The multi-talented Va$htie Kola has managed to turn her empire of art and entertainment into a lasting brand. To her credit, she now wears many hats including: artist, video director, designer, party promoter, and now full-fledged business woman. With her own sneaker with Nike (she is rocking them in the above photo), and signature Violette brand, Downtown’s Sweetheart is ready for a complete takeover.
Vashtie sat down with Concrete Loop’s Felicia Mancini recently and dished the goods on where she eats and plays in New York and how she has brought the underground to the mainstream, while looking dope at the same time. Keep reading..
FELICIA: How would you describe your look in a word, taste, sound, etc?
VASHTIE: In words: Harmonized Chaos; Hood Derelict meets Suburban Misfit. In taste: Curry Chicken with a glass of Prosecco. In sound: NAS meets BJORK rolled into DEPECHE MODE with a dash of NWA and a pinch of NIRVANA. My look is a balance of opposites; masculine meets feminine, the projects meets the gated community. I grew up in the hood, loved to skateboard and listened to Smashing Pumpkins just as much as Biggie. I’ve been pretty much the same ever since, interested in a mix of opposite worlds – which comes out in my wardrobe. My style is derived from my interests, experiences and memories.
FELICIA: Do you have a first big purchase that sticks out in your head? Doesn’t have to be big in price but something from childhood and beyond that has stuck out in your mind as a really dope find?
VASHTIE:My first big, significant purchase was a pair of Jordan’s that I bought when I was 20 years old. They were specifically the retro Jordan 3′s that I have become famous for. I was in art school at the time and working part-time at a retail store in SOHO, called STUSSY. I remember hearing that the Foot Locker at Astor Place had them and while on break at work I hustled over there to purchase them. I remember the thrill of excitement running through me and simultaneously imagining the outfits I would wear them with.
FELICIA: And now you are designing Jordan’s!
VASHTIE: Growing up, Jordan’s were the equivalent of gold. The only problem was my family never had much money and we could only afford no-name skippies if my older brother and sisters hand-me downs didn’t work (they were 7 and 8 years older than me, so you can imagine how out of style I was). Being able to, not only, acquire a pair of sneakers I’ve longed for my entire childhood, but to also be able to buy them myself felt rewarding and empowering.
What was the design process like for creating your own Jordan sneaker?
VASHTIE: After I got over the extreme excitement of being given the amazing opportunity of being the first girl to have her own Jordan, I went straight to work. The whole collaboration flowed pretty naturally. The silhouette of the shoe would remain the same, so I had to focus on color and texture. I wanted it to have a balance of being a masculine shoe, but a design and colorway feminine enough for females (without making it too “girly”). I chose purple because it was representative of me and my brand Violette, which is also representative of themes like; Royalty, Balance, etc.The team at Brand Jordan was really easy to work with and open to all my ideas and suggestions. It might have been the smoothest collaboration for me thus far.
As a director, stylist,designer and party planner how do you juggle it all and does it all just mesh together or do you sort of compartmentalize it all? (SIDENOTE: She has directed videos for Solange, Justin Bieber and Jadakiss just to name a few.)
VASHTIE: They all come from a creative place, but the execution for each of them is actually quite different. They all begin solitary in and in my own imagination, then it goes to a sketch pad or a computer. Directing, for example, starts with me and then becomes a group effort with the Artist/Label/Manager/etc. Then it requires an entire team of people to help create the vision, Cameraman/Cinematographer/etc. Designing, on the other hand, starts with me and usually ends with me. Usually, there is no team in the design process – but, it does end up going to a seamstress or screen printer to duplicate the designs with clothing.I definitely have to compartmentalize it – it helps to keep me organized.
What inspires you?
VASHTIE:: I’ve always been fascinated and inspired by REBELS (with causes – as opposed to rebels who rebel “just because”). I love People who created their own path…people who thought out of the box and changed the game. I’ve been naturally rebellious my entire life – never accepting the rules or the status quo and I’m drawn to others like that. New York City also inspires me for that reason. Most people that moved here fled from their native towns to be “free” and become who they wanted to. Pair that up with amazing array of cultures and people here and you have a recipe for magic. I can walk down the street and get inspired by anything…a faded sign from the 60′s, an elderly woman’s dress, a vintage bicycle tied to a pole, a group of school kids, etc. It’s pretty much endless.
FELICIA: If you were trapped on an island what would you need?
VASHTIE: Other than necessary items such as fresh water, food, etc? My Polaroid SX-70. I live my life with at least 2 cameras at hand, so definitely one of my favorite cameras. Also I would have my iPod. I can’t imagine living my life without music, so I would need to bring tunes. It doesn’t matter if it’s Bob Marley or Bob Dylan, music soothes my soul. My Swiss Army Knife and Letterman jacket. In film school while taking Cinematography classes, we were required to have our own tool belt full of tools to create and breakdown sets/lights, so I’m equipped. I’ve also seen “CASTAWAY” and I am not trying to play myself without the right tools! (And) I would bring my Cat. He’s a 1 year old Russian Blue named Vladimir. I’m not sure, but I think he would make a great hunter.
