Growing up in Queens, Carlos Nazario had two wardrobes: Sean John jeans paired with Jordans or Timbs for day and miniskirts with thigh-high Converse boots for night. Most weekends, he’d sneak out and take a two-fare trip into the city to clubs like Happy Valley and Splash, or to Warehouse in the Bronx, where your outfit could make your evening. His looks were paid for, in part, with money he made Photoshopping his peers’ report cards (and doctors’ notes and gym slips), although sometimes he’d swap and borrow clothes with the friends he made on the scene—people like Shayne Oliver, who later started Hood by Air and who made Nazario seem conservative by comparison. “The styles were wild,” Nazario said. “You could just tell that everyone woke up at 2 p.m., ran a few errands and then from 7 p.m. on, it was all about getting dressed.”
It was a snowy morning in early February, and the 32-year-old stylist was reminiscing at his desk in his Tribeca studio. He wore his signature black Yankees baseball cap, a vintage dark-blue Jil Sander sweater, Supreme jeans he’s had since he was 20, and black leather Prada Wallabees—the designer version of a classic New York shoe. With his cute smile and gentle demeanor, it was hard to imagine him operating a racket for fake grades. On the wall hung a large photograph of his grandmother Efna. Last year, when Italian Vogue asked him to style 100 women in Prada for 100 versions of its September cover, he put her on the list.
For Nazario, this kicked off a season of career highlights. He dressed Lizzo in a bright-red Valentino ruffle dress for the October issue. He styled Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a Black-owned brand by a designer from her district for the cover of Vanity Fair. And for the November cover of American Vogue, again, he put Naomi Campbell in a deitygrade Dior couture gown. Nazario was joined on set by friends from his club days who had gone on to become hairstylists and modeling agents. “We’re standing there, and Naomi Campbell is on fucking stilts in this silver creation,” he said. “Naomi, to little Black boys, it’s like the height. You don’t get any bigger. We really had a moment.” And yet when Nazario looks back on this remarkably prolific run of work, the Efna shoot remains his favorite accomplishment. Getting his own grandmother on the front of Italian Vogue? That was everything. That was power.
NAZARIO, WHO IDENTIFIES as Afro-Latino, was 15 when he moved in with his grandmother in Cambria Heights, on the border of Nassau County. His parents were divorced, and he didn’t want to live with his father anymore. Efna was more lenient and shared his preoccupation with aesthetics— in her youth, she had modeled for up-and-coming photographers and gone out dancing in Harlem. He would watch her get up in the morning to do her eyebrows, put on her makeup and wig, and go to work for the postal service.
Nazario knew he wanted to be part of the fashion industry someday. He toyed with the idea of being a photographer or designer but knew those specific disciplines weren’t for him; he wondered what other ways there might be to somehow have a hand in shaping the magic he saw in magazines and advertisements. He’d fallen in love, first, as so many teens at the time did, with the beefcake images of Bruce Weber. (Public allegations of sexual misconduct against the photographer were years in the future.) “It was like a utopia; people felt rich and carefree and gorgeous and sexy, and it wasn’t something that I knew,” Nazario said. “Even if I wasn’t born into a glamorous lifestyle with a famous last name, I wanted to be a part of something that felt fabulous and beautiful.”
Not until he started dating a stylist did he understand what the job entailed. He read the 2007 book Stylist: The Interpreters of Fashion, and he studied the careers of some of the most influential members of the profession: Melanie Ward, who helped Helmut Lang shape his raw but rarefied look; Carine Roitfeld, who elevated the sexiness of Tom Ford’s Gucci.
“Instantly, I was like, That’s what I should be doing. That’s everything that I love,” Nazario said. It was a job that let him share space constantly with fashionable, artistic people and have a hand in nearly every stage of the creative process—pulling strings, having sway, but remaining usefully behind the scenes.
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