NEW YORK — Stylist June Ambrose helped remake the image of Luther Vandross and Mariah Carey as they were preparing major comebacks, but there's one icon she didn't get to remake — Whitney Houston.
Working with Houston wasn't a pipe dream for Ambrose. With the singer readying a return to the spotlight with the upcoming movie, "Sparkle," and new music, it was a real possibility. But she died Feb. 11 on the eve of the Grammys at 48 of an accidental drowning, with heart disease and cocaine use as contributing factors.
"There were talks about it," Ambrose said in an interview Monday. "I really wanted to do Whitney Houston's comeback. ... I just felt like Whitney and I ... would have been great together."
Ambrose has already proven she's great with other A-listers: Her client list includes Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jay-Z, Missy Elliott and Zoe Saldana, and she also was a stylist for "The X-Factor."
"Jay-Z's been a longtime client and a friend. What I love about Jay is that he has such a natural swagger and charisma, and he's just as passionate about his music as I am my art, and we have such a mutual respect for what one another does," Ambrose said. "Mary J. Blige, love working with her. ... Alicia Keys, too, especially when she was pregnant. It was such a pure, personal time."
On her new VH1 show, "Styled by June," the Antigua native helps struggling celebrities look their best, including actress and one-time fashionista Mischa Barton, female rappers Trina and Da Brat, and reality TV star and singer Aubrey O'Day. The show airs on Mondays (9:30 p.m. EDT).
The Associated Press: Who else would you like to style?
Ambrose: I like broken starlets. I love to fix things. ... I would love to get like a Courtney Love. Lindsay Lohan I'd be brilliant with.
AP: What's it like getting celebrities to trust you when taking them out of their comfort zone?
Ambrose: Celebrities naturally are quite defensive by nature. They have to protect themselves, they're constantly being photographed and judged, and social media controls so much of how they feel about themselves. You know, they're reading the blogs, the tabloids, and it starts to kind of eat away at their spirit and their confidence. ... I have to strip them down and build them back up, and the reason why I have to strip them down is I need them to see themselves, not the person they want to be, but the person that they are. Face that person, accept that person and then we deal with the alter ego.
AP: When were you bitten by the fashion bug?
Ambrose: I was smitten and bitten by fashion from inception. When I came out of my mother's womb I was like, 'Where are my designer diapers?' I used to cut up my grandmother's curtains and designer dresses for my Barbie dolls. In preschool, I was like, 'I want to put on a fashion show,' and I got all the parents together and I produced a fashion show. I was like 7 years old, like in kindergarten doing fashion shows.
AP: What is the most common mistake people make when putting together an outfit?
Ambrose: Fit is a factor. When you think about the '20s and the '40s (and) how structured fashion was: That's why I say it's the return of the lady and the dandy because people are starting to pay a lot more attention to fit. When a guy invests in a sports jacket, have it tailored if it's not something that was couture to your body. ... Women, wear your foundation undergarments, even if you're skinny. Having the right foundation pieces, it helps you with your core, it helps you with that juxtaposition. It's like wearing a petticoat. ... And people also feel like they need to overaccessorize. You have to balance your bold. ... Head-to-toe leopard isn't necessary unless it's a Halloween soiree you're going to.
AP: What trends will we see this spring and fall?
Ambrose: Both seasons are filled with color, they're exciting, but what's wonderful about it is there's a lot of classic pieces. I think consumers are really looking for classic fashion that has punctuation, so there's a lot of play on texture, but the color is really what's exciting. It's very reminiscent of the '70s; you feel the Bianca Jagger, you feel the Diana Ross. For the fall, they're more rich jewel tones; for the spring, a lot of sorbets.
AP: You mentioned color, but the all-black ensemble will never fail, right?
Ambrose: An all-black ensemble will never steer you wrong, even though blue is the new black. I feel like the kimono is the new cardigan. ... A black number will never steer you wrong. That depth will always keep you svelte.
AP: I've noticed more men wearing brown shoes. Is brown the new black?
Ambrose: You're seeing a lot of the oxford, cognac brown shoes — it's the new neutral for men. And another thing they're doing is the sockless man; very retro. Ankle is the new sexy; ankle cleavage.
Mesfin Fekadu covers entertainment for The Associated Press. Follow him at http://www.twitter.com/musicmesfin
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