Kelly Rowland is struggling to fathom how it's been 23 years since Destiny's Child released their debut album. 'I'm very proud... but I really can't believe it,' Rowland admits over Zoom in her recognisably warm Texan accent.
Rowland was just 17 years old when the band released their first self-titled album. In the girl group was Beyoncé Knowles, a best friend of Rowland's from her childhood in Houston, Texas and Michelle Williams (following a famous reshuffling of members). Knowles' father Matthew managed the trio and her mother Tina designed the girls' costumes (more on that later). While Destiny's Child's last album, Destiny Fulfilled, may have come out 15 years ago, the singers and close friends have reunited on several occasions to perform, most recently during Beyoncé's Coachella headline slot in 2018.
Fast forward to 2021 and Rowland has just turned 40. Since Destiny's Child's heyday, she's maintained a successful solo career, with hits like 'Stole', 'Dilemma', 'Commander', 'Work' and her most recent single, 'Flowers'. At the end of 2020 she starred in a Lifetime romantic comedy and last month gave birth to her second son, Noah, with her husband and manager Tim Weatherspoon. The couple are also proud parents to their six-year-old son, Titan.
If those accolades alone weren't enough, this year Rowland is making her first foray into fashion with a collection for the retail website JustFab. 'Every two to three hours, the baby wants to see me for a meal,' Rowland says of life at home ahead of the launch of the collection. 'Everything that I worked hard on in the pandemic... I'm able to see the fruits of the labour which is really cool. I'm really grateful that between this collection, music, the baby, making a movie, and writing new ones, I was able to be busy. I didn't want to be stagnant when it came to creativity. I wanted to continue to push the roof.'
It's surprising Rowland's entry into fashion has taken this long, considering her longrunning career in the spotlight and numerous memorable outfits over the years. As a child, she loved seeing the various interpretations of fashion in 1990s music videos. 'I remember specifically seeing George Michael with all of the fashion models and being so intrigued by them,' she recalls. 'In particular, Naomi Campbell, because she [has] the same complexion as me. And then it grew into Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington…'
It makes sense then that Nineties minimalism serves as an influence for Rowland's line and saw the singer and her design team re-watching fashion shows from the decade for inspiration. A quick look at Rowland's designs and its features grunge combat boots, oversized crisp white shirts and high-waisted Bermuda shorts paired with colour-coordinating tailored suit jackets reminiscent of Pretty Woman era Julia Roberts.
For the collection's campaign, a then-pregnant Rowland stars alongside three models who helped inspire the designs: South Sudanese model Nykhor Pau (' a child of the South Sudanese Civil War, she really feels like a warrior'), model and body positivity activist Diana Veras ('just effortless when it came to the Photoshoot') and model and investment fund founder Pritika Swarup ('again, very effortless in her delivery').
Rowland's focus on celebrating women's strength, individuality and ambition should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed her career, with songs like 'Independent Women', 'Girl' and 'Bootylicious' that champion women, female autonomy and female friendship. But how important have core female support systems been throughout the different stages of her own life and career?
'They were really vital, to be completely transparent,' she says, noting the importance of having a 'tribe' by her side. 'I hear so many people call it a "tribe" now and it's very true, you need your tribe,' she says.
'So many women say “oh my god, I love your relationship with the girls [Destiny's Child]” [...] and it's because we all genuinely want to see each other be great and go after things that we're passionate about. And if we feel like one [of us] needs a little push, we do that, whether they're ready for it or not. It's about being there and making sure they push themselves. You have to be able to have that honesty, love and admiration for each other. I think that female tribes are crucial to life, to everything.'
Recognising female power is also at the forefront of her mind while bringing up two young boys. 'Respect,' Rowland says immediately when asked about the lessons she hopes to impart on her children, in addition to giving them the space to be their very best selves and to be 'gentlemen' who aren't afraid of a woman's strength. 'That's a really big one for me,' she admits, adding 'to be able to respect a woman's strength and not be intimidated by it'.
Tina Knowles-Lawson (mother to Beyoncé and Solange who the mother-of-two refers to lovingly as 'Mama T') has also been instrumental in inspiring Rowland's move into fashion and shaping her view of storytelling.
'I’ll never forget, we were on a plane on our way to a performance with the little glue guns, putting rhinestones on our outfits,' she recalls of her time with Destiny's Child and Knowles-Lawson. 'Above anything, [Tina] taught me creativity. We would always try certain things and see if they worked,' she says, crediting Beyoncé's mother for teaching her not to be afraid of fashion. 'If people say something, that's just their opinion. It's all in the way you express yourself. Fashion is your own personal story to tell.'
Over the years, Rowland's own fashion story has evolved too with the singer choosing to spend money on investment pieces with durable materials and fabrics, rather than following trends.
'I wish somebody would have told me when I was 20 to buy great pieces, like a great black dress that will last you the test of time. In my twenties I did so much searching for trends and I wish I would have paid attention to classic pieces that I could have had in my closet forever. I wasted so much money on that trendy sh*t,' she laughs, noting that some of her favourite items in her wardrobe include a vintage Calvin Klein coat and a pair of 15-year-old John Paul Gaultier leather trousers.
As for Rowland's most memorable and beloved fashion memories over the years - and there are many, with Destiny's Child's go-to look involving one colourway or pattern designed in three different versions for each woman - the 2013 Super Bowl leather-clad look is a frontrunner.
'I loved those outfits. I'm literally looking at it right now in my closet,' she says. 'I felt like we were cohesive but still had our own flair. The leather was cool, it was it was just fly. It complimented everybody's bodies, you know?
'I think my outfit changed actually. There was one look I was supposed to wear and then they cut it up even shorter,' she laughs. 'I was like, “Okay, no problem. I'm down, let's go!"'
Over two decades since the band first got together, eight years since that Super Bowl look, two children, a fashion line and new music, we're sure they'll be many more memorable moments from Rowland to come.
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