In a field full of glitz and glamour, Celebrity Stylist and Director Sophia Banks has not only garnered an impressive resume, she’s taking her years of experience and moving forward with new and exciting adventures in the world of storytelling through fashion.
Originally from Australia, the now LA based Banks says her love for fashion began at a young age. By seven years old she had her hands on a copy of Vogue and despite the fact she didn’t grow up surrounded by designer labels, knew it was where she was headed.
With a degree in both fashion and business, the future entrepreneur began her career as a stylist in Australia after living briefly in New York City. “I missed America so much and I knew I needed to come back,” says Banks. “I came to Los Angeles for two weeks, thought it was a cool place, and while I didn’t know anyone I thought, let me give it a shot.”
With a sixth sense for seeing trends before they hit, Banks has found success in a myriad of areas; from owning her own boutique, creating a clothing line, helping brands like Rebecca Minkoff launch their own line, to styling some of the biggest names in Hollywood (think Priyanka Chopra, Nicole Richie, Cameron Diaz, Gwen Stefani, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, Kristen Chenowith, and Rachel Zoe), Banks is now stepping behind the camera to bring her creative visions to life.
1. You create not only a look but an image for your clients; what is that process like?
I’ve been doing this a long time and for me it’s a very detailed process. I spend a lot of time with the client discovering who they are, what type of career they want to have, how they want to be perceived to the public. Next, we create vision and mood boards to get a sense of the style they’re looking to achieve and then focus on bringing that out. It is as much strategic as it is executional.
2. You are responsible for creating actress Priyanka Chopra’s look. How did the collaboration come about?
We met at a shoot and her publicist asked if I wanted to start working with her. She had just come to the states so it was about building her up here and I was able to be a part of that journey. When it comes to styling you should have a clear understanding of both design and marketing. I had a vision of what I wanted to do with her and thankfully everyone agreed. As we built up her image, I also built a great friendship along the way; I love and adore her.
4. You created a huge buzz with Priyanka’s 2016 Oscar’s dress; how did it feel when your vision became such a huge success?
It felt amazing! But there is a lot of work that goes into moments like that. It can take many years to figure out what works and what doesn’t and when it works it’s nice to have those acknowledgments.
5.You’ve said that when you first saw the dress you knew it was “the one.” How can you tell?
It’s an instinct and based off of years of knowledge and experience. I can go into a place that has 150 dresses and pick the top three that the client would chose themselves. It’s knowing cuts, body types, shapes, tone – it’s possible to get there but that’s based off thousands and thousands of hours of experience. As an entrepreneur, I think anyone can be good at anything, it just depends on how many hours of work you want to put in. I am always learning and staying on top of my craft.
6. While it’s exciting to have these stand out moments, have you experienced times when you thought things might not go off as planned?
Absolutely! I always say high risk, high return. You’re playing a big game dressing someone for the Oscars. Whether you do it well or not people are going to know about it. The day of the show we were fixing the lining of Priyanka’s dress just hours before the carpet.
I’ve had instances where shoes break right before show time so you must be prepared for the worst and have backup plans in place. I am very calm under pressure and to do this job I think you have to be a problem solver. Between my assistant and I we have every scenario covered; we’re ready for anything.
Sophia Banks(R) and Jessica Gomes(L)
7. Your success as a stylist and a designer has opened up a whole new area for you as a director. How have you married the two together?
I’ve been conceptualizing campaign shoots for years and it’s something I’m good at. At one of these shoots someone I was working with suggested I explore directing. It’s actually something I’ve always wanted to do. I took night classes to brush up (I went to film school at 19) and began shooting fashion campaigns for brands like BMW, Ford, Christian Siriano. Pam & Gela, Cheeky Plates for Target, and right now I’m working on new spots for Anine Bing and TOME.
I love creating beautiful things and with directing I not only get to style the talent but conceptualize and tell a story. I never expected my career to go in this direction.
Everything I’ve done up until now makes sense; it’s the next step for me and for fashion. There’s a shift in the world of fashion; they’re changing the way in which they reach their audience. Video content is an important and powerful way in communicating with an audience.
8. What do you love about your career?
I love to create – whether it’s an idea for an Oscar gown or a story for a campaign, it’s about taking an idea and turning it into a psychical thing. For me, that’s an amazing feeling.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.