Photo Jacob Bixenman
Stylist Timothy Chernyaev
HMUA Homa Safar
Assistant Buck Andrews
Caroline D’Arcy Gorman: Talk to me about working with Jacob for this shoot. How did working with a close friend shape the creative process?
Tommy Dorfman: Working with Jacob was really organic and easy. The way he works is really full of life and energy and fun, but he is also good at keeping it contained and reeling me in. A really important part of any artistic collaboration is trust, and I have implicit trust in Jacob’s vision and his taste. We have a mutual respect for one another that is showcased in the photos. I don’t often get the opportunity to communicate that directly with the photographer, but for this shoot, Jacob and I were able to bounce ideas off each other, and send imagery and research. We were really able to talk about what’s exciting for me right now and what’s exciting for him and where we can meet in the middle.
CDG: You have an amazing fashion sense— From what I’ve seen, the blue green hair that you’re rocking is cool as fuck. As a queer person, it took me a long time to come into my identity and to find a look that I felt really comfortable in. There was a really awkward phase when I was an early teenager trying to figure it all out. What was that process like for you, figuring out what clothes you feel comfortable in, and how has your style evolved over time?
TD: As a really young kid, from when I was a toddler through middle school, I wore exclusively “girl’s clothes”. A similar thing happened for me during those puberty years, where things get really weird and suddenly cliquey. I repressed a lot of that part of myself, and tried not to stand out so much. Also, fears of bullying, whether or not I was aware of it at the time, added up and it just felt safer to assimilate. Later in high school, after I came out to more people, I began to experiment more with my expression through clothing. Now when it comes to choosing what to wear, some days I am drained and I don’t have the brain capacity to put an outfit together, so I go to what’s comfortable and easy and what I feel safe in. Beyond getting attention for being myself, what I wear can also bring more attention to me, so there is often a battle of how confident I am feeling in myself that day and how noticeable I want to be.
TD: I feel my most masculine in skirts at times, and my most feminine in sweatpants and a t-shirt; I don’t think the clothes always represent how I am feeling on the inside. In these photos, one of the looks we put together wasn’t composed of clothes that were pulled— it was a dress that I had brought, with a t-shirt and Jacob’s Doc Martens. To me, that is one of the most masculine looks that we did. Often clothes bring me into a new character, a different part of self. It was fun doing this shoot because I felt like we created these little characters that all co-existed in the same world.
CDG: Totally. That’s why I love going to events sometimes. Dressing up, I feel like someone completely different, which feels really refreshing. You have been very open about your sobriety online which is awesome, I am also sober, and it’s cool to see that you are able to be open about it without pushing an agenda. By saying what works for you, you are providing hope and resources to people out there who need to know that sobriety is an option.
TD: Yeah it’s interesting, that post opened up a channel of conversation with someone I to college with and wasn’t particularly close with at the time. We were able to connect in a way that we never would have been able to before. [Sobriety] is such an equalizer. It is a day at a time, and I may not be sober for the rest of my life so it’s risky to talk about it. But, if I relapse, I don’t think that’s something I should be criticized for. This is a disease we are struggling with. Queer safe spaces tend to be in places where alcohol and drugs are prevelant, and I didn’t think there was a life for me without those things. Now I know that I can participate in that stuff, and still go to those safe spaces without having to drink or use drugs. Especially since a lot of my followers are young and some of them are queer, it’s important for them to know that they don’t have to be defined by drugs or alcohol.
CDG: You have so many people following you, who you are influencing. What was it like when you first started to gain a platform and realize that you have a major voice?
TD: I think I have a niche voice, in that I don’t have 100 million followers, I have a really cool group of people who participate in my life, which is nice. It was still strange; I think the whole thing is kind of weird. [Fame] is not something you can fully prepare for and it is not something that I expected to happen. So when it did, I had to figure out how to manage it. Some days it gives me a lot of anxiety and other days it gives me hope. Social media can have a real impact, but the reality is, social media is not real. It’s such a double edged sword: On one hand I get to help people, and participate in important conversations, and on the other hand, I deal with bullying and the comedown of the dopamine high of “likes” and not getting enough “likes”. Just like any teenager feels, I feel when I post a photo. But I don’t want my life to be dominated by engagement on Instagram so I’ll go through periods of time where I just delete it off my phone because I feel like it’s detrimental to my mental health. I try to use it for good at the end of the day, and not let it rule my life. It is way cooler to have an interaction with someone on the street.
CDG: I want to talk about the play, “Daddy,” that you did, which I so wish that I saw.
TD: Talk about working with friends! I had a lot of friends on that. Doing that play was a way for me to ground myself and secure myself in one city for longer than a week, and dive into what I love doing the most, which is acting. So much of this industry asks actors to do other things, like going to fashion shows and parties, which I enjoy sometimes, but I don’t like being in large crowds all the time. To have the opportunity to just act for four months was a dream. It was humbling and soul filling. Having an interaction with an audience that changes every single day for eight shows a week is remarkable. And having the trust in a company of actors who I really admire and learn from, was so exciting. In theatre everyone really carries each other, whether you have two scenes to do in the play, or 20.
CDG: How did you maintain your energy and strike a balance between being able to show up and perform and give it your all every day but also take care of yourself?
TD: I let myself sleep. Usually I’m early to bed, early to rise person and this play turned me into a late to bed, late to rise person, which was a different experience than I’d had before but an altogether enjoyable one. I didn’t socialize very much, I didn’t go to bars, I went to the same restaurant every day— It was really nice. I didn’t ask too much of myself. The challenge was to allow myself the freedom to not move if I didn’t want to move, and conserve. We all got the flu during the play, but we still had to commit and show up. I feel like I can do anything now, when it comes to acting. I can work as many hours as I need to under whatever conditions. We did it all during those four months.
CDG: Do you ever get into a creative rut and if so what do you do to take yourself out of it and stimulate yourself?
TD: I find that there is a benefit to pushing through, and forcing creativity at times; however, when it comes to writing, for example, there are times when I just need to step away from it for a second. I’ll go and watch movies, see theatre and spend time with friends. I’ll spend time walking around without my phone and observing people. I am still navigating that space for myself, and figuring out what it looks like. The less time I am on my phone the more creative I am. When I don’t have Instagram on my phone, I am way more productive.
CDG: Often I check Instagram because I’m bored and don’t know what else to do; if I don’t give myself that option, though, a whole new field for creativity opens up instead of getting stuck in this routine of checking social media.
TD: I find reading to be an extremely creative thing too. Taking the time to create a world for yourself, and figure out what it looks like to you, stimulates your imagination. Reading can inspire whatever it is you are working on.
CDG: Is it true that you wanted to do stage acting right out of drama school?
TD: I did want to pursue theatre and I felt that in order to do so, I had to go to grad school. Instead of grad school I decided to pursue television in the hopes that creating a career in television and film would allow me more access to theatre. So at the end of the day, [my work] has always lead me back to theatre. In college, I received acting training and learned a lot from my teachers, but I also had life experience that I had to go through, like getting sober, and leaving school and coming back. I had to go through a lot of experiences before I could start working professionally and do what I am doing now. When I first got sober, I didn’t think that I could be an actor. I did not think that was going to be an option for me.
CDG: Why is that?
TD: There are a lot of drugs and a lot of drinking in the industry. Now that I have six years sober, it doesn’t bother me in the way that it would have if I had six months, but it just seemed like a glamourous cocaine-friendly world, which is sort of what I spiraled out of (laughs).
TD: I mean, not actually super glamourous, but I thought it was at the time. And [acting] seemed like a scary thing to do sober when you could actually feel all of your feelings. I was fragile, and I was vulnerable, and the idea of constant rejection, which is what an actor’s life is. Even if you are successful and working, very few of us get to do whatever it is that we want to do at the time. Most of us are striving for things, fighting for things, pushing ourselves to achieve more, do more, fulfill ourselves creatively, and with that comes a lot of disapproval from others. I didn’t know that sobriety actually enabled me to deal with rejection and not let it affect me. When I was first getting sober, I thought that there would be no way I would be able rejection, because it would force me to drink.
CDG: It is honestly so inspiring and encouraging to hear about your journey. It is really beautiful how something that you could have never dreamed came to fruition in sobriety. And you had to go through really hard times to get there—- We all do.
TD: It really shocks me that I get to do what I get to do. I find it unbelievable. And it very much feels a thing that could go away at any moment. So I try to stay present with it and enjoy it as much as possible and not take it for granted.
CDG: Do you have any words or advice for young queer kids who may be struggling with their identities?
TD: That is when the Internet can be really great. You can find a community, you can find resources. We have been talking about Instagram, so to bring it back to that, you can click on a profile, to get to another profile, to get to another profile, and eventually you will find someone who you can relate to, and communicate with directly. That is a great opportunity to use Instagram for good. I know a lot of queer people on Instagram who have platforms, and whether they have 5,000 followers or 5 million, they will do Q+A’s and provide resources in their bio for those who are struggling.
