As the stylist for rapper and singer Lizzo, Marko Monroe has had a front row seat to the artist’s meteoric rise to fame over the past year and a half. Along with Lizzo’s creative team, Monroe is the inventive force behind the star’s dramatic red carpet looks and bold, colorful costumes for her high-energy live performances. Monroe, a Little Rock native, is also a co-founder of House of Avalon, a group of party crafters known for turning looks at campy, tongue-in-cheek bashes they once threw at Club Sway in Little Rock and now host at Micky’s in West Hollywood. While traveling the country with Lizzo’s “Cuz I Love You Too” tour, Monroe spoke with the Arkansas Times about styling the star, and about why Little Rock’s thrift-shopping scene beats the one in Los Angeles.
How does it feel to be working with such a high-profile star for your first job in the styling industry?
It’s interesting. I’m a maker of sorts, so I just kind of adapt and push forward. I consider myself an artist. But it’s been kind of weird to navigate the styling world, just because it is so established. … And I don’t even like to use that word [stylist] when I talk about myself, just because I have such a negative connotation of people moving to [Los Angeles] and wanting to be a “stylist” — it’s just cheesy, and not my cup of tea. Technically [I] am a stylist, but I’m a costume designer, I’m a creative coordinator. … What’s cool about [Lizzo’s] creative team is that it’s all very collaborative, so I don’t really like to put labels on it. It’s where I am right now, what we’re doing. And it’s fun. We get to play. And right now, we get to play with clothes.
How does your personal relationship with Lizzo affect your ability to style her?
With the growth of [our] relationship, of course, [I] have a better understanding of what she likes. I think the biggest thing I try to take into my work with her is that I just like to listen. Maybe something she casually drops in a conversation as we’re living our lives, I try to hold onto [that] and remember, and apply that when I’m designing or helping to put together the next look. … I’m just trying to be sensitive to things that come up organically, and that’s how we all are as a team. And that comes from knowing each other well, and knowing what we like and what we don’t like. At the end of the day, she wants to be sexy. She wants to be glamorous and fun. So if those things can come up in different variables, then that’s what we’ll try to do.
Lizzo’s appearances already feel so ingrained in the pop culture lexicon. What are the challenges of putting together a look that you want to be memorable, but which can also can keep up with her movement during live performances?
For a shorter performance, we can go a little more extreme with what she wears, material-wise, because it’s not going to live as long. But when we’re on tour, [the outfit] has to withstand an hour-and 15-minute set. So there are some challenges, and [the solution] comes with trial and error. … Right now the biggest challenge is how to consider silhouettes that are different, especially in terms of shorter performances. For long-term performances, it’s more about comfort, it’s more about what looks good and sexy on her, that’s easy and that’s not hot. She’s doing full choreography, the dancers are going in so hard the entire time. I’ve seen other stars’ sets, and they’re going in hard, but in comparison, the girls are working their asses off every night on stage, including her. So I never try to put her in anything that’s overbearing or gonna become exhausting.
Lizzo was all over the internet after her red carpet appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards in August wearing a custom Moschino gown with “SIREN” stamped all over it. How did you come up with such an iconic look?
My inspiration for my sketches of that [dress] were Anna Nicole and Jessica Rabbit, and it was like Anna Nicole [Smith] was right there [on the red carpet]. … Things like that are a reminder that you can be confident and sexy and wear whatever the fuck you want to wear, and who gives a shit what anyone else says or thinks? She’s sort of that vehicle for people, I think. And it’s really cool to be a part of. I mean, the whole reason I started even making clothes was for my best friend Grant, who was plus-sized. I had to make clothes for him because there weren’t any clothes that fit our themed parties [from] Savers, where we’d go shopping.
Man, I miss Savers.
I know. RIP. I went home [to Little Rock] during the first year [I lived in L.A.], and it was right before they closed. That is so sad, because literally Savers is what helped an entire four years of us building and making clothes. That’s how I learned to deconstruct and recreate, and we had the best hookup at Savers. We’d fill up whole buggies and they would literally charge us $5. It was the best thing that ever happened to the House of Avalon, and really to Little Rock at that point. Everyone would go to Savers, and it became our thing. It’s really hard to thrift in L.A.; it’s the worst. It’s so terrible. You go in there and you’re looking at stuff that you know back home would be like $2, and they want $45 for a T-shirt. It’s ridiculous.
What has been the most fulfilling aspect of your in your work with Lizzo and her team?
I get excited about live performances, and really about her concert stuff, when it comes to design, because that’s when real impact happens. … When people come to her live shows, they’re not on their phones, they’re actually living life. To actually be a part of something like that, where it’s a shared experience, is kind of in the same philosophy that Keith [Haring] had about bringing art to the public and making it more accessible, and reachable, and not being snooty, and not [confining] the conversation of art within the art world, but giving it to everyone. And it’s the same thing with her live performances and anything that we do in front of an audience. … When I look back at old Madonna tours, or old Janet Jackson tours, or Michael Jackson tours, [those were moments] where people had a shared experience and love of music, and that sort of vibe is high art. … That’s what really gets me excited and keeps me trekking forward and pushing myself to go further.
Do you have any advice for other creative people who dream of getting a larger platform for their work?
Follow your intuition, and don’t box yourself into a certain creative category. If you’re creative, you’ll make ways to adapt to whatever is thrown your way. Don’t limit yourself to being one thing, because creativity isn’t one thing. It’s everything. Just play, have fun, make sure it makes you happy, laugh. Maybe I’ll just quote Kacey Musgraves: Follow your own arrow, wherever it may point, because that’s really what it is. I never thought I’d be in this position, but here I am. I’ve done everything under the sun, and I feel like if you’re a creative, you’ve got to just float with what the world and the universe gives you. You can adapt. And even though it may not be exactly what you want, as long as you’re having fun while you do it in the moment, don’t judge where you are or what it is. Just keep going.
Name: Marko Monroe
Hometown: Little Rock
Instagram handle: @marko_monroe
Inspirations: Keith Haring, Jean Paul Gaultier, “the original Franco Moschino,” Ann Hamilton, “pop culture in general,” Madonna, Dolly Parton and “all the greats.”