Ronan Mckenzie’s natural talent for photography is second only to her keen eye for style. Shy and unassuming, the 26-year-old photographer rarely posts images of herself on social media, but when she does she’s always exquisitely dressed.
If you follow her on Instagram, you will have noticed that the most recent of those arresting selfies is tagged to an account called Selasi, a clothing line she conceived of over the summer. “We’d also basically finished all our puzzles and watched every movie when I started thinking about making clothes,” says Mckenzie who lives in East London with her partner, Diogo Rodrigues, a tattoo artist and illustrator. “I am quite private in most areas of my life and I think opening myself up was a gradual process during the lockdown. I wanted to share this because I feel we have all been craving that kind of connection.”
With the help of Rodrigues, Mckenzie set about designing her first pair of pants on the couple’s kitchen table. Cut gently curved through the thigh and high on the waist, those elegant wide-leg trousers set the blueprint for Selasi. Slinky multiway jersey tops, asymmetric blouses, and rough-hewn linen jackets with rounded sleeves would soon follow.
The silhouette that emerged was drawn along powerful, undulating feminine lines, similar to those found in her photography. “I get a lot of emotional strength from physical strength and so much of my work is about making women look big and strong,” says Mckenzie. “I think a lot of the shapes that I do have big arms because I love broad shoulders. I love to feel my arms are weighty.”
That she chose to work with a rich brown palette is no accident either; as an image-maker she has consistently centered on and celebrated Black female bodies with a tender, life-affirming joy. “I never used to wear brown—I just never used to think of it,” she says. “I think it just came with the last few years of growth and appreciation of my skin color, appreciating Blackness, and Black people, Black skin, Black textures.
That naturally led me to want to wear more brown.” Meaning “God hears me” in Ewe, a language spoken in Ghana, the name Selasi itself has resonance across the diaspora. “I do not know if I believe in God, but I am quite spiritual,” she says. “When I say God, I basically mean myself or my inner power. So for me, Selasi means that I hear myself, I understand myself, and I trust myself.”
The one-of-a-kind pieces she’s been making for herself have quickly caught the fashion world’s eye, with inquiries flooding in from stylists and her broader circle of creative cohorts.
Mckenzie recently collaborated with her shoe designer friend Elise of Ugo Paulon on the plush, hand-printed upcycled sandals and mules that appear in her first look book. “I set myself a challenge this year to only buy good quality clothes, but there’s a real beauty in making something that’s perfectly fit for you and you alone,” says McKenzie who is beginning to take on made-to-order requests. “I hope I can share that feeling by doing that for other people.”
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