Beyond that… I have been thinking a lot about this with Pride. Being out and being in the industry, I know a lot of actors who aren’t out. At first I judged them and now, I do my best not to. It is okay if you don’t feel comfortable expressing your full self. It doesn’t mean that you should be criticized for it, you shouldn’t feel pressure if you aren’t able to participate in Pride. I feel like Pride becomes a competition for people; not just in June, also in day to day life. There is a lot of shame in not being out, or not being true to yourself, being the best you and “fuck the haters”— At the end of the day, it’s okay to allow yourself time and patience to figure it out. For some people, it’s more comfortable to be in the closet and that’s fine.
By Saidah Belo-Osagie
In the midst of this “Influencer Era,” the 18-34-year-old demographic has gained a negative reputation for the ways in which social media is used because at the end of the day, it always comes down to how individuals advertise themselves. While there is a case to be made that our world has inevitably spiraled into the Society of the Spectacle that Debord warned us about, there are some gems that have used this Spectacle for good–and one of those gems’ names is Flo Ngala.
Flo has made a name for herself within the New York arts and culture scene from her prolific photography portfolio. Whether or not she is capturing the toothy smiles of toddlers strutting through the African American Day Parade or shooting Cardi B adjust her dress at the Met Gala, the subject’s integrity and humanity always shines through Flo’s photos. I was lucky enough to catch Flo in a rare moment of stillness on her rooftop one sunny Saturday morning, where we discussed the impact self-advertising, constructive editing, and playing with time has had on her career.
Saidah Belo-Osagie: So, you got your start with photography at Horace Mann and had an amazing teacher, but with Horace Mann being a predominately white school, do you think that motivated you to pursue an outlet? How did it affect your artistry?
Flo Ngala: When I entered Horace Mann, I was still figuring out who I was but knew I was a minority. I didn’t feel it after a while, or at least I adjusted to those spaces and got used to being one in a few. But when I found photography, I held on to it because it was the first time I found a passion. I will say Horace Mann’s resources allowed me to tap into my love for photos. I wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise.
My amazing teacher, Ms. Johnson, took the time to give me feedback and explain what was right and wrong. I can’t say the experience [at Horace Mann] was the best thing ever because I didn’t come out with amazing grades or go to the best school. But being able to go to that school helped me find what I love to do.
SBO: What did you end up majoring in when you headed off to college?”
FN: I wanted to be an art/creative director, so I went ahead and majored in advertising and minored in design. I always thought photography would be there as an asterisk. I didn’t want to major in it because I didn’t think I needed to. What I was inspired by, to be honest, were the Tumblr posts from around the world that I obsessively reblogged. That endless scrolling sucks you in because there’s just so much inspiration to draw from. I felt more from the people making things happen in their backyard than from world-renowned photographers. I’m happy I studied advertising, but I think [photography] is ultimately about your eye and how you curate it.
SBO: Very true. There was a time people were constantly on Tumblr, but not as much anymore. Are you still using it?
FN: Instagram has definitely taken over that part of my brain, for better or for worse. I’m trying to find a way to check myself but it’s more difficult because through Instagram, I’m still getting all that stimuli, but on top of it, you have all the celebs and the bullshit that is distracting instead of inspiring.
SBO: And Tumblr was interesting because you didn’t have to be famous to blow up and get all the notes the way you typically do with IG.
FN: Yes, and the process of making your way to someone’s page is so inherently different in the sites’ respective designs. You could find the source through Tumblr based on mutuals’ likes and there was more effort towards finding that original post. But on Instagram, you end up on random people’s pages based on the algorithm and what’s popular or sponsored.
SBO: Is there anyone currently on Instagram who inspires you or posts particularly interesting things?
FN: Someone who just came to mind is Sara Foster, the Creative Director at Bumble. Her and her sister, Erin, are hilarious because they’re organic and not oversold. They’re two rich white women, but I appreciate their humor, even though it’s different than what I’m used to. I’ve found that recently I’ve been more inspired by words and the way people use them over visuals. Even when I write captions sometimes, I really have to think about how to make it personal and how to not sound self-centered when I’m marketing my work.
SBO: It always goes back to advertising!
FN: It really does! A caption can make up for an average picture and the opposite can be done for a bad caption. Of course, it’s never that serious but when you notice good shit you like, you start to pay attention to it more. For people who like to consume content, that type of thing will make a difference.
SBO: Okay, let’s shift gears and talk about your heritage. I’ve been noticing photographers celebrating their West African heritage by producing work of the diaspora. As a Nigerian-Cameroonian, what do you think about this shift and do you feel as though your work has also inherited this influence?
FN: It’s been interesting seeing how I’ve become more connected to West Africa and West African art through the artists I see. I don’t feel as though I’m seeking out African photographers, but I’ve realized that I’m naturally attracted to those kinds of visuals– the nostalgic Africa, the vintage photos and videos. I listen to a lot of old-school African music because that’s what I grew up on and what my ears really love to hear. I’m really happy that people from various countries in the continent are taking advantage of this moment that Africans have right now creatively within all kinds of arts. Social media has given so many people the chance to put cool shit out there. It’s definitely empowering and inspiring in so many ways. I want to continue to push myself to make work that that reflects who I am. When I go home for the first time, whenever that is, I know it will be a different experience. I don’t know what will happen but my eye and the way I approach my work will change for sure. But as an African, first-generation female, there’s already no way I can create work and not have it be through that lens.
SBO: How was shooting in Senegal?
FN: That trip really amazed and shocked me. I was so excited to be surrounded by so many people who looked like me. They weren’t Nigerian or Cameroonian, but I still felt like I was at home.
SBO: I read an article about Gordon Parks and how he’s one of your photography inspirations. Is there anything specific from his style that you’ve tried to emulate in your work?
FN: Not directly. The first time I interacted with Gordon Parks’ work was in high school when we were learning about all these different photographers and mediums. I was so excited to see work that truly inspired me when I was 14 or 15 years old and was starting to take the whole photography thing more seriously. When I began to really love taking photos was shooting parts of my neighborhood in Harlem. It was really street photography and photojournalism that captivated me in a way that landscape photography didn’t. I wouldn’t say Gordon Parks was someone that came up in any specific conversations we had in my class but when I was scrolling on social media like Tumblr about 10 years ago, I came across his work because it’s so hard to have a conversation about the history of American photography and not see his work. He created one of the first bodies of work about segregation in color, which is fascinating because you rarely see photos from the Civil Rights era of segregation not in Black-and-White.
To answer your question, there’s one image of his that I saw for the first time that made me cry a couple of years later when I was in college. I was working at this historical Black institution called the Schomburg Center on 135th and I remember never being moved to tears by the image prior. Gordon Parks was in a car and shooting through the window– imagine those photos of celebrities with people swarming around their car to look inside– so it’s like that except there were Black girls and boys surrounding this car and this one boy had a deadpan look into the lens. I don’t know what it was at the time, but it really moved me. I say that to say that Parks worked really pushed me to put out work that moves people. Parks carried himself with so much integrity, so seeing all that he was able to accomplish in his life really motivated me.
SBO: Even looking through your portfolio and the various photos you’ve taken—self-portraits, pictures of celebrities or figure skaters—there’s a way you capture these photos in a very intimate way. What mindset do you or the subject have in order to execute these types of photos?
FN: I don’t think it’s necessarily the person all the time. If that was the case, the work wouldn’t be consistent; Cardi B is totally different from 15-year-old figure skaters who are so different from two Black kids from Newark who play basketball. The common denominator is the way I see the world and the way I edit the images. As a photographer, when I make selects, I’ll take 100 photos and the ten I pick will be different from the ten you pick which will be different from the ten someone else picks. The more you shoot, the more you curate your eye, the more you understand the role of photography for you.
For me, it should be a visceral experience. You can’t just choose photos it can’t be as flat as that. Either with the lighting or the composition or the expression, that’s what I keep in mind when I shoot. I’m really trying to peer in. One of the first times I felt like the fly in the wall and felt as though I was capturing the essence of that moment was the African-American Day Parade I shot in 2016. I shot all of the photos in black-and-white, and it’s still one of the top links on my website. For me, it felt like a prime example of the strength of intimacy between the subject and the viewer. SBO: Yeah, that shoot gives you chills.
FN: And photography should take you there because as a photographer, you’re really playing with time. Life keeps going but with this medium, we can stop moments. The power of being able to capture something that can be viewed globally and witness parts of history that would have gone unknown is wild to me. And if it’s good work, you can be in it without personally knowing the subjects.
