DJ Duane Powell Credit: Isa Giallorenzo

“It’s African, it’s Afrofuturism, it’s house, it’s jazz, it’s ever-evolving”—that’s how DJ Duane Powell talks about his style. On the day he was photographed—after playing a set in Avondale’s Woodard Plaza at an event promoted by Elastic Arts, the Corner Project, and Activate Chicago—his look included a tall-brim hat custom-made by Esenshel, a T-shirt by local artist James Nelson, and a neoprene necklace by Rosanna Contadini purchased at the Silver Room. Powell has been “at it” for so long that his taste is remarkably authentic, but he acknowledges artists like Andre 3000, Maxwell and Erykah Badu are “from his tribe”.

The self-described “musicologist” exudes panache and self-confidence, but he wasn’t always like that. In high school he spent his hard-earned money on designer brands he couldn’t afford, just to be able to fit in. “I hung out briefly with what we call ‘label whores’, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was looking for some kind of validation, some sort of acceptance—as were they,” the 41-year-old says. “It wasn’t natural. It was a middle-class performance, and it wasn’t me.”

A few years later Powell’s detractors were copying his outfits. The turning point came when the DJ happened upon the house scene in the early 80s: “It was like walking into pure, tangible bliss,” he says. “My older sister took me to my first party in 1982. A thousand kids from all over the south side of Chicago, all there to dance to the music. This is where I began my real walk into individuality.” 

Now, for fashion inspiration, he turns inward: “Style is an ‘inner’-gy. It starts from within you. Trust your ‘inner-gy.’ From there, what fits you will become second nature. Confidence is key.” 

Credit: Isa Giallorenzo

See Powell feeling his “inner-gy” at @soundrotation on Instagram.