From Brooklyn to Hollywood then back home, a career in styling never prevents Nia Hooper-Mason from growing her tribe.
One winter, I worked a seasonal job at Bloomingdale’s slangin’ purses. In the midst of my Christmas gig, I discovered that I won an award. The conundrum was I did not know what to wear. The up-and-down of graduate life also paired with my weight, my bra size, and my coif-skills had diminished along with my styling choices. The only thing in vogue were the classic black outfits I wore, but that was because it was a uniform requirement.
Like kismet, one day Nia Hooper-Mason walked into my section of Bloomie’s with her signature paperboy hat, white shirt, scarf and jeans. She thumbed through a display of formal clutch purses while chatting on her phone. Asking if she needed help, she told me that she was shopping for a client who was attending an elegant affair. Hooper-Mason informed me that she was an image strategist.
In conversation, while pulling out bedazzled clutches, I told her that I was struggling to put together something for this upcoming awards event. It was me just spilling the beans as she seemed like a cool chick that I could chop it up with and not feel like I crossed any professional lines.
Smiling, Hooper-Mason congratulated me and began to tell me how to coordinate colors, dress cuts and accessories. She continued to consult while shopping for her client. Between our conversation, she listed the things she had to pick up before making it home to her triplet babies. The rapid-speed multi-tasking that she flexed was a rare super-power.
Before she selected a gold bag, we swapped numbers. She wanted to ensure that I could self-snatch in two days. For me, I was still processing the four-series style workshop that occurred in five minutes. At no cost. And we just met.
For two days, Hooper-Mason, instructed me on pairing dress pants and blouses, dresses and business jackets. I took photos and sent them to her, and she would call me back. “Pair the burgundy dress with the black jack, and the blue paints with this coral shirt,” she said in a way as if she was putting together a masterpiece.
As we ended our conversation, she applauded me on my award. Nia never asked for a dollar or dime.
Creating a tribe
People like Hooper-Mason affirm a sisterhood that keeps me steadfast. There is a term once used in the late 1800s, early 1900s by African-American women activists who said, “Lifting as we climb.” This philosophy is essential to sisterhood in a growing, antagonistic climate in the U.S. workplace.
Much later, I discovered that Nia has two decades of experience styling for films (Notorious; Yelling to the Sky; Black Dynamite; Next Day Air; and Just Wright), videos, fashion photo shoots, and celebrities. In addition, she worked in corporate fashion for Banana Republic, Sax Fifth Avenue, Gucci, and Farragamo.
Added to consulting as an image strategist, Hooper-Mason is a member of the Costume Designer’s Guild and mentored by Ruth E. Carter, an Academy Award nominated costume designer for her work on Amistad, Malcolm X, The Butler, the remake of the TV series Roots and most notably, her work as custom designer in widely successful, film adaptation of Marvel Comic’s Black Panther.
When I asked Nia why she helped me that fateful day, she said she allows God to speak to her and through her; hence, what she did was what she was called to do. Unyielding in her faith, Nia says that she prays regularly with a group of women who support each other in their endeavors. Our meeting was an extension of her collective and the tutelage under great women like Carter and her Aruban mother whose family is from the Dominican Republic. Plus she mentions her father with South Carolina roots.
A Brooklynite who went to Howard University, Hooper-Mason moved to Los Angeles as a young stylist to work in the entertainment industry.
She laughs at the moments she dreaded Los Angeles traffic. “I would call back home and talk to my family about how crazy it was out there. The traffic was so bad that I could map out places to use the bathroom because it would take so long to get from point A to point B, I often had to take breaks.”
When business slowed down, Hooper-Mason went back home where she continued her work and started a family. On any given day on her Instagram page, you will see three pairs of kids shoes or three birthday cakes.
Her career has profound depth and long portfolio, but now, familial responsibilities shifted how she works, so has her priorities.
Since our initial encounter, Hooper-Mason now dedicates much of her time consulting towards the styling needs of everyday women and men.
“As an image strategist, I consult with people about where they are in their life and their goals and what they’re trying to achieve and we work together to design a plan on how to help them achieve these goals with their image,” she explains.
“I am a support system. I guide my clients as they begin to learn how to maximize the pieces in their wardrobe and build from what they have in their closets. It is a progression to help them align their image with their goals and what they are trying to achieve.”
As an entrepreneur, wife and mother, Hooper-Mason says she finds a certain satisfaction working with everyday women because she relates to the struggle of balancing life. That is why she feels that styling yourself should be uncomplicated and enjoyable.
With three energetic kids at home, Hooper-Mason is teaching potty training and coaching over the phone. Though she still works on production sets like Black Girls Rock, Hooper-Mason has ventured into life coaching and workshops. She partners with makeup artists such as Nicole Williams, Founder of 4Love Beauty Inc to provide a full-scale courses for women.
“It is gratifying to help the everyday woman. It does something internally when I see a woman who is returning to work or taking the time out to update her look as she progressives in her career. I see me. I understand the challenges of being a mommy and balancing budgets, but also looking fly.”