That being said, it’s not like I always know what I’m doing, so I try to check myself. When I was younger, I was interested in taking photos of homeless people. I had to ask myself, why? What is it about this person in a horrible situation that compels me to photograph them? The same thing goes for the people that come and shoot Black spaces and win Pulitzer Prizes and other accolades. You always have to wonder. It’s something I’m still grappling with after shooting people for 10 years.
SBO: Authorship is definitely important– The pictures we see in textbooks that depict history are so important but at the same time those who are taking those gory photos are doing so from a point of privilege. But what I love about your work is that you take places that people may traditionally look down upon or not even consider and debunk the preconceived notions. An example I remember would be the New York Times Harlem figure skating piece. This also applies to your celebrity shoots because these photos humanize public figures who don’t get to show the world that side…
FN: Because celebrities are still just people. For me, the human aspect of my photos remains constant. I can take a photo of Cardi at the Met Gala and make her look super glamorous but first and foremost, respecting the subject is super important.
SBO: Would you want to be famous?
FN: Ha, I go back and forth with myself about this question, to be honest. Because of the way I brand myself, I can see the pull of clout more than fame. It’s definitely something where I’m like “ooh, this feels nice!” I won’t say no. I think it would be fun. [Laughs] But any situation I can be in to put more money in my mom’s bank account or towards my family here and back home is something I will take advantage of. When I was able to send my aunty $2000 for her children to go to school, her gratitude made me so happy. Or the fact that the Harlem ice skating program I was a part of for 10 years was on the Today Show because Al Roker saw my photo shoot. If being able to leverage my brand as a photographer and as a creative can help me in that way, then I’m all for it. As long as it feels authentic and my fame isn’t corny.
SBO: Have there been any projects that you’ve turned down for moral or personal reasons?”
FN: I can’t think of anything, so nothing too bad. But right now, I’ve found that I’m more decisive with how I want to spend my time and what I associate myself with because I’m finally taking myself more seriously. NY Times, Reebok, Nike, all those gigs helped. I know that I can say no to things I may have said yes to one or two years ago. It took me a long time to believe that, despite the fact that I knew I was creating something special. People come to me a little more correct now. It’s different.
SBO: You mean the way they reach out to you or rather who is reaching out to you?
FN: Both. And when clients want me to do their shoot, I know the right questions to ask. It’s also weird because people hit me up randomly to work for free, which I think is so funny because if you don’t know me like that, it’s such an assumption to make. I’ve done it before but now, things have changed. But we’re all learning, so I don’t take it personally.
SBO: What would a typical day in the life look for you when you have an assignment?
FN: When I’m shooting? I show up, do my thing, come home, procrastinate a bit, and start making selects and edit. With Cardi and when I used to shoot with Gucci [Mane] more, for example, I always bring my laptop because I started realizing that it’s good to have a fast turnover with photos so that you can edit quickly and people can post it. I remember at the VMAs, Cardi took a photo in her dress and she looked stunning. Her stylist and I were trying to get the photos right and wanted her to look as vibrant and amazing as possible, but she wanted to get the photo up as soon as possible. Sometimes it’s really quiet and it’s just me and my computer but other times it’s like what I just mentioned where I’m rapidly airdropping photos to publicists, stylists, and other talent who just want to post the photo ASAP. It’s cool because I like the idea that I can do both; it definitely helps to know how to produce edited images quickly, especially with the instant nature of images nowadays.
SBO: What do you use to edit your photos?
FN: Photoshop, but I just started fucking with Lightroom.
SBO: How long have you been using Photoshop for?
FN: Probably since 11th grade, so about 7-8 years.
SBO: Did you teach yourself? Because I’ve tried to teach myself for a bit and whew…
FN: Yeah in school we did B&W film photography, never digital. But I had a substitute teacher named Mr. Mason. I remember getting my first basic skills from him because he was into digital. Once I pursued my personal projects, I would play with Photoshop and do whatever, and now I feel really confident in it.I like it more than Lightroom because I can make it exactly how I want it to look like; Lightroom you’re working with the image and editing within the constraints of a photo, not something you’re creating. I remember I was working with a shot of Cardi at the VMAs and there was someone in the back and this stylist in the front and they made the shot look chaotic. Being able to use Photoshop to edit them out just made the image that much stronger. On the other hand, with the New York Times, one of their requirements for photos is that you can’t Photoshop anything because you’re documenting wholly the truth. I could already feel myself itching right after I finished a project for them because I know I’ll want to edit certain things out that I can’t. You can edit the sharpness and tones, but you can clean things out. Regardless, I love seeing the before and after of a shot.
SBO: What are your favorite spots to check out in NYC?
FN: You know what, I’m still figuring that out! There’s a place called The Shrine on 133rd that’s modeled after The Shrine that Fela Kuti ran in Nigeria. I really love it because it’s old-school music and vibes. In terms of shooting, any time I can be on the street and have my camera and see the moment, the whole city is a landscape to create something if you have the vision for it.
SBO: Is there a photography community in NYC and if so, are you a part of it?
FN: I’m not involved the way I should be. I tried to start with an organization, but it didn’t feel authentic to me. They came in talking about, “we’re trying to work on our diversity efforts.” At first, I figured it was good and that because I’ve made it in some ways, I would be able to positively contribute to the cause. But the first meeting was whack. They needed diversity to get higher numbers. I get that it was membership-driven but if you want diversity, that’s not how you do it.
SBO: Again, always back to advertising yourself. You got to read the room!
FN: Yes! It was weird, so I stopped. But I would love to get more involved with places such as ICP and Aperture Fund. There is an amazing community for photographers here and a lot of things happening, so I need to tap into it more.
SBO: Would you stay in NYC or move to LA?
FN: I would move to LA, to be honest—the more I visit, the more I like it. If you’re interested in photo and film and want to build your network, it’s definitely a place worth checking out. I want to see the world more because it’s great to branch out and not get too comfortable in one place. But for now, Harlem is still home for me.”
SBO: Amazing. Okay, so last question: Who are you?
FN: I’m a person trying to do things. Dassit.
Source: Flo Ngala
This year, we kicked off our DRØME Pride celebration with alice + olivia, a brand known for its unabashed and novel take on color schemes, patterns, and fabrics. Stacey Bendet, the powerhouse and creative force behind the brand, is not shy or conventional when it comes to her approach to design. The alice + olivia Pride Party exhibited a similar audacity. The warehouse space was decked out in rainbow, complete with a bed positioned in the middle of the dance floor. Guests watched voguers led by ballroom Legend Dashaun Wesley light up the floor.
Tiny rainbow cakes, macaroons, and vodka “Pride” drinks made their way around the space as guests danced to tunes spun by Ruby Aldridge, took photos, and tie dyed their way into pride season. A hidden room, coated in light pink, featured rainbow bedazzled hanky panky’s for guests to keep. The Easter Egg of the night was DRØME’s third Volume of the print magazine, which could be spotted near the tie dye area and flanking six rainbow Svedka Vodka bottles at the bar.
alice + olivia Summer Kickoff Party in Celebration of WORLDPRIDE was held tonight, Tuesday, June 18, 2019 in New York City.
Amandla speaks with her friend, photographer Zoé Lawrence, about love, friendship, and queerness.
Amandla speaks with her friend, photographer Zoé Lawrence, about love, friendship, and queerness.
Zoé Lawrence: How did you come up with the concept for this shoot?
Amandla Stenberg: I was looking through some of my big sister’s old photo books and was struck by the glamour shots she used to take with her best friends and cousins at the 23 minute photo studio on Crenshaw in South LA where we grew up. They called it that because of the shoots were impressively efficient but I can’t confirm that they actually took 23 minutes. My sister has given me many gifts - vigilance, the art of not giving a fuck, loyalty, and how to laugh at yourself. But last and certainly not least: how to rock a tank top hunny. I wanted to honor her by recreating her photos from teendom while referencing her style. I also wanted to use the opportunity to perform facets of self. I don't often have the opportunity to do that, but DRØME was so cool to offer me a platform to do whatever I wanted by affording me full creative control.
Z: How do you think you are growing into your identity when it comes to gender and sexuality at this point in your life?
A: For a long time, especially growing up in the public eye, I felt that ascribing to certain ideals of femininity was a non-negotiable part of my career path as an actress. It’s hard to know how you want to present yourself when you’re a kid, but then you factor in being primed and prepped and put into pink dresses by adults who are just doing their jobs and aren’t necessarily thinking about a 12 year old’s “gender expression”... [laughs] When the exploration of gender even dawned on me as an option, I was about 15. As a teenager I actually felt comfortable identifying as genderqueer way before I felt comfortable identifying as gay. There was a sweet spot around that time where I started to understand how to make my outside feel like my inside in a way that was not conscious of sex. That was before I experienced various stages of refutation of my sexuality, which made me feel nervous about presenting as anything other than femme.
