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Amandla Stenberg is celebrating the strength of their body as the star of Calvin Klein's 2023 "Let It Out" Pride campaign.
Photographed by Karim Sadli, Stenberg's new Calvin Klein campaign, unveiled on May 23, is entirely in B&W, capturing the essence of Pride through the expression of joy and comfort in her own body. Amandla's pictures might be devoid of color, but her expressions are certainly not. Throughout the campaign, she sports a wide-mouthed grin, pokes her tongue out, or smiles the kind of tight-lipped smile you can only have when you know you're killing it. As most queer people know best, it's not just the clothes we wear that sell a look but how we feel wearing them.
When asked if they have a message for the queer community they represent with the shoot, Stenberg quickly proclaims that queerness is not a monolith. "It's a kaleidoscope of varied experiences, so it's hard for me to imagine words of wisdom that could encompass each drastically different path," she tells Teen Vogue. “But I will say I have never known anything as beautiful as the alchemy and creativity with which queer people approach love, and I feel blessed to be shaped by it.”
The collection modeled by Stenberg heralds the upcoming Pride season with Calvin Klein's signature "This Is Love" mantra. This year, with vibrant color blocks across the waistband — a sneak peek of your Calvins is now an eye-catching spectrum of cool blue and pinks, or warm red, orange, and yellows. In the snaps for the campaign, Stenberg wears a range of pieces, including the "Empower Each Other" shirt, one of two limited edition tees — the other implores us to "Show Up For Trans Youth" — in support of ILGA World and Transgender Law Center.
To celebrate the launch of the new collection, Teen Vogue caught up with Stenberg to chat about all things style and pride.
Teen Vogue: In what ways do you think your style is an extension of yourself? I'm thinking back to your stunning RuPaul's Drag Race look…
Amandla Stenberg: Thank you! Well, being on RuPaul's Drag Race was a fantasy realized. Drag culture is the paragon of queer artistic expression, and drag mothers are the vanguards of the queer community. As a non-binary person, drag has allowed me to learn how to wield my femininity as play, as exploration, and as defiance. If it were not for the ritual of immersing myself in drag culture with my trans friends, I would not have the outlet of expression I've found in myself now.
Teen Vogue: After fielding comments about your chest and body throughout your teen years and as recently as Bodies Bodies Bodies, how did it feel to wear the Calvin Klein underwear collection for this campaign and be in control of your body and self-expression during the shoot with Karim Sadli?
AS: Having just finished filming Star Wars [series The Acolyte], my body is the strongest it's ever been right now. I find now I am less interested in how it looks and what people think of it and more interested in what it is capable of. It has been a beautiful journey to accept its fortitude and endless generosity in the face of many things in my life that could have broken it. I love the new hills of muscle. I am so proud to be healthy.
TV: How did you work together with Sadli to achieve the level of comfort that allowed your body to be that vessel for joy and freedom?
AS: It felt like Karim was most interested in how I would express myself naturally, and that's what makes him a wonderful director. There was no telling me where to place my hands. Just an openness to receive me and passionate encouragement when my body communicated something he loved. We connected over our love of Underworld's "Born Slippy," which became the theme song of the campaign. For most of the shoot, that song pulsed loudly and I danced.
TV: What was your reaction when you saw the design of the collection? In particular, the familiar wording "This Is Love" of past Pride collections on the waistband, which is typically reserved for the brand name.
AS: I like it. I think many queer people have a debonair relationship with underwear. Cleverly cutting out holes or stitching in loops for straps. Packing sometimes in briefs or wearing panties at others. The underwear can telegraph a lot about the individual's gender expression. I like "This Is Love" as perhaps another signifier, peeking out boyishly from some baggy jeans.
TV: Which of the characters you've played in your career would be the first to cop this new Calvin Klein collection?
AS: Hahah! Sophie from Bodies Bodies Bodies. Sophie's a soft butch lesbian who communicates the butch part through the briefs peeking out from her shorts.
TV: Calvin Klein gave special attention to the fluidity of this collection and its versatility in styling it with anything, for anyone. It begs the question: how would the casual, everyday Amandla style them?
AS: It probably depends on how I'm feeling on the day! But if I haven't told on myself enough already, I like to wear briefs with low-riding pants.
TV: So many of our freedoms and civil liberties as part of LGBTQ+ communities are being challenged at the moment, but you've stood staunch as a gay, non-binary, intersectional feminist. What message do you have for young people whose existence is under attack?
AS: The unwavering truth we have is each other. We have existed and loved from the beginning of time. We will continue to do so. We are lucky enough to have burgeoning tools to seek and build community in transgressive new ways. Above all else, let's build and be patient with one another.
TV: Your name Amandla, and its meaning of power, is gorgeous and historied. How does that word resonate within you now in this very moment?
AS: I love my name and my mama for giving it to me. For the people in the back, it means "Power" in Zulu and Xhosa. "Amandla Awethu" means power to the people and was a critical rallying cry during the anti-Apartheid movement. My name has always been a guide, something I work to embody and earn. At this moment, after working very hard for several months, I think about how half of the fight of finding power in yourself is removing the shadow of doubt you cast on your own light.
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