Kelly Strayhorn’s Joseph Hall on Sequins, White Leather Boots and “Your Drag”

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PR Photo: Tereneh Idia

Joseph Room

Last name: Joseph Room
Concert/work: Executive Director of Kelly Strayhorn Theater
Websites: kelly-strahorn.org and instagram.com/kstheater

I screamed with joy when I saw you coming out of Kelly Strayhorn’s doors Theater. How would you describe your style? What are your stylistic inspirations?
As a teenager, my stylistic inspiration was Lenny Kravitz – that hair, that bare midriff, those platforms! Like Prince, David Bowie and other beloved male artists, he pushed the boundaries of gendered style. Later in life I heard of Sylvester, Marsha P. Johnson, Club Kids, Etta James, etc. … tough guys who not only made bold choices with how they looked but also how they carried their intersectional identities. At one point I had Etta’s signature blonde hair!

The color, shape, texture, pattern and politics encoded in clothing inspire me. I often think of my style as an everyday outfit. It’s not about masking but rather amplifying aspects of myself in different contexts. RuPaul said, “You were born naked and the rest is drag.” I believe that to be true. Their stories aside, a politician’s costume and a drag queen’s outfit are put on and taken off as agents of specific types of power accessed through a closet. Get your flirt!

Your shirt is so amazing. During the photo shoot, someone even shared their admiration for her. Describe what you are wearing today.
I’m wearing a bronze, emerald, and black sequined, leopard-print, button-down shirt. I’m not usually a fan of animal prints, but this glamorous, psychedelic take on a classic print won me over. The small sequins are almost indistinguishable from a distance. They give the shirt a wet look. Sequins are a staple in my wardrobe – an easy way to stand out in a crowd, and there’s no shortage of sequined clothing around the world.

White leather boots. Bold. Beautiful. Controversial. Discuss.
Yes! These shoes remind me of the essential piece of any cheerleader’s costume – the white boots. They’re the shiny cap on a glitzy, tacky leg extension for the gawds. I think of the movement innovation of the J-Settes Prancing and many other southern, historically black college and college cheerleader teams. We now call this explosive, precise movement J-Sette and have seen it in action for the world in Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” and Back home performances.

What I love is that southern black gay men have embraced the J-Sette movement as their own at LGTBQ+ clubs and other venues, competing in troupes adorned in rhinestone spandex and brown skin shimmering. The exchange and co-creation of a multitude of vocabularies (movement, language, fashion, etc.) between black women, black queer people and the diaspora creates magic! Thanks to Jermone Donte Beacham and Jumatatu Poe for sharing J-Sette in KST many years ago and in the world today. My boots and I thank you!

More men should carry handbags. Please also discuss.
When I was growing up, my dad carried a huge leather wallet in his back right pocket that constantly reshaped his entire pants with his print. When the wallet was in his pocket, I can’t imagine how comfortable it was for him to sit. Like him, I have things I want to keep on me during transport, so I carry a bag. Sometimes a clutch, sometimes a tote, sometimes a fanny pack. Don’t call it a mure! Adding an “M” to a word that describes a product traditionally marketed to women does not make it more or less masculine. It just makes an ugly word. If it’s a handbag, it’s a handbag – how awesome! To chase.

The clutch is handmade with Ghanaian woven fabric by Rebel Bred Clothing, a black-owned clothing line in Wilkinsburg, and it’s gotten more compliments than I can tell.

We’ve talked a lot about the talent here in Pittsburgh and the area’s black creative community. Which black fashion designers are you wearing today? Why is this important?
Now you know about the clutch and where to buy it. My shirt is designed by Jerome LaMaar, a queer Bronx native who was commissioned by Macy’s as part of their Icons of Style capsule collection. Her clothes are vibrant, playful and carefree. I recommend checking his Macy’s line.

The black leather trousers are from The Kemist Store, a London-based fashion label by Nigerian-born creative director Sade Akinosho. It gives everything from the best of Sunday to streetwear. Although marketed as a women’s store, like any clothing, it can be worn by anyone who chooses to steal it.

On the importance of supporting black designers: In 2012, regarding the murder of Trayvon Martin, journalist Geraldo Rivera said, “The hoodie is as responsible for the death of Trayvon Martin as George Zimmerman.” Rivera later told Politico it made “logical” for minorities to avoid wearing hoodies. The hoodie is a staple of the multi-billion dollar streetwear industry, a by-product of the creation of hip hop by the black and Latina communities. So while people are capitalizing on the imagination and labor of black creatives, black people are being criminalized for shaking up our own cultural and economic contributions to the world. Flip the script. Supporting Black Creativity and Black Lives Matter at the Source.

Click to enlarge A close up of a man's hand holding a multicolored handbag

PR Photo: Tereneh Idia

Joseph Room

Are you wearing something that is a special gift for yourself? If so, what is it and why is it special to you?
Everything I wear is a special gift for myself! Surprisingly, I don’t wear anything from a thrift store. Usually I wear a used or vintage item that I picked up in Pittsburgh or around the country. One of my favorite places in Pittsburgh is Aeons by the fabulous Richard Parsakian.

Kelly Strayhorn is such an important part of the cultural center and soul of Pittsburgh, what excites you most about KST in the short and long term?
I love this question, especially after considering the power of clothing as a way to access and express their identity. We also do this through cultural spaces, like KST, where we create and care for each other, and claim our right to own and present our stories.

Something that excites me and has both short and long-term effects is the public sharing of KST’s strategic plan and vision, “Owning Our Future. Prosper where we live. ”, which was developed by artists, patrons, stakeholders, staff and the board of directors of KST. It supports our new mission to be a home for creative experimentation, creative dialogue, and collective action rooted in the liberation of black and queer people. We carry on the KST legacy that has put Pittsburgh on the map of contemporary performance and community. I’m excited to share it with people this fall. Be sure to sign up for our email newsletter to receive the latest updates!

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