When I first came out however, I felt the need to persistently declare it through my presentation, my language, my movement. The genderqueer leapt! I think I kind of felt like there was a Right Way to be queer and I needed to prove that I was a Real Gay by mostly presenting masc. I now know that there is absolutely no definitive praxis for being queer and that thinking there is one is kind of the antithesis to queer ethos. That’s the nature of identity I suppose. We over assert when we discover, and then we find balance and truth. Now I feel pretty comfortable presenting however the hell I feel like which spans a large spectrum of gender.
Z: It definitely seems like you’re comfortable.
A: I'm lucky to learn from my peers. I am very blessed to be surrounded by such a vibrant spectrum of humans. Within our friend group, there aren’t any rules to follow that dictate how you should express your queerness, or if you're "queer" enough. It just feels really accepting and diverse. The amazing people I get to be around are so uncompromising in themselves.
Z: I definitely agree. Our friend group has [taught] me to be more vulnerable and open with my identity. Trying to be truthful to yourself but also not really knowing who you are just yet can be really tough. It doesn't feel like I have to stay the same or be constant with how I present myself. If I do want to try something new, there's always a flood of support, love and deep appreciation from our friends. My friends bring me closer to myself in that I see a lot of myself in them, and I also see who I want to become. I gravitated towards you because I feel like I can be myself around you. We're constantly learning when we are together which is really nice and really, really fun. We have the safety to be able to try shit out, you know? It can feel so dangerous to get outside of yourself, so being able to do that with you, makes it feel really safe and free.
A: Aw damn! Most definitely. It is so special to feel safe enough to try out new ways of being.
Z: I agree. Is this our first time working together?
A: Yes madame, this is our first time "officially" working together. You've definitely been taking pictures of me for a minute though.
Z: But it's been pretty relaxed.
A: Taking pictures with you doesn't feel invasive at all. It feels authentic and you [capture] really special memories the way you engage with people. It never feels like, "Everybody stop! I'm taking a picture." [Laughs] There is a romanticism that you carry about life that translates to the way you take pictures and it makes your photos feel apart of the memory that is already being created.
Z: Thank you. That's very sweet. I think that came out on this set. It was nice to have friends on this shoot. It created a pretty relaxed environment without too much pressure.
A: I mean there was a little bit of pressure [Laughs].
Z: Your boss bitch came out for sure, which I appreciate! It’s nice to see you transform and step up to the plate.
A: You're always like, "I love when you become a bitch!"
Z: [Laughs] I fuck with it, honestly. It's fire. I'm hoping in the future we can do more projects like this. Let’s talk about your music.
A: Okay word. I’ve loved music since I was little. I have always played instruments, I’ve played violin since I was very tiny. Growing up my mom was in the church choir and my dad was a singer songwriter. For a while I thought that I wasn’t capable or worthy of making my own music-
Z: I think a lot of people have that fear.
A: Yes. So I stopped putting pressure on myself for it to be anything in particular, and started looking at it as what it is - fun, therapeutic and expressive. I feel like that’s also how you make the best music. Now it’s definitely something I turn to when I want escapism, reflection, and an emotional outlet.
Z: I agree. I really love your music, I love your voice!
A: Thank you! I’ve been working on my voice a lot and gaining more confidence in it. I truly believe that you can do anything when you practice and believe in yourself. I’m also having a lot of fun learning how to program.
Z: What program are you using right now?
A: Logic. It’s been really fun. Women are so discouraged from producing, it’s so dumb. I’m having a grand old time! [Laughs] I am slowly working my way towards feeling comfortable sharing my music. Right now I’m really valuing it for how it makes me feel. [It’s important for me] to have an artistic expression that there’s no pressure on and no expectation for. Being an actor is how I make money and so inherently because that part of my artistry has been commodified I can’t help but imagine the voyeur in my process sometimes. For now, I don’t have that with music. That all being said... I shall be dropping some shit.
Z: I think that’s why I also started making music. The same way how acting for you feels not just like an art form but a job, photography has definitely got to that point for me where it’s not as fun. But music is so direct. It is exactly what you are feeling in the moment, which I love.
A: It is such a beautifully direct form of expression.
Z: It’s so cool to go back to the songs and beats that you make because they’re kind of like markers and bookmarks of your everyday experience. Since we’re talking about music what do you think about the new FKA Twigs right now?
A: I had an FKA Twigs poster in my bedroom up on the ceiling above my bed when I was 14. Not to be that person who is like, “I liked it before it was cool” but deadass when her Two Weeks video dropped, that changed my whole world, seeing the way that she utilized different mediums to express so much and in such an emotional and otherworldly way. I love Twigs so much and it is really cool to see her continue to push boundaries. She is one of the artists that I respect the absolute most. She never stops pushing, she never stops challenging herself. The fact that she learned to pole dance phenomenally for this video is so wild.
Z: We definitely stan.
A: We stan big time.
Z: What are some of your favourite albums or projects that just dropped?
A: I have been listening to Solange’s new record [When I Get Home] and watched the visual album of course, which was completely arresting and phenomenal. I have been listening a lot to Grace Ivez, a New York based artist who makes really amazing, catchy pop. Her lyrics smack hard for me. I have been listening to a lot of Nipsey and thinking more deeply about what he was saying, reflecting on what he meant to Crenshaw and to my family and community. Who else have I been listening to... Alice Coltrane. And Janet [Jackson].
Z: Fire. I’m always so intrigued by your love life and I’m sure a lot of people are... So, how do you ask these hunnies out?
A: Are you really about to do this to me right now?
Z: We wanna know!
A: I think my tactic is pretty simple, for the most part I’m just like, “Can I take you out to dinner?”
Z: I like that. You’re forward. I respect that. Being a woman, I don’t respond well to game and pick up lines, I respond to someone being straight up with me, and kind and sweet about it. But not in a whole, tryna bag me kind of way. So that’s how I approach asking a girl out, which honestly for the most part, works... Almost every time! Shit.
A: Yeah it does. I don’t think I would even know how to spit game.
Z: Man, I be spittin game though, I’m not gonna lie about it. It’s just fun to exercise it every once in a while.
A: I definitely be flirting. But I’m not like spitting game. I’m a softie.
THE INTERNET COMES TO HOWARD ST. FOR DEPOP
Words and Photography by Cameron Michael Debe
It isn’t uncommon for the Internet to venture out to one of Soho’s most nondescript streets; usually for favorites like Rick Owens, Opening Ceremony, or Smile to Go. But on Friday night, New York’s fashion hunters came for the launch party of Depop LIVE, a new retail pop up where customers can touch and purchase the product irl. Depop LIVE was a two-day retail concept store heavily marketed to Gen-Z consumers with panel talks on sustainability, live performances and workshops that, “focus on exploring the cultural and creative reaches of fashion through technology, entrepreneurship and community.”
As the guests entered the party, they were immediately shrouded in deep red neon light. Industrial pipes acted as clothing racks for designers like Come Tees and No Sesso. Past the piping (and arcade style claw crane) a substantial dancefloor allowed guests to gossip, be seen, and drink. Among the cocktails flowing well into the night were Depop’s spin on an Old-Fashioned, Cucumber Lemonades and fan favorite, the Icelandic Mule. The crowd was a mixture between cult designers like Heron Preston, Depop ambassadors, RuPaul alum Aja, and those girls that you’ve seen on IG.
Due to the lack of AC, the real party happened outside, where guests fled for relief. Amid clouds of smoke, Howard St. skaters talked about their upcoming installation projects next to first-time models looking to network, “I’m sorry, did you say you were an editor of a magazine!” But most of all, people looked at their phones, presumably scrolling through Depop. Through it all, I snapped some photos on my digital camera. It glitches sometimes.
Depop LIVE was open to the public Saturday, June 8 + Sunday, June 9, 2019, 12:00 PM - 8:00 PM at 428 Broadway, New York.
We spoke with the duo about morning routines,
astrology, and friendship.
We spoke with the duo about morning routines,
astrology, and friendship.
Photo Kelia Anne
Styling Timothy Chernyaev
How did you meet?
Harmony: We met at The Smell in Downtown LA, which is a DIY [music] venue. We were teenagers and would just go there to see bands and hang out with a bunch of our friends. It was a scene.
Tell us about your tattoos!
Harmony: I've collected so many over time, I feel like they are just stamps of experiences and time, mainly… [I’m] trying to slow down on them. I really like when I casually end up getting one somewhere still, though. A lot of [tattoos] I gave myself when I lived in a loft with Jilian of Ian Sweet. We would just hang out all day and I would stick and poke her and myself.
Cleo: A lot of mine are pokes done by friends and others are by various artists that I found through the internet. My favorite is one that I designed, inspired this graphic I saw on a baby changing station.
