This Season, Joan Smalls Is Bringing Her Fashion Savvy to the Front Row

Janelle Okwodu

Joan Smalls may have stunned at Ralph Lauren’s café society-themed collection—and given the crowd a thrill at the Fenty x Savage’s Barclay Center extravaganza—but this season, many of the supermodel’s brightest moments have come via the red carpet. The supermodel has spent New York and London Fashion Weeks heading from one event to another, enlivening the nightlife scene with her inspired outfit choices. Selected by Smalls and Eric J. McNeal—the stylist behind Pyer Moss’s groundbreaking “Sister” show—her wardrobe felt chic and spontaneous. But make no mistake: it all involves careful planning. “We start months before fashion week arrives,” Small shares. “We send screenshots back and forth, and compile our mood boards of trends and pieces that we believe would work for the events taking place.”

This time around, it meant planning for high profile parties like Lily Aldridge’s fragrance launch in New York, and LOVE magazine’s celebration with YouTube in London. Given the number of events Smalls is invited to, McNeal likes to narrow the options down early. “The thing about fashion month is that you cannot prepare enough for someone like Joan’s schedule,” he says, with a laugh. “I have no choice but to be ready. Her schedule is always changing: Milan one moment, and then Paris the next. I’ll coordinate multiple alternatives then, on the day of, she can make adjustments depending on her mood.” Accessories are decided in advance with a rotating array of statement bags, jewels, and shoes to choose from, but McNeal saves the final dress for last, working with local showrooms to ensure Smalls has everything she needs. “Anytime we try to plan too much it backfires, she can’t be stuck in Paris with bags of clothes,” he says.

This Season, Joan Smalls Is Bringing Her Fashion Savvy to the Front Row

in Burberry
Photo: Getty Images
in Camilla and Marc
Photo: Getty Images
in Tom Ford
Photo: Getty Images
in Tom Ford
Photo: Getty Images
in Area
Photo: Getty Images
in Nanushka
Photo: Getty Images
in custom Prabal Gurung at the 2019 Met Gala
Photo: Getty Images
in Iris van Herpen
Photo: Getty Images

Introduced five years ago by McNeal’s close friend and former client, Rita Ora, the pair ran in the same circles before deciding to work together, initially collaborating on a look for the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards. Immediately struck by the knowledge Smalls brought to the table, McNeal knew their partnership would be a lasting one. “Often, when you're [styling] a model, you’re helping to build their identity outside of the space they’re known for. The goal is to present them as an individual, [but] it can be hard for some models to find their voice with fashion because so much of their job is about transforming into what a designer envisions,” he says. “Joan understands exactly who she is and how she wants to present herself.”

A fan of “tomboy sexy” vibes and relaxed dressing, Smalls is drawn to pieces that are sultry while retaining a level of comfort. “I’m an island girl at heart,” she says. “Eric does an amazing job with that process. Clothing is a language used to tell people who we are without having to speak. I’m confident most of the time, so I like to let my outfits reflect how I’m feeling day to day.” This season, that’s meant digging into the archives. “I’ve been into the old rather than new,” Smalls adds. Currently enjoying fashion’s retro wave, she’s packed vintage pieces from Tom Ford and Vivienne Westwood—but even if the past has its appeal, she isn’t immune to the allure of newness. At Burberry’s Spring 2020 collection, Smalls stepped out in one of Riccardo Tisci’s mariner print blazers, worn with tailored trousers for a “borrowed from the boys” street-style appeal. For her part, Smalls considers herself “open to all suggestions”—as long as she can art direct the final look.

Together, Smalls and McNeal have created some genuinely jaw-dropping style moments—from her custom Prabal Gurung gown at this year’s Met Gala, to the sultry Iris van Herpen number she wore to a recent Carine Roitfield-hosted bash—but this season, the pair have outdone themselves. With Milan in full swing and Paris on the horizon, there are still plenty of opportunities to dress up: and McNeal promises that whatever’s next will be equally epic. “Joan is the epitome of a supermodel. She has such attention to detail and taste when it comes to what she wants to wear,” he says. “I always say it’s the best training for a stylist to work with a model like her who has seen everything, touched everything, and walked every show. Joan knows where fashion is going because she’s lived it.”

Originally Appeared on Vogue