Style + Grit: Stylist Lana Rae Seizes Every Opportunity
May 1, 2023 @ 2:00pm
Stylist and multihyphenate Lana Rae talks taking every opportunity, working through pain and getting creative on her many projects.
Read all about our other May cover subject, “Next in Fashion” designer Deontré Hancock, here.
In the pristine, swanky lobby of The Morrow Hotel, Lana Rae strides in with a bellhop cart piled high with luggage. With her perfectly coiffed updo, high cheekbones and statuesque nature, the stylist and multihyphenate instantly commands a room.
“I have always been very shy,” Rae confesses as we sit opposite each other on couches at The Morrow’s rooftop lounge, Upstairs, between shoots for our May cover.
The Glen Burnie, Maryland native is dressed in one of her four self-curated looks for the shoot: a brilliant green skirt that falls just below the knee with side ruching, a white crop top appliquéd with two satin roses, strappy lime heels and multicolor gemstone drop earrings that brush her shoulders. Despite her striking presence, she says she had to work toward coming out of her shell.
“My father paid for modeling classes when I was 16 years old and he used to drive me there. That’s how I started in the industry — as a model.”
Standing on the ledge above a curved banquette at Le Clou (Chef Nicholas Stefanelli’s modern French brasserie situated off The Morrow’s lobby), Rae lunges toward photographer Tony Powell who snaps photos from below. With every shot, she gradually adjusts her pose until she contorts to an entirely new stance with an ease that only comes from years of practice. Rae was born to be in front of the camera, but she also has skills and interests behind the scenes.
“One day, I was working as a model at a promotional event for this brand and the guy running it was like, ‘Hey, do you have 10 friends who can work this event?’” Rae says. “That’s my first memory of turning what I do into a business. I started an agency, and I started hiring models.”
At 21, Rae began to work with some of the liquor promoters she crossed paths with while modeling at events. These run-ins turned into working relationships where the brands reached out to her for models. Then another serendipitous opportunity came.
“I got a phone call from someone about doing a fashion show,” Rae says. “She worked for the American Heart Association and somehow somebody referred me to her. That turned into me producing the Go Red for Women fashion show in partnership with the American Heart Association and Macy’s.”
For nine years, Rae produced the annual runway, which garnered celebrity attendance and national recognition with fashion magazines and tabloids covering the event. During press for the first show, Baltimore’s Fox45 asked if she would talk about the event on-air. Rae had no prior experience in television, but again she saw an opportunity to accept a challenge and excelled. Fifteen years later, she frequently appears on local news in the Baltimore-D.C. region for fashion segments and event promotion.
“Everything has been just a natural evolution of opportunities that snowballed and grew into what I do now,” she says.
While Rae remains humble to a fault, there’s no question she has gotten to where she is through hustle, organization and talent. As a producer, stylist, talent manager, casting director and model, she juggles it all with a calm resolve and has built a reputation on showing up and delivering. Early on, when an event organizer stiffed her and her models on compensation, Rae paid the models out-of-pocket because she knew the value of integrity outweighed a financial loss.
“I don’t really wear my emotions on my sleeve,” Rae explains about a key to her success in the industry. “Usually, I tend to be more of an analyzer and a thinker.”
Rae has styled celebrities like Usher and 2Chainz, as well as several Housewives from the Potomac and Atlanta franchises. In January, she styled each member of Maryland’s first family for Governor Wes Moore’s inauguration. Oprah Winfrey was in attendance to honor the first Black governor of her home state, and Rae had a chance to connect and interview her.
As for her own day-to-day style, Rae describes it as minimalistic with an edgy flair. She credits her mother’s Panamanian side for her desire to dress up, noting that when she visited, she saw men don three-piece suits in 90-degree weather.
“I wear a lot of black. I don’t do a lot of patterns. I love monochromes that are eye catching, but also simplistic at the same time. And then I’m aware that my hair is already doing a lot, so I try not to go overboard with clothes.”
Rae’s hair, which has become signature to her style, is almost always swept into a coif, styled heavy toward the front of her head — mohawk-reminiscent, but without the shaved sides or spikes. Like her career, her hairstyle came organically.
“My hair used to be thick and over 12 inches long. It started to get thin and stringy. I was tired of it. I did a big chop one day and had a stylist cut it. Over the years, it’s definitely gotten bigger, and I would experiment with different styles with my stylist. If I look back in my camera roll, I can tell when the photo was taken based on how small my hair was, or how different it was. But it now is my favorite version. I didn’t go in saying I want a signature look. It was more, ‘Okay, I like the style. It’s cool. It’s different. Let’s do it.’”
Rae does not consider herself a trendy person and advises against trends in general. Instead, she advocates for wearing what you love, what makes you feel great.
Sticking to her own style has served her well and allowed her to branch out. After landing a styling job for a Bravo TV show in Atlanta, she began to divide her time between Annapolis and Atlanta and continued to get gigs in both locations. While Atlanta may provide a higher profile celebrity and fashion clientele, Rae enjoys working in both regions.
“D.C. is not known as a fashion capital, per se, but there is a lot of fashion and arts in D.C. and a lot of talented creatives,” Rae says. “I feel like you have to be in that circle to really know it exists.”
During last DC Fashion Week in February, Rae could be spotted in the front row decked out in a black blazer dripping with silver crystal droplets. Her support for our local fashion scene stems from getting her start in the region and creating lasting friendships, like with DC Fashion Week Executive Director Ean Williams.
Still, Rae is committed to seeking opportunity. Within the last two weeks of February, Rae travelled back and forth between the DMV and Atlanta four times, eight flights in total. Her son, who lives and goes to school in Atlanta, is her main incentive to maintain her career trajectory.
“What keeps me motivated is my son,” Rae says. “Not that he has never motivated me, but in 2020, I lost my daughter. She was 20 years old.”
On Rae’s Instagram, she honors her daughter’s memory on birthdays and anniversaries, but she copes with her passing by pretending it didn’t happen most days. Her daughter struggled with addiction and died of an overdose after moving to Florida, away from Rae.
“Losing a child makes you realize: I don’t want to make mistakes that I previously did. My kids are 10 years apart. My son was 10 when she passed, he’s now 13. I want to make sure my son is well taken care of, that he’s mentally okay, that he’s happy, that I’m successful, so I can provide for him.”
Carrying the weight of loss, Rae propels herself forward through her work, wanting her son to not only be proud of her legacy, but to be able support him on whatever his dreams are (he currently aspires to be a pilot).
At the time of the interview, Rae said she was purposely slowing down for a few months following the styling for the inauguration, but she mentioned working with the Wammie Music Awards and Preakness festival to supply models and talent in the interim. The deliberate pause is to prepare for her next new first: heading to LA to be the head stylist for an undisclosed TV pilot later in June.
With only two hours to spare before boarding a flight to Atlanta — where she will then travel with her son to Las Vegas to celebrate his birthday — Rae and her assistant for the day pack the suitcases from the cover shoot. In a blink, Rae is back in her street clothes and heading for the lobby door with the bellhop cart wheeled behind. Opportunity awaits, and Rae is ready to claim what is hers.
To keep up to date with Rae, visit her website itslanarae.com and follow her on Instagram @itslanarae.
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