‘Prepackaged’ and taking the big city by storm
Posted Nov. 30, 2021
Dressing Miss Universe and Miss USA in a public bathroom is not in everyone’s job description. But for a small-town boy from Timmonsville, South Carolina, that experience is what makes his New York City gig different from the average office job.
Marquis Bias has had to put in the hours to get to the top of his profession working as a set costumer during the week and a principal dresser for The Emmy Award-winning late-night show, Saturday Night Live.
Bias started working for SNL this past fall and is working with Ego Nwodim, a cast member on SNL.
“SNL has been exactly what I imagined it would be—a blast! I’m having the time of my life! Everyone is so friendly and helpful, they made me feel so welcomed and supported from day one. It’s very fast-paced and very transient. Often the costumes, wigs, and sketches are being edited up to the moment they are on stage,” Bias said.
Bias’ first passion in life was music. He started at the S.C. Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, where he studied the flute. His teacher, Caroline Ulrich, encouraged him to continue his education at the University of South Carolina, where he planned to study music.
But his love for the fashion industry and the support from a particularly inspiring professor led Bias to change his major to fashion merchandising and pursue a career in the industry.
“I think what he had was already inside of him,” Sallie Boggs said, a longtime retail professor who is now retired. “It was being supportive and encouraging toward him so that he could think freely. He came to me prepackaged.”
Bias credits Boggs with helping him get where he is today.
“It was her encouragement and mentorship that made it possible for me to dream of such things as becoming president of Fashion Board at USC and creating Fashion Week at USC. I owe her everything,” said Bias.
Fashion Board at USC is a student organization that helps its members grow in the fashion, beauty and retail industries. Bias is the creator of the student-run Fashion Week at UofSC, a week where different fashion-related events lead up to a fashion show featuring local companies as well as student work.
According to Boggs, Bias would often come into her office and crochet scarves while bouncing ideas off of her.
“It never bothered him that his ideas were big. It was always ‘What if we did this? What do you think about this? How about if we tried this?’ Fashion week was a huge idea. It was pretty amazing that he envisioned that and that we could pull it off and it become an annual event,” Boggs said.
Sean Smith, a UofSC alumnus who is now also a costumer for SNL, met Bias in 2012 when he walked into the costume shop at UofSC’s Longstreet Theatre and wanted to learn how to sew. Smith and Bias met while Smith was working on getting his masters in fine arts.
Smith said Bias wanted to learn everything and would come in during his off time. “He will always do what needs to be done and works really hard to obtain his dreams,” Smith said.
“The most memorable and rewarding thing was working in the costume shop in the Theater department. When I was working there I never imagined that I would have a career in costuming, but I learned so much there about fabrics and garment construction, real skills that I call upon all the time now when I’m working,” said Bias.
Smith said those who are new to SNL “go in like, ‘Oh, I am going to try and blend in. I’m not going to draw attention to myself.’ Marquis went in, like, ‘What do I need to be the best at this job?’ He was asking for tips from everyone.’”
Zakiya Dennis, a wardrobe supervisor in New York, picked up on that creative buzz when she hired Bias. “His energy is always right. Even if he is having a bad day, you can’t really tell. I think that is a good quality to have, not to mask it but to roll with the punches,” Dennis said.
Dennis added that it is not just the work he does, but the skillset, the tools and the resources he has that get him where he is going. “He is tunnel-visioned and he is going to make all his dreams come true,” Dennis said.
Eskarleth Gonzalez-Vedamanikam worked with Bias as his assistant when he was the lead wardrobe stylist for the Miss Universe Organization in 2016. Her first impression of him was that he was intimidating but in a “I’m here for business. If you are here for a good time, this is not for you” way, she said.
Gonzalez-Vedamanikam recalled one of her favorite memories when they were working together. They had double-booked shows where they needed to dress Miss Universe and Miss USA. Bias and Gonzalez-Vedamanikam had to dress Miss Universe and Miss USA in a public bathroom before hopping in a Uber for the next show.
“We asked ourselves who would do this in a public bathroom? But that was who we were as a team, we didn’t stop to think why. We were action-based,” Gonzalez-Vedamanikam said.
Bias knows how to balance between having his game face on and letting loose.
“I love the way that he is when there is no one around, when it’s just you and him. He is so funny beyond words and is vulnerable,” Gonzalez-Vedamanikam said.
With all the hard work that Bias has done, staying centered is a big part of how he is able to maintain the busy lifestyle of living in New York and working as a stylist.
“Self-care is of the utmost importance. Personally, I get my haircut every Saturday and my nails done every two weeks without fail. If the entire world is on fire at least I know I have those few hours of stillness to do something for myself, to rest my mind and body and recharge my spirit,” Bias said.
He talked about how in the lives of creatives there will be periods of struggle. It’s taxing “mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually,” Bias said.
Bias has impacted the lives of people he works with, from interning at Vogue Magazine in the accessories department to working as the Miss Universe Organization lead wardrobe assistant to his career in film and television.
Mikelle Street, an editorial director for Pride Media noted that Bias is why he majored in public relations and why he now thinks about the way he presents himself.
Street, who also went to UofSC, told a story about a time that Bias left a lasting impression. When they were not quite friends yet, Bias had seen Street’s outfit in passing and tweeted about it in a negative light. It took Bias’ tweet to make him more conscious about what he was wearing and how should present himself for his work.
“He’s my best friend, he was a key one in having someone who was there for me and could look out for me. Encouraging me when I need those words of encouragement to let me know what I was doing and that I could trust my gut because I had what it took,” Street said.
Danielle Wilson, a friend from Governor’s School and UofSC, put it like this, “If he loves you, you’re set for life on having a really great friend. I cannot imagine my life without him.”
Bias said he’s lucky to have his friends migrate with him to the big apple.
“I am very fortunate that due to growling up as a young artist in the south many of my closest friends from my teenage years all migrated to NYC around that same time as I did and we still remain very close today,” said Bias.
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