How has your relationship grown over the years of being in a band together?
Harmony: It has grown hugely. We have both stretched each other massively in ways even beyond our own cognition.
Cleo: We have grown beside each other for a long time now, and it’s beautiful to reflect on the different kinds of shapes that we have both been.
How has your music grown with your friendship?
Harmony: I think our taste evolves as anyone’s does, ours just happens to very close to each others.
Cleo: We are both into discovering new music all the time and definitely share good ones with each other when we feel the need to.
Cleo, since coming out as non-binary, I’m sure there has been a lot of love and support from your fan base. How has that been?
Cleo: Really powerful to feel the love and feel a slew of new opportunity to engage in discussions on fluidity and this big life.
Talk to us about the process of creating this new record. In what ways did it differ from previous records?
Cleo: In the past, we composed a full album together from beginning to end. On this record we worked on each other’s songs which we witnessed the construction of. We collaborated more on the arrangements of the songs, not the lyrical and structural composition.
Who is one artist you would love to work with?
H: Tears for Fears.
Do you have any morning routines? How do you preserve and harness your energy?
Harmony: I like to hike, it really cleanses me. I try to meditate as much as I can. Reading is really good for preserving my spirit and grounding me, while also inspiring me creatively in a huge way.
Cleo: I drink coffee at first blink of the eye. Ideally I do my morning pages, meditate, eat a bite and then go exercise. The morning time is very sacred.
What are your signs? How important is astrology to you?
Harmony: I'm a Libra with Gemini rising and Sagittarius moon. I was raised very thoroughly immersed in astrology so I have been attempting to take it with a grain of salt my whole life, but I find it really interesting and sometimes it is startlingly poignant.
Cleo: I’m a Virgo with a Virgo rising and an Aries moon. It’s fun!
We spoke with Mission Chinese chef Danny Bowien.
We spoke with Mission Chinese chef Danny Bowien.
Photo Matteo Mobilio
Interview Slater Stanley
Styling Danny Bowien
What really drew me into Mission Chinese was all the lights. It looks like a club in there! What is the relationship for you between nightlife and food?
Restaurants for me, have a level of escapism. Going out to a meal is just like going out for a night out.
I noticed that it has a lot of neon lighting and is super spacious. Did you have a hand in the interior design?
We were fortunate to be able to work with some really creative people who realized our vision, Alex Gvojic, Lauren Devine, and Nikki Mirsaeid. We wanted the restaurant to be indicative of its Bushwick surroundings, so it definitely has a brutalist and industrial feel. Our first restaurant on Orchard Street was tiny. That lasted a year and a half, and then we had to move. The Chinatown location is much bigger. It was interesting and fun to have gone into this new space, because we got to build it from the ground up.
There is a very palpable feel of Bushwick in the restaurant, it’s very youthful and light hearted. I visited the Mission Chinese in Manhattan which is like the older sister to the Bushwick location. Do you have any plans for opening another location?
Right now Bushwick is only four months old, so there has to be a lot of attention and time put into its development. I have lots of hopes and aspirations to open up more locations and do more projects. Right now my time is dedicated to operating both locations, which is a lot. I tend to thrive in chaotic environments and when I have lots of things on the table. So ideally we would be doing a lot more.
Your son is adorable and is all over your Instagram which I think grounds you for your audience; more than a mastermind chef, you are a relatable human being. From the ingredients in your dishes, you seem to view food with a childlike curiosity. How does your son inspire you in terms of cooking?
My son is starting to like spicy food. For the first couple years, I found myself eating a lot of food I was preparing for him— very simple, clean flavors, and things that aren’t spicy or overwhelming. That was informative of the Bushwick location. A lot of dishes adopt the less-is-more approach. Cooking for my son has definitely informed how my cooking style is evolving into a more health conscious and simplistic approach. At Bushwick, we have really dialed down the amount of meat we serve, leaning a lot more towards vegetarian, even vegan-based.
Yes, I so appreciated that. I am a vegan myself.
As a chef, you can lean on certain ingredients, but it’s fun to challenge yourself in other ways. Like, what can I do without putting pork belly or bacon into this dish? Also the demographic, and demands of Bushwick clientele versus lower Manhattan has been a really great challenge, and I’ve embraced it.
Your son and I both have a lot in common; we both have mullets and we both love spicy food! You were talking early about sources of inspiration. I see you doing work in fashion, and other fields aside from cooking. How has Instagram affected the way you interact with your customers as well as collaborate with other creators?
Social media has changed everything. When I was starting to cook, there was a mystique to it—you’d hear about a dish this chef was doing in Spain, and you’d have to go seek out a cookbook. Then you’d lust after it, because cookbooks were really expensive, and you’d hang out at cookbook stores. Now, everything is so accessible which is really helpful. But the good thing about food is that you can’t download it. You still have to go eat it. Social media has definitely helped broaden our reach, but it can be depressing. Everyone is always presenting their best case scenarios. I use social media lightly and don’t take it too seriously. Most of the pictures are of me and my son doing silly stuff, or food.
Your whole Instagram has such an air of softness, which is very comforting.
I’m 36 now, and I’ve been through a fair amount since moving to New York seven years ago. I feel like there has to be lightness in everything for me at this point. I’ve had insane opportunities because of social media, but I do find myself taking time to disconnect from Instagram. I grew up in Oklahoma, and when I was younger the only access I had to food was through watching stuff on TV, like Food Network. I don’t follow a lot of food-based people on Instagram; I tend to follow people who inspire me or silly stuff that makes me laugh.
That’s a great way to not get sucked into the spiral. You are very vocal about your sobriety. How has your life and the food you create been affected by that decisionI haven’t drank for about 6 years. When I stopped drinking I was still self medicating in different ways, with drugs or prescription drugs. I woke up one day and realized that I hadn’t been sober for the last 18 years. Every night I felt like I had to drink to go to bed; the industry I worked in was very demanding and I got tired of being hungover. I had to get a handle on my life and my business. At the time when we were blowing up, I couldn’t have been more unhappy personally, but to everyone else it looked like I was on top of the world. After becoming successful, you think you have to live up to a certain expectation. It was really difficult for me to break out of that mindset. Sobriety has helped me become less fearful of success. It’s improved my cooking too, because I used to be high all the time, and I used to think I had all these cut great and amazing ideas, but I was just high.
At work, every day there is a challenge. The dishwasher is going to be broken, you’re going to have a leak somewhere—whatever it is, it’s about recovery, not running away from problems. You can’t close the restaurant because the dishwasher isn’t working, and so you have to look at it in the face and walk straight through it. I was so terrified to fall down. People want to make it seem like they’re living their best life and everything is great and that’s just not reality. Things happen. I have fallen down but I’ve gotten back up, and continue to push on. You learn from your mistakes. Failure is probably the most important part of success. [Recovery] helped me get to the place where I’m not afraid to get up and move on. Every day is a new day.
I want to congratulate you on that milestone. You have articulated the clarity it has obviously given you. From my experience working in kitchens, I’ve noticed that many cooks are heavily tattooed. Do you think that has to do with escapism and catharsis?
I grew up in Oklahoma, and when I still lived in Oklahoma it was illegal, you couldn’t legally get tattooed.
Oh my God.
I just got back from Oklahoma and I got a tattoo there because it’s legal now. Tattoos are another from of expression. A tattoo is an example of something that’s really painful, that you push yourself to get through— it’s challenging. I usually get tattoos that take a few hours, and there is a level of spontaneity sometimes. I just got a tattoo of the logo of a chicken fried steak sandwich restaurant in Oklahoma, “Del Rancho.”
Oh, that’s cute.
After opening Bushwick, I feel like I got probably five or six tattoos within six months. I also base them around celebratory times. I’ll do an event with a friend in from out of town and then afterwards I’ll say, “We should go get a tattoo together!” It’s fun. I don’t take it too seriously.
Rad. I can relate. How did you start cooking and why did you choose to focus specifically on Chinese cuisine?
I chose to focus on the food that I really enjoy eating. I was adopted when I was three months old, my parents are American and I’m South Korean. I grew up in a religious household and we went to church five days a week. When people asked what I wanted to do, I always said I want to be a doctor or an eye doctor. So I worked at eye doctor’s offices throughout high school. I didn’t want to go to college, I joined a band. When I was 19, I had to make a move. My friends lived in San Francisco and told me about a culinary school there. And so I used that opportunity to get out of Oklahoma, and entered a very formative time in my life. I partied so crazy in San Francisco eventually I needed to move, so I moved to New York and worked for fine dining restaurants. Then I caught the cooking bug. It wasn’t so much the food as it was the chaotic environment that I was in all the time— having so many pots on the stove at once, so to speak.
