Meet the 16-Year-Old Brooklynite Who Shot Barneys’ Latest Lookbook

Denise Hewitt talks family, Tyler Mitchell, and a future in creative direction.

Denise Hewitt was in AP French class when she found out she’d been selected to photograph a lookbook for Barneys New York as part of their Perfect Shot program. 

“I never heard back [from Barneys] and I didn’t know if they were going to email a group of us or just one person, so I was kind of frantically checking my email throughout the days to come,” said the 16-year-old wunderkind, who’s a native of Mill Basin, Brooklyn. “And then, one day, I was in French and I looked at my phone and I see this email that says, ‘Hi Denise, you’ve been selected by Barneys Perfect Shot,’ and I lost my mind. I went into the bathroom for a moment and I called my dad, I called my mom, and I was hysterically kind of crying. We were all having this beautiful moment about how I finally got it.”

Established last year as part of a commitment from the Barneys New York Foundation to foster young creatives, the 2018 Perfect Shot program was produced alongside Red Hook Labs’ Education and Jobs Initiative, a community program offering art and photography classes to students in Red Hook. The Barneys team reviewed the portfolios from students involved in the Initiative. From there, they selected one deserving student to shoot a lookbook for Barneys brand FiveSeventyFive. That awardee was none other than Hewitt, who worked alongside the Barneys creative team to produce a campaign that reflected both the brand and the intimate details of her own artistic vision. Officially unveiled in November of 2018, the result is a set of regal images staged in the Bed-Stuy brownstone purchased decades ago by Hewitt’s great-grandmother.

“When I first got to meet with the Barneys team, I was given the clothes and I had to kind of think about, what did I want to do? What was the story that I wanted to tell?” She explained. “I was immediately reminded of my great-grandmother. I derive almost all of my inspiration from her because she’s just that strong of a figure in my life. She was an immigrant from Saint Vincent, where all my family is from, and she came over during the Civil Rights era to New York. She worked about four or five different jobs and came over all by herself and then sent the money back to my grandfather back in Saint Vincent who she left. Eventually, over time, she was able to not only bring him up to the States with her, but to buy her own brownstone. I found that amazing considering she’s a woman — and a Black woman — doing this during that time period…I wanted to retell this story of this Black woman who has had so much success.”

Hewitt further wove the concept of family into the FiveSeventyFive lookbook by featuring her aunt as a model. “At Thanksgiving, she’s that one aunt who is always on point with the outfits,” she said, with a chuckle, of the decision. “I’ve always looked up to her for being such a role model because she’s so confident and she really puts time into her outfits and has this really warm and fun presence, and so I had to include her because of not only just her confidence, but just how much of a role model she is to me. I felt like it would really tie this all together.”

More generally, Hewitt derives photographic inspiration from Instagram and from other students she meets through Red Hook Labs. “I’ve met so many kids in the neighborhood, who come from Bed-Stuy, Queens, et cetera to come to this program — and they are so talented and so inspirational. It’s just this hub of amazing people, so I think we kind of get our inspirations from each other,” she said. 

When I asked her if she had any role models in fashion photography, Hewitt responded immediately with a name that’s only recently risen to ubiquity: Tyler Mitchell. I could practically hear her smiling as she explained that she’s “had the privilege” of photographing him before and is incredibly inspired by “this utopian world that he kind of lives in and really wants to portray in his photography and videos.” 

Though she already has shoots with Barneys and Mitchell under her belt, Hewitt dreams of photographing the likes of Erykah Badu and Korean artist Crush. As for brands, she says she’d love to work with Converse (she was sporting her tried-and-true pair during this interview) and Vogue Fashion Fund recipient Pyer Moss. But she foresees her future career moving far beyond photography: “I have so many interests in so many different niches,” she said. “I love the fashion industry, I love music — it’s been a huge part of my life — photography, writing, and activism. I almost don’t know where to start. I’ve thought of becoming a creative director because then I can really be in all of those at once, almost. I think that’s where I’m headed.”

No matter what direction Denise’s path ends up going, we have a feeling she’ll be just fine. 

Check out Hewitt’s full lookbook for Barneys FiveSeventyFive below!

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