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NPR Arts & Life

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

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.

June Ambrose is a stylist to many stars, including Jay-Z.
Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images
June Ambrose is a stylist to many stars, including Jay-Z.

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."

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