Wonderland.

CIARA

The princess is here. Read the full interview from the Winter 18/19 issue.

Top, trousers and shoes BALMAIN

Top, trousers and shoes BALMAIN

It isn’t rare for people to consult the stars for advice, Ciara’s just a different kind of celestial body. In half an hour, the R&B oracle sets Maybelle Morgan on the path to enlightenment and empowerment.

Let me set the scene. I’m 13 years old. It’s Valentine’s Day. And I’ve just started my period. Bear with me. The evening starts with a panicked phone call to my mum, who, bless her, is working late, and who unbeknownst to me then relays the information onto a third party. A couple of hours later, a knock. I’m peering suspiciously through a crack in my front door at a stranger, a man with kind eyes. He holds out a box of chocolates, a pack of Always pads, and Ciara’s Goodies album. 

Years later, after the lyric sheet insert in the CD case has been well and truly worn, way long after me and my friends have perfected Petey Pablo’s “Goodies” rap on a rowdy school trip coach, shaken our awkward teenage hips to “Thug Style,” and screeched “And I” with all the emotion our inexperienced hearts can muster – more than everything, I’ll always remember that night as the first time I met my stepdad. I don’t know if you can tell, but the gifts went down tremendously well.

Coat and bodysuit THE BLONDS NY, shoes BALMAIN

Coat and bodysuit THE BLONDS NY, shoes BALMAIN

Fast forward to the present day and my inner gawky teen self is currently struggling to keep my shit together. “Think about where you are at this very moment,” Ciara’s hypnotic Texan twang is crooning to me over the phone. To clarify, I’ve just asked one of the world’s most beloved R&B icons for life advice. Specifically, on how I can level up. “Now think about what you like, what you’ve got, what your heart desires. Self-reflect and then go after it.”

I speak for myself, for every noughties kid, and for my terrified stepdad who gingerly selected the R&B artist’s debut album as a peace offering to a volatile teenage girl – Ciara is burnt into our consciousness whether we like it or not. We’ve grown up with her, and our adoration came to a head this summer when the Austin-born singer — who’s also known for bangers such as “Dose” and “Love Sex Magic” with Justin Timberlake — released her leviathan instant-hit song and the words “Level Up” went viral. First came the YouTube copycats, with fans trying their hand at emulating the music video’s body-crunching choreography. But then, the #LevelUpChallenge (yep, it went hashtag legit) took on a whole new deeper meaning. Following Ciara’s suit, the likes of Missy Elliott, Serena Williams, Kelly Rowland and actor Chris Pratt began posting videos detailing the ways they planned on “levelling up.” Meditation. Practising positivity. Spending more time with family. Less time on phones. A feel-good self-improvement movement, if you will. She coined a new mantra, and the world responded with mammoth effect. Such is the influence of Ciara.

Trousers PAULA KNORR, shoes BALMAIN, necklace LE CIEL DESIGN

Trousers PAULA KNORR, shoes BALMAIN, necklace LE CIEL DESIGN

“If there are things around you that bring you down, don’t be afraid to drop the dead weight,” she continues. “Move that energy so you can soar and be your best you. Make that game plan. And you don’t need to compare yourself to the next person, your goals are for you, right?” The first thing to know about Ciara, is that her positivity and go-getter mentality is inexhaustible, and undeniably genuine. Her level of conviction and self-belief almost intimidating. Fair play. No one manages to establish a career of her length without the required inner finesse. An army brat, Ciara Princess Harris grew up in Germany, New York, California, Utah, Arizona and Nevada before settling in Atlanta as a teen. Adaptability, making the best of a new situation, and swiftly, has always been the way for her. All ingredients in a certified recipe for success.

Just like how “Level Up” did not come out of the blue. Yes, it might be the strongest forged-in-iron incarnation, but even from the start of her career, Ciara has strived to empower – starting with her insatiably catchy 2004 hit, “Goodies”, which went triple-platinum when she was just 19. The tongue-in-cheek song was a instant noughties R&B classic, but at its core was an artist setting an example by embracing her sexuality, while exercising control and self-awareness. And one look at her legacy and music videos (the screen time dedicated to her dancers and band in the recently-released visuals to “Dose” almost trumps her own), it’s evident that she stans outstanding women. She certainly isn’t in competition with them, like many of her contemporaries.

