Last weekend at the Grammy Awards, rapper Tierra Whack was anxious to hear whether she won this year’s award for best music video.
This rising star, a native of North Philadelphia, didn’t win this time ﹘ it was Childish Gambino’s night. Still, Whack is taking the rap scene by storm, making bold artistic statements in her music and videos and looking artsy and glamorous in the process.
For the Grammys, she wore a rainbow-colored, faux-fur coat over a full-length dress. The dress was basically an original art print ﹘ layered with fabrics such as organza that gave it a three-dimensional quality.
Photos of the outfit went viral, catapulting her and another Philadelphia woman into the limelight.
Nancy Volpe Beringer designed the ensemble. She’s a recent graduate of Drexel University’s fashion program. At 64, she’s is making a name for herself ﹘ much like Whack.
Morning Edition host Jennifer Lynn spoke this week with Volpe Beringer about the story behind that coat.
Tell me about the coat.
The coat is what began the journey between Tierra and myself. I designed the coat as a finale piece for the runway show for the nonprofit organization Liberte that helps women with substance abuse disorders. And the fashion show was following the journey of somebody in recovery. So it went from dark to white, neutral and bright.
The young girls putting on the show said, “We need something great for the finale.” They saw this faux fur that I had on a strip of another design. I said, “Maybe I should do something else with that, a cape or whatever. They’re like, ‘a coat.’”
So I designed this big coat. The funny thing about the coat is when I cut the first piece, I made a mistake which I thought was a mistake. I cut it upside down. So picture your hair as we’re sitting here it’s just flat. If I hold you upside down, it’s fighting gravity and that’s what this faux fur did. So that was like the magic of the coat.
After the show, I put it into Joan Shepp, the premiere fashion concept store in the city. They buy right off the Paris runway, the New York [runway]. And so my coat was featured in the front of the store with some of my other wearable art coats. A couple of weeks later, Tierra came in looking for something for the Billboard Awards. As soon as she saw it on the rack, I was told, she goes, “That’s it.” And she walked away with the coat.
I direct-messaged her on Instagram. I said, “I just want you to know the backstory of the coat. I mean it’s about empowering and helping women.” And so we started messaging. You could say love at first sight. It was creative explosion and energy, like a force field that collided together.
Underneath the coat is the other outfit.
A long dress with faces of Cuban divas smoking cigars.
When she came to visit the studio, by that point she had texted me that she was nominated for a Grammy. She comes in, and I take strips of faux fur. I hang it on my dress form, and I’m running around my studio, thinking what goes with it? What goes with it?
I do a lot of wearable art. And I picked up a piece of the panel, and I’m flipping it around on like this and this … part of it looks really cool. And I just pinned it on to the dress form, and she walked in, and I think it was instant for her. She goes, “I love that.”
It really is quite an outfit. And it went crazy on Twitter during the Grammys. People said all kinds of things about it. What was your take on how it was perceived and received?
I loved it. That night it wasn’t about me. It was about Tierra. It was just a look, but it represented her artistry and the hard work that she has done for years. I mean this was just not overnight for her. She’s been working on her art for years and years.
Her rap music. Her videos and her artistic vision for that and the rapping is full of wordplay. It has a feeling of spontaneity, and the videos are pretty far out there. And you’re both playful and deep at the same time. Do you ever think about all of the things you ever did in your life … and then you end up meeting somebody like Tierra, that you had to do all those things to have that moment together.
This is what’s funny. I decided to fly out to LA … the hem wasn’t resolved yet, and we hadn’t decided on shoes. I got there Tuesday. On Wednesday. she performed at a Billboard-sponsored private event. It was a very small, intimate setting. And I looked around the room and somebody said, “You designed for Tierra? That’s all you need to say.”
And I look around the room, thinking “Wow, I’m the oldest person in the room designing for the coolest person in the room. This is amazing.”
Did this outfit change your relationship with anyone in particular?
The thing about the outfit and Tierra is her trust [on her choices for the Grammy red carpet]. Connecting with an artist, a woman especially, and having their trust, that’s what I’m going to take away from it. I’m going to take away the relationship between us, the friendship and the love that we share, that’s more important than any one piece of fashion.