Beyond The Pain: An Intimate Conversation With Celebrity Stylist Donvinni Boykin
Interviewed By Lissha Sadler
Author of the upcoming anthology R.E.V.E.A.L, former model and Celebrity Stylist Donvinnie Boykin is a multi-talented force in the fashion industry.
LS: Tell me how your journey started?
DB: While I was in college, I met a photographer by the name of Erica Holmes, who is now my best friend, and the one that introduced me to modeling. She had a little side hustle and asked me to do a photoshoot with her. At the time, I was working at Sam’s Club as a cashier. I was excited once I got my photos back, and I went to get them printed out. The lady that was working behind the counter asked to look at them. Intrigued by a couple of my pictures, she asked if she could have one, so I gave her one. Well, come to find out her daughter was a casting director in New York. I ended up meeting her daughter and she asked me if I’d ever modeled before? I told her no, and before I knew it, I was on a flight to New York and cast as a model for Ralph Lauren. I truly fell in love with fashion during this time and I was able to meet a lot of people in the industry. I did this for a few years but after some time I became a bit tired being front and center in fashion, so I started my production company by the name of Encore Entertainment Group. And in 2017, I launch my skincare line called 717 by Donvinnie. The idea was to have a skincare line for African American men that was organic and all-natural. It was a coconut oil-based product that I made myself. This line was near and dear to me. It started for men but is really for everyone. After the passing of my father, I have to put this production on hold and will relaunch it after the release of my book.
LS: What has excited you the most about your powerful journey?
DB: Well, I come from a small town. I think it was like 83 people in my graduating class. And out of the 83, five of us left the state of Tennessee. So just being able to take that courageous journey was major. I am my mother’s only child, and sometimes it’s harder when you’re the only child to push away from your parents.
LS: Tell me about your book?
DS: That book is entitled Reveal, it’s the acronym for realization, emotions, vulnerability, in rage, alienated, and loved. All of those things are what I experienced the first year after the loss of my father.
LS: Tell me about your writing process?
DB: I started journaling my thoughts for therapy. I wasn’t comfortable with actually talking about my feelings to an actual therapist. Primarily because that is not something we do in our culture as African Americans. But I have always been a lover of words, journaling and just writing poetry. I also thought about bringing awareness to mental illness because of the depression I went through during that time. I revealed in my book that I turned to drinking very heavily. I just did not have an outlet and my relief became alcohol. As they say, a drunken man’s voice is a sober man’s thoughts. So, with that voice, I was able to become even more vulnerable and I wanted to start a campaign called ‘A Man Behind The Mask’. I wanted to give black men a voice to be able to talk about different adversities, trials, and tribulations. As I talked about my story, a lot of guys were going through the same thing. They just didn’t know they could talk about it. I know for me growing up and being around strong, prominent African American male figures, I was always told you can’t express your feelings. If you express your feelings, you’d be considered weak or vulnerable. But I have learned those are important conversations that we must have.
LS: Who has inspired you the most along your journey and what was the best advice you’ve received?
DB: My father inspired me a lot. He was a go-getter. He was tough as nails but he was just a huge inspiration. He taught me so much about life from hunting, fishing, to getting my first car, and pushing me to be better in life. I’ve had trials and tribulations, but he was just always there by my side. And the biggest advice that I could say that I got was from a high school Professor by the name of Linda Hawk. We were in high school, and she told us this phrase, “life is hard, and then you die.” And that always stuck with me. We do have an expiration date. You know, when you lose someone, you realize they aren’t meant to be here forever.
LS: When you think about the contributions of African American men to the literary industry, what is the impact you want your writing to have?
DB: I’ll just go back to the first poem that I ever read, which was by Langston Hughes, who was a literary author and poet. He was just such an inspiration to me. And that was years ago, during the Harlem Renaissance era, and people still know his name. African Americans, are powerful that’s black and white. These pages will be here forever, my legacy will live on through my name, my children, my grandchildren, and my great-grandchildren.
LS: How do you think COVID has changed the modeling and fashion industries?
DB: I have a lot of friends that are not working because of it. I have seen a lot of people depressed. I’ve heard of a lot of people committing suicide and losing loved ones. So it’s a sad time for us. Being quarantined has put some in a dark place mentally, as well as economically. But on the upside, I think with us being in quarantine, it has brought out a lot of creative ways for the industry to grow.