created and produced by Whitley Adkins • profiles written by Shameika Rhymes
photography by Richard Israel • on-site makeup touch ups by Josiah Reed
production assistant: Isabelle Pringle • on location at Johnson C. Smith University
Personal style is how you carry yourself, the consistency of your dress, how you evolve through life’s various stages; but most of all it is how you behave and treat others. What you wear is telling, but how you wear it is more so. Fashion is just one piece of the personal-style pie.
The series of events that have taken place since March have rocked our country. Production time for this year’s IT List came in the midst of very intentional and purposeful conversations I was having with a handful of my closest Black friends. It was during one of those conversations when it occurred to me that this year’s list should be focused entirely on some of the most stylish Black women and men of our community. While the list is by no means comprehensive, as with each year’s list, the overarching goal is to positively showcase some of the most stylish individuals in our city while leaving room for next year’s group to hold its own.
In determining the location for the photo shoot, there was no question that the campus of Charlotte’s own Johnson C. Smith University would make a befitting and impeccable stage for this year’s stylish set. On a personal note, I was filled with pride and delight for the perfect opportunity to partner with my close pal since elementary school, entertainment and lifestyle writer Shameika Rhymes. We hope you will read to learn more about each of this year’s stylish individuals and tap into some of their inspiration for your very own.
— Whitley Adkins
Hade E. Robinson Jr.
Hade E. Robinson Jr.’s style is all about living his best life and showing his personality: “what makes me feel comfortable and happy.” The 53-year-old personal stylist and retail sales manager says fashion is in his DNA, and he treasures the one thing he splurged on: an Hermes Birkin bag. “It is my statement work bag — when you show up, and it’s all about business.”
As CEO of D. Wilson Agency and DWA Enterprises, DeAlva Wilson, 50, does her own thing when it comes to getting dressed. “I choose to honor who I am and wear what I want to wear, leaning more towards simple, classic, timeless pieces with a hint of flair.” Her favorite fashion time period is the 1940s because of the structured shoulders and accentuated waistlines, but she also loves the freedom of the 1970s. “Both periods reflect my personality and my shabby-chic attitude,” Wilson says.
“My personal style is an extension of who I am. It’s a compilation of my history, experiences and point of view,” says Cheryl Luckett, interior designer and owner of Dwell by Cheryl Interiors. If Luckett, 44, was an article of clothing, she would be her favorite skirt — a full-length, colorful abstract print. “It’s formal yet fun; sophisticated but not stuffy.”
WCNC Charlotte news anchor Fred Shropshire credits his father for his personal style. “A meticulous Marine’s attention to detail had a strong influence on me.” His favorite accessories are his crown rings that helped him through a tough time in his life. “It’s a symbolic reminder of who I am. It’s the proverbial crown on my head, temporarily knocked off during a tough season in my life.” Shropshire, 42, has plans to bring a purple suit to the anchor desk. A classic bespoke suit, dark denim and wingtip shoes are three things that never go out of style, he says.
Sonya Barnes’ signature color is red, including her favorite pair of signed Sarah Jessica Parker heels that the actor encouraged her to wear often. The life and style strategist for women has her eye on a Gucci kaftan to add to her closet. “I love modern elegance with a bit of visual interest. I love timeless pieces that have been reimagined,” says Barnes, 52.
Troy M. Barnes Jr.
As a style adviser for Neiman Marcus, Troy M. Barnes Jr. knows style when he sees it. He believes your mood works in tandem with what you wear. “My favorite pieces are my hats. They’re the bridge between generations and all people,” says Barnes, 34. “A good hat will start a conversation between strangers and develop a friendship that lasts a lifetime.”
Ariene C. Bethea
“My personal style reflects how I approach interior design — statement pieces mixed with layers of patterns and colors,” says Ariene C. Bethea, 42. The “owner and huntress” of Dressing Rooms Interiors Studio has a vintage silk Japanese kimono that’s easy to dress up with a black dress or down with a pair of jeans. “A black dress is always in fashion,” Bethea says.
Leonard Roger Gresham Jr.
“A stylish person has a favorite fashionable style icon that they have admired over the years. Mine is Duke Ellington,” says Leonard Roger Gresham Jr., 62. The CEO and founder of Styles by Privilege wardrobe consultants knows a thing or two about fashion. The one thing that never goes out of style, Gresham says, is the navy blazer because of its versatility. “Never underestimate the importance of wearing clothes. [It’s] something everyone does and yet so few do elegantly.”
“Style is an attitude and the audacity to outdo the last outfit you wore,” says Francene Marie, a syndicated radio personality and online host. Her favorite items are an off-the-shoulder jumpsuit by Adrianna Papell and handmade chakra bracelets by jewelry designer Terri Joelle. “These items bring me joy when I put them on, and they also take me from work to hosting events.” Morris is also fond of the African dresses she’s collected over the years, which she plans to pass down to her daughter.
“My style is mostly influenced by California,” says Tamu Curtis, owner, cocktail shaker and experience maker at Liberate Your Palate. Curtis’ favorite piece of clothing is a vintage bohemian off-the-shoulder sundress. “It perfectly encapsulates who I am as a person: simple, but whimsical.”
For hairstylist Alane Paraison, confidence is key when it comes to style. “From jeans and sneakers to cocktail dresses and gowns — whatever I decide to wear, I have to feel confident in it.” Paraison, 42, declares there are two things that never go out of style: the little black dress and a sexy heel.
John Burton Jr.
”Style is an expression of one’s inner personality through the elements of clothing and accessories through patterns, colors and design,” says marketing and communications consultant John Burton Jr., 45. The owner of The Burton Group PR suggests adding a pocket square to an outfit to give it a pop of style.
Not putting style in a box is how life coach, model and Pride magazine editor Lashawnda Becoats puts her fashion foot forward. “I love remixing traditional womenswear with a touch of masculinity. It allows me to express my love for both men’s and women’s wear unapologetically,” says Becoats, 49, who calls her style tomboy chic. “In fact, if you see me in a dress, look down — I’m usually rockin’ a pair of fly kicks on my feet.”
Natalie Frazier Allen
Growing up in New York City influenced Natalie Frazier Allen’s love of high-low styling. “I am accustomed to valuing everything from Bergdorf and Bloomingdale’s to styles you see on the street and subway,” says Frazier Allen, 54. The former attorney and founder and CEO of The Arts Empowerment Project loves pairing clothes from NYC and her travels with items she finds in pop-up shops around Charlotte.
Information-technology professional Felicia Gray’s style was inspired from a young age. “I love wearing dresses. My mother, grandmother and aunties always wore dresses when they would go out,” says Gray, 50. Her favorite fashion time period is the 1960s, thanks to the classic styles of Coretta Scott King and Jackie Kennedy.
Different by design is what you get with Jennifer Michelle, 47, the founder and owner of J Model Executives. Michelle views her style as a reflection of her unique take on life, community and embracing her purpose. “I feel so powerful and beautiful when I put on a beautiful dress and complement it with the perfect accessory,” Michelle says.
“I consider myself a modern-day Renaissance man,” says Yele Aluko, chief medical officer at Ernst & Young. Aluko is inspired by nostalgia and things that tell a story, including a vintage pocket watch he is currently eyeing. “I enjoy being distinct from the mainstream,” Aluko says. “Style is not a fad or fast fashion; it’s about who you are and who you represent.”
Herb Gray’s style is dressed up mixed with a little creativity. “I like wearing suits, tuxedos, sport coats and slacks. I experiment with colors, bow ties, materials, pocket squares and styles,” says Gray, 52, owner of Life Enhancement Services, a mental health care company. Gray’s favorite accessory is a Breitling watch that he purchased from Fink’s Jewelers the week he married his wife, Felicia, in 2007. “I can wear it with a tuxedo [at the Grays’ annual holiday party] or with jeans and a sweatshirt at a Carolina Panthers game.”
A mixture of bold and simple, “calm with spurts of eccentric flair,” is how fashion and print designer Tara Davis, 48, describes her style. The perfect piece of clothing for Davis is a wrap dress, which also never goes out of style, she says, because “it keeps me calm no matter what size I am.”
Tamara McGill McFarland
Silk pajamas and tutus make Tamara McGill McFarland feel stylish. McFarland, 44, says healthy self-esteem is important when it comes to style. “It’s important to show up in the world in a way that makes you happy; don’t hold back, and don’t wait for anyone to give you a reason.”
Stacee Michelle has a love of 1960s fashion. “It’s the decade of self-expression that birthed styles like mod, rocker, hippie and beatnik, all of which are still relevant. As an entrepreneur and wardrobe stylist, Michelle, 34, defines style as “the art of individuality. Expressing who you are without concern of what is trendy or popular opinion.”
Paul Williams III
“I dress for me and not to impress people,” says Paul Williams III, golf coach and CEO and founder of Paul 3 Photography and P-3 Pressure Washing. The Great Gatsby era is his favorite, but for Williams, having a crisp white shirt, cuff links and a signature fragrance is something that never goes out of style.
Sonja P. Nichols
Growing up under the watchful eyes of her grandparents and aunt, Sonja P. Nichols learned to “always put her best face forward.” Nichols rarely leaves the house without makeup and stylish dress. A candidate for the North Carolina Senate, District 37, her favorite accessories are her Chanel handbags. “They are always in style and completely classic,” says Nichols, 55.
Wearing anything with orange makes Kim Blanding happy. The pediatric dentist describes her style as “comfortable, classic yet eclectic” with a multitude of patterns, fabrics and colors. Her favorite piece of clothing is a wool, paisley-motif coat made in Italy by ETRO that she almost missed out on. “After seeing it in the store and leaving without it, I called the store back and had it shipped to me because I knew it was something that I would absolutely keep forever.”
Rufus E. Robinson
“Style is an individual approach to dressing that reflects your unique taste. Fashions come and go, but style is constant,” says Rufus E. Robinson. The 78-year-old retired Howard University administrator says his favorite style period is between 1928 and 1938. Robinson prefers brightly colored and boldly striped shirts with white contrast collars, brown suede shoes and suspenders.
Nigeria meets New York City is how Esezele Payne describes her personal style. “I love the colorful prints that remind me of traditional Nigerian attire, but I also love the formality of a crisp white blouse,” says the 38-year-old assistant vice president of environmental services and operations at Atrium Health. “I am a high-low shopper, so I can easily be found in something from Zara or J.Crew or something from Capitol or Coplon’s.” She makes it pop with her perfect accessory: an elastic bee belt. SP