Her love of fashion goes back to childhood. (One of her earliest fashion memories was when her mother dressed her in a denim jacket and pants combination and Grecian sandals.) Kalonji grew up in Austria to the daughter of a mother who hailed from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and an Italian-born, Croatian-Bosnian mother. Looking different from her counterparts in Austria trickled into her fashion sense. “I am different anyway so I might as well go for it,” she says. As a teen, Kalonji had straightened her hair, but eventually shifted to long braids after being inspired by Lauryn Hill in Sister Act 2: Back In the Habit. Style-wise, she was inspired by the members of TLC. “The first expression of my ‘going for it’ was to stop straightening my hair and stop being more Western and celebrate my Black hair,” she says. “And the next step was the TLC changeover. I was ready to be scouted to be the fourth member of TLC but unfortunately, I have a really bad voice.”
During her time in Austria, Kalonji’s mother bought her a copy of Dazed, which inspired her for years. Later applied for an internship at their offices in London. “I kept on calling,” she says. Eventually, after much persistence, she got an interview with the magazine and scored the internship. She later assisted stylist Katie Shillingford, who left Dazed for AnOther. Kalonji joined her there and rose through the ranks. After 10 years in the industry, she’s now an editor at large at AnOther and founder of Rubric Initiative, an organization to help diversify fashion and break down barriers.
Below, Kalonji shares her style mantras.