Back to the City: Stylista Piper Carter Sees a Fresh Detroit

City native and high fashion photographer Piper Carter has found herself back in Detroit, and she's also found a Detroit she didn't expect.

Carter is internationally known and highly sought after in her field. Her work and recognition of it can be seen just about everywhere: editorials in French Vogue, British Elle, and The New York Times; and features in OK! Magazine, TV Guide, and US Weekly. She was recently featured on the cover of African American Family magazine.

However, if a coin had landed differently some years ago, she may have chosen another path.  

Carter, a Detroit native, left the city almost 20 years ago to attend Howard University. "Originally, I was a political science major because my parents wanted me to be an entertainment lawyer," Carter, 37, says. "But, I didn't like it; I didn't like political science."

She tried musical theater and directing, but she still wasn't happy. Luckily, a friend was there to provide something of a divine intervention.

"He was like, 'In your dream life, what would you want to do?' I said, 'Honestly, I think I either want to be a fashion designer or a fashion photographer, but I don't know anything about either.' So, he was like, 'Well, why don't you try them?'"

Carter was hesitant. She didn't think that she could do it.

"So, we flipped a coin and I ended up changing my major to photography," she says. "Ever since I decided I wanted to be a photographer, I knew I wanted to do fashion photography. I wasn't sure how to get into it at that point, but I knew that that's what I liked and that's what I wanted to do."

As they say, the rest is history. From there, Carter briefly returned to Detroit to study photography at the College for Creative Studies and Oakland Community College. After a year, she headed to New York, where she graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology and soon after participated in an internship in Vogue Magazine's photo department. From there, Carter's has gone on to become a prominent player in the world of fashion photography.

Carter says that she loves designing and creating the personality of photographs and really likes when photos can tell a story.

"The type of fashion photography I like is the more cinematic," she said. "I love expressing yourself through coming up with scenarios and for me, fashion photography is a great way (to do that)."

Another good thing about the business, she says, is the travel and exposure to cultural diversity. "You're experiencing new lands and learning new things about yourself and other people, different languages," she says. "There's always something new, you're always having a new experience."

Back in the D

Carter had to take a break from traveling and return to Detroit last year after her mother suffered a heart attack, then lapsed into a coma. For several months, she stayed with her mother in the hospital 24 hours a day. Afterward, she helped with her mother's therapy.

Eventually, Carter decided to get back to her career. She started going around Detroit and searching the Internet for fashion opportunities in the city. "I started to see that the city was kind of thriving, and it's going through sort of a renaissance," she says.

She says her reasons for coming home were unfortunate, "but I was fortunate that I could come back during this particular time when the city's going through a positive metamorphosis."

Carter says that compared to other fashion scenes, Detroit's is "mixed."

"You got the scene that tries to mimic Europe or New York, but I just think that that doesn't make sense here," she said. "Detroit is a working town and it doesn't make sense to try to be so chic like in Paris or Milan. I really like when I see different people here, especially artists, who have their own style and that's what I'm starting to see more of here.

"I find that there's a lot of people here who are original and creative and they have their own sense of style and that's more my inspiration."

She says she's still getting around in the scene and looks forward to Detroit Fashion Week, which runs Sept. 13-19, as she hasn't been yet.

In the mean time, she has several projects to keep her busy.

At the moment, she's prepping for a September show at the McKenna Museum of African-American Art in New Orleans. Carter says the exhibition honors photographer and political activist Renee Cox, whose work challenges different facets of society, including fashion industry.

"She basically mimics fashion images, but sort of adds a question and hints through irony," she said. "So, I'm working on some sort of ironic images that are a tribute to her style."

Another project that keeps her busy is her weekly collaboration with the 5 E Gallery in Corktown. The event, entitled "The Foundation," is a showcase created exclusively for female rappers, poets and lyricists, but also open to everyone. She says she got the idea for it when she noted the lack of a female presence in the Detroit scene, not to mention in hip-hop in general. The idea was to create something dedicated to and supportive of female artists, as well as foster Detroit talent, she says.

"I just wanted to make a positive reinforcement of the female being," she says. "Mostly in hip-hop, the woman is the object and there was a certain time where you saw a lot of female artists, but somehow now you don't."

Some of The Foundation's notable collaborators include prominent female members of Detroit's rap scene like Invincible, Miz Korona, D.S. Sense, Mz Jonz and Mae Day; as well as DJs Mel Wonder and Sticky Niki; B-Girls Ris Money and Ma-Ma and graffiti artist Riku. Other notable artists have performed, including members of Slum Village, Jessica Care Moore, and Gabe Gonzalez of Detroit act Enemy Squad and funk group Parliament.

"It's just been a wonderful host of incredible talent that have come by to grace us with their presence and bless us with their talent, just on an impromptu level -- just out of love," she says. "There's a lot of beautiful energy."

The Foundation takes place every Tuesday at the 5E Gallery at 2125 Michigan Avenue in Corktown. The event features open mic and workshops for aspiring MCs. Keep up with the happenings on their Facebook page or via Twitter.

Ilissa Gilmore lives in Detroit and is an intern for Model D. Send feedback here. Want Model D in your e-mail box each week? Sign up here.


Piper Carter hosts The Foundation at 5E Gallery

Piper Carter

Carter signing up willing participants to perform at 5E

B-boys and B-girls in between and during performances

Tuesdays backup band, Yin

Photographs by Detroit Photographer Marvin Shaouni Marvin Shaouni is the Managing Photographer for Metromode & Model D Contact Marvin here

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