To be sure, the allure of the tomboy has stretched over time, mediums, and cultures, the beguiling assemblage of female magnetism and male dominance funneled into a single physical embodiment. Simply look at screen god(desses) Marlene Dietrich and Diane Keaton, jazz chanteuse Billie Holiday, or even Joan of Arc for verifiable proof: the bold, unconventional, yet glamorous sway of gamines has seemingly always had an impact on art, society, fashion, and history.
Within a modern context, though, no one seems to embody tomboy style quite like Downtown New York's polymath/"sweetheart", Vashtie Kola. The artist, designer, video director, brand consultant, professional party hostess-with-the-mostest, dominates the hip hybrid scenes of fashion, hip-hop, and art in denim cutoffs, Air Jordans (of her own design), a tee (also of her own design), and a flip of her enviable bushel of curls.
Such an effortless uniform still makes quite a statement while she's busy directing music videos for the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Solange Knowles, Kid Cudi, and Justin Beiber, designing haute streetwear for her clothing line VIOLETTE, or amping up the crowd of her weekly 90's-music dance party, "1992". Like many young women of our generation, Ms. Kola has masterfully transformed her passions into her occupation, shirking a single job title instead for several proverbial hats. The Trinidadian beauty reveals in the third installment of the "Black Girl Crush Series" how she balances her limitless interests, the female powerhouses that continually inspire, and what advice she would offer her younger self--all whilst being the only girl in the crew.
Read on to learn more...
Black Girl Crush Series, Part 3: Vashtie Kola
Birthplace: Albany, New York
Profession: Artist, Director, Designer
Personal Style: Hood Tomboy with Fashion Forward Riot-Girl Tendencies
Personal Mantra: "Success is a journey, not a destination"
I read recently a passage on your blog where you stated, "anything [else] I see on boys, I have to do it myself", which I think perfectly encapsulates your tomboy spirit. I'm curious, though: which women do you work to emulate and why?
Thanks, I think so also! I really love the style and work of Patti Smith. She's consistently done things on her own terms and in her own way from her masculine fashion choices to her music. I can't think of anything more inspiring and beautiful than a woman who is confident and fearless in her own skin. She didn't let the outside world dictate to her what she should do with her [life], how she should live, or look. She does things the way she wants to.
Other women that inspire me are Lisa Bonet/Lilakoi Moon, Rachel Roy, Oprah, Gwen Stefani, Neneh Cherry, Bjork...so many.
Even though you're a bit of a creative powerhouse, wearing several different hats as a video director, brand consultant, fashion designer, and party promoter, you've admitted that people still are baffled by what exactly it is that you do. How does the undefined nature of your career influence your work?
It definitely works in my favor by allowing me to continue making what I want (how I want), without the constraints of expectations or doubts from the public. It also allows my creativity to be as boundless as it wants. I'm not constricted to just a lens, a sheet of paper, or computer. If I want to express a mood I can do that through an event or video. If I want to tell a story I can express it through a photo or from music. I'm allowed unlimited resources of expression.
Equally, you're a female fixture in the male-dominated arena that is hip-hop, which although I imagine is a challenge, it can also be an opportunity to break molds. How do you think your work as a video director and artist does just that?
I think it gives people the opportunity to see that there are areas in the entertainment world other than being in front of the camera as a video girl or a rapper. We all have different talents and skills, and it's important that people are aware of that. Girls don't just have to be eye candy in the video if they don't want to be. You can choreograph the video, you can edit the video, you can direct the video, you can style the video...
VIOLETTE, your successful streetwear line, bore from the overwhelming impact of your enviable personal style on gaggles of girls who look just like you. How do you respond to the positive influence you yield over a younger generation of women of color? Is it always an easy role to occupy?
I'm always blown away to see that young people are influenced by me. I was a bullied kid and part of me hasn't outgrown the outsider, misfit feelings I have towards myself. Seeing young people who gravitate and feel a kinship towards me is sort of cathartic and healing for me. It makes me know that I'm not alone. That there are other young people who can identify with the things that I like or feel. It's really just an honor to have an impact on others' lives, even if it's as little as inspiring them to study the same craft as I did or buy the same albums as me.
There is also a hard line to straddle once you know that you are influential to others. Making sure that you continue to be yourself, but staying positive and inspirational can be difficult. People have good days and bad days, people make mistakes. I have to make sure everything I say is double checked so that it's not taken the wrong way or negatively expressed...especially in this age of over-communication.
