What more is there to say about Vashtie? This lady needs no introduction. You’ve seen her in our lookbook, her line on our site, her presence on the web and on the street… a true tastemaker and role model for all ladies looking to expand their horizons. We caught up with Miss Kola, “Downtown’s Sweetheart,” to discuss her background and foray into the creative field, her sense of style, and her thoughts on the “YouTube generation” in this must read interview!
What brought you to the Big Apple from your hometown, Albany?
It’s more like – what didn’t bring me here! I spent my entire childhood dreaming about living in New York City. Listening to Club Kid stories that my brother experienced, reading biographies on my favorite artists like Warhol, Basquiat, Debbie Harry, Patti Smith, etc. When it came time to thinking about art school – I knew New York was the only option. I was so set on heading to the Big Apple that I applied to schools and never took tours of them. When I got accepted to SVA (School of Visual Arts), my top choice, I had no idea what the school or dorms looked like outside of the brochure. Not something I would suggest to anyone else, but thank goodness it worked out.
Tell us about some of you first gigs in NYC and your foray into directing.
I’ve had a lot of jobs. When I lived in Albany I got a job working at a Tattoo Shop called Lark Street Tattoo at the age of 13. The shop owner, Bruce Kaplan, was my mentor. I learned so much while working there with all the artists. When I left for art school in New York, he was simultaneously opening a shop in Long Island (Lark Tattoo) and managing a shop on Canal Street called Sacred. He brought me in and I worked full-time weekdays and weekends, while taking night classes at SVA. It was a lot to handle. I ended up leaving and got an internship at RSA FILMS, which repped one of my favorite directors – Chris Cunningham. I, unsuccessfully, waitressed here and there. One summer, I went to Supreme looking for a job and was re-directed to Stussy, which was also owned by James Jebbia. I worked there for a bit and met a lot of great contacts and friends. I later got another internship at HSI PRODUCTIONS. I feel like there are way more jobs that I can’t think of at the moment! :)
While working at Nike ID, I was shopping my reel around. I met a woman named Grace who worked in the video department at a label and she offered to review my reel and give me pointers. A few weeks later she contacted me and told me of a new production company called Box Fresh Pictures that was interested in hiring new, young directors. They liked my work and signed me, along other notable new directors like Nabil and Anthony Mandler. I did my first 4 or 5 videos with them. It was my first big break and I was so thankful.
Has your Trinidadian background affect your sense of style? If so, how?
It probably has, but nothing that I can pinpoint. West Indians are known for loud and colorful style and I’m more of a goth girl when it comes to color and print, which is why I was inspired to design my last collection – “Rude Boy Yute.” I wanted something that could show how proud I was of my heritage, in a way that was fashion forward and my style. I took everyday objects within the culture and added a Warhol style (ie: the Ackees can in the style of Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can, the Green Banana in the style of Warhol’s Yellow Banana, etc). I also took the flags of prominent West Indian countries and added a monochromatic color palette, instead of the bold colors that you normally see them in.
Explain your high-low style for us. What would you wear to brunch? A date? The club?
High-low just comes natural to me, and I’m sure for a lot of other people. It’s just not affordable or sensible for me to dress high all the time. I’m also infamous for spillage on clothing, so I need my tops and bottoms to be low. For pieces like jewelry, outerwear, denim and handbags – I like high. I like to invest money into quality items that I will have a for a long time and hopefully pass down.
I probably shouldn’t, but I’d wear the same thing to all of them. I like to be comfortable. I’d wear skinny jeans, boots and maybe a cropped tee to all of them. Sometimes it will vary depending on the event, but for the most part I always dress the same.
In another fashion contradiction, you embody a sort of tomboy style but have super feminine features and GORGEOUS hair. Where do you pull influence from? Do you follow a certain sartorial mantra?
Hahaha thanks. A lot of my influence comes from my older sister. As a kid, she was my definition of what cool was. She was 7 years older than me and wore her curly hair flipped to one side, no makeup, concert tees, jeans, and sneakers. I also hung out with a lot of boys, riding bikes, playing in dirt, building things, etc. so I had to be dressed for the part. I’ve just always had in interest in masculine things and it definitely plays a part in my style.
OK, back to your gorgeous hair: how do you keep it so healthy?! Tell us your tricks please!
Hahaha thanks. I owe it to my parents :) I like it to be natural so I limit straightening and avoid coloring it (for now). I wash it a couple times a week, throw some leave-in conditioner and let it dry. I eat very healthy and it’s important that you nourish your body inside and out. The products I use are all organic. I also recently got a Huetiful Hair Steamer which boosts my hair’s health for sure. I also get regular trims which is super important…
What is currently in your purse? We’ve noticed you’re a handbag aficionado.
Haha, I am, but as of late I’ve been stuffing my belongings into my coat pockets. When I carry handbags I usually use them to house cameras, 2-3. I started getting obsessed with being prepared so I also have a Violette makeup bag with band aids, alcohol wipes, organic hand wipes (I hate that antibacterial gel), Evian water spray, lotion, lip gloss, and Advil. I keep my wallet in my back pocket like a dude.
