THREADS: VILLETTE – Talks the Powersuit & Dasha Lingerie

Music, Threads

“Our bodies are temples right? It’s crazy – our bodies are sacks of flesh holding everything together – but our spirit lives inside of us. I’ve always believed that we’re just vessels, and the way we dress ourselves is literally armour, so I think when you put something on to clothe your vessel it’s kind of like a spiritual statement whatever you wear” – Villette Dasha

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The 23-year-old singer/songwriter/producer and audio engineer has just released ‘Not In Love’ which is available on all platforms and the first single off her upcoming EP. It was produced by VILLETTE as well as mix and mastered by her and SmokeyGotBeatz . The shit is flame emojis. A lot of them. And representative of her fine attention to detail and craftsmanship in her music work. In this interview for Threads by Serum we talk about the power of the women’s suit and how clothing can be like armour; as well as her lingerie line “Dasha Lingerie”. She says “You know when you wear sexy lingerie like matching bra and knickers it’s like – dope you know. You could be wearing it just under track pants and a hoodie but you feel put together – I don’t know what it is”.
She recalls “My mum had a suit like this but it was lavender and it was so sick, she used to have these long braids as well.” Remembering a happier time from her childhood when she and her older sister Renee dressed up for their parents she says “I wore the coat and she wore the pants. We walked into the lounge in our house in Manurewa and did a little show for my parents. Whenever I see this it just reminds me to work hard”.
“Janelle Monae always wears a black and white suit – I read an interview where she was talking about the suit and how it represents how hard her parents worked – One’s a bus driver and the other a janitor. They both worked hard out 9-5 jobs and she always sticks to the black and white theme, suits and business attire to commemorate the hard work they’ve done.”

SERUM: Do you mean in terms of feeling confident and how clothing can fit on your body, like dressing for the job that you’re going to do?
VILLETTE: Yeah that’s a part of it. I think also feeling like you need to lead as well, cause I work in my home, my studio is right next to my bedroom, and that actually takes a lot of work to come from the bedroom to the studio when you could just stay in bed and watch Netflix all day. So if I know I’m working at the studio I’ll force myself to get up, have a shower and try and at least spend like 6 hours of the day in the studio.

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A dress she picked up in 2016 for her performance at Belasco Theatre in Los Angeles. Found in Santee Alley, an outdoor shopping district there.

SERUM: What would you wear to your studio?
VILLETTE: I will still dress up and wear something like a singlet with flowery pants – or I’m usually just in tracks pants and a hoodie cause that’s what’s comfortable. It really depends on how I feel cause sometimes I wanna feel empowered or I’m not having a good day or something so I’ll wear something sexy or do my hair & make up just to go to the next room.

SERUM: How does that help you create your juice – like I call it good juice – but for you, how does what you’re wearing enhance how you feel?
VILLETTE: Our bodies are temples right, I was talking about this literally last night – it’s so crazy how our bodies are sacks of flesh and we’re holding everything together but our spirit lives inside of us and that’s our vessel like I’ve always believed that. The way we dress ourselves it literally is armour so I think when you put something on to clothe your vessel it’s kind of like a spiritual statement whatever you wear and it’s just a representation of how you’re feeling and it should be armour – it can be armour and it can be also be a sword – it depends on what you wear.
This is made of cotton and it was made for me – it’s a traditional Samoan garment. I wore this to my nan’s funeral. It was from a shop in West Auckland and this just represents culture to me – it’s my armour whenever I go and do a cultural thing and if it’s really really important – for example I’m going to get my malu next year which is a traditional Samoan tattoo from here [waist] to here [lower thigh] and I would wear this to the ceremony and I’ll go get that done in Samoa. I love this but it’s not something that I would wear lightly and just wear around – it’s something I would wear at special occasions.

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Left: A Calvin Klein jacket her boyfriend Neihana thrifted in the US. Right: Traditional Samoan Garment.

SERUM: If we refer to it as like a tool box, why would you say it’s important for women to have clothes and image in that tool box like a professional repertoire or like an arsenal?
VILLETTE: I think people find their armour in different ways but for me personally, mine’s a suit – your professional wear can be like a hoodie and track pants or t-shirt or scuffs but it’s important to have something that makes you feel protected. It’s just good for your spirit I feel like as working professionals, we need even just one piece of clothing that feels like our armour, that no matter what it’s all good!

SERUM: Tell me about how you created Dasha Lingerie.
VILLETTE: I wanted to make Dasha Lingerie because I’ve loved lingerie since I was little and because I’m always wearing lingerie in sets with suits. I also wanted to make Dasha because I just wanted other people to feel how good it made me feel knowing that I don’t feel good all the time – it’s just a nice feel good item – the lingerie isn’t meant to hold your boobs up or anything, it’s literally just meant to fit over your natural curves – it’s really just a feel good piece.

