The creative soul sisters reflect on the importance of ‘turn up moments’, fashion storytelling, and remaking The Wiz

When Melina Matsoukas first met Solange, she was stuck on a conference call for her “I Decided” music video, stoned. At least, that’s what the filmmaker thought, before realising that the musician was “just a slow ass talker”. In the fifteen years that have passed, the duo have cultivated close horizons, as friends, fans, and creative partners. They’ve danced through the streets of Havana as locals chucked buckets of “healing” tap water from their windows, they’ve gone coconut-catching at carnival, and produced a body of work that swoons as much as it soars, ruminating on tradition, spirituality, and the sanctity of Black womanhood. 

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“She’s my muse, my inspiration, my barometer in terms of art,” Matsoukas says. “I am always trying to convince her to be in my next film or television series, but she always refuses my proposals.” Raised in the Bronx by a Cuban mother and a Jewish Greek father, the Queen and Slim director has masterminded some of contemporary culture’s most memorable lodestones, turning her subjects inside out in the process. She was the visionary behind Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance”, Rihanna’s “We Found Love”, and Beyoncé’s “Formation” – for which she won a Grammy – but it was in Solange that Matsoukas found her “soul sister”. “Melinas’ lens really makes me feel safe and seen,” the musician says. “We both create through the lens of our identities as Black women, as friends, as creators, and the constant search for meaning and gravity in our journeys”.

Their latest project, a woozy campaign for Calvin Klein, submerges Solange in baptismal waters, surrounded by a sisterhood of white-knickered women, as her vocals ripple somewhere off-screen. It feels at odds with that first music video, which is like a vestige of early 00s culture in all its Pop Art transitions, wiggle dresses, and Motown choreo, but even beneath all the zig-zag graphics, there was “truth”, backdropped by archival clips of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and the 1968 Olympics Black Power salute. “My work needs to be rooted in some sort of honesty and history to really hit a nerve,” Matsoukas says. “It’s where I find my inspiration”. 

Below, Solange and Melina reflect on the importance of ‘turn up moments’, fashion storytelling, and remaking The Wiz.

Hey Solange and Melina! You first met at 21 and have become super close friends and collaborators in the time since. How has growing into adulthood together changed your approach to art?

Solange Knowles: I feel like we have both had so many evolutions both personally and artistically, but being able to transition into a place where we choose projects with more intentionality has allowed us to both flourish as creators. With adulthood though, it’s super important to keep the light in our eyes that keeps you grounded in the joy of creation and exploring. Keeping that curiosity is super important for both of us and I think we have a lot of conversations about that and uplift and inspire each other in that way. 

Melina Matsoukas: Solange has and always will be my muse, my inspiration, my barometer in terms of art.  Seeing how her growth as an artist continually stays true to her own personal evolution has taught me to do the same. How work can and should evolve with the narrative of a person. I love how our friendship can support a collaboration, but also empowers our own personal work. It’s really a blessing to have her gifted mind to bounce ideas off of and also to challenge and push me beyond limits I never knew existed. I respect her taste and artistry so much.  It’s wonderful when we can collaborate, but also incredible to just be able to be a fan and a witness.

What was the creative inspiration behind Solange’s scenes in the Calvin Klein film? What sparked the idea and how did that narrative evolve over time? I found it quite cathartic. What do you want viewers to take away from those scenes?

Melina Matsoukas: The idea behind the entire spot was focused around the community. The coming together of different people and tribes in a time when we’ve experienced a lot of isolation and individualism. For Solange I represented her with her tribe and her connection to water. I know how entwined she is with water and knew it would feel right spiritually for her. It was meant to feel a bit baptismal and ritualistic. 

Solange Knowles: I was really excited to work with water. I feel my most seen self with water. And, I like to call on the energies of water and having that transcend through Melinas’s lens really made me feel safe and seen. 

Melina Matsoukas: Maybe subconsciously it was birthed out of our many boat trips together through the years. We both have such an affinity for water and that sense of freedom and lightness that comes with floating in the tides. It just felt right. I would love viewers to relate to that sense of freedom and connection that comes from the exploration of nature with their tribe.  

Were there any memorable moments or fun anecdotes from the shoot that speak to your relationship? 

Melina Matsoukas: I think the entire process truly exemplified our relationship. Coming up with an elaborate idea together, me stressing for weeks about how to pull it off without killing my best friend in freezing water, her pushing to do the most difficult set up we imagined, and then pulling it off so elegantly.  

