Introducing Va$htie Kola, New York City's ‘Downtown Sweetheart' and pro music video director, fashion designer, brand hustler and all-around cool kitten. With a knack for bringing an underground sensibility to the mainstream, you can see why Jordan Brand recently tapped her as their first-ever female collaborator! We caught up with Jordan's first lady to get a better insight into how she started making all the right moves, in all the right places.
Let's rewind the clock and get to the DNA of Va$htie Kola - tell us your incredible story!
It all began in the capital of New York, Albany, where I was born and raised. My parents immigrated there from Trinidad and Tobago with my older brother and sister before I was born - making me the first-born American of the family. We had very humble beginnings and my parents worked hard to provide us with the life they never had. I was the only artist in the family and I was fascinated with the idea of making things - drawings, paintings, poetry, etc. I spent all my time doing so. I knew I wanted to go to New York City and be an artist and I did just that. I applied to art school and received an early admission to the School Of Visual Arts. In that time I worked at Stussy, interned at major production companies like HSI and RSA. After graduation I got signed to a budding production company alongside Anthony Mandler and Nabil. I learned a lot. I also worked at Def Jam for a year. That was a very interesting time both for my career and just learning the back end of how labels work (or worked). When I departed I realized I had to stop wasting time and do exactly what I wanted to do - direct music videos and commercials, own my own brand, consult and everything else I could get my hands on creatively.
I'm guessing your siblings paved the way for your induction into street culture. Just how much of their tastes ended up influencing your style?
My brother and sister had a HUGE impact on me! My brother (who is 8 years older than me) would take me to gay clubs at the age of 12 and as crazy as that sounds it was probably one of the safest places to be -surrounded by gay men who have no harmful interest in you! I was mesmerized and as a straight girl I totally fell in love with gay culture - the music, the movement and the people. I can recall my brother's stories of going to clubs and raves in New York City and hanging out with Michael Alig and James St. James of Club Kid and Limelight Fame. I remember him ‘vogueing' in our living room, pre-Madonna's Vogue. He was also a sci-fi nerd and we bonded over episodes of X-MEN and X-FILES. My sister, who was seven years older than me, listened to music like Depeche Mode, Neneh Cherry, Cheap Trick, and Guns N' Roses. All of that shaped my own musical interests. I can remember believing 100% that my sister was the coolest girl that had ever existed; she flipped her hair to one side (like I do now), she wore denim jackets (like I do now) and she wore beat up concert t-shirts (like I do now). She also worked at a movie theatre in high school. When my mom would work her late shift she would drop me off at the theatre where my sister worked so I wouldn't be home alone and I would watch movies all night long. I'm pretty sure that played a big part in me wanting to be a director.
You've said before that ‘when you're poor you have less options, you're forced to be creative. I think that may have helped me.' Isn't it a little crazy that you now rock a dollar sign in your name?
So many people who come from humble beginnings and want to have money begin to internalize this ego of excess. It's also a theme found throughout hip hop - an excess of sex, power, luxury ala (hip hop labels) Cash Money, Rocafella etc. The dollar sign came from a nickname. Having a ‘different' and sometimes difficult name like VASHTIE gave friends and colleagues a reason for nicknames like Vash, Vashius Klay, Vashtie Spumanti, Vashtizzle, Vashteezy, Vash Cash, Vash Money and Vash Money Billionaire to name a few. Vash Money written out seemed to have more of an impact with the dollar sign.
And from those humble beginnings to now being such a driving force behind the styling future of the streets - who would have thought you'd come this far?
On the one hand I am very honored and amazed that I get to work with such brilliant brands that actually listen to little old me. The other side of me understands why they do listen to me and why they do need people like me. People like myself live the lifestyle that a lot of brands want to portray, and it makes sense you would go to the source.
On the flip side, you've made some hardcore decisions to knock back huge paychecks. Just how important has it been for you to be so completely independent in your career?
I'm a simple kind of girl. I like things to be natural and organic within my personal space and my workspace. If something feels contrived or ‘not right' it makes me unhappy and I can't work well. That work sense also plays into my aesthetic and luckily it's a good marker on whether or not it's a true collaboration or ‘selling out'. That feeling is natural to all of us; some of us are just better at swallowing that jagged little pill. I, on the other hand, am a bad liar and cannot work on projects that I don't believe in. I guess that helps in not ‘selling out'. I also think that the term and concept of ‘selling out' has changed. Ten years ago a rapper could not be in a soda commercial and not be considered a ‘sell out', also those brands were not paying attention to how music and artists had an impact on consumers. Those corporations have evolved and are more involved in artists than before. It's a good thing, I think...
