Events World

Sisterhood and Style: Essence editor talks beauty and besties at NJPAC Women’s Association fête


Editor, speaker, author and proud “Brick City girl,” Mikki Taylor knows about the power of friendship, in no small part because it surrounded her as a child. Literally the house she grew up in was a tribute to girlfriends who have each other’s backs.

“My mother was one of a group of girlfriends who gave Sarah Vaughan the money she needed to try out at the Apollo,” Taylor says.

“And when Sassy became The Divine One, she bought the house across the street from her so we could live close by. She hired my mom as her hair stylist and her make-up stylist, and they traveled the world together for 10 years.

“That’s what I mean when I talk about sisterhood in the book.”

Having a “celebration circle,” a group of empowering ride-or-die friends who will support you in times of both triumph and tribulation is one of the key messages of Taylor’s book, Editor in Chic: How to Style and Be Your Most Empowered Self. It appears in bookstores May 1— just a week before she’s the featured speaker at the Women’s Association of NJPAC’s 2018 Spring Luncheon and Auction.

She’ll be speaking about the book – and her life lessons on what it takes to master your purpose with distinction – in conversation with Michelle Miller Morial of CBS’ The Early Show, one of dozens of celebrities who contributed their advice and insights to the book.

Tickets to the Luncheon – which includes a performance by NJPAC’s Arts Education students, and a silent auction – can be purchased here through April 18.

And while professionally, Taylor comes from the worlds of fashion and beauty — she was beauty editor and then beauty and cover director at Essence magazine for many years, starting in the 1980s – both her book and her appearance at the Luncheon will focus on improving the soul as well as the surface. Fueling a sense of purpose and rising above challenges will be key aspects of her message.

“What’s in your mind has the power to motivate you —or defeat you,” says Taylor. “This book is like a gift-wrapped package from Yours Truly that’s meant to empower women, to provoke us to lead fearless and inspired lives.

“It’s like an owner’s manual for your life.”

Taylor’s own life is a good example of fearlessness in action:  Starting as a beauty saleswoman in New Jersey as a very young woman, she then began working at the Tahari label on Seventh Avenue, doing everything from production to PR. That led to meeting the editors of Essence, and a job working in the magazine’s fashion and beauty department.

“It was 1980, and women of color were coming into the workforce. But they weren’t necessarily getting pay equality — and I knew, the community at large sewed their own clothes. So I shopped the fabric markets, and got pattern houses to create patterns just for the Essence fashion pages,” she remembers.

A year later, she took over the magazine’s beauty coverage – at a time when “the number of products sold to our audience could fit in the span of my two arms,” she says.

“We had to teach the beauty industry about the existence of this audience that was invisible to them.”

Later, as Essence’s cover director, Taylor strove to create a look for the magazine that would stand out on a crowded newsstand. In the process, she worked with hundreds of notable African-American women — from Rosa Parks to Beyoncé and Michelle Obama. (The First Lady’s style was the subject of one of Taylor’s earlier books, Commander in Chic.)

Many of the celebs she crossed paths with agreed to be interviewed for Editor in Chic, including chanteuse Jill Scott, actresses Aja Naomi King and Alfre Woodard, ballerina Misty Copeland, entrepreneur Marjorie Harvey (she’s Steve’s wife) and Cheryl Boone Issacs, former President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

“They were all clear about what fuels their sense of purpose: knowing their value, and knowing that they were put here on this Earth to be a benefit to others. No matter who I had the conversation with, they were all clear about purpose,” says Taylor.

“And they were all clear about a sense of faith. Marjorie Harvey said her grandmother taught her: ‘Get to know God before you need Him, because the hour of need is not the time for introductions.’”

One of Taylor’s own ways of being of service to others is through her work with the WA, which raises funds for NJPAC and its arts education programs. She has been a member of the WA for years, and even was a chairwoman of its 2013 Spotlight Gala. (It had a “Wizard of Oz” theme, complete with a yellow brick road in lieu of a red carpet.)

“The education programs we support are so important. I look at the future through the lens of our children, and through the critical work we’re doing; we’re having a say in their destiny. I continue to work to see that NJPAC is a rising tide that lifts all boats, and becomes a template for what an arts center can be,” Taylor says.

“Mikki’s energy, her connections and her commitment to the arts and to NJPAC have been invaluable resources for the WA,” says Sarah Rosen, Managing Director of the WA.

“She’s been such a powerful and creative force in helping us to engage women with the Arts Center.”

Taylor agrees that she’s thrown her heart as well as her time into the work of the WA.

“I mean, we’re all legacy-building in some form or another,” she says.

“And woe unto us if we’re not! Those of us who follow our hearts today are walking in the dreams of our ancestors. Helping others – that’s what we owe them, that’s what we owe our ancestors. Because we are the fruit of their labors.”

The Women’s Association of NJPAC’s Spring Luncheon and Auction begins at 10:30 a.m. on May 8; more information and tickets are available here.