I couldn’t afford to live in New York so I moved back to San Francisco. There I found myself cooking at all these really fancy restaurants-- it was pristine, precise, and delicate but on our days off, we would go eat insanely spicy Szechuan food. I didn’t want a fine dining restaurant; I wanted a place that felt a little more democratized. I grew up eating fast food in Oklahoma and eating at Chinese restaurants. The first Mission Chinese restaurant we did was a pop-up take-out restaurant. You don’t even notice it if you walk by, and I love how it blended in. So I ultimately got into Chinese food by making Szechuan food. The real challenge of cooking Szechuan food is finding that balance between the spice and saltiness of the food. I love that challenge.
All that optometry practice explains the detail you regard your food with.
In the wake of Anthony Bourdain’s passing this last year, many chefs were moved to share what he meant to them. What has his legacy meant to you?
My first job in New York, I had no idea how to work in kitchens — I was just out of culinary school — and I got caught reading a book while I was working...
My chef was like, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m sorry, I’ll put it away.” Then I showed it to him and he said, “Oh, that’s a really good book.” I was terrified of my chef at the time, but we actually connected over that book, Kitchen Confidential, which I read cover to cover. I was really a fan of Anthony Bourdain’s writing even before I even started watching him on TV. The first time I met [Anthony Bourdain], someone had reached out to us in San Francisco, and there was a show at the time called The Layover. The premise was, he was in a city for 24 hours when he had a layover, and would reach out to chefs in the city and to show him around.
[Anthony Bourdain] asked me to be on the show, so I met him, and took him to all the places I like to go. I was terrified but he made me so comfortable around the cameras. The thing I remember about him the most, was that night, we went to six or seven locations to film. News got out about where he was and the next stop we’d go to, we would show up and more and more people would be there, just watching. At every location, he would stop and hold the production crew up and say hi to every single person and shake their hand. The producers asked me to try to get him to move on to the next location because he would engage with everyone. There was such a personable feeling and warmth about him. He was larger than life. I would always get nervous to hang out with him even as a friend, but whenever we were together everything just stopped, you had his attention. He helped publish my first cookbook. Anthony Bourdain made a point to be present during the moments you had with him. I remember one of the last things we did when we filmed our show Mind of a Chef, there was a party. No one expected him to stay more than 10 minutes, but he stayed the entire time. He surprised us so many times... One time he brought Iggy Pop to Mission Chinese. That was the first time I’ve ever seen him nervous. A lot of times with celebrities, you feel like you don’t want to take their time, but that was never the case with him. I remember his warmth, how genuinely connected he was whenever we would speak.
Well thank you so much for your warmth and time today.
We spoke with Shameik Moore, the new voice of Miles Morales, “Spider-Man” in the Academy Award nominated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
We spoke with Shameik Moore, the new voice of Miles Morales, “Spider-Man” in the Academy Award nominated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Photo Kelia Anne
Interview Satchel Lee & Caroline D’Arcy Gorman
Styling Timothy Chernyaev
Grooming Sascha Quarles
At this point the answer to the question is obvious, but for the people who still somehow don’t understand, can you explain the significance of having a person of color in this iconic role?
I think the fact that Miles is African and Puerto Rican is intriguing because it is new for Spider-Man himself. We all know the character Peter Parker from growing up. But Peter Parker is introducing Miles Morales in a very cool and new way. His character could be any ethnicity, but I think it’s iconic and important because he is bilingual. It’s cool that he is Puerto Rican and African American when he could be white, Asian, whatever—but he’s black. This character is very relatable and lovable. It’s a new take on who Spider-Man is and what it means to be Spider-Man, or any hero for that matter.
What do you bring to this Spider-Man that we haven’t seen before?
Sweetness and swagger, according to [Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse directors] Phil Lorde and Chris Miller.
Two years ago you wrote in your journal that you were going to play Miles Morales as Spider-Man. What else do you know that we don’t?
That we’re going to win the Oscar!
If you had superpowers what would they be?
I would want to be able to use 100% of my brain power and maybe even read minds.
Describe your sense of style.
I like to call it chic with a street twist.
How do you take time for yourself?
Going out on dinner dates. Going to the movies. Working out in the gym. Writing treatments. Coming up with ideas for music videos and short films. In 2019, I’m getting back into meditating, journaling and reading books. A good friend of mine just gave me three books that I’m excited to start reading.
What does 2019 hold for you?
I’m filming a movie, a TV show, and releasing a mixtape. I’ll also be releasing music videos that I directed. I’ll be directing other music artists that are friends on mine. But of course, I'll continue to work on my original superhero series for the future!
What are your resolutions?
To be happy, mentally, physically and spiritually, to realign myself with the universe, to make sure I value my loved ones and they all feel my love for them. I just want to be a better version of myself. I want to push myself and the ones I love to the limits and do everything to the best of my ability.
One item you can’t leave the house without?
Where is your happy place? Why?
My house in Atlanta because I grew up there and it’s very special to me. I feel like I’m in my own world when I’m in my house…well technically, I guess I am in my own world.
When will you release your next music project?
Spring, after the Oscars.
Who are some of your musical inspirations?
Early Chris Brown, Confessions-era Usher, Michael Jackson, Avant, Music Soul Child, Aaliyah, Biggie Smalls and I’ll end if off with Sean de Paul.
What’s your morning routine?
I wake up, brush my teeth, wash my face, and work out. That’s the only true routine I have. Everything else varies after that.
What do you find to be most grounding for you in your life?
My mom and our relationship. I'm very close with her.
A sign of our modern age is an insistence on complexity and contradiction. None of us are any one thing. Billie Eilish, with her raw, rough teen angst imbued with measured emotion, represents a particular duality. She rocks a loose fitted tee and a pair of Nikes that read, “suck my dick,” while also reminding her fans, “not to suffocate [their] loved ones.” She has dropped a single that demands we see her in a crown one day, while late the night before she played the piano in an empty dark room, reminding us that “pain doesn’t go away [we] just get used to it.” Queens like Billie are unconfined by simple vocabulary, unable to be put down by a simple label, comment, or review. And that’s why she can make an audience of thousands jump along, raging in unison to an unforgiving bass. Billie’s vulnerability comes across her music and its dynamic sound, with soft dulcet tones paired with an eye-rolling, middle-fingering “FUCK YOU” irreverence.The subversive romanticism she captures and allows to co-exist with a biting spirit of raw, unabashed youth make Billie Eilish’s unique style a captivating one. The soft vocals that melt over synths in “Ocean Eyes” pose a contrast that only our complex moment could allow. The duality of gentle yet unapologetic makes her a true symbol of the now, and it only leaves us wanting more.
The Christian Siriano Experience
Article by — Caroline D’Arcy Gorman
Photo by— Eva Zar
Styled by — Yên Nguyen
Art Direction — Jasper Soloff
Hair by — Eric Vosburg
Makeup by — Serina Takei
Fashion Assistant — Allie Nanasi
The red dress is gargantuan in both nature and stature. Its ruffles and curves
move and sway and as fabric falls upon fabric, the dress comes to life like an animal unto itself. It’s a living, breathing piece of art, and the designer behind it is about as shy as his vision. As Christian Siriano talks, I can see the wheels turning, the vision unfolding, his dream of a universe springing into being: “I come up with these dreams; I can see how a piece might move without even seeing it walk yet.” Whether it’s a voluptuous red dress or a slim metallic suit, Siriano’s sentiment is steadfast. There is always a bold elegance to his work. It’s in his careful and sharp stitchwork, in his magnificent colors, in his unabashed daring. Siriano’s incredible success over the past ten years has countered a stagnancy in fashion, a world that prides itself on progress and unconventionality while often remaining stuck in the grooves of
the very status quo it seeks to oppose. “I like to pick models that are personally interesting but also powerful,” Siriano explains. “I always felt like it wouldn’t make sense to exclude anybody from that dream world because fashion should be a fun, beautiful, emotional thing.” His insistence on innovation has sent Siriano to the top, solidifying his position as one of the most celebrated queer designers
of the past decade. He is a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and most recently included in the TIME 100 list of most influential people in the world. And, thankfully, he never stops. “When it’s calm, I freak out. The grind, the craziness, the constant creating, the overstimulation actually pushes me the most, because each time I make one piece, that one inspires another, and another.” It’s not only desire that keeps Siriano constantly creating, it’s demand. Soriano dressed seventeen women at this year’s Oscars alone, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. “Who knows what’s coming to the table! One minute we’re making a beautiful dress for a mom going to a wedding, the next it’s something for Beyonce, and the next it’s tour costumes for a new artist. Every single day, it’s something new. That spontaneity is really the best part.”
