Though there are many revelations and takeaways from JAY-Z’s “Family Feud” music video, the intricate narrative is brought to life by the eye-catching outfits the star-studded cast wears — especially the powerful women featured. From Blue Ivy’s white feathered frock to Beyoncé’s black dress with grand white sleeves, all the clothing in the "Family Feud" music video helps to tell the story of lies, sin, and above all, forgiveness. And that sartorial story was conceptualized by costume designer Ayanna James.
James isn’t an unknown name in the fashion world — not by a long shot. The costume designer has made a name for herself as the mastermind behind the clothing in Issa Rae’s hit HBO sitcom Insecure. Crafting relatable looks that are coveted by fans of the show, James has helped create Insecure's stand-out style by imagining the characters as everyday black women.
“I had no idea that you could make money shopping,” James said in an interview with HBO about her work with Insecure. “But I realized I had a talent and a gift. Every day I am happy to come to work because I know it is very rare for me to get this experience anywhere else.”
The Jamaican-born designer who grew up in South Florida got her start in the industry as most do, assisting on small shoots in Los Angeles and blogging about fashion in her spare time. James then moved her way up the ranks by styling celebs like Usher, Carmelo Anthony, and Issa Rae herself. And it's that connection with Rae that gave her a life-changing opportunity.
Since 2015, James has been the costume designer for Insecure, her first gig as a costume designer ever. And she has used that platform as a way to lift up the black fashion community as a whole, giving black indie labels prime real estate on the show.
“A lot of the elements that I use that are pop culture-related, they’re easily noticeable within black culture,” James previously told the LA Times, citing Prince, Michael Jackson, and Public Enemy T-shirts worn by Rae on the show as examples. “If it’s something that’s influenced or inspired us, I’m going to use it. It’s a way to invite the viewer into this world.”
And, now, James can add JAY-Z's religion-inspired music video and art piece to her extensive resume. The clothing in the seven-minute long music video includes a $9,580 Stéphane Rolland dress, which is a far cry from Insecure’s graphic tees and indie label fare. But it just shows the range James has as a designer and, above all, a storyteller.
“Folklore and storytelling is a big part of my upbringing, and I find bliss whenever I get to create a different experience for my viewer,” James writes on her website.
That passion for storytelling is evident in the “Family Feud” music video. Whether it’s dressing a table of strong-as-hell celebrity women as political queens in 2050 or outfitting Beyoncé as a new-age high priest at the pulpit, James aids the visual narrative in a breathtaking and jaw-dropping fashion.
While the clothing doesn't steal the show in "Family Feud" — though it certainly comes close — the costuming choices help to tell the overall story in a seamless way. And that's exactly how it should be.
No matter the job, one thing is for sure: James is a powerful designer bringing black culture, fashion, and art to the forefront in all her work. And it will be a genuine joy to see her climb, all while lifting up her community along the way.