In the image-obsessed world of music, who do the hottest artists call for a total fashion re-haul? With a career spanning over a decade, and a clientele which includes such icons as Mary J Blige, Mariah Carey, Sean Combs and Jay-Z, June Ambrose is the reigning queen of the trade.
Yet, informs Ambrose, “Studying fashion was a privilege I did not have. My family emigrated from Antigua thirty years ago. There was no FIT, only books on costume-design—and I read them all!” Ambrose, who “always had aspirations of living in this big melting pot of a city,” found all the inspiration she needed from its streets: “In LA, your car is your armor. In New York, our sidewalks are our runways—we define ourselves through fashion.”
“I started my company Mod Squad in 1994, completely self-managed,” the CEO recounts, “And it’s become a total creative service. It’s brand imaging—discovering the artist’s alter ego and building a lifestyle around it—the sheets, the fragrance, the luggage.”
But while “one hundred-thousand dollar budgets and three tour buses of wardrobe” can be standard form for a two-minute R Kelly music video, the field wasn’t always so flush.
Ambrose began as an intern at MCA Records (now Geffen), when “the industry was truly a blank canvas—no one was dressing celebrities! Sixteen years later, music and fashion have fused and evolved, and the styling business is over-saturated,” she explains. “I’ve worked on more than one hundred and fifty videos and had the most nominated, one year, in the history of any stylist at the MTV awards. I’ve cultivated many of today's best artists”
However, it was a previous stint in investment banking that inspired the entrepreneur. “I learned much about using money productively, and it helped me find my entrepreneurial spirit. But it was not the creative environment that I desired, and I knew if I stayed I would never be happy. It's courageous to leave a weekly paycheck and pursue clients. My parents were confused as to why I sacrificed benefits for an internship. They get it now,” she winks.
The ambitious intern carried over this same drive when courting her first styling client at MCA—without so much as a portfolio. “It was about seizing the opportunity and building it into a business!” Ambrose exclaims. And in the business of building brands, none has proven more remunerative than her own.
“We are consistently creating a platform,” informs the media-savvy mogul. “I published my book Effortless Style in 2006, which shares all of my anecdotes about how you too can have star power, and I’m continually launching into different categories"—including a follow-up book as well as television appearances ranging from Oprah to MTV’s “Rock The Cradle”.
Ironically, Ambrose admits, “I never had a publicist. I want to enjoy my passion—otherwise, I don't want to work!” The style-broker is thrilled, however, by the opportunity that her prestige affords her to give back.
“Charities rely on celebrities, and as a mother of two, I’m involved in those that benefit children. We do clothing drives, Christmas events, speak at fashion colleges and the New York Library, and get celebrities involved. I'm also on the board of the Ronald McDonald House, designing a bracelet that celebrities will want to wear on the Red Carpet.”
Still, Ambrose understands the fine line between dressing and playing the star. “I've always been a star in my mind, that’s how I create the magic for them, but you have to balance it: I was on TV yesterday, now I'm tying your shoes. It’s still a service business”
“I don’t hang out at parties or clubs. It's hard for me to get glammed-up after making my clients fabulous,” continues Ambrose. “And they don't pay me to rant and rave, they pay me to find solutions! I like to exceed the client’s vision and the commercial packaging—if I'm putting a diamond lapel on a hard-core rapper, I'm selling it, and if I question myself once, it's over! But I pick my battles. I say: I'm going to leave you this decision. When you need me, I'm outside the door.”
Her style-advice for the rest of us? “New York women should think timeless and invest in quality that they can hand down. And you need a workable wardrobe: not just a bunch of stuff, but things that you really admire. I love to be able to just throw such things on and appear effortless. With my lifestyle, that's all I have time for.”
And time is a commodity that the manic mother of two steadfastly defends. “I couldn’t take maternity leave, but my kids are supportive because of what this is going to ultimately bring us. Every job, my babies were there. I was like: you want me to show up? I need a trailer, I'm nursing! I'm strict about my time—I end my day at a certain hour, and weekends are important—I don't take phone calls.”
“I don't manage any of the business now at all,” continues Ambrose. “I'm just creative at this point: the umbrella of my company. I'm really able to focus on being a good mom and balancing a quality life, and that’s the biggest reward, trust me.” With a loving family behind her and an ever-expanding industry ahead, Ambrose has taken that blank canvas and created a living masterpiece.
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