Siriano grew up in Annapolis, Maryland, and found himself immersed in performance at a young age. He would put on plays and entered training to be a ballet dancer. “I was always into
the fans world of dressing up. That translated into transforming people and their lives, whether it’s for an event or just their daily life.” He followed in the footsteps of his older sister, Shannon, whose eccentricity always stood out: “She would wear tutus and platform shoes and giant hats with feathers, and her hair was always different.” Despite her eccentricity, Shannon was accepted, proving to Christian that he could be himself and do what he wanted. “She definitely inspired me to be confident and forceful.”
It is truly remarkable how Soriano manages to balance so much, especially knowing how demanding and grueling the fashion industry can be. I can’t help but ask him about the elegance with which he juggles his creative output, the business side of his brand, his dynamic personal life, and all the rest. “That is the challenge, every single day. I try to take a beat and feel good every now and then. With any artist, the number one issue is almost never being satisfied. You feel like you always have to do more. I have a hand
in every single piece that we put out, and it can be hard to let things go. It’s an obsession, which can be both good and bad.”
It’s like having a baby, I say. “So many babies! Like a hundred babies every season! Oh my gosh!” he says, throwing up his hands and laughing. “It’s an emotional ride, too. If people don’t like it, or they love it, or if something doesn’t get a response… But as designers, we set ourselves up for instant criticism. That’s the job, which—and I say this to a lot of young designers—is the hardest part. Sometimes fashion can be a thankless world, especially now, because it moves so quickly. Everyone is onto the next event, the next project, the next thing. You don’t have time to sit there and feel proud.”
But Soriano deserves to feel more than proud. The change he has created with his past decade of work is tangible. Fashion has historically predetermined its market: who gets to enjoy what
clothing, the body types and capital one must have to do so. Yet the the world Christian Soriano is creating for us is different. “I’m into everyone. I get really invested in people and am able to connect pretty quickly. That is a big part of it; if you are creating a custom piece for somebody, you have to connect. You have to understand what is happening in their mind because you can tell when somebody feels great in something. Personal identity is all about expressing oneself visually. If you want to wear a beautiful dress, you should be able to, no matter who you are.” And his world is not contained merely to the runway; his new store The Curated NYC is a mini Soriano metropolis, a physical manifestation of that intricate vision inside his head. “We wanted to curate a space that feels like a closet, or even a home, that doesn’t feel unobtainable. It is really important that anybody an come in, no matter what they’re looking for, and find something at all price points.
I wanted the store to feel more like an experience. I think that’s a big part of what is lost in fashion sometimes.”
Christian’s energy is palpable, and even though his mind may be ricocheting between a million places at once, his vision and objective are constantly clear. “I make what I want to make, and I have always done that. Even in the beginning when people judged some of the big ball gowns I did, I have always stuck to what I want to create, and how I want to create for. And I am still one of ht only designers showing a diverse group of people on the runway.” Inevitably, I ask him if he thinks the industry is changing. “I am proud of what we are doing. I get asked all the time why other brands aren’t doing what we are, and I don’t know the answer. It only takes one or two people to really change the business for other people to follow. But sadly, there are very influential people who are just not interested.”
Even so, there is no doubt that Christian Siriano has paved the way for young queer and trans designers on the rise. He is a champion of diversity both on the runway and red carpet; Siriano’s couture, his shows, and his success tell them to move forward with inspiration, intention, and clarity. The rest of the world will just have to catch up. “You have to embrace everything that you love, and really do what you love to do. The number one thing; It takes time. If you are a young creative in any field, you can’t stop because it isn’t exactly what you want it to be right away. You’ve got to stick it out. It took me almost ten years to really get in a good place.” To describe where Siriano has landed thus far “a good place,” is a humble understatement. And, knowing Christian Siriano, it’s only going to get better. “At least fashion isn’t dead yet!”
What does fantasy mean to you?
Anything can be fantasy. I could be living in a fantasy and never know it. Maybe because I can’t see myself the way other people see me.
What you touched on right there… That’s my biggest fear.
Yes. The idea that I am living a certain way or doing a certain thing, and other people are not perceiving it the way I expect. That really scares me.
It scares me too. I like when people think positively, and I’m always worried about being perceived the right way. So I feel you. But also, if you are living the way you want to live and doing things you want to do, you can’t go wrong. Regardless if you feel you’re being perceived “incorrectly.”
Yeah. Fantasy can be a distant place. It can be a far off thing in your mind. But it can also be an idea that you have, one you bring to fruition through
manifestation and hard work. The Internet adds another dimension to that, too.
The Internet is crazy. You can create your own universe and your own persona. You can use the Internet to portray your wildest fantasies. You can actually bring them to life.
What did you think your twenties would look like when you were younger? What was your fantasy back then?
When I was a kid I never wanted to grow up. I understood that kids had something special. I was so stuck when it was time to graduate; I had no idea what I saw myself doing. I luckily found a creative profession, one that I feel like I am good at. I went to a performing arts school for seven years, and being around so many types of creative people during such a formative time opened up my eyes. It guided me into what I am doing now. I was exposed to a lot of different types of characters and people really early on, always without judgement. I had friends that were in photography, or costume and design, or musical theater, and we all collaborated. I had to audition to get into that school, and that experience of auditioning is really similar to castings and being in shows. it was a really impactful time of my life, because even though I’m not dancing or singing, I
am still doing things that revolve around the world I grew up in.
I live in New York, and I always think about the children I will bear one day.
And if they wanna do art, they should go to a performing arts school. I think it’s so smart to nurture talent from a really young age, along with a curiosity for creative endeavors. And then, like you said, there’s the community. What’s your fantasy for the future?
I like to see the growth between when I started and now, and I look forward to seeing the growth between what I”m currently doing and two years from now. I want to do more with my body, my voice, and my platform, and see all that evolve. But also, there is so much things I can tackle in this life. In reality, I have so much time and so much energy that I can give to the world if I live long, and I hope I do. Right now I would like to go back to the community that I grew up in and help other young women like myself. I want to help people understand they can come from nothing—or even just an average place— and find their way to greatness.
I was talking to my friend about this the other day. Once you feel like you have “made it” to whatever degree that means, it is so important to give back and reinvest in your community.
Yeah, I agree. I feel like I invest in everything. Well, I haven’t invested in stocks.
I should. But I invest a lot in my friends and my family. My friends will be like, “Oh, I have an idea,” and I”m just like, “What do you need from me?” Because I believe that they can do it.
What has been great about DRØME expanding is it really feels like we’re collecting friends. So it keeps getting bigger and bigger, but at the same time it feels very small and close-knit, which is cool. And since it’s something annual, it does feel a little bit like a yearbook.
I know! Because the magazine is published once a year, it feels super special.
Yeah, and it’s always such a fun group of people! It’s really nice to have all kinds of artists, some more well-known and some less. It is hard in this day and age to figure out a balance. I find that a lot of my friends struggle with doing things for exposure, even if they’re not things they are particularly interested in. Just to get to a certain place or atmosphere, or their work will remain unknown.
That’s always the struggle, for anybody and everybody. With modeling, I think about if I should only stick to jobs that I care about, or that I feel are worth my time. I like to try everything, but then you also can’t say yes to everything, which is my problem—I always say yes to everything. [Laughs]
That is definitely a philosophy of life. It keeps experiences coming. I feel you. If you think about all the different directions you could go in with your life, what keeps you focused and grounded? What helps you recalibrate?
My core group of friends and family help keep me focused, grounded, and on the correct path. They really welcome everything that I’m doing. When I pick up new things or think about what I want for the future,
I think about not only what would make me proud, but what my support system would be proud supporting. Because a big thing on the Internet right now is talking about whether you are supporting good people. And for people making art: Are you supporting who they are as well as supporting what they do? So I always try to do things that are going to make my friends, family, and anyone else who supports me proud to continue to do that.
Definitely. Speak your truth. Do you.
Yeah, that’s a big thing, speaking your truth.
Really! It’s so hard. It’s hard sometimes when you realize that nobody else is doing what you’re doing, and to be okay with that.
And, for anybody who is in a position where people are looking to them for guidance and inspiration, it’s hard to understand yourself. When you have a lot of people trying to give their opinions on how you should understand yourself, too, that’s tough.
Photographer Lili Peper joins Salem and Satchel.
Where do you find inspiration, Lili?
I watch a lot of films. I’m really inspired by cinema.
Which films are your go-to references?
David Lynch’s films are always up there for me. I love surrealism, so Luis Bunuel’s films, too. Yorgos Lanthimos, the Greek director, is my favorite contemporary filmmaker, I love him… Dario Argento, who did Suspiria in the ‘70s, has these great colors, so for colors I go to his films.
You’re a photographer, and clearly films are visually inspiring, but do plot and story ever inspire your work as well?
I’m fascinated by being able to tell an entire narrative with a single image. Drawing inspiration from films is less about camera movement and visual tricks, and more about putting a camera down and letting the scene kind of play out. And I notice how they load it, both with the actors’ performances but also props and set design, location and lighting, how all of these things affect the scene.
