For a touring artist, your style isn’t just what you wear, it’s how you complete the aesthetic of your live show. In demand stylist Haylee Ahumada takes a lot into consideration when styling artists like Joey Bada$$, Rico Nasty and, most recently, a pregnant Summer Walker.
“[Summer and I] discussed the look that she was going to wear. We agreed that she was going to wear that, and she just happened to look pregnant in it, and she just didn’t care,” Ahumada told REVOLT, speaking on one LA show in particular.
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” the amorphous outfit architect discusses the thought process behind Rico Nasty’s abstract style, bonding with Summer Walker before shows, and why she is essential to any show she works on.
Who was the first major artist you styled for a live show?
The first person I did a live show for was Joey Bada$$. This was around 2016/2017. I’ve been good friends with Joey for a minute now. We always knew of each other through other people. I got to work with him via Matthew Henson, whom I assisted. Matthew got asked to do a job for him for Complex Magazine and passed the opportunity to me. From then on, Joey and I decided to work together. After that, he started his “[All-Amerikkkan Bada$$] Tour.” I think he was releasing his second album at the top of his tour.
On that tour, his style was a bit militant. What was your thought process for his aesthetic?
I always like to be super hands-on with my clients. I like my clients to be involved in what they would like in their aesthetic. So, Joey and I spoke about it having a militant vibe — like an All-American badass but a Brooklyn version of it. So, that was the vibe for the rest of the tour. For every look, we would just try and play off that theme and do something new and exciting based on that aesthetic.
Why is what you do important?
It’s as important as making sure you wear underwear every day. It also depends on the artist. If you’re an artist whose aesthetic is super important to their success, then my job is crazy important. What we were doing with Joey was very specific. It was almost like we were doing this as a costume. If we didn’t, it wouldn’t have gone with the theme, set design or any of that.
You started working with Rico Nasty around 2016 when her label contacted you. Rico’s aesthetic is almost like wearable art projects. How have you factored in form and functionality while deciding on her pieces?
This might be the wrong thing to say, but I’ve never thought about functionality when it comes to Rico Nasty. I’ve never thought, “Is she going to be able to move in this?” The first person I really started thinking about that with was Summer [Walker]. Whatever we can do that’s cool, outlandish, different or whatever, we’d do it. And if it’s not functional, she’ll take it off, strip it or throw it away. The most functional thing I would think of for her was her shoes because she can wear heels but performance-wise, we would try to stray away from heels.
You said Rico Nasty would just rip things off. When she would do that, what went through your mind?
I am crying. I cry on the inside. What can you do? For someone like her, it’s part of her persona. So, I’ll be mad but I’ll tell them, “Hey, you have to pay for this or we have to figure it out. You weren’t supposed to do that.”
You went on your first tour with Rico in Australia years ago. What was that experience like as a stylist?
It was enjoyable. It was a whirlwind. We would have maybe a break after every three or four shows. It was also pretty chill because she didn’t have wardrobe changes between songs. It was challenging because being in Australia, I had to familiarize myself with many Australian designers. Even though I came to Australia with many wardrobes, there were a lot of instances where I needed more. It helped me figure out how to manage getting and giving back clothes.
How did traveling with Rico help build your relationship with her?
We got really close. Overall, it was a challenging tour with all the different personalities and stuff. There were a lot of ups and downs, but Rico has always been like family. I still love her even though we don’t work together anymore. I love her, she loves me, and we have a great relationship.
Have there been any shows where you had to make last-minute adjustments for the artists you were working with?
That happened a lot with Summer. When we started the tour, we were doing two shows per city. For the second show in Atlanta, I only brought three looks for those shows because she told me she wanted to do these shows. So, I got a custom look made. I spent money on those three looks because I figured those were the three looks she would wear both nights, but she decided she wanted to wear all different looks on the second night. So, I spent the whole day trying to get her all different looks up until an hour before the show. She was getting her hair and makeup done and I ran across the street, trying to get her new shoes. This is not to say she’s a diva or anything because she’s not. She is far from a diva. I think it was just nerves for me. The energy of the first two shows we did in Atlanta was stressful. The energy was weird. Wow. I didn’t have an assistant with me, so that was challenging.
You mentioned earlier that you didn’t think about functionality until you worked with Summer Walker. How did her live show inspire you to factor that in?
We had the wardrobe changes in between her sets, so I would think of what’s easiest to take off and to put on. Then, she would start her show on top of these boxes, walk down, perform, and sit and play the guitar. Sometimes she would drop down and do a little twerk. So I’d think, “Okay, we don’t want her cooch to pop out.”
How involved is she in her style choices?
She’s super involved. She sends me inspiration for what she wants and I build off that. She’ll send me pictures, we’ll talk about what she wants to look like, and I’ll show her what I was thinking of based on that. She’ll tell me what she likes and what she doesn’t like. She lets me do a lot of what I want. She lets me put a lot of my input in. She’s open to a lot of things.
You styled her while she was pregnant. When did you find out about her pregnancy? How did that information affect what you chose for her to wear on stage?
I found out before everybody else did. It only started to affect the shows when she started to show. She still fit in small things. We would put her in outfits that would show her stomach before she started showing anyway, so it really didn’t affect it so much. The LA show that we styled her for was when it was unavoidable. She took a picture holding her stomach, which went viral. Then she was like, “Yeah, I’m pregnant.”
So, were you trying to hide it with the clothes you chose before she announced it?
Yeah. We discussed the look that she was going to wear. We agreed that she was going to wear that, and she just happened to look pregnant in it, and she just didn’t care.
How was touring with Summer?
We would do two shows every city, come back home for a few days, then go back out every other week. We would fly in, stay at a hotel, do the shows and fly back out the next morning. We would sometimes bond during glam at the show. She’s a chill person. I don’t ever try to make her feel like a celebrity or whatever. At the same time, I always try to remind her of her talents and ensure she knows she’s special.
You styled her first performance in two years back in February. Did you feel any added pressure?
Yeah, definitely. There’s pressure and a little bit of anxiety when working with her because she has such a microscope on her. Every little thing she does gets nitpicked or put on a blog or whatever. I take all of that into consideration; it’s all important to me.
Summer also went viral for telling her fans she wouldn’t perform songs like “Reciprocate” and “Session 33” because the topics were still fresh wounds at the time. What was it like backstage before that show?
There was a backstage discussion before she even made that speech because they were discussing the setlist. She was like, “I really can’t do certain songs.” It was an honest moment. That wasn’t something made up. This was a moment she had with her management and her team. How can anybody not understand that she’s a real person at the end of the day? This is her art, but it’s still her life and real emotions.
What did you notice about the fan love Summer gets at her shows?
Some nights when I’m in the crowd or the pit, I watch her fans scream and cry. They sing every song word for word. It’s incredible. One of those times went viral. We were in London, and she was about to start singing, and the entire crowd started singing with her word for word, and she burst into tears. We all burst into tears because it was crazy looking out into the crowd and seeing how everybody was singing with her word for word. It was just an incredible moment.
How long would the wardrobe changes take?
It would vary. Sometimes the wardrobe change would depend on the special guest she had come in. Occasionally, we would have two or three songs to change her. Sometimes it would be a little longer depending on whether she had one or two guests. Sometimes I had help. Sometimes her assistant would help me. Her boyfriend would help me other times. Sometimes it would just be me.
What do you have coming up for the rest of the year?
I have no idea. I never know. Things are constantly just popping up. I’m sure things are coming up as always, but I always go with the flow. I’m very blessed to be here and very blessed, always, to know that there will be things in the works.