My Big Break
3:04 pm
Sun March 16, 2014

Pumping Up A Star: The Leaky Suit That Blew Up A Career

Originally published on Sun March 16, 2014 4:35 pm

As part of a series called "My Big Break," All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click, and people leap forward into their careers.

You probably don't know the name June Ambrose, but you may have seen her work.

The designer and celebrity stylist is the one who got Puff Daddy to wear a shiny suit and put Nas in a pink suit and white shoes in the '90s.

Today she's a stylist to stars like Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige, but she got her start working in costume design for music videos.

Her break came when she was called in to work on Missy Elliott's hit "The Rain."

She was called in for a meeting with Missy and her management team to discuss the Supa Dupa Fly album project.

"The question was posed to me: 'How are you, June Ambrose, gonna sell this young lady to mainstream America?' " Ambrose says. "She was a full-figured girl and at the time it was all about racy, provocative females in music."

Ambrose was inspired by Missy's lyrical content: "It was almost an animated racy. I said, 'Missy Elliott will be my modern-day cartoon character.' "

On the video for the album's first single, "The Rain," music video director Hype Williams presented Ambrose with a treatment concept that involved Missy Elliott being blown up like a Michelin man in the tire commercials. But Ambrose saw it very differently.

Instead, Ambrose designed a blowup suit finished with black patent leather on the outside and tire inner tube on the inside.

"The contraption was very small deflated, but once you blew it up, it was the size of maybe a 900 pound man," she says.

They had to take Missy Elliott to a gas station to inflate the suit. When they walked back to the studio where they were filming, Ambrose noticed that the suit had a small leak and was slowly deflating.

"So, now I'm like, 'Oh God, what am I gonna do?' " Ambrose recalls. "Everyone was screaming, 'Get art department, let's figure this out!"

Her solution? A bicycle pump. Ambrose stood behind the monstrous suit pumping during every take. And it turns out, the leak made it even more visually intriguing.

"The slight leak actually made the suit a lot more dynamic than I could have ever imagined," Ambrose says. "And that crazy luck, I gotta tell you, probably changed my life."

Ambrose went on to design for every music video in Missy Elliott's career. She's worked on more than 150 videos.

"These outrageous music video moments, because they were so highly recognized and celebrated, they caught on," she says. "We never came from behind the curtains, we were the wizards. But people always wanna seek out whose creating magic."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Here at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, we're collecting stories of triumph, big and small, moments when people make great leaps forward in their careers. We call it My Big Break. You probably don't know the name June Ambrose, but you may have seen her work.

JUNE AMBROSE: I am the girl who put Puff Daddy in a shiny suit. I am the girl who put Nas in a pink suit and white shoes. I'm also the girl who put Will Smith in a hibiscus suit head to toe.

(LAUGHTER)

RATH: Before her days as a stylist to the stars, she worked in costume design for music videos. Her break came when she was called into work on Missy Elliott's hit "The Rain."

AMBROSE: Well, when I first sat down with the record label for Missy Elliott, it was to discuss the "Supa Dupa Fly" album project.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOCK IT TO ME")

AMBROSE: The head of the record label called me in for a meeting along with Missy and her management team. The question was posed to me: How are you, June Ambrose, going to sell this young lady to mainstream America? She was a full-figured girl. And at the time, it was all about racy, provocative females in music. She was a full-figured girl and at the time it was all about racy, provocative females in music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOCK IT TO ME")

AMBROSE: The lyrical content was very racy. And it was almost an animated racy. I said Missy Elliott will be my modern-day cartoon character. Music video director Hype Williams came to me with this amazing video treatment that talked about Missy Elliott being blown up in this what he described as like a Michelin man.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUPA DUPA FLY")

AMBROSE: I said, oh, like, a big, white blowup bubble, like the tire commercials? And I just saw it so differently. I said, well, I would love to use black patent leather. And I designed this big blowup suit out of a tire inner tube and patent leather on the outside, like more of a vinyl. But the contraption was very small deflated, but once you blew it up it was the size of maybe a 900-pound man. And we had to take the suit to a gas station to have it blown up.

So we walked to the gas station, we blew her up, and then we walked her back to the location where we were shooting. And the suit slowly deflated.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

AMBROSE: It had a small leak. Now, with the way this costume was built, any bit of air that seeped out would not keep the suit inflated.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

AMBROSE: So now, I'm like, oh, God. What am I going to do? Everyone was screaming: Get art department. Let's figure this out. I was, I need a bicycle pump.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

AMBROSE: And the director would yell action. Little me, I'm behind this big inflated suit, and I'm just pumping, pumping, pumping, pumping as she's dancing. I stood behind the suit during every take keeping the air pressure in the suit, but just allowing enough of it to seep out so that it would pop lock in a way that was just so dynamic.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

AMBROSE: The slight leak actually made the suit a lot more dynamic than I could've ever imagined. And that crazy luck, I got to tell you, probably changed my life.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

AMBROSE: I earned my wings. If she was skeptical before this experience, she now knew that she could trust me. And I did every music video in her career after that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

AMBROSE: I think Missy Elliott was really when my big break happened. These outrageous music video moments, because they were so highly recognized and celebrated, they caught on. We never came from behind the curtains. We were the wizards. But people always want to seek out who's creating magic.

RATH: June Ambrose, a celebrity stylist who's worked on more than 150 music videos. We want to hear about your big break. Send an email with your story to My Big Break at npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.