Over 20 years ago on the platform of the uptown 1 train at Manhattan’s 59th Street, a then 29-year-old Rodney Epperson spotted 22-year-old Lisha Epperson waiting for the train. “I looked over, and there was this beautiful girl,” recalls the fashion designer. Not only was she striking, Lisha’s choice of outerwear instantly raised her stock way up. “She was wearing this great Yohji Yamamoto trench coat that caught my attention.”
Lisha, a ballerina at the time, was smitten… but not by Rodney. Well, not at first. Her gaze was fixated on his female companion’s hair. “It was a crazy rainy day and everyone had messy hair. I was admiring her hairstyle,” explains Lisha, who thought the well coiffed subway female rider, Rodney holding a bouquet of flowers, and the little boy with them made a beautiful family. But she sensed something was off. “He kept looking over at me and I thought that was weird.”
The woman with Rodney was his sister, and the boy, his son, Emoni.
When the train approached, Rodney and Lisha got on in different cars. “I’m 21 and feeling adventurous, so I crossed over to his car, and it was obvious he kept looking at me. I just felt something, some sort of connection,” says Lisha. While she was trying to read Rodney’s stares and figure out “the deal with him and this woman,” Rodney was working up the courage to approach her.
“I took one rose out of the bouquet I was carrying to a birthday party, and I walked up behind her. When she turned around I just introduced myself, gave her the flower and she just lit up. It was as if there was music playing, and it was just us on the train. It was intense,” explains Rodney. “We talked the entire ride, and I even missed my stop,” says Lisha.
She thought Rodney was “really dashing, tall and fine.” Although the coveted oversized overcoat Rodney was so impressed by turned out not to be a Yohji original but a vintage number from her mother’s closet (“He thought I was fabulous like that but really I wasn’t,” says Lisha), it was really Lisha’s captivating smile, which he likens to a bright light, that truly captivated him.
“She was mad intriguing. I didn’t know anyone who danced ballet,” expresses Rodney. “I fell in love with [ballet] at 7, but my parents couldn’t afford to send me to classes,” says Lisha. She taught herself dance steps on the banister in the hallway of her Brooklyn building until she was able to take professional classes at 16. “Which is super, super late. But I was still able to carve out a career by the grace of God,” she adds. “I loved the strength behind the beauty.”
Lisha won a scholarship to the Dance Theater of Harlem and stopped dancing when she was 30. Ironically, a week before Rodney laid eyes on Lisha, he told his sister he longed to meet a beautiful ballerina. “She wore her natural hair in a ballerina bun. She traveled the world, and she knew what she wanted and was great at it at a young age. I never met anyone like her,” confesses Rodney.
And Lisha hadn’t ever come across anyone like Rodney either. On their first date, the Project Runway alum with a bag full of clothes picked her up for dinner at the restaurant where she was working as a hostess. “Who would do that? It was really cool, different and sweet,” she says, still amazed at the stylish gesture. “I now get unlimited access to his clothes, and that’s great.”
For as long as he can remember, Rodney has been enamored with beautiful clothes. While his brothers hung pictures of cars all over their bedroom walls, he decorated his room with fashion images ripped from Ebony magazines. “Each time I design something, I feel like a part of me is being shared. It’s a gift that God blessed me with, and Lisha was blessed with the gift of dance.”
In addition to their enthusiasm for the arts, the church and their mutual spiritual development have always played a significant role in their relationship. Prior to dating Lisha, Rodney was on a spiritual journey of self-discovery. “I was searching for myself and God. I wanted her to experience what I was going through,” he explains. “Part of his whole courting me was taking me to church with him. I embraced it immediately,” says Lisha.
The connection between Rodney and Lisha was instantaneous, and their relationship took off very quickly. Following their first date, the pair were inseparable and started dating exclusively. “With her, it was love at first sight. She makes me make sense. I lean on her without even realizing it,” says Rodney. Having lost his mother, also his best friend, at 14, Rodney jokes that