Bodysuit and boots PHILLIPP PLEIN

Bodysuit and boots PHILLIPP PLEIN

“I think we’ve had a lot of growth over the past few years,” she ruminates. “Women like Michelle Obama, she’s fearless, her words are so powerful and she’s a great example of how you can really do it all. The Janelle Monáes of the world. Serena Williams, my good friend. What I love and admire about so many women is that they are so brave in saying exactly what they feel, they’re not afraid to fight.” There is a crack of hesitation, but then her voice bubbles with excitement. “I think what’s also really cool is when you see the men stand up to back these women as well. That’s just as important. Barack Obama, how he supports Michelle. That’s inspiring, right?” I take this chance to coyly ask if she’s also referring to husband Russell Wilson, NFL quarterback and father to their daughter. “Oh, absolutely. I do feel that I’m a better woman because of him. Obviously I have my own vision for myself, but my husband definitely makes me better and that’s what marriage is about. You both make each other better.”

Not that it’s been a straight road to happiness. The singer endured pretty public heartbreak back in 2014 after the breakdown of her engagement with rapper Future, shortly after their son was born. When I ask her broadly if she has any regrets, she is adamant that this isn’t in her way of thinking. “I think the biggest thing for me is just to always trust your gut, the gut is never wrong,” she reflects. “And that’s something that I had to learn over time and I’m honestly sometimes still learning it. When you trust your gut, 9 times out of 10 you’re going to get it right.”

[LEFT] Dress A.F VANDEVORST, bra and boots JEREMY SCOTT
[RIGHT] Full look DSQUARED2

[LEFT] Dress A.F VANDEVORST, bra and boots JEREMY SCOTT
[RIGHT] Full look DSQUARED2

It’s now been over 14 years since the deafening success of “Goodies”, and as to be expected, slowing down is not on the agenda. The 33-year-old has an untitled project out in early 2019, one that excites her for many reasons, but surprisingly mostly because she feels like she has come full circle. “Yeah, I’m excited,” she confesses. “My mission is to inject love and to make the world dance. So on this project I want to keep that movement going. It’s how I felt when I put out my first album. When I made Goodies, I was this young girl, excited, untainted by any bad experiences and living my dream. I’ve kind of had that all over again. I’m the most confident I’ve ever been. And when you’re really confident you don’t stress as much or sweat the small stuff as much. You’re able to be free, fearless and not overthink. You’re just doing it.”

When I ask her if another 14 years are on the horizon, there is no question about it, but it wouldn’t be like Ciara to not have some sort of checklist in place. “It’d be really cool to do tours with stadiums. And there’s a lot of business goals that I want to accomplish.” I hear a glint of a smile over the phone. “Hopefully there will be more kids, for sure,” she says tentatively. “Well, you know, I got time! I’m a woman of ambition on a mission, so when the timing is right, of course!”

Her positivity is effervescent: fizzing out of her and kinetically energising everyone around her. Almost everything she says could be used to springboard the best TED talk you’ve ever watched. But none of it feels forced. Her self-belief is dumbfounding; she has worked and willed her dreams into existence. I realise that nearing the end of our conversation, I feel weirdly energised. Like I’ve unwittingly endured the best life coaching session I never knew I needed (and could never afford). I’m just being selfish now, but I want to squeeze all the “goodies” I can out of her (this is what she was talking about, right?), and so I ask her how I’ll know when I’ve levelled up. Even though my very proud 13-year-old self already knows I have. Her voice springs with melody: “Oh, you just feel it! It’s as simple as taking the next step. That’s what it’s about: being your best you. You’re pushing yourself to get what you want and deserve out of life, that is levelling up.” Well, if it’s worked for Ciara — and she has her widespread influence and music industry kingpin status to show it really, really has — then who am I to argue?

Taken from the Winter 18/19 issue. Order your copy now.

Top, trousers and shoes BALMAIN

Top, trousers and shoes BALMAIN
Photography
Charlotte Rutherford
Styling
Toni-Blaze
Hair
Cesar DeLeon Ramirez @ crowd MGMT using The Wildform
Makeup
Yolanda Frederick-Thompson @ crowd MGMT
Manicurist
Temeka Jackson using daily charm at nailglamproductions
Set design
Alex Constable
Fashion assistants
Aleah Paul and Michelle Genevive Gonzales
CIARA