more designers of color, giving opportunities as much as they can, and at the very least showing up and supporting, even if it’s just your presence."
What parts of who you are have definitely influenced your perspective as a designer?
"My Jamaican culture is number one: It’s my use of color, my sometimes bold looks, and my inner dancehall queen. Growing up in NYC and being around my family, who took fashion so seriously as far as the way they presented themselves, has literally influenced my design and personal style and aesthetic."
More of the 212 collection: