The media has published hundreds of articles and think pieces about the tech-loving, world-changing millennial generation. They’re accused of being narcissistic, selfish, and entitled. Whether those claims are valid or not, there is one millennial attribute that not only sets them apart, but can also push them ahead. For the most part, this generation grows up thinking that anything is possible. Born in 1992, Aleali May is a member of this new generation, and her approach to taking on the world exists without limits.
At the tender age of 24, May, a self-described “image consultant,” is a successful stylist who has outfitted Kendrick Lamar and Wiz Khalifa, amongst others, a coveted model, and a popular fashion persona. She boasts over 100k followers on her personal Instagram and keeps her fans up to date about her comings, goings, and outfit showings via her namesake blog and newly launched Snapchat feed. When we connect on a Friday afternoon in downtown Los Angeles at sneaker care shop Jason Markk, the staff inquire about a pair of Yeezy Boosts she had cleaned last time she was in the store. Similarly, when we stroll across the street to premium sneaker and consignment store RIF, employees usher us into a private storage room to show her newly acquired deadstock Supreme jerseys before asking to snap a photo with her for their blog. She’s a bona fide local celebrity.
That’s a lot of success for someone so young, but talking to the half Filipino, half African-American beauty, you get the sense that she was never hindered by the idea that there was anything she couldn’t do. Born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, May grew up watching No Reservations with her father, dreaming of travel. “I used to watch it so much because I wanted to go places so badly,” she says. “I was like, ‘Man, I’m just gonna be a traveler. I’m gonna be the next Anthony Bourdain.’”
In addition to being glued to the Travel Channel, May spent her early years listening to hip-hop and wearing uniforms to school. Her early interactions with personal fashion were pretty much limited to sneaker collecting. “I was always into sneakers ‘cause my uncle always bought me the latest Jordans,” she says. “But I got interested in fashion when I stopped wearing uniforms.” May cites her family as her earliest and most enduring fashion influences. “My mom dressed like Sade. She had the red lip, the ponytail, oversized button downs, you know? My dad was super L.A., so Chucks, Dickies, all of that. I think having them around, it helped my creativity.” Another early influence? The group of friends teenage May ran around Los Angeles with, which included the members of Odd Future. May and her crew spent their days prowling the Fairfax block that is home to Supreme and The Hundreds. In fact, it was a member of OF who initially encouraged her to start blogging. “In high school, Domo [Genesis] told me that I needed to start a Tumblr. I was like ‘What’s this?’ We were on Facebook at the time, after MySpace. So I start posting M.I.A., Kid Cudi, Pharrell, Kanye, and everything I was influenced by. And then I was like, ‘Man. I see cool people, I see cool things, I go to cool places. Why don’t I just start posting everything?’ And then it started getting popular.”
After high school, May relocated to Chicago to attend college, and it was there that she first got involved in high fashion. Working at RSVP Gallery and later at Louis Vuitton opened her up to a whole new aesthetic realm. “I think seeing that at age 19, I was like ‘What is going on?’ I just wanted both worlds, you know? I appreciate where I come from and then I’d like to have whatever this is over here,” she laughs. It was also at Vuitton that she first tapped into her passion for styling when she started offering her services to her clients there. “At the time, they didn’t know about Balmain or Givenchy, so I would take my clients to Barney’s and be like, ‘This is cool stuff. This is what you need to wear.’ I didn’t have the money for it, but I was more into going to look at it and seeing someone else buy it, cause I couldn’t afford it yet.”
Though her initial plan had been to move to New York City after college, at 21 she felt instinctually pulled back to her home city. “I don’t know, my intuition was like, ‘Move back home to L.A.’ It’s crazy because everybody’s moving back or moving here now…And I think L.A. is opening up to more fashion and more high-end street wear.” May called upon Guillermo Andrade, a friend she made through MySpace where they connected over a shared aesthetic. He had since relocated from the Bay to L.A. and opened up the shop FourTwoFour on Fairfax. He promptly hired May, and she began repping the store and the brands it carried.
While working on the block and connecting with like-minded people in the scene, May started her website, Alealimay.com, and began documenting her experiences and outfits on her personal blog, or as she puts it, “a platform where I can get fits off.” She soon became known for her deft way of mixing luxurious, feminine pieces with menswear and street fashion for a look that comes off as modern and effortless. She counts RIF, Supreme, H. Lorenzo, SSENSE.com, and the Depop app as her go-to shopping resources. As she gained fans, she also gained career opportunities: Through chance connections, she began to model for Stussy and landed a job styling Kendrick Lamar for the Yeezus Tour. She soon found herself on the fashion industry’s radar, with write-ups on Hypebeast, The Coveteur, and more. Her instinct to move back to Los Angeles has proven fruitful. “I wouldn’t say it was destiny, but it kind of sounds like it,” May laughs.
Though she no longer works at FourTwoFour, May spends a lot of her free time hanging out there. “I’m always traveling and my sense of being home also revolves around me coming around to visit the block, because all my friends are here,” she says. Around 3 p.m. we stroll next door to Golden State Café for lunch and the staff greets her like a lifelong regular. She remains close with Andrade and the staff at the shop, and cites other friends, like Virgil Abloh of Off-White and Just Don founder Don C, as career motivators. “I think when you have people that are doing things that you know, it makes your goals more tangible,” she says. In terms of personal style, May praises Christine Centenera of Vogue Australia and Barbara Martelo of Vogue España, who she describes as “swag on swag on swag.” Maybe most endearingly, May truly admires her fans. “My supporters hold me down. I really do appreciate them. I think they’re very unique. They’re all individuals; I would say that a lot of them are very eclectic, you know?”
These days, she’s focused on shooting for her website and traveling to international destinations like West Africa and Copenhagen for work opportunities, but May has her eyes on bigger goals. While she definitely wants to stay in the realm of fashion, she plans to carve her own path. “Millennials, I guess we don’t really have a hall of fame for a lot of the things we’re doing. There’s really no rules, you know?”