“It’ll just be us. You can wear sweatpants. Comfy cute.”
I should’ve known better than to tell a fashion stylist to dress down. I had just invited Malik to join me at my half-furnished downtown Cleveland studio for his Culture Jock interview. I was in an over-sized periwinkle sweatshirt from Contrast High and 3-striped Adidas training pants from Costco.
Malik’s voice over the phone hiccups, “Oh no, not sweatpants. I’m gonna get dressed up.”
In Paris they’d call me a faux pas.
Malik Armand is a Cleveland-based fashion stylist and founder of his namesake company, Malik Armand Styling Studios (MASS), dedicated to locating fab finds and inspiring you to embrace your inner power. I met Malik this Summer attending a Covid-conscious, private drag queen brunch at Cleveland’s Garden City rooftop bar. Even through his mask, you could spot his star quality. He’s authentic, funny, and possesses a late-20th century cool, a zeitgeist of the 90’s MTV era.
Living in a multi-hyphenated generation, deciding on your purpose can be a challenge. Social media highlight reels have warped the timelines of success and have instigated an imagined pressure of perfection. According to a 2018 study by British researchers at the University of Baths, Millennials overwhelmingly suffer from meritocracy perfectionism.
“Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have become ubiquitous, occupying 2 out of every 5 min spent online,” reports data researchers, suggesting “ that young people are struggling to cope with a visual culture which emphases unrealistic” goals.
Through patience and God, neither of these things meta-modern qualms have weaponized themselves against the 24-year old stylist, sense of self and power.
“ I had my palm read by this Psychic. She said I was going to be big,” said Malik. “ And I agree!”
Malik arrived at the studio on one of those picture perfect October nights. The kind that only happens in the Midwest. A light rain bounced on the changing leaves, leaving behind puddles that mirror our world upside down. The air was cold but electric with Halloween’s mystic spirit.It’s the kind of night where anything could happen, where a night with friends could easily become a life-changing reflection.
When I met Malik at the door, he surprised me. He arrived in theme: Comfy-cute.
He’s wearing multi-colored Air Jordans, wool socks tucked underneath his hem-cinched grey joggers and matching sweatshirt. A fluffy white overcoat hangs over his shoulders. Casually flawless.
He announces himself, “ I have arrived.”
For the next few hours we reminiscenced about living in the journey and piecing together the ideal life.
CJ: Where are you from?
MA: I was born and raised in Cleveland, OH, which is actually disgusting.(laughs)
CJ: What were you like growing up?
MA: I was super interesting. Ya know, just gagging life as a young, gay, Black boy. You don’t really know what the hell is going on, you’re just like, “hmm, something is a little different.” So, trying to figure that out but, I’ve found my niche and where I want to go.
CJ:Did more of Malik show up when you went to college?
MA: Hell yeah. College for me was great. I lowkey ran the yard for a little bit.You can ask the girls about it. When my best friends would visit me, they’d be like,” why is it that when we walk down the hallways, everyone knows you?”
CJ: Where did you go to school?
MA: Cleveland State University. I went into college knowing a couple of upperclassmen because I went to this thing called Camp Vike. Hot mess express. We are Vikings so, they called it Camp Vike.
CJ: That sounds troublesome.
MA: It was a troublesome time.
CJ: Why did you start M.A.S.S?
MA: I was working and was super unhappy there. I was just like, “ I don’t know what to do.” Then one day I was on YouTube and looked up how to become a stylist. I was like, “hmm, okay. This is something I’ve been wanting to do” but, I had nothing. Look, when God strips you of things He wants you to rebuild with different blocks. I was stripped from jobs, people and things that were distractions. He knew I needed to do something way different because something wasn’t clicking. So, I started planning out shoots. I reached out to a photographer that wanted to collaborate, Angelique Williams from Let Art Breathe. I was like. So I was like, “ well let’s try it. Let’s see what happens.”
CJ: How has this new outlet been for you?
MA: I had a reading with one of my friend’s Godmother. Literally the first thing she said was ‘ I pulled your cards earlier and I saw that you were supposed to live the most grand life.’ I said, “I like that.” She said that if I am doing something creative I need to keep doing it because it’s going to take off and people are going to know your name worldwide.
CJ: What motivates you?
MA:The fact that I want to live a fabulous life. Ya know, that feeling when you know you’re supposed to be something better than what you see? Yeah, that motivates me.
CJ: What’s your favorite thing about your birthday?
MA: (laughs) You know what you’re a good questioner. You did your research. Yes, I am a leap year baby.
CJ: I knew you would love this question.
MA: Alright, my birthday doesn’t exist (laughs) all the time. I am technically six years old. I’m a cool six year old. I mind my business, I own my business. Here’s the thing, I’m a February 28th kind of girl. My mom always tries to make me a “March 1st” but, I’m like I wasn’t born in March. It’s not my month. I liked my birthday until I turned 21.
CJ: What happened when you turned 21?
MA: (sighs) So, here I am February 28th being 21. My best friend [waited with me ] to get my new license. “We can’t give you your new license because it expires tomorrow, not today. You have to come back tomorrow.” I was literally like my birthday is February 29th and I celebrate today. We go to the bar and ask [the bouncer]. He goes and asks the manager and they were like, “no, we can’t let you in.” Luckily, we had a bar on campus and I was able to turn up.
CJ: Where is Malik now? Where has he been? Where is he going?
MA: Now, I’m in a place of being happy. I’m starting to take off with work that I like and enjoying the process. I come from a weird past of working at jobs that I’ve hated and being super unhappy. But, I always had a knack for fashion. I worked retail but I hated it. I was showing up late, really whatever about everything. I had really great opportunities but, gosh there is so much I want to do and it wasn’t that. I already know I’m going to work with a major publication by my birthday. I don’t know how it’s happening but, it’s happening. I’m claiming it. I’m very optimistic. I feel very aligned.
Follow Malik on Instagram.