Kenya Barris’s Secret Weapon Helped Turned Yara Shahidi into a Style Icon with Costume designer Michelle Cole—who creates fashion statements for the characters on both Black-ish and Grown-ish—mixes high and low.
It’s a beautiful spring day on the Disney lot in Burbank, but Michelle Colehas no idea. The Emmy-nominated costume designer behind the TV series In Living Color and The Bernie Mac Show is burrowed inside her workshop, the greatest thrift store you’ve ever seen, where Chanel and Dolce and Gabbana mix effortlessly with Zara and Target. Here is where Cole crafts costumes for Kenya Barris’s Black-ish, about the Johnson family: Andre (Anthony Anderson), Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross), and their five kids. It’s where scores of Dre’s sneakers reside alongside Bow’s scrubs. Most recently, the work space is where Cole turned Yara Shahidi’s Zoey Johnson into a fashion icon with her whimsical-yet-relatable style as a college freshman in the hit debut season of the spinoff series, Grown-ish. Through Zoey, Cole has paired a vintage fur with a black Tupac Shakur tee for the character’s Teen Vogue internship, and matched a leopard-print blazer with track pants for a day at school. Cole’s looks for Shahidi have inspired numerous magazine editorials, scores of fashion-blog posts, and perhaps even contributed to the uptick in teenagers’ penchant for thrift shopping.
She is Barris’s secret weapon.
“She’s a magic fashion elf,” Barris said of the costume designer. “There’s not even a close second. Every time I don’t have something [for Cole to work on], everyone immediately tries to use her. And I think, ‘Oh they are going to try and steal the magic. It’s like the ring in The Lord of the Rings.”
The last time Cole saw this kind of frenzy for her work was back in the early 90s when she was the costume designer for In Living Color and helped transform the Fly Girls, including a fresh-faced Jennifer Lopez, into a cultural moment.
Cole knew she had hit the big time back then when Karl Lagerfeld did a collection for Chanel with various In Living Color touches. “I remember my producer had all these magazines, Women’s Wear Daily, etc., and she cut them all out and put them on my desk,” recalled Cole. “She said to me, ‘When you have couture copying you, you’ve made it.’”