SERUM: It’s really Coco Chanel that contrast.
VILLETTE: I love Chanel as well, that’s probably my favourite major brand or whatever. I don’t own anything Chanel, I just like to watch the catwalks and I love the shows and the jackets like the Chanel jacket is iconic – I’d love to own one one day but then again I don’t want to spend that much money on it. The lingerie just came along really naturally and when I go to a lingerie store I don’t wanna be paying for a bra that’s like $40 for something that’s got hardly any material but it costs so much. I don’t agree with that so I just thought $20 is good for everyone because it’s a nice sexy piece and it’s just something that’s so sweet. It can frame your body. When women feel sexy they’re unstoppable, like the whole vibe changes and you just feel it – they look bigger I’m not sure how to explain it but their presence is more intense you can feel them in the room – it’s so good.

Purchase Dasha Lingerie HERE.

Vanessa Umugabekazi – Tell her no, but this model will do it anyway

Culture, Threads

On Monday independent model and creative Vanessa Umugabekazi walked in the opening show for New Zealand Fashion Week 2018 – but she very easily might not have: it was only after she protested her right as an independent model to be able to attend castings.

Initially told she’d need an agent to be considered for official castings, she was firm she didn’t want one due to negative past experiences with them. When she did have one, she felt done with being told ‘You’re too short, you can only do commercial modelling, you won’t get booked’, add in extra issues with not being paid properly, she was determined to stand strong in her conviction – she wanted to represent herself. Being the thoughtful, creative writer she is too, she expressed her frustration of not being able to attend NZFW castings as an independent model on Instagram, despite having walked in NZFW before, this time she just didn’t have an agent. Her followers were shocked, in an age where the internet makes self-management logical, they themselves tagged @nzfashionwk in support of Vanessa.

Fashion Week replied:

“Hi Vanessa. Thank you for your reply. We appreciate your passion for casting as an independent model for NZ Fashion Week and will consider your request for next year’s event. As we’ve mentioned, you are welcome to approach designers directly and we wish you all the very best should you choose to do so. Kind regards the team at NZFW.”

Vanessa wrote back:

“We professional independent models don’t lack anything agency represented models do besides not being managed by someone else. We pay our taxes too. NZFW opening up their casting to professional independent models would be a big step in the NZ Fashion and modelling industry recognising and respecting the work of freelancers. I hope the opportunity is offered to us.”

Auckland based designer Turet Knuefermann caught wind of the post and called her in for a casting. A few hours after that she was booked. Knuefermann was the recipient of this year’s Mercedes-Benz Presents Award and officially opened the seven day event.

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“It’s funny now being able to model for certain brands or being in certain shows people thought you won’t be able to do – or being the first African girl in a certain show or competition – it’s cool to break all those barriers” – Vanessa Umugabekazi

The current pop culture market celebrates diversity, talks about inclusion and why representation matters. Hash tags like #blackgirlmagic show a global pride and hefty efforts worldwide to create a movement intent on reversing the narrative that fashion is for stick thin, 6ft out-of-this-world rare looking beast women of a lighter complexion. Because #staywoke #woc and online movements for young people of colour, the world of social media makes the terrain look different, but confusingly – social realities still feel the same. This makes modelling a tough place to be for a young woman of colour trying to navigate through castings especially when your face, skin and body is what you’re trading.

“Before I used to chemically straighten my hair and that was easy for hairdressers to deal with my hair at fashion shows or photo shoots then I decided I would go natural and rock my afro. I’d show up to photo shoots or runway shows and hairdressers would look absolutely shocked like what do I do with this – and then they’d just leave me and not do anything to my hair and I’d sit there and think what’s going on.”

“I feel like it’s so important to be more open and to say, ‘Hey, I’ve never worked with an afro before but this is the style we’re planning to do with your hair, could you show me how you would treat your hair?’ Or I’m gonna start and just let me know if I’m doing something wrong or it’s uncomfortable – something as easy as that but yeah, a lot of people are just shocked and just decide to leave it.”

When one steps out from behind the scenes the imagery of black women selling MAC, Gucci, Burgers, Puma, music, high heels, fizzy drinks is all over the world. It seems great – a perfect revolution where women of colour get to play too. It isn’t, quite, not yet. Identity is a big deal to women who tick the ‘other’ box on the census. It has been since they were born, certainly existing before it was trending. It feels like spiritual warfare and a task we all chip away at within our own realms. In Vanessa’s realm, she explores being a young woman of colour on her ‘other’ insta account @popcorngyal. If you scroll back far enough you’ll see that in October last year, she lost her younger sister Cynthia to cancer. Cynthia also modelled, they did it together, both walking in the same show for Wynn Hamlyn at NZFW 2016.

