Mater Mea is a incredibly breathtaking “bimonthly online magazine that celebrates the lives of high-profile women of color as they balance work and motherhood. Using stunning photographs and in-depth profiles, readers are immersed into the lives of awe-inspiring women in the most intimate settings: at home, with their children.”–Mater Mea
Mengly & Ousmane
Photos: J Quazi King
When Mengly Hernandez talks about herself, she often references a self-imposed wall that can create an air of chilly remove around the petite 32-year-old single mom, sometime model and full-time stylist and entrepreneur.
“I’m definitely more cautious,” Hernandez says. “I’ve always been a little more guarded so I really take my time with people.”
It’s a statement that has a really hard time sticking though, with each warm, husky laugh or offer to hook mater mea up with the Dominican hair products Hernandez swears by that she finds in Washington Heights, the neighborhood she calls home. But when you consider that her 13-year-old son Ousmane is standing right next to her behind that wall, the desire to create some distance starts to make sense.
“I had my son when I was 18…and it was very, very, very, very challenging,” Hernandez says. “I was forced to take a semester off [of college] because I had to give birth.”
Hernandez went on to get her college degree while working 9-5 at a swimwear company in the Garment District; to say juggling work, school and a newborn was difficult would be an understatement, she says. “It was overwhelming for me because I had school assignments, I had to breastfeed and organize my job. Luckily I’ve always had my mother around to help out, but it [was] still overwhelming.
“But somehow, you kind of make it through and you become a stronger person for it,” she says. “And here I am. My son is almost 14 [and] he’s a great kid.”
At the mention of her son, Hernandez lights up, her voice — usually a half a beat slower with the unmistakable accent of a native Dominican New Yorker — becomes more animated: you begin to see what life behind the wall is like for the two of them.
The two are very similar, she says, down to their shared business savvy (“He just has great marketing ideas. I’m like, ‘You’re going to be helping me out!’) and eclectic style.
As is the happenstance story behind how she became a stylist for magazines and big-name companies. Hernandez’s look (and that aforementioned aura of cool) has captured the attention of photographers and fashion brands for years — It-girl label Madewell featured her in their “Styled By Real People” section online.
“I met someone at a party years ago,” she remembers. “[She] approached me and asked if she could photograph me.” The woman turned out to be a stylist; the two chatted for a bit and exchanged numbers, with Hernandez not thinking much of the chance encounter.
“I have a friend of mine who has [styled music videos],” she says. “She’s been in the industry…forever. So I saw what she did [and] it was never appealing to me. I just saw her lugging bags.”
Less than a month later, the woman called Hernandez and asked if she would be interested in assisting her on a job with Trident gum. Since her job as a PR liaison and creative director’s assistant at a fashion label had come to an end, Hernandez said, with her signature laissez-faire attitude, “That sounds cool. Whatever.”
One shouldn’t confuse taking life opportunities as they come with a lack of direction. After learning the ropes as an assistant under her new friend, Hernandez eventually struck out on her own. She has since established an impressive client list – Bloomingdales, InStyle, Elle Sweden, and Motorola all rely on her skills. And while it’s definitely more than schlepping bags, it’s far from glamorous, Hernandez reveals…Read the rest of Mengly Hernandez’s conversation with Mater Mea along with more photos here
What do you enjoy most about being a mom?
I enjoy learning the most. My son is an old soul, so I’ve learned a lot from him.
What have you learned from him?
He inherently knows certain things that I just didn’t know at his age. And I don’t think it has to do with the new generation, or the hormones they put in the milk, or whatever people say. I just think he’s a very wise person.
He’s also very savvy, even marketing wise, with my oils or with my scarves. He’s always giving me feedback. He’s a cool little kid.
What inspires your personal style?
I love textiles and patterns. But also strong women. My grandmother’s one of my biggest inspirations. Women like Frida Kahlo, Yayoi Kusama – she’s a Japanese artist who basically created painting as therapy because she was abused as a child. She’s amazing.
Do you have a skin, hair or health regimen?
I make my own oils. And before I made my own oils, I used coconut oil. I got it from the Indian store. I use that in my hair and on my body.
I try not to use anything that’s artificial because I have sensitive skin. [My] hair, it’s very straightforward. I wash with usually Dominican products. My deep conditioner is Dominican because it suits my hair. Those are products that are usually made in Venezuela or Brazil, where women have the same texture as my hair. It’s very hydrating and good for untangling.
Read the rest of Mater Mea’s one on one with Mengly here
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