And while you're inspiring this generation of young women, you're similarly inspired by the women of an older one: the 90's. What is is about this era, and the "alterna-girls" of this time, that directly speaks to you?
The female of this era were just powerful and they all had their own unique style. Lauryn Hill, Madonna, Gwen Stefani, Lil Kim, Lady Miss Kier, Kim Gordon, Janet Jackson, Aaliyah, TLC, even The Spice Girls! They had specific looks and made music that really impacted our culture. It was a time of female empowerment and as a young girl it made me feel like I could take on the world one day!
You're the queen of parties, making a living out of promoting such epic bashes as "1992" with Oscar Sanchez and "Open" with Q-Tip. I'm curious which famous "dancing queens" from over the years would make up your dream dance party guest list?
Wow, that's hard. Definitely Patra: I'd love to see her doing "the Butterfly" at one of my parties. I think it would also be fun to have Madonna, Chaka Khan, Britney, Janet Jackson, Janis Joplin, Bette Midler, Diana Ross, Rihanna, Rosie Perez and Robyn.
You were just the guest editor for Target, which was such a great marriage of your downtown style and plucky business acumen. How do you decide which projects to align yourself with while staying true to your personal brand and identity?
I decide based on my gut instinct. You just know what is right and what isn't. Sometimes we overlook what isn't right for a good price, but the world is stressful enough and I don't need to deal with being uncomfortable due to my own decisions.
Working with Target just made sense. I had followed the brand for sometime and I really saw how committed they were to aligning themselves with like-minded brands - that alone spoke volumes to me.
You can't say yes to everything. I've even turned things down that didn't feel right, despite being big checks and good looks for my career. You have to be true to yourself first and foremost...always.
Speaking of identity, you come from deep Trinidadian roots: how do you believe your Caribbean background has influenced the way you see yourself as a Black woman?
It definitely enriches my sense of self, knowing my heritage and culture. I've always been extremely independent and determined, but knowing specifically about my family's struggles and history makes every step I take that much more important.
Trinidad is a small and beautiful country, and like most cultures they are proud of their people and heritage. I have to take into consideration with everything that I do, that I not only represent myself but I represent my downtown scene, my family, and the country of Trinidad.
I also like to be aware and unaware at the same time about my heritage. Our history is important, but I don't like to focus on it all the time because it can also separate us. As much as my skin tone and my heritage has impacted my life experience, it also hasn't overshadowed the other things that influenced the way I see myself. I am many things, but I'm also just human.
What does success look like to you?
I would assume it looks like my feet buried in sand as I lay on a beach chair staring at the Caribbean Sea, but at this point in my life I know better.
Success looks like a happy, healthy and well-rested face; balanced personal and business life; making strides in work and simultaneously nurturing personal relationships with the people you love.
Lastly, you post such great and endearing photos of your younger self on your blog, and it's amazing to see the evolution from you in the pinafore to the woman in trainers. What advice would the adult Vashtie offer your younger self?
Thanks! Well I would first say keep believing and day dreaming. By imagining an escape from the pain you're forced to endure, you will create your own destiny and live the life that you've always imagined.
Believe in yourself, no matter what anyone tells you - even the people you think you can trust. Anything you dream is possible.
Continue being caring, compassionate and kind no matter who knocks you down or makes fun of your sensitive spirit. Oh, and junior high will be a terrible experience for you...BUT, by being made fun of for your weird style then it will only make you more relentless in being yourself which you will be celebrated for later in life!
Vashtie Kola, artist, video director, designer, flexes her "Hood tomboy with fashion forward Riot-Girl tendencies" style.
Kola says, "I can't think of anything more inspiring and beautiful than a woman who is confident and fearless in her own skin. She didn't let the outside world dictate to her what she should do with her [life], how she should live, or look. She does things the way she wants to."
In 2010, Vashtie teamed up with Nike and became the first female to ever design a pair of Air Jordans--the air Air Jordan 2 Retro, above.
Kola counts Patti Smith, Lisa Bonet/Likolai Moon, Rachel Roy, Oprah, Gwen Stefani, Neneh Cherry, and Bjork among her own "girl crushes".
Vashtie on set as director of Solange Knowles's hit, "T.O.N.Y." Kola has directed for the likes of Justin Beiber, Kendrick Lamar, and Kid Cudi.
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