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Photographer: Luke Foley-Martin @ NZFW 2016, Wynn Hamlyn

In her time Cynthia achieved a billboard in Auckland’s upmarket shopping hub Ponsonby for Lonely Lingerie and a published shoot in Vogue Italia. For Vanessa, a trip home to her motherland Rwanda seemed like the right thing to do in order to take a break and heal/replenish her soul.

“I went there with this mentality of I’m coming back home to my roots and I just wanted to feel like I’m at home, and I did feel like that, even though people would stare at me because of what I was wearing or my piercings or tattoos – it’s like they could tell I wasn’t raised there. It was cool because I realised why I do certain things the way I do them – like why I’m always late to everything!” She laughs, “But honestly back home it’s so relaxed like people don’t really watch time. Everything just happens as it does and it seems to just flow.”

Vanessa says growing up in New Zealand and going to school here was a beautiful experience; she had friends from all over the world and loved it. She noticed things like “I think Samoans say ‘Iesu’ for Jesus and in Swahili we say ‘Yesu’”.

She also experienced the same indigenous vs pakeha culture that debates whether you should look someone in the eye or not when speaking to them: “Things you do out of respect I’ve seen it in the Maori culture – they’re not allowed to look elders in the eye – same as us that’s rude. With Europeans if you don’t it’s like you’re being a bit dodgy.”

Then there’s the darker side of being an immigrant or in Vanessa’s case a refugee in New Zealand – being told to go back to your country. “That statement – it makes me laugh, it makes me angry – this universe, this earth is for all of us and when someone tells me to go back to my own country I’m like first of all this is my country – cause I’m human and I’m part of this earth – and I was raised here.”

“I don’t let people that say that get away with it easily – they have to be educated and they have to understand that’s not something that you should be throwing around loosely. Just because I’m a different shade to you or was born in a different country doesn’t mean that I don’t belong here – you don’t know my identity.”

Vanessa acknowledges there are extra tasks required as an independent model to book jobs, she’s dedicated to her career and hopeful New Zealand Fashion Week can open its doors to independent models at NZFW castings in the future.

*Follow Vanessa on Instagram

*Vanessa will also be walking in the NZFW 2018 Resene designer shows.

Cover photo by Photographer:

Will @ 35mmnz

MUA: Ruth Baron

Setup and blooms: Rose Rowan

Legends: Xoe Hall paints Hinepūkohurangi with Tame Iti at Taneatua Gallery

Culture, Threads

Over cups of tea at Tame Iti’s place during Easter 2018, Artist Xoe Hall learned of the ancient Tūhoe legend Hinepūkohurangi who is said to have lured Te Maunga (the mountain) to earth from the heavens – thereby sparking the genesis of the Tūhoe people.

On New Zealand’s east coast, Tāneatua Gallery sits at the mouth of the entrance to the Uruwera’s where the Tūhoe people are from. Hall had exhibited at the gallery a few years ago with the Toi Wāhine collective, but on a different trip visiting her grandma in Ohope, she asked if she could paint a wall at the gallery and got an extra surprise when Tame ended up painting with her. Going against trends and mainstream expectation in their work is something Tame Iti and Xoe Hall have had in common for a long time. Recognised for her ode-to-iconocism style pieces or ‘Hero Art’, painting a Tūhoe legend and hero with a Tūhoe legend and hero is another out of this world achievement she can add to her ‘did’ list.

DS: How did this trip to Taneatua come about/what was the motivation behind the collab mural?
XOE: I visit my nana in Ohope a couple of times a year and always pop in to catch up with the crew at the gallery for a hang. One of those times I asked if I could paint a wall, and they said yes, so this time I took my painting gears and was over the moon when I realised Tame was going to be painting with me!

DS: When was the first time you went to Taneatua Gallery?
XOE: Our all female Māori art collective from Porirua (then known as Toi Wāhine, now we are Hine Pae Kura), were asked to exhibit at the start of 2017. So we all jumped in a van with our work and camped out at the gallery for a few days. We had the best time ever.
DS: What did you know about Tame Iti before you met him?
XOE: Just the tip of the iceberg really, what most people would know, that Tame is an extremely interesting character. He is an iconic activist and artist who dresses super stylish when the occasion calls for it. I knew about the gallery and that my grandad was super stoked to have shaken Tame’s hand at a store one day.

DS: What did you love about collaborating with him?
XOE: I loved that he invited me into his home, and over a few cups of tea he told me the story of Hinepūkohurangi and the Children of the Mist. Local Tūhoe legend. I still didn’t realise at this point that he would be painting with me. When we got to the gallery, we both picked up a brush, and painted the story. I loved that while we were actually painting, not many words needed to be exchanged about how we were approaching it, and every now and then we would both step back and say damn that’s looking good.

DS: How long have you been painting and how did you get into it?
XOE: I have been painting since I was about three haha! I realised when I was 18 that I might actually be an artist, that little realisation was actually rather huge, once that clicked, I started really honing my self-taught skills.

