Jenice Armstrong: Tailor-made ambassador

"Fashion ambassador" Rakia Reynolds shows off her style in front of her Philadelphia office.
"Fashion ambassador" Rakia Reynolds shows off her style in front of her Philadelphia office. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer)

She's groomed to deliver a message: Philadelphia is a fashionable location

Posted: August 08, 2011

AT A National Association of Black Journalists reception last week, Rakia Reynolds was doing what she does - chatting up out-of-towners about Philly's hottest shopping spots.

Reynolds, the city's official fashion ambassador, was dressed for the occasion in gold silk harem pants with a fuchsia sash, a colorful print top that bared a shoulder, and a gigantic gold medallion around her neck. Most people would have stopped there, but not Reynolds. On her feet were gold peeped-toe, lace-up heels through which you could see her perfectly pedicured black-and-white cowprint-painted toenails.

Not many women have Reynolds' flair, or the confidence to carry it off.

"I love to dress up," Reynolds told me. "I think people should have more events so we can get dressed up. I think people want a reason to get dressed up."

Reynolds, a mother of three and the president of Skai Blue Media, never needs a reason. On any given day, you're liable to spot the 2001 Temple grad dressed in an eclectic mix of vintage finds (Decades Vintage, 739 S. 4th St., is one of her favorite haunts) and modern pieces that she stashes in closets all over her house.

Her fashion style is beyond categorization. Whether she's wearing an evening dress over a turtleneck, as she did at a Macy's reception this winter, or showing up in a pair of blue shorts with white polka dots and a candy-striped, red-and-white blouse, she somehow always manages to be the best-dressed woman in the room.

She's gutsy, all right.

Not many female business owners would pose for a newspaper photograph with their hair in pigtails - in Reynolds' case two fluffy Afro puffs. Earlier this year, Reynolds donned a black-and-white fascinator - an English-style hat typically seen at royal weddings and the Ascot Racecourse - and an electric blue dress.

Reynolds draws her inspiration from stories, movies and pop culture. For the upcoming 2011 Philadelphia Collection (Sept. 14-24), our town's interpretation of New York Fashion Week, she's planning to dress like a fashion icon - Elizabeth Taylor, Dorothy Dandridge, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, the Snow Queen from Narnia - every day of the 10-day event. Reynolds is the associate director of the event.

On the afternoon I stopped by the office of Skai Blue Media, a clothing rack held, among other things, a floaty, coral, pleated, spaghetti-strapped vintage evening dress that she had found at a flea market, and a red jacket with black trim and buttons that looked a little too bellhop, according to the opinion of her office mates.

"This is like, I'm going to park your car," Reynolds said as she modeled it for me. "I have a crown in the car. I was going to wear that. I was watching 'Where the Wild Things Are.' "

"My parents never told me what I couldn't wear. They'd say, 'OK. That's interesting . . . " she recalled, laughing. "I love fashion. As a child, while everybody else was playing with Barbie dolls, I was ordering Butterick patterns. I was asking for crocheting and knitting classes."

In 10th grade, Reynolds was listening to Alanis Morissette and the Cranberries and sneaking into New York City's East Village from her home in Hillside, N.J. That's where she found the Patricia Fields boutique, where she hung out with drag queens.

"My parents were always firm believers in 'We are not spending a ton of money for you to dress to impress,' " said Reynolds, whose dad worked as a longshoreman and her mother as a paralegal.

In 1996, after graduating from the all-girls Benedictine Academy in Elizabeth, N.J. - where she paired Doc Martens with her uniform and dyed a canary yellow streak in dark hair - Reynolds arrived in Philadelphia, where she wore tulle skirts and those same Doc Martens to her international business and marketing classes at Temple. She expected to end up on Wall Street, but when she showed up for an interview at a financial services firm dressed like, well, Rakia, she was steered to an internship at the American Black Film Festival. That lead to a series of gigs in television - MTV and TLC networks - and publishing, including a stint at Lucky magazine.

She wound up in public relations and opened her own company, Skai Blue, in 2008 with a single client, a restaurant in Conshohocken.

But before long she was tapped to be the city's fashion ambassador by Philly 360, an African-American marketing initiative by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp.

"I want everybody to know Philadelphia is a destination for fashion," Reynolds said.

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