For legendary stylist, consultant, and creative director Karen Binns, culture is the ultimate luxury


COLORS showcases exceptional talent from all around the globe, focused on the most distinctive new artists and original sounds.


For legendary stylist, consultant, and creative director Karen Binns, culture is the ultimate luxury

Photography by Henry Boadu (@iamhnrry) for We Are Naifs Magazin (@WeAreNaifsMagazine)

“He introduced me as ‘an OG’,” says Karen Binns, recalling the late Virgil Abloh’s words to Yussef Dayes upon their first meeting. Since beginning her career in fashion in the New York City it-scene of the 1980s—where she became friends with the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat—Binns has an impressive 30 years of styling experience under her belt. She’s worked as creative director and consultant for everyone from the eight-time Grammy nominated artist Tori Amos to Nigerian mega-star Wizkid, and has become known for making sartorial choices that enhance her artists’ visions in the process.

Now, years after first meeting London-based drummer and composer Yussef Dayes at a Louis Vuitton afterparty, Binns is working as his stylist, using her keen aesthetic eye to visually reinforce Dayes’ virtuosic talent.

In line with the release of Dayes’ debut A COLORS SHOW, we spoke to Binns to find out more about her career to date, and how she used her one of a kind styling approach to curate the looks Dayes sported on the COLORS stage.

When did you first realize that fashion can be used as a form of self-expression?

It has to be when I first saw David Bowie perform ‘Ziggy Stardust’ on the TV programme ‘Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert’ as a child. He came on stage and I couldn’t tell if he was a man or a woman. I remember thinking, “Who is that?” I recognized that he was a real artist.

Did you ever get to meet Bowie?

In passing. I was at The Mudd Club—a nightclub in Tribeca from 1978-1983—years later standing at the bar, and I heard someone next to me say, “Excuse me, I’m trying to get a drink.” It was him. I immediately thought, “okay, that’s David Bowie. I need to keep my cool.” Nothing else mattered in that moment.

You’ve been heralded as an it-girl of the 80’s New York City art scene. Where did you draw inspiration from while building your unique look and style during that time?

Vivienne Westwood inspired me to create different versions of myself, versions that showcased the culture from my home in Flatbush; the West Indian and Black American culture. Specifically the Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren 1982 ‘Savages’ show.

I also spent countless hours looking at magazines as a teen, from Vogue and i-D to Interview. I knew what I was talking about even then, and I’ve kept up with what is fashionable ever since.

You went on to meet the founders of these magazines, such as Andy Warhol. How did you find yourself among these creatives years later?

I wanted to attract the most creative people. I dressed accordingly, I knew which spaces to be in to surround myself with minded individuals. Everything came together just by being mindful of what I wanted while maintaining my individuality, which was validating.

“I won’t let ‘the feed’ compromise an artist’s vision or force them to be someone they’re not.”

You’ve worked on numerous fashion projects that have had a great cultural impact beyond the high fashion bubble.  Do you notice when concepts from your projects make their way into mainstream fashion?

Absolutely, most recently with the silhouettes I’ve put Wizkid in. People are drawn to his effortless class and chicness. I’m now seeing artists wearing his style who previously wouldn’t have considered dressing that way. Through Wiz, we have altered the way straight Black men think about clothes and style. We’ve enabled them to express themselves authentically.

Lady GaGa was also inspired by the looks and creative direction I worked on with Tori Amos. As a creative director, you want to dress your artists in a way that will attract the attention of people in the future. There’s a timelessness about the projects I’ve worked on.

How has the digital age—specifically the rise of social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram—affect your approach to creative direction? 

I ignore it. I’m not interested in it. I won’t let “the feed” compromise an artist’s vision or force them to be someone they’re not. I practice that now when working with Yussef Dayes: it’s not about the noise online, it’s about communicating his story through style.

Binns styled Yussef Dayes in Denim Tears’ ‘Windrush’ collection for his A COLORS SHOW

When did you first meet Yussef?

I met Yussef in Paris through Virgil Abloh and Benji B. Yussef was playing at an after party for Louis Vuitton. Virgil brought me over to him and said, “You need to meet Karen, she’s an OG.” Yussef looked up at me, kind of nodded, and continued drumming. He paid me no mind. I thought to myself, “oh wow, he’s about his music.” He could have looked at me and seen an opportunity to be hooked up in the industry, but there was no opportunist vibe about him. He’s just passionate about his craft. To me, that’s what makes a real artist.

Can you tell me about your professional relationship?

It wasn’t until much later that I got the call to work with him. I immediately knew it would be a good match. I knew he was an artist I could really help propel through fashion. When I look at him, I see the new Bohemia. He is free and natural while being politically correct and culturally aware. To me, he echoes Bill Withers, John Coltrane, and Gil Scott-Heron.

Jean (Jean-Michel Basquiat) had a big influence on me. I try to work with artists who think like him. I think Yussef is like him—that’s why I’ve put him in a Jean-Michel shirt in the past. Yussef has both empathy and a powerful strength about him. Jean had a hard and soft side too.

Dayes wears a green Haider Ackermann suit, styled by Binns

“When I look at Yussef, I see the new Bohemia. He is free and natural, while being politically correct, and culturally aware.”

Tell me about the two looks you created for Yussef’s A COLORS SHOW.

We needed to show his background, to scream it without saying a word. I put him in the Denim Tears’ ‘Windrush’ collection. The look programmes a specific idea in your brain when you see it—you understand that he’s British-Jamaican. I knew it was important to highlight this aspect.

For the second look, I put him in a green Haider Ackermann suit. It’s a luxury version of his favorite style, which is a comfortable tracksuit. Again, this is uncompromising of his own taste. With this piece, you put it on and you feel like a million bucks. Yussef knew when he looked in the mirror how beautiful it was on him.

What do you think have been some of the most impactful changes in the fashion industry during your 30 year long career? 

The Black Lives Matter movement. Fashion has always existed, but it’s been primarily controlled and enjoyed by the rich and white—high fashion in particular. Black Lives Matter has opened a door for people of color, a door that the elites had no choice but to open.

It’s unfortunate because so much of what goes into fashion is inspired by our culture. Culture is true luxury; it can’t be bought, you have to be born from it, to live it.

For example, when my ex-husband worked at Comme des Garçons in 1987, I wasn’t taken seriously in fashion because I was a Black girl from Brooklyn. I was best friends with Jean [-Michel Basquiat] at the time, so when they needed my cultural connection, I was asked for an introduction to Jean. I was the one who convinced him to do the iconic catwalk for Comme des Garçons, which is what began the trend of artists walking in major fashion shows.

Binns and renowned visual artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

Whose style have you always been drawn to?

Vivienne Westwood. She’s my hero—everything she did was authentic. She’s that bad bitch I’ve always wanted to be. Lauryn Hill too. There’s depth in everything she does. She’s truly untouchable.

Karen Binns is a Brooklyn-raised, London-based stylist, consultant, and creative director. She styled Yussef Dayes for his debut A COLORS SHOW, which was released on 18th December 2023. Watch the full performance on our YouTube channel, and make sure to follow both Binns and Dayes on Instagram to stay up to date with their work.

Text: Katerina Lytras
Photography: Megan Courtis (portraits of Yussef Dayes), Henry Boadu (portrait of Karen Binns)


Open Player

This website uses cookies. By using this website and its content you accept these cookies.