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DS: Describe your artistic style and what and how you do your craft in your words?
XOE: Gosh that’s hard, as I have my fingers in many creative pies…. I would say I am multi-media cowboy pop surrealism artist??? It’s something I’ve never really wanted to pinpoint as I am forever evolving. Obviously I’m a little all over the show. I paint with acrylics, I use glitter for real life sparkle, I draw alot! I write stories and poems. I dabble in lead lighting. I love leather, so I paint on that too. I do embroidery, and apply many rhinestones to fabulous garments for fabulous people. Everything is self taught, but I am always learning through experiences and people I meet along the way.

DS: How have fashion and fashion icons been an influence on you?
XOE: Well, I am pretty obsessed with all things over the top and fabulous. I thought I was going to be a David Bowie when I grew up, so if I am going out, I go all out! Also, I hate anything on trend….even if I love it, I won’t wear what everyone else is, naturally that’s where my love of opshopping and making my own crazy clothes comes from. However when I am at home, it’s another story. Uggboots and hand knitted jerseys with no makeup and something horrendously comfortable on the lower half.

DS: You’re currently selling pieces at Hunters and Collectors in Wellington, what motivated you to do that and what pieces will you miss the most?
XOE: That’s all thanks to Chrissy and Charlotte. It was all their idea! Actually, I have been exhibiting works in that shop for quite some years now, so I can’t remember everything! But I am having a solo exhibition there in June, DUST BITER…so stay tuned for more.

DS: You’ve also been making custom designed jackets, how did you get into that and who has been your favourite person to design for so far?
XOE: I have been decorating special garments for many amazing people for about 10 years?? I guess I am currently buzzing out of my socks about the dress I got to decorate for Tami Neilson. Her new album SASSAFRASS, photos were taken by my bestie Ash AKA Dinosaurtoast and the shoot if featured on our fabulous website FEVER HOTEL.

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DS: What has been your favourite piece you’ve made to date?
XOE: Oh, I don’t have one! That’s like choosing a favourite colour, my mind changes too often. Anything that I don’t mind looking at still? Haha.

DS: So every artist has to work right? In the day you work at a TeacherTalk, what is that and how did you get into it?
XOE: Yes, 4 and a half years ago we started TeacherTalk, it’s just a small gang of us ladies in the office. We make up to date and awesome learning resources for kids. I work about 3-4 days a week, depending on how much work I have on with other commissions and exhibitions. I am the illustrator and creative writer. That work lead onto TeacherTalk publishing 3 of my childrens books. They are re-tellings of Māori legends.

DS: What do you love about working there?
XOE: That kids all over NZ are being taught with and growing up with my artwork. That’s very very cool. And that I do have the flexibility and time to be able to work on my own stuff in the studio when I need too.

DS: What do you love about working with and illustrating in te reo as well as Maori myths and legends?
XOE: When I was growing up, my dad would always tell us a very embellished princess story of our Ngāi Tahu ancestor Motoitoi, he was a great story teller. And knowing about this part of my history filled me with a magical feeling. I would feel the same when I would open one of Peter Gossages beautiful books. In fact my favourite all time illustrated book is still How Maui Defied the Goddess of Death. So it is really a dream come true to be able to tell stories myself, what’s not to love?!

DS:What do you love about being an artist and what advice would you give to others wanting to do it full time?
XOE: Nothing I say is going to sound better than how Patti Smith puts it…

“Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful — be concerned with doing good work and make the right choices and protect your work. And if you build a good name, eventually, that name will be its own currency.” – Patti Smith …..I would just add on…throw away your TV!

FENTY/PUMA 2018 – Unapologetic @badgalriri is a living legend

Culture, Threads

Having been the brand ambassador for Puma since 2014, Rihanna now brings us her 2018 Fenty x Puma collection contrasting motocross and stilettos on a palette of eye popping, wallet hurting pastels. In 2017, an extension of that brand FENTY BEAUTY was named one of the 25 best inventions of the year by Time Magazine. Why? Because it’s inclusive to all women, in more shades than usual. She also had a street named after her in Barbados, featured in a science fiction film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and starred in Oceans 13 – with an all female cast it will premier in cinemas June 2018. Harvard also gave her the 2017 Humanitarian of The Year award for her charity work.

This woman and her work ethic has been cemented as a pillar in my ‘tools for inspiration’ because she is so un-apologetically herself, no matter what she’s doing she’s paving the way for young woman of colour to unpack prior notions of not being able to participate in mainstream pop-culture; since reports of her domestic violence incident with Chris Brown in 2009, she’s unapologetically swept the fashion music and beauty scene with a joint in her mouth, pulling both middle fingers in the air, subsequently becoming the mainstream. This month her 2018 Fenty/Puma collection came out and once again she’s being hailed as the pioneer fashion-rebel she is.

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