Let’s backtrack a little. You were the host of a years-long 90’s theme party, aptly titled “1992.” What is your most absurd memory from the event?
Yes. Man, 1992 has so many great memories. When the party started, I was working at Def Jam. I remember I was at an after work event with co-workers and executives that included Jay-Z. When I attempted to slip out un-noticed, people asked “Where are you going?”A co-worker replied, “She has her party tonight.” Everyone looked at me like “Damn, we’re not invited?” I’m so low-key about the things that I do in general, that I didn’t want to be that annoying person bombarding people with emails or flyers. I was like the little sister in the building, showing up to work in baggy jeans and Supreme tees – it didn’t occur to me that anyone would want to come to our little party in the Lower East Side. I apologized for not inviting them and then invited them. Next thing you know, they all showed up and had a great time. After that, there was a buzz about the party in the building and more and more people would attend: Neyo, Jermaine Dupri, Redman, etc.
Though “1992” was based in NYC, it traveled internationally – which destination was your favorite spot?
Yes. In its first year we went to Paris and Amsterdam, which was amazing. This French crew, Pain O Chokolat, flew us in and set us up (they now do a brand and boutique called Pigalle). We had an amazing event in Paris and then the next day, drove through Belgium to have our next event in Amsterdam. It was such an experience. Growing up in America, Europe is this vague place that you have no real reference point for. It was cool to see so many different aspects. I hope we go back soon and do a full tour of Europe.
Another major thing you did a few years back was direct “Us Placers,” which became an overnight YouTube hit. What effect do you think online media has had on both the “YouTube generation” and the entertainment industry?
Well, for one – I wouldn’t be doing this interview if it wasn’t for online media. People like me can gain a following virally, which I’m thankful for. I imagine that before the internet, there were probably so many artists who went ignored. Now, we have this platform for making a name for ourselves and connecting with people from all over the world in seconds. Now Joe Schmo from the Midwest who makes amazing beats has a place online to share his work and old record execs don’t have a say on if he’s worthy enough for that. Online media can report on these people and give them the light that they deserve. The people get to choose, that’s the bonus.
On the other hand, the access is so open that you can be great or mediocre and still be put on the same plane. If someone’s work is mediocre and they put on enough of a gimmick, they’re going to soar past all the super talented people that probably deserve more attention. Since the record industry in some respects is dying because they didn’t prepare for the generational and technological changes, they look to what’s happening in online media to gauge their next moves…”Who’s hot right now, who are people talking about, etc.” Sometimes the wrong people can get the right attention and since online media has less of a lead time then print media, they need to cover more and at a faster rate. This is how people who have no musical talents or history can make a popular song, get a zillion hits and have a crazy record deal the next day. It might be a great opportunity for that person, but I don’t know what that means for the industry or for music as a whole. It has its positives and negatives, but I guess everything does.
What inspired you to develop your clothing line, Violette? Describe the girl you are trying to reach.
I always wanted to have my own brand, since I was in middle school. Being a broke kid, I started making my own clothes to fit trends. It came easy to me. I was also heavily interested in film and ultimately decided on studying it since I felt like fashion was something I could come back to. I never found brands that I felt connected to, so I always had this idea of a brand that spoke to a girl like me. When I left Def Jam, I decided it was time for me to pursue all my dreams – including my brand. It couldn’t have been a better way, if I continued having a comfortable job – I might still be working in an office somewhere.
The girl I’m trying to reach is me. There are so many girls that share my sense of style and maybe they don’t have a brand that they can identify with – I want Violette to be their brand. It’s meant for an independent, young, creative, forward, and edgy girl. So far, from the pictures customers send me – it looks like I’ve reached that demographic.
Vintage gear is deeply embedded into your wardrobe. What is your favorite piece? Is there any particular item you collect?
Yes, I love vintage pieces! I have a few favorite pieces. One is this oversized black Jordan tank top that I wear inside out. I wear it all the time, it’s bad. Another favorite vintage piece I love are these Louis Vuitton embroidered jeans that I just got. I also love my Depeche Mode, the Cure and Morrissey t-shirts. I like to collect concert tees for some reason. The idea of having a piece of clothing that has a history and that is tied into a moment in time is fascinating to me.
What are you working on now? What big milestones do you hope to conquer in 2012?
I just wrapped a collaboration with Beats by Dre and my brand Violette. We went with a taxi cab design, where our headset had a checker print brand and pops of marigold. Right now I’m prepping to direct a music video for 17 year old Brooklyn native, Joey Bada$$. He’s amazing and I can’t wait to work with him. I’m about to DJ a birthday party for athlete Jason Richardson in LA on April 3rd. I’m also about to re-launch the 1992 party this year with my partner Oscar. I’ve also been creative consulting for other brands while continuing my own brand Violette.
Some big milestones I’d like to conquer for 2012 are: finishing my script that I will also direct, collaborating more with like-minded brands, doing more international based work, spending time with friends and family, and taking a vacation!