If you could give the audience something that they can really interact with, even just a photograph, you can give people enough that they can really—
Latch onto it.
I love using a lot of domestic signifiers in photography, and objects that link people to things. I love wide shots, too, because you see a door open, and you see a person sitting there, and you see a phone, and maybe the phone is off the hook. These are things you can identify, and identify with. You latch onto that, but then you start projecting all this subjective experience onto that image, so you are invited into the narrative as it is being told, and it’s not just spoon-fed to you. What happened the minute before this photo was taken, what happened a minute after, what’s happening in the next room right now while this photograph is being taken. You, as the audience, project all that onto it, and I think that is all you can ask for from an image. Another reason I get a lot of inspiration from films is that I think there’s a huge difference between films that let audiences be passive versus ones that all spectators to be active participants. And there are specific ways that films use tricks to create that, to force the audience into that. A really long shot, for example, is something a lot of people don’t have the patience for, so when a filmmaker uses that as a device, it makes the viewer more aware of what’s going on.
It makes you aware of yourself in the theater, it makes you aware of the person sitting next to you, because you’re stuck there with the shot, with the performance. There’s this film called A Ghost Story—have you seen that?
A Ghost Story?
It’s an art film by David Lowery about a woman who loses her husband really early on, and it’s basically a ghost story told from the ghost’s perspective. So for the film’s majority, the male lead in the film is under a sheet. He’s this personified ghost on camera. it’s so beautiful, it’s a very photographic film, and it’s risky. There is one scene where the female lead, played by Rooney Mara, comes back from identifying her husband’s body at the hospital, and she walks into her house and finds that somebody brought her a pie. She takes the pie and stares at it for a while. And then they cut, and she’s on the floor with it. The frame is completely still, in the same exact spot for eight minutes. And you are just watching this person in mourning. She eats the entire pie in one sitting—they do not cut the shot. And you are just there with her. The director said when he screened the film, a lot of people walked out. Audiences often can’t handle that level of longevity anymore in film, because they get too uncomfortable, or get bored.
I think also with a lot of art films, people just don’t expect stuff like that,
because some movies are the cinematic equivalent of fast food.
Well, you go to the cinema to forget everything else. You go and watch action films, you don’t have to think about anything. You’re kind of just a blob.
We shouldn’t even call it cinema. How did that scene make you feel, though?
Well you are on the floor with her for eight minutes while she is eating this pie, thinking, I can’t believe this. At the end of the scene, she runs into the bathroom and throws it up.
That’s so sad.
It is unbelievable. I get goose bumps just talking about it.
Did you cry?
No, I didn't cry. I saw the film with my friend Nick, and after we were just sitting outside, smoking a cigarette, contemplating the movie… And at the exact same time that I asked, “How amazing was that?” he asked, “How boring was that?” [Laughs] That’s just how it is.
We collaborated with some of our favourite designers who do not merely challenge, but dismantle the gender binary with their rebellious, honest, audacious looks.
Cheng Huai Chuang, Hardeman Wardements, Laurence & Chico Luar, Vasilis Loizides Maison the Faux, Private Policy
I’m not sure when or how it started. sometimes it’s like a slow ache in your neck or the prick of a needle into your skin. Before i had language for it, the pain was an anonymous symptom of everyday life. it’s there when you wake up and go to bed, it follows you down the street, it hovers by mirrors and closets. dysphoria is a tricky bastard that way.
At age nineteen I had a panic attack because I was wearing a skirt and had long hair. Something had clicked in my brain—this is all wrong. I didn’t know why. It just was. So I cut off the hair. Wore “men’s” clothing. Bought a binder. My transformation may not have altered the dysphoria, but it was dramatic enough to ease the discomfort. It let me breathe.
I like to imagine that my body is a flesh suit, one that doesn’t always fit. The artist Polly Nor has a series of illustrations depicting devils putting on skin suits, washing their skin suits, picking out a different body from their closet. When I saw them I thought, Yes, someone gets it. I am a trans-mutation and I am overwhelmed by the lack of body suits I have to choose from.
On Alika—Vasilis Loizides Double Green Dress, SYRO Golfo Plaid Boots, Laruicci Crystal with Gold Hoop Earring, On Cheeky—Vasilis Loizides Green Chaps, Green Chandelier Top and Chest Harness, SYRO Golfo Black Patent Boots
Presentation, then, is the next best thing. If fashion is an expression of the queer self, a signifier to others that I am here in a network of like-minded twinks and butches and zaddies, for non-binary and trans people it is that and a retaliation against dysphoria, a “fuck you” to everyone who says “I do not see you. You do not exist.” Passing or not, incognito or loud ‘n’ proud, trans people use clothing and style as a tool to survive, as a punctuation to their gender, and whatever a trans person wears, I guarantee you it is radical. People lose their lives for presenting as themselves.
I am the curator of my gender, the architect of my body, and the seamstress of this flesh suit. Fashion becomes not only an expression of the self, but the very skin we live and breathe in.
‘Dysphoria’— Max Van Cooper
Essay by Alok Vaid-Menon
There are no contradictions if you believe in art.
Art is less of a method (poet! sculptor! painter!) and more a mode of living. Art is in life-making, as in the living is the work as the street is the stage as in the body is the canvas. You understand? Art as the place we go when language fails; art as the dimension where things do not have to be real to matter.
The natural state of the world is one of harmony, simultaneity, balance. When we encounter tension between ideas, aesthetics, ways of being-this reveals a failure of the imagination. Imagination is where we go to see harmony where they see dissonance. The particulars aren’t the problem, it’s the paradigm! Sometimes I just want to hug everyone in the world struggling and whisper in their ear, IT’S NOT PERSONAL, IT’S THE PARADIGM!”
As artists - by which I mean as people trying to make a better world - we are tasked with the challenge: How do we transcend the paradigm?
There’s this myth in Western culture that performance is where we go to pretend to be something that we are not. At every level we are taught to dismiss the things that are fleeting, ephemeral, contrived. But being an artist is about making an argument for the ‘artificial,’ and - in other words - against the natural.
Performance is one of the only spaces where we can be honest anymore. Something about simulation creates a more perfect reality. Perhaps this is why we run to cinemas or theaters to cry in the darkness. Perhaps this is why we avidly consume memes: #RelatableContent. What is me, but a stylized fantasy?
There are many joys to the non binary experience but among them are a dismissal of the real. We are told that there are two genders, two sexes, two ways of being. We are told that this is “science,” no “religion,” no “state.” In other words: we are told that we do not exist. We are told that we are delusional, disordered, narcissistic. And so we are tasked with the burden of authenticity. We can say “I AM REAL!” but then we have to ask ourselves why our legitimacy is dependent on the very logics which disappear us to begin with.
So then sometimes we have the audacity to say: “NONE OF THIS IS REAL!” And there’s a type of freedom that comes from that, a potentiality. We can look at this body they assigned us and say, “This is not a _____, this is a _____.” And for once the template becomes more of an open playing field, a fill in the blank if you will. We can look at the world and say, “This is not a democracy, this is a ____!” We can look to the television screens say, “This is not happiness, this is ____!” We can go to the stage and say, “I am not ____, I am ____!”
I do this workshop every once in a while called FEELINGS! I think workshops are essential because they’re about figuring out how to become a better person - or rather - how to become a person. We teach each other things that our schools forgot to or maybe even didn’t want to: how to process jealousy, how to grieve death, how to name boundaries. Sometimes I ask participants to approach a white board and answer some questions. Sometimes I ask, “WHO ARE YOU?” Most of the time people don’t know what to say. I mean they say things but I’m unclear whether it’s them speaking or someone else. “I’m a…”. [insert template] [insert assigned identity] [insert hierarchy].
There are not contradictions, there are just failures of imagination. And so I keep on asking, who are you? And eventually the only answer is always ? The answer to the question is the question, isn’t it? I find the best answers are the ones that disarticulate the question to begin with: Are you a man or a woman? No.
Living in fantasy is about embracing the infinite potentiality of the question mark. It’s about a perpetual ambivalence to the real, a sincere and earnest skepticism of authenticity as a project, a recognition of the constructedness of everyone and everything. “Natural" just like “normal” is an intentional and deliberate act. “History” just like “man,” is a performance art scripted so seamlessly it assumes the position of authority.
I believe the reason non binary people experience so much wrath is because we make the world confront the myth of its own naturalness. We unsettle the very grammar that they use to name themselves. Rather than saying, “I don’t know who I am” they scream and they shout and they hurt so loud and so forcefully that they do not notice us saying,
YOU DON’T HAVE TO
YOU DON’T HAVE TO
Welcome to the fantasy.