Solange Knowles: Well, the water was freezing, and we were shooting mad early, so, I brought the speaker out and we had our little moment between us that we always carve out. 

Melina Matsoukas: My main concern was keeping her warm (and alive), so production literally had a mobile jacuzzi on the back of a truck, that she and the swimmers could go to in between takes to keep their body temperature up. It was hilarious seeing her sitting in the tub after we were done shooting the lake scene in this parking lot. Really luxurious… She also was playing music and dancing in between takes to hype herself up to get in the freezing cold water. I took a couple minutes to dance with her while we were setting up to hype myself up too! It was nice to just have a real moment to connect with my friend in the middle of a film set.

Solange Knowles: It doesn’t matter if it’s work, or just at each other’s houses, we are always going to be present with a lil turn up moment.

What sets apart your collaborations from when you work with other musicians or filmmakers? 

Solange Knowles: For me, it’s all about safety and trust. There is an unspoken language there where we can really trust what each other brings to the table as collaborators and knowing that no matter how we get to the outcome, that we will get there and it will be true. I have so much respect for Melina as a director, a creator, a voice and know in her hands it will be sound. That safety means everything in work and in life. 

Melina Matsoukas: For me it’s pressure. I’m sure I put it on myself, but I always want to make sure I’m representing my friend authentically and pushing it visually when I work with her. Because she’s my girl and because I have so much respect for her artistry, I want to ensure that she is proud of our collaborations. She is really intentional about what she chooses to be a part of, so I want to make sure that our work together feels like it was worth her commitment and is in line with who she is an artist.  It just means more when you are working with a friend than a stranger. I also feel that every time we collaborate I come away with a piece that I am most proud of. Not sure if it’s because she’s pushing me or me pushing myself more when we come together, but the work we create together is usually my best.  

Has a through line or a common theme emerged throughout your work over the years? If so, why do you think you keep revisiting that?

Melina Matsoukas: I’m not sure there’s a through line. I really like to work on diverse projects within different mediums to feel satisfied as a filmmaker. I don’t enjoy work that feels repetitive and I try to stay away from doing things I’ve already done. Maybe you can say stylistically there are some commonalities in what I touch and how, but I’m not sure there are any themes. I’ll leave that to the audience to interpret.

Solange Knowles: I think we both create through the lens of our identities as Black women, as friends, as creators, and the constant search for meaning and gravity in our journeys. I know authenticity is really important to both of us, being able to really stand in our truth and find a vision in that. 

What role does fashion play in all of this? How deep do both of you go into what Solange wears on screen?

Solange Knowles: Well when we were younger I know on and off screen fashion was a conversation for sure. Now, I’ve tried to make less stylised work, and make more timeless and minimalist choices in what I wear in my projects whether it be performance or film. Melina is definitely present at the fittings and gives her voice to the choices, but with a freedom in wanting the artist to always feel good which I appreciate so much. 

Melina Matsoukas: Fashion is everything for me. There is so much storytelling in the clothes.  They are a form of expression, a form of community. Solange has always been in control of her style and it’s always so avant-garde. Even when it’s simple and minimal there is an elegance to her sense of style and fashion that is timeless. We usually discuss the story and what the intention behind the scenes are and then she is able to create looks keeping the idea in mind. For this we wanted her tribe to feel cohesive, and I usually like symmetry so we decided that the women would all be dressed similarly with some variation in style, with Solange as the focus. We worked closely with Carlos Nazario to find the perfect combination of looks.

Like this Calvin Klein film, there’s a stillness to your collaborations that really hits a nerve. What do your projects need to achieve in order to move you? 

Solange Knowles: There will always be a story to tell. Whether it’s abstract or more direct and narrative, there always needs to be a true and honest story to tell at the core of what we are creating. 

Melina Matsoukas: For me it’s truth, the imagery needs to be rooted in some sort of honesty and history to really hit a nerve. I think there’s just a certain amount of vulnerability in the image and from the image that comes when things are rooted in truth. It’s where I find my inspiration.

What would you both love to work on together in the near future? Perhaps a visual album? A feature film?

Solange Knowles: I’ll always jump at the opportunity to create with my bestie and excited to continue a long line of creative projects together!

Melina Matsoukas: I agree! I am always trying to convince her to be in my next film or television series, but she always refuses my proposals….  I respect it begrudgingly. Like I said, she’s really intentional about her work. Her one exception is if we remade The Wiz, so maybe at some point I will find the nerve to approach that masterpiece.