St. Beauty, the Atlanta Soul Duo With Janelle Monáe’s Approval, Met Working at a Vintage Boutique

Isis Valentino and Alex Belle picked up a lesson or two about style and beauty in the process.

Photography by Salim Garcia

st beauty.jpg
Salim Garcia

Though beloved Atlanta vintage boutique Poor Little Rich Girl has since shuttered, it was there that Isis Valentino and Alex Belle, the two musicians who comprise St. Beauty, first had the inklings that, maybe, they should start a band. Poor Little Rich Girl started hosting showcases in its basement, and though Belle had written a song she wanted to perform, she still needed someone to accompany her on guitar. She sent it to Valentino, who offered to play.

After that initial well-received performance, they started performing together regularly around Atlanta. They adopted the St. Beauty moniker, named for Stevie Wonder’s track “Bird of Beauty” (and a derivative track of the same name that Valentino wrote, never to make it out of demo phase). It was at one of these shows where they caught the attention of Janelle Monáe in the nascent days of her Atlanta-based Wondaland label.

“They pretty much took us under their wings,” Belle recalled, speaking over the phone from Atlanta amid rehearsals and sessions two days before the duo’s Afropunk Atlanta set. They joined the Wondaland roster, which includes on-the-verge acts like Jidenna, Deep Cotton, and Roman Gianarthur, and released the single “Going Nowhere” on the label’s Wondaland Presents: The Eephus EP in 2015.

Soul Duo St. Beauty Make Their Afropunk Atlanta Debut

Photo by Salim Garcia.
Photo by Salim Garcia.
Photo by Salim Garcia.
Photo by Salim Garcia.
Photo by Salim Garcia.
Photo by Salim Garcia.
Photo by Salim Garcia.
Photo by Salim Garcia.
Photo by Salim Garcia.
Photo by Salim Garcia.
Photo by Salim Garcia.
Photo by Salim Garcia.
Photo by Salim Garcia.
Photo by Salim Garcia.
Photo by Salim Garcia.
Photo by Salim Garcia.
Photo by Salim Garcia.
Photo by Salim Garcia.
Photo by Salim Garcia.

And though their debut solo release is currently slated for early 2017, they’ve honed a half-hour set of largely unreleased material, as well as a few tracks they’ve put out independently since joining forces. Their music caught the attention of actress and comedian Issa Rae; two of their tracks, “Borders” and “Holographic Lover,” will be featured in an early November episode of her new HBO show Insecure. Friday night’s Afropunk set was St. Beauty’s first in their hometown for many months, and their first ever at the festival, but the women are still very much enmeshed in the city’s tight-knit scene.

“Everyone wants each other to win,” Valentino said. “It’s very community-oriented.”

But it’s not just about the music: Ahead of their Afropunk set, they paused to share their favorite Atlanta haunts (including, of course, the best vintage boutiques), their festival essentials, and their favorite indie mud masks.

How would you describe your look in three words? Vintage, colorful, and simple.

Who are your style icons? Alex Belle: Definitely Audrey Hepburn.

Isis Valentino: Diana Ross.

Alex Belle: We love Solange.

What is your stage look? Alex Belle: It varies. Definitely comfortable. You have to be comfortable, but still cute, still vintage, colorful.

What are some of your favorite vintage boutiques in Atlanta? Isis Valentino: We love the Vintage Queen, Lucky Exchange, Shop Truxe.

What about your travel and touring essentials? Alex Belle: Have to have my tourmaline. Have to have my white ankle boots and my go-go boots.

Isis Valentino: Have to have water. Oh yeah, definitely a gallon of water. I have to have leave-in conditioner. [Belle laughs] And my guitar.

What are your go-to hair products? Alex Belle: I have to have castor oil.

Isis Valentino: I have to have the Carol’s Daughter Marguerite’s Magic Restorative Cream.

Alex Belle: And definitely Pantene.

What about makeup-wise? What are some of the things you can’t live without? Alex Belle: Glossier! Can’t live without the Glossier Boy Brow.

Isis Valentino: Glossier and Nars.

What about nails? Do you have a favorite polish shade? Alex Belle: I really like aqua blue.

Isis Valentino: American Apparel has a lavender that I love.

Sheet mask or mud mask? Isis Valentino: Mud mask from Scratch Goods. It’s a small company in Chicago. They have a green clay mask that I love and a black charcoal mask.

Alex Belle: I love the charcoal.

What about nutrition-wise? Isis Valentino: I make smoothies every morning. Green smoothies. Cucumber, pineapple, spinach, green apple, and sometimes I add ginger. And water.

What about exercise? Isis Valentino: Yoga, pilates. Ride my bike.

Alex Belle: Yeah, I love riding my bike but that’s pretty much it.

Do you have a favorite fragrance? Alex Belle: I love the smell of lavender. Lavender and lemon are my favorite fragrances.

Isis Valentino: The only fragrance I’ve ever used was Chanel No. 5.

Definite doppelganger: Isis Valentino: Cicely Tyson.

Alex Belle: I’ve gotten Lauryn Hill before, but I don’t really think I look anything like Lauryn Hill. [laughs]

What are you listening to right now? Alex Belle: Definitely Anderson.Paak. Solange’s album that just came out. Frank Ocean.

Isis Valentino: Lianne La Havas. We saw her last week and it was perfect. We were in the front like fangirls. [Belle laughs]

What is something you can’t wait to wear when it gets cold out? Alex Belle: I love American Apparel sweaters. Definitely boots. I love wearing baggy pants. High-waisted, boyfriend jeans.

Isis Valentino: I just bought a green suede coat from Goodwill that I can’t wait to wear.

What is your festival must-have? Isis Valentino: Shades. It gets so hot.

Alex Belle: You’re squinting in photographs.

Isis Valentino: Definitely shades. And a smile.

Is there a beauty question that you’re dying to know? Alex Belle: How does Gabrielle Union look like she’s still — how does she still look 19? Her skin is perfect. She’s perfect.

Isis Valentino: What about Kelly Rowland, though?

Alex Belle: Oh, her skin is so perfect.

Isis Valentino: She has no pores.

Alex Belle: Angela Bassett. There are so many women, just like, how?