My Island Muse: Hilary & Denise

Tell me about yourself and your creation Hilary & Denise. I think the brand has a great philosophy behind it. 
I look up often. I listen to the wind. I’ve lived in 4 countries. I am mixed with 4 races. Number 4 is my life path number (numerology) as is my partner’s. I love hard and I’m eternally curious. I’m a professional wanderer. I’ve been an elephant trainer, an environmental literacy teacher on a sailing barge, painted murals on community walls, and organized community events. I design spaces that are safe and accessible and have recently begun set designing in theatre spaces. I’m passionate about culture and the ways it influences development. I believe in the power in community. I think there is a lack of representation for young womyn of colour in Toronto. I didn’t see a lot of folks that looked like me on TV or in the media when I was “growing up” (still growing…up) in fact I still don’t connect with the images I see. This was the main reason for co-creating Hilary & Denise. The names alone are a tribute to two characters whom I felt connected to when I was younger. In addition to promoting self expression through clothing, we aim to create a platform to showcase the work of womyn of colour in our community.

“From shame to revolutionary reclamation”. That’s a powerful statement used to describe your Froback Diaries web series. Through this web series what have you learned about the “fro” and the women who choose to rock natural hair?
Everyone has a different hair journey. It’s intimacies, challenges, and learnings need to be shared and celebrated in a safe space. It is our hope that Fro Back will provide a space for dialogue in a non definitive, evolving and non judgemental way. We framed it as a series, and a collection of diary entries because we wanted it to be a fluid space that would allow for multiple voices and perspectives to be heard.

Favourite Trinidadian saying:

Favourite place to visit in Trinidad and why?
Hummingbird Ave in San Fernando. The house my grandfather built and still lives in. There is a vibration there that I don’t feel anywhere else. It is my reference point for the meaning of the word home. The way is smells, the way the breeze flows through it, and the sounds that echo are all things that calm my soul.

How has your Trinidadian heritage influenced your success and outlook on life?
I’z ah Trini. Some say you can spot us from far. The way we carry ourselves. Our friendly wit. Our jokeyness. The way we love to dance in public (or private). The energy I carry comes from my ancestors- who came from India, Venezuela, China and West Africa. I’ve always considered myself to be a Trini first. It’s the place I refer to as home. Not just because I was born there but because memories of its beauty gets me through cold depressing winters and reminds me that I am not alone. That there is an entire tribe of people who live in the light and dance in the streets. I come from a magical place, and I carry this heritage…no this energy, with me always.

Your message to women:
To always trust their wild selves.

You’re absolutely gorgeous any Caribbean beauty tips passed on through the generations you’d like share?
The most important tip I have is to be your natural self. Don’t be afraid of your hair, your skin colour, your curves…you. Know that you are beautiful the way you were created.


Who is Dre Ngozi and what inspired you to co-create Hilary & Denise?
I was born in Ottawa but moved to Toronto after university.  Since moving to Toronto, I’ve worked mostly for arts-related organizations, as arts and culture have always been my passion.  I started out as a dancer and pianist as a child, then moved into photography and performance and lately I’ve been doing more video production.  I’m also a Shiatsu Therapist, and I’m now studying Acupuncture, as holistic health is equally as important to me as creative expression.

I’d say the people inspired me to create Hilary & Denise. Around that time, people would often compliment me on my style of dressing and thought that I had a “Lisa Bonet” type look.  No complaints there!  I’ve always liked to dress up because it allows me to express the way I’m feeling.  I believe my partner Jade, also received similar comments, so eventually we were like “hey! let’s explore this”. We thought about what the two characters “Hilary Banks” and “Denise Huxtable” meant to us in terms of young womyn of colour, their style and representation in the media and Western society. Today, the philosophy behind Hilary & Denise has expanded, but it’s always been more than just about the clothes.

For us, it’s about identity. Personally, being of mixed-race background and culture (Trinidadian/Nigerian/British) and being a second generation Canadian, I’ve often struggled with the concept of “identity” and who I’m supposed to be in this societal context.  Through Hilary & Denise, we wanted to encourage other womyn who may have been feeling the same way to say, bump that! We’ll do and express ourselves the way we darn well please.  We hope through our online platform and community partnerships, that we can continue to showcase amazing magical womyn of colour, who may not be showcased and celebrated as much as they should be.

From shame to revolutionary reclamation”. That’s a powerful statement used to describe your Froback Diaries web series. Through this web series what have you learned about the “fro” and the women who choose to rock natural hair?

I’ve learned that the “fro” is quite a statement about how deeply rooted my initial discomfort with rocking it really is.  It was only a few weeks before shooting Froback that I had worn an afro out in public.  I was totally self-conscious about it and wondered what strangers thought.  That’s when I realized there’s some deep conditioning involved, with regards to wearing my hair completely natural – we need to talk about this.  It’s a continuous journey of de-colonizing and unlearning negative perceptions of self, that have been reinforced by the society in which we reside.  I’ve learned that being a womyn of colour with kinky hair is quite a job, dealing with criticism from outsiders, your own community, your self and my favourite “can i touch it?”.

Favourite Trinidadian saying:
Just one?! hmmm…Yuh blasted teef! and Yuh have a Tabanca awa?

Favourite place to visit in Trinidad and why?
My family’s home in Calvary Hill, Arima.  The luscious land with fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables, the mosquitoes that sing you to sleep at night and the roosters that inspire you to rise with the morning sun.

How has your Trinidadian heritage influenced your success and outlook on life?
I would say more so, that the Trinidadian womyn in my family have influenced me the most –  especially my mother.  She taught me and continues to remind me to remain hopeful and have faith that God/Universe will provide all that I need in life. She’s also taught me to be positive and remain focused on my life’s purpose.  “What is meant for you, you will get”, she always says. She exudes the strength and resilience of many other Caribbean womyn and it is these qualities that inspire me to keep going.

Your message to women:
I wish that all womyn be gentle with themselves. To me this means remembering that none of us are perfect and we’re all on our own journey with personalized life lessons.  We often get into the habit of beating ourselves up and being overly-critical of ourselves, but it’s important to remember that it’s through our mistakes that the real learning occurs.

You’re absolutely gorgeous any Caribbean beauty tips passed on through the generations you’d like share?
I’m not sure where I got this beauty tip from (probably my mother),  but as a pre-teen I used to make a facial mask with oatmeal and milk and leave it on for 15 minutes. It’s said that goat’s milk and buttermilk help to brighten, tighten and exfoliate the skin, and also helps with age spots. Oats are great for unclogging pores and adding moisture.  My grandmother used this to make her face smooth and bright. I also remember hearing the reference that Cleopatra would bathe in milk to retain her beauty. I’m not sure why I was concerned about this at thirteen years old, however,  I just remember it being really messy and my mother always saying “I doh know why dis chile wastin’ all de milk on she face!”

But, go ahead and try it for yourself!

Link Love
FB: Hilary&Denise
IG: hilaryanddenise