At FIT’s commencement ceremony on May 25, LL COOL J, multihyphenate extraordinaire, was honored with the President’s Award for Creative Excellence. He’s incredibly talented and ambitious, that’s for sure. But here’s another secret to his success: Claudine Joseph, chief operating officer of LL COOL J, Inc.
Joseph, who graduated from FIT in 1998 with a degree in International Trade and Marketing for the Fashion Industries, oversees the strategic direction and day-to-day operations of the brand, which encompasses LL COOL J’s work as producer and host of Spike TV’s Lip Sync Battle, actor on NCIS: Los Angeles and in numerous film roles, author of myriad books, and as a multimillion-selling hip-hop artist. She has been working with him since 1999.
Q: How do you help LL COOL J decide whether or not to accept a business venture or press interview?
A: The most important thing is to preserve his authenticity. He’s a family man, spiritual, and he’s never forgotten where he came from. He has a constant pull toward creative development and growth. And, second, it’s about evolving and not staying stuck in how people perceive him. I hate the saying, “Think outside the box.” We don’t have a box.
Q: How did you end up in entertainment?
A: When I first graduated from FIT, I was working for the Saks Fifth Avenue Club, and I loved it. But I knew it was not going to be my career. I got the opportunity to work on Wu-Wear, the Wu-Tang Clan’s clothing line, and I styled some music videos. That led to a job as assistant to the CEO at Violator Management, which had the best talent in hip-hop—that’s where I met LL COOL J. I stayed up late reading contracts, going to the recording studio, and doing stuff that I had no idea about. It was really exciting. That passion and excitement is with me still.
Q: You looked amazing at commencement. How would you describe your fashion sense?
A: First of all, I love black. Everybody always beats me up about it—but black is so chic, and you look so clean and together. I don’t necessarily have a distinct style per se, but I love getting inspiration from the runway, and I mix patterns a lot, which I think is more accepted today.
Q: Any favorite pieces?
A: I love my Givenchy boots, an over-the-knee sandal shoe. I also like to wear Chanel boots from the Salzburg collection, which are military-esque and more flat. I love Balenciaga. I liked it before the new designer [Demna Gvasalia], and I love it now. And I just love oversize men’s shirts: you don’t need a tight silhouette to feel beautiful.
Q: What advice would you give students and recent graduates?
A: Everyone should do an internship in a different field or area that you may not have an interest in. I think it’s good to be uncomfortable, because when you’re comfortable, you get complacent. When I was a student, I remember going into an office at FIT and opening this book that must have had over 1,000 pages of internships. I decided to intern at Nautica, which was very hot at that time, though I had zero interest in menswear. I learned so much about the analytical and strategic part of the business. It was numbers, it was financial. Had I not had that internship, I probably wouldn’t have known those jobs exist.