Internationally Known: Essence Celebrates Its Global Impact With Serena Williams and a New Design

Illustration for article titled Internationally Known: Essence Celebrates Its Global Impact With Serena Williams and a New Design
Image: Kwaku Alston (Essence Communications)

At this point in time, Essence is an American classic, beloved by those of us who grew up with the magazine atop the coffee tables of our mothers, aunties, grandmothers, big sisters, and now, ourselves. But on the heels of the 25th annual Essence Festival, and as the magazine approaches its 50th birthday in 2020, Essence is looking forward to inspiring future generations with a new redesign and indisputable, globally recognized champion and fashion entrepreneur Serena Williams.


Williams is the star of Essence’s September issue, also known as its Global Fashion Issue, which “takes audiences on a world tour of Black creatives from fashion and art to culture and business,” according to a release touting that next month’s issue is “featuring designers from Lagos to New York City.”

Exemplifying our inextricable link to Africa, Williams’ face is half-painted by famed Nigerian-born, Brooklyn-based artist Laolu Senbanjo and captured by photographer Kwaku Alston for the September cover and feature story, titled “The Future of Serena Williams.”

“We are beyond ecstatic to have Serena Williams—one of the most photographed women on the planet—to be the muse for our September Global Fashion issue,” said MoAna Luu, Essence’s chief content and creative officer. “This issue promises to be one of ESSENCE’s biggest with a fresh new redesign,” she added. “We also brought the best Black creatives in the world—including visual artist Laolu, who gave us Serena’s stunning face painting for the cover—to present all of the stunning visuals that you see.”

The multihyphenate mogul, who will present her S by Serena line at New York Fashion Week in September with a 24-hour runway-to-retail option available September 10, gave Essence some insights to her incredible success, and the passion that fuels her perpetually multitasking life.

“My biggest joy is that I know that I’m doing something that I’ve always wanted to do, that I always dreamed of doing,” Williams said. “I just needed to do it on my own. Because when you invest in yourself, it helps your confidence, and you’ll know forever that whether you make it or not, you stepped up to the plate.”


The working mom also speaks on her larger-than-life image and her unapologetic stance. “Freedom means standing up and not being afraid to say, ‘I’m here’ or ‘Hear my voice’ or ‘This isn’t what I agreed to’ or ‘This isn’t fair and that isn’t right,’” Williams says. “I’ve done it my whole career. It’s knowing where I’ve come from, knowing my history, in particular, the sport that I’m in. When I first started, there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me. So it was really important to always help other people feel as if this is something they could also be a part of...”


Inclusivity is a huge part of Williams’ fashion brand, which has recently introduced an extended size range. But while the pioneering tennis player wants to design clothing for all types of bodies, what she’s not welcoming is the term “plus.”

“We want to be inclusive. We have an extended size, and we call it great because I don’t like the word ‘plus,’” Williams told Essence. “So we call it S Great because every woman is great.”


Williams is just one great woman to look forward to in the newly redesigned September issue, which also marks the debut of Essence’s Black Fashion Awards, “recognizing game changers moving fashion forward through design, photography, styling, modeling and more; the #BlackWomenIn profiles, highlighting five sisters creating diversity behind-the-scenes in fashion; and The Cool Girl Guide series, spotlighting global influencers in Paris who make their city haute.”

The Glow Up tip: The September issue of Essence, starring Serena Williams, will be on stands on August 16.

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?



I don’t want to take anything away from Serena, I applaud her in all her accomplishments and endeavors. But I always question the choices of imagery. Because imagery matters!

Why is it that all the major designers and fashion houses, magazine editors, etc. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS want to style Black women and African women as the Savage, the exotic (to appear more p.c.), or the androgynous (we know how Serena has battled this) or the futuristically android-like? Why does she have freakin’ paint on her face instead of pretty makeup?!

Why is the Black woman, particularly the dark-skinned Black woman, NEVER styled as angelically in misty, wispy tones? Why is she never the adoring Mother gazing beatifically at her dark child surrounded by silk? Why are her features (full lips, proud nose, huge eyes) NEVER portrayed as the idealization of femininity but rather with warpaint and stripes?! Why can’t she be the epitome of sexy, big booty-ed and big-booby-ed, draped in pink satin? Can she be photographed lovingly capturing the beauty of a real, moistured and pretty 4c curl behind an flawless-skinned Black ear?!

I’m calling this out whether it’s white stylists or Black ones - they’re perpetuating stereotypes that do us all a disservice!