THREADS: AUCKLAND DIVERSE with SIAN KOLOSE

Culture, Threads

In this T H R E A D S shoot I linked up with Sian Kolose who, at the time, had her online shopping mecca Hunting Ground Store still in incubation with her sister Tina Kolose. For this shoot, we put together a list of the dopest models we could source, then set about shooting them. I realised while putting this portfolio together just how busy we got – 16 models, two days, one make up artist, two cameras, one stylist (Sian), one photographer (me) and K’RD. 

Models included Luke Collins, Maia Te Hira, Anny Ma, Suha Wahab and Sarah Hindley, Max Robinson and Tina Kolose. Blaze the Emperor, Bryson Naik, Tony Douglas, Blu, Shajal Singh, Tashi Levitt, Arlena Teiho, Leah Pao, Bheilee Okesene, Felicity Aroa.

EXPERIMENT

Working with Sian was a really fun experience, I particularly enjoyed the collaborative freedom I had when working with her.  Two examples are getting Tina to hop into the trolley as well as contrasting Tashi’s white satin skirt with the dirt from the car park; also the darker tone of the material soaking up the fresh water (it had just rained) from the puddle. (BELOW). Being my first shoot of this scale, working with Sian gave me the confidence to try new ideas out. 

STREET

REFLECTION

PRE-LOVED

Recyclable fashion is a good way to combat the humongous waste issue that human kind face remedying today. Having the skills to re-work an old garment and make it new, or the eye for how to pick a garment and make it seem new is an ever-growing/required skill and, as we continue to throw material into the earth – like we don’t understand some materials like Nylon take around 20 years to breakdown- we must incorporate reusable fashion into our basic shopping vocabulary. ** Disclaimer** to the Salvation Army in Glenn Eden – this does NOT excuse you charging 70$ for a shirt someone dropped off while throwing away rubbish and other household goods, then telling customers on a low budget ‘well that’s what it costs in Ponsonby’. Just saying… Not really I mean it… Please stop dousing the thrill of op-shopping with your inflation excuses!

ELEMENT

This year, Rihanna did a shoot for Garage Mag, shot by photographer Deana Lawson who specialises in taking photos of subjects in their home, in what she describes as ‘their domestic space’. Shajal (BELOW) used to flat above the shoot location – Hero Sandwich House – in Auckland so was certainly in her natural space. I would like to explore these themes more in future work – especially in domestic settings. 

MOTION

Movement is another aspect I noticed when reflecting on this shoot, these models had their stance on-point and I also liked to encourage the energy and sense of action with my angles. (Shout outs Blaze The Emperor). 

BRYSON X TONY

COLLABORATION

Tony Douglas is someone whose style I noticed after moving home from Perth in 2011, he was DJing at an underground bar in Wellington as one half of Calm The Fuck  Down aka CTFD. During this shoot, a film and photography guru himself, he taught me to set the meters properly on my external flash. (Blush face emoji).

DIASPORA

Joan Smalls took part in this interview with the Business of Fashion addressing diversity and inclusivity last year. She said “It’s interesting because of my background I come from an interracial family and my household has every different shade and in my world I’ve always seen it as inclusive so coming to New York and making a career modelling they reminded me ‘what we see you as’ not who I identified with”. I think as women of colour, Sian and I brought that sense of diversity within the world we see to the shoot; it’s something that I feel proud of upon completing the project.

HERO SANDWICH HOUSE

CULTURE

Cultural diversity in mainstream media and the importance of seeing one’s self reflected on TV and billboards is an agenda in my work that I hold dear. Growing up as an ‘other’ in New Zealand, it was very earlier on in my exploration of myself, then my work as an extension of myself, that I have consistently focused on culture and identity. Juxtaposing the confronting and contradicting elements that happen when east meets west in my compositions is something I will continue to do. There have been movements and collectives in Auckland like Milkshake Models, Dynasty, FAF SWAG and photographers like Imogen Wilson who have also pushed identity boundaries – I’m only excited to see what the future brings for Kiwi creatives and brown children who can see themselves positively and accurately reflected in the media. 

MERCURY PLAZA

Mercury Plaza is definitely a popular Auckland location for food and photos. The food court there is due to close, but I hope it reopens/moves somewhere else cause for me – South East Asian food is what helps me hold on to small pieces of Malaysia and remedies the sense of feeling homesick all in one $10 meal! 

There are more shots from this shoot on Instagram

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.”

View this post on Instagram

Before going back to my home country Rwanda, I heard about some of the efforts implemented by the Rwandan government to keep Rwanda an environmentally friendly country. Did you know: plastic bags are banned in Rwanda. Yes, the use of plastic bags is prohibited – amazing stuff right there! Whilst I was in Rwanda I ran into what I thought was a pretty funny situation with my friends (mind you we are Rwandese kids who have been raised in New Zealand). We had no idea it was a thing to bring bottles back to the store once they’ve been used. So after purchasing a bottle of Fanta to quench my dying thirst I began to walk away… as you do, right? Well I was wrong for walking away lol. I had to stay at the little store until I finished my beverage so I could give the bottle back. I was discombobulated to say the least. This was a thing? I really thought the shopkeeper was playing games with me. I laughed it off, “drank my drank” and left, still feeling confused like I had been scammed lol. I now realised why empty bottles were kept in a carton at home! It all made sense. – this was just one other way Rwanda was contributing to environmental consciousness. Every glass bottle is to be returned to the store so that it can be cleaned, refilled and reused. That is just the norm in Rwanda and many other African countries. I was very happy to know this. What a huge difference it must make, not just for the environment but also making people aware that recycling should be something that is done without much thought. Hopefully this can be a reminder to you and I to do our bit 👍🏿 Cheers for the knowledge and lesson Rwanda.

A post shared by 🇷🇼🇳🇿 (@popcorngyal) on

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

BTS: S E R UM & Vanessa for RAQ APPAREL