Mellany Sanchez tends to start small. At 15, she began interning at the late women’s sneaker boutique Laces in SoHo, picking up showroom samples, getting lunch, buying film. She grew up in Bushwick and went to high school on the Upper West Side, so the gig became a stop on the way home from school, as well as an opportunity to explore a different part of her city. In a recent interview, Sanchez said that the internship forced her to “learn a lot of the [downtown] businesses, witness a lot of different styles and foot traffic, and be a lot more social with different kinds of people.”
As Drake’s image director, with a hand in his styling, photo shoots, and art direction, Sanchez’s footprint has gone global. But she still practices a New York-centric, community-based understanding of style. She was later hired by Ronnie Fieg at David Z., the New York sneaker-store mini-chain, and found herself “serving the needs of everyone from the elders who would come in to purchase made-in-USA [New Balance] 993s because they were the right orthopedic shoe, to Japanese buyers who would come in to buy specific Timberlands or made-in-USA Converse or whatever they were looking for that was not available in Japan.”
While still an NYU student studying visual communication, Sanchez became creative director at Fieg’s new venture, the streetwear emporium Kith, while it still had only a few employees, and she later worked on archival and visual projects at Vogue. Sanchez grew up on fashion forums that captured an attentive slice of early-2000s sneaker discourse, such as NikeTalk and InStyleShoes, but also theFashionSpot, where “images were hardly ever uploaded without all of the credits.” She carried that approach into her career. “Everywhere I travel, especially in Japan or Paris,” she said, “I visit bookstores that carry old magazines. They’re incredible resources for street styles.”
There’s no shortage of Air Force 1’s on New York streets right now, but to see those kinds of classics in Sanchez’s work, they’re solutions to aesthetic questions rather than wholesale nostalgia. “Brands like North Face, Levi’s, Nike feel very true to New York needs and standards,” she said. “I’ve been happy to be part of that status that they have in the city.” But “the more that I traveled around New York,” she added, “that palette expanded.” Take those 501s and that Nuptse and mix them, per the Sanchez playbook, with a Church’s loafer or a nylon Prada backpack.
At the beginning of the summer, when Drake seemed to announce he was working on a new album, he did it on Instagram over a series of Jamil GS photos that doubled as a lookbook. Sanchez worked on the art direction and styling, and white Air Max 97s and Air Force 1’s were the sneakers of choice. On tour, meanwhile, Drake and Sanchez have used a modern suite of tactical gear, including custom Louis Vuitton leather vests.
Sanchez aims to pair the items and the images they evoke with the people they’re right for. She said that she plans to return to NYU to study social policy because she’s interested in doing similar image services for politicians she believes in, as well as learning about the environmental impact of her work.
To her mind, Brioni’s factory in Rome is a model of how it should be done. (Drake has worn some custom Brioni lately too.) “It’s almost silent [there] because everyone is working with their hands, and not with machines,” Sanchez said. “Clusters of families are sitting together because generations of people have worked with this company, because they trust this company.”
No doubt Sanchez could look solely to major fashion houses. But she works in miniatures, with people close to her, to make sure that those images don’t become pixelated when they’re projected onto a larger canvas.
“I’m not really trying to make a grand gesture with my style,” Sanchez said. “If there’s anything that I can influence on a larger scale, I think it will be to remind people to be proud of where they’re from, to support their communities, to ask questions about who made what and how, and get close to those things.”
Below, Sanchez discusses six of the New York artists and style resources she works with. Her quotes have been condensed for clarity.
Andrew Durgin-Barnes, painter
“I’m commissioning him to do a project on property that is in my family. His work deserves to be in Brooklyn forever. He’s a classically trained painter. He painted the original scorpion for Drake and then worked with a graphic designer to digitize it. He also did a logo for us that ended up being part of the tour stagewear for the North American tour of Scorpion.
“He’s been incredibly transformative in the commercial space, but he’s a classically trained painter who has a really open mind, and a way of working that is humble and approachable.”
Jessica Gonsalves and Brian Procell, owners of the vintage store Procell
“Speaking to Jess is an incredible resource, both as a mentor and as someone who is capable of providing this incredible service of sourcing apparel, whether that be a reference for a stage-use item or a great old piece for a video shoot.
“They’re historians. They just add to any project that they are put on to. You may ask for something, and they’re like, ‘Well, here is what you were looking for, plus what you didn’t know you needed.’”
Victoria Rose Adrian, embroiderer and tailor
“She has hand-stitched a number of garments for us and has made custom stagewear. From going to the Garment District together, buying fabric, to creating something that tours the world. She creates it all in her Brooklyn studio.”
Matthew Burgess, embroiderer and painter
“He not only chain stitch embroiders on garments, but he also does so on canvas and creates art. We’ve been able to create some really iconic pieces with him for Drake.”
Rocco Arena, embroiderer
“His work ethic has provided me with the chance to make really exciting pieces, quickly turned around.”