We hope! When you're at that crossroads of tossing up art over commerce, what is the driving force that always brings you back to your own creativity?
Art and Commerce can be a difficult line to straddle. You have to think of the artist/product, the client, the consumer/fan, the story, etc. You want to remain true to all sides, while making something you're proud of. I always imagine myself in the product. ‘Is this a video I would want to watch?' or ‘Is this a piece of clothing I would want to wear?' As simple as that sounds, it helps and is easy to do because I don't work on projects I don't see myself in.
When did you make the decision to delve into film directing?
It seemed to choose me. I always wanted to be an artist, but being a product of American school systems - that profession is usually frowned upon when explaining it to your teacher in sixth grade. So, I thought I needed to pick a ‘real' profession. I wanted to be a Veterinarian because I love animals or a Pediatrician because I wanted to help children. I was always an artist at heart, but I wasn't sure that I could exist professionally as an artist at that age. When I was 14 I volunteered at a hospital for a summer and cried daily over the sadness I witnessed in hospitals. I knew my bleeding heart couldn't take such an occupation. At the same time I was heavily influenced by music videos and old movies. After watching movies like Rebel Without A Cause and Black Orpheus and music videos like You're All I Need by Mary J Blige and Method Man directed by Diane Martel and Hurt by Nine Inch Nails and Mark Romanek - I was sold!
How challenging is it as a female director working in such a male ego driven scene?
It's hard for some men to understand your capabilities if they aren't used to seeing a woman in a traditionally male-driven occupation, I understand that. What is really unfortunate is that it can be a boy's club - men wanting to collaborate with other men. There are so many female directors that get overlooked because maybe these men don't think that we understand the angles of ‘sex', ‘street' or ‘masculinity'... but, we do. Realistically, it's challenging to be anything in the world. I'd have issues if I was a black man or if I was a gay woman or if I was deaf or if I lived in a third world country. Everyone has challenges and I seriously can't complain, considering there are people who have much bigger problems than me ‘being a girl in a man's world'.,
So true, yet you created your own brand Violette out of a need for female clothing that didn't compromise on male aesthetics, right?
I always wanted to have my own brand. From the age of 12, I was always sketching clothing ideas and hand-sewing pieces. It came out of not being able to afford trendy clothes and then when I was a teenager I realized the only brands that I felt connected to were men's brands like ECKO (this was all pre-streetwear). I wanted a brand that represented me as a girl, but who had interests like me.
Look how far it's come! You're now Jordan Brands' first female collaborator. How did it all kick off?
It happened a little over a year ago. I was getting a lot of press due to my birthday cake, which was in the form of a giant Jordan III. I had run into Astor from Jordan Brand and we were catching up, discussing ideas while talking about my birthday cake and obsession with Jordans. The next day the plan was in motion and I was sketching ideas and playing with fabric swatches.
It happened so fast and very organically!
Why do you think it's taken this long for Jordan Brand to stand up and listen to their female audience?
I'm not sure why that is, maybe it has to do with designers trying to create trends and not listening to females and the upcoming trends. I think all brands are guilty of this. Girls like guys things just the way they are, but in the past, brands ‘listened' to female consumers by ‘shrinking and pinking' their products
Tell us about the design process and just how much freedom you had to work with the shoe?
It was the smoothest collaboration I've had yet. The only real parameter was to keep the Jordan II silhouette the same and focus on colour and texture. Jordan wanted to honour the 25th anniversary of the II with Silver, as people traditionally do for any 25th Anniversary. Everyone at Jordan Brand listened to my ideas and were extremely helpful. My style choices are usually pretty monochromatic and I wanted the shoe to have uniformity about it. I wanted to make something that could be respected among sneaker girls and fashion lovers. Since the colour violet has been so prevalent in my career and brand, VIOLETTE, it only made sense to play on that colour. I wanted to play on the theme of balance. Since it is a man's shoe made for a girl, I wanted it to be a balance of both worlds. The lavender colour seemed to have a nice femininity that balanced the masculine shoe silhouette.
Be honest - how much were you jonesing to do your own Jordan III?
Ha, you're really good Mafia. A lot of people have asked me why and I don't think I've really publicly explained why... Well, anyone who knows me knows I was jonesing for the III, but the opportunity of the Jordan II was on the table because it was the 25th anniversary of the silhouette. I believe next year is the anniversary of the III.
Well, well well! Seems your dreams could come true!
Possibly! We'll see :)
Fingers crossed Va$htie!