FELICIA: If one movie had to be the soundtrack to your life what would it be?
VASHTIE: Man. I can’t name just one so, bear with me as I nerd out on this question…
Bertolucci’s “The Conformist” makes my mouth water by just thinking of it. The first time I watched it, I was in film school at a film history class and it blew my mind. The cinematography is breathtaking and it entrances me every time I see it. (I actually made a video for Kanye’s “Addiction” using clips from this film). I would also say “Dancer In The Dark” by Lars Von Trier, which is a heart-wrenching Danish musical drama starring and scored entirely by Bjork. The film and soundtrack are undeniably powerful, together and separately. “Dark Days” directed by Marc Singer, documenting the squatters who live in the virtually dark underground of New York’s Amtrak Penn Station. The visuals are compelling and the soundtrack intricately composed by DJ/Producer DJ Shadow serves as the perfect soulful, moody and dark soundtrack that somehow gives light. I also must say “Dead Presidents” directed by The Hughes Brothers. That movie is classic and the soundtrack includes a roster of THE GREATS…James Brown, Isaac Hayes, Barry White and more. This movie makes me want to jump in a time machine and be right there playing Aretha on a jukebox.
Who would be the ideal VIOLETTE spokeswoman?
V: Frida Khalo, Neneh Cherry, Harriet Tubman, Erykah Badu, Queen Liliuokalani, Patti Smith, Chrissy Hynde, Roxanne Shante, Kim Gordon, Santigold, Lauryn Hill, Margaret Kilgallen, Rachel Roy, Zoe Saldana, Patra, Grace Jones, — Powerful Women with a distinct style who changed the world in their own way.
FELICIA: Is there any sort of tradition or regiment you have when writing a video treatment?
V Yes. I get comfortable and close my eyes while listening to the track on repeat (I usually average 60-65 plays). This helps me create visuals in my head based off what the music and lyrics evoke. Then, I take into consideration the Artists comfort-ability and style – I can’t stray far from the Artist and their vision. I think about what makes sense for their fan base, making sure the video represents the song and artist, while being as creative as possible.
How did you turn a love for art and fashion into a brand and so successfully?
V I think it was simple for me, because I never found a brand that represented me or other girls like me. I just did what I wanted to do and made what I wanted to wear. I think it’s successful because it came from an honest place. I genuinely love art and fashion and have since I was a little kid. I never had expectations of fame or money, I just took one step after another and found myself here.
Any advice and pointers to the legion of aspiring Vashtie’s so to speak?
V The most overlooked advice that the world knows and that I always give; BE TRUE TO YOURSELF. I think I’m successful for a lot of reasons, but mainly it’s because I am who I am. I liked to make things as a kid; clothing, art work, videos, etc. As an adult I just continued doing what I knew and liked and easily transitioned into making a career of it. Had I followed what other girls were doing or tried being someone I wasn’t, I doubt I would have found success or that Concrete Loop would be interviewing me right now! You have to also LOVE WHAT YOU DO, enough to do it broke for the rest of your life. So many people pick careers based off expected salary, but end up failing because they never had the love for their choice of profession.
FELICIA: Where do you eat, shop and play?
V // EAT- I usually spend my time below 14th Street. Some of my favorite restaurants in the city are; GRILL 21 (Filipino food), PULINO’S (Great Pizzeria), FRANKS (Home-made Pasta), FLEX MUSSELS (An Array of Mussel Dishes), ANGELICA KITCHEN (Hearty Vegetarian Food) and QUINTESSENCE (A Delicious Raw Restaurant). I highly recommend all of these places!Every now and again I head to Brooklyn and stock up on West Indian food at ALLANS BAKERY, BAKE & THINGS or NIO’S; Salt Fish and Bake, Roti’s, Doubles, etc. It makes me feel right at home eating food from the motherland being cooked by West Indian women that have attitude just like my mom.
SHOP: Shopping is a tough one. I honestly dislike shopping. The process really irritates me; maneuvering through busy shops, working around other customers, trying on clothes, not finding what you want, etc. I shop when I know exactly what I want and I won’t browse unless I have support in the form of my stylist friend Karl Justin. Otherwise, I shop online. I like Ebay because I love vintage clothing and can find exactly what I want usually. I also like online boutiques/brands like SHOPBOP, NASTYGAL, GREY ANT, PEGLEG NYC, NOMIA NYC, SUPREME, ALEXANDER WANG, AMERICAN APPAREL, KARMALOOP, etc.
PLAY: It’s funny that I’ve become successful with parties, because I’m so not a party girl. If I’m not working a party or supporting friends and their parties, I’m at home being a lazy Taurus. I usually spend Friday nights watching Dateline, drawing and painting or laying on my couch watching recorded episodes of The Simpsons, 30 Rock, Community and Oprah’s Farewell Season. I do love to spend time with good friends; watching movies, attending art openings, listening to music and cooking. I’m really quite boring in my personal life…don’t get me started on my sticker collection!
FELICIA: Any parting words?
VASHTIE: Thank you to the folks at Concrete Loop and their readers! Thanks to all my followers and fans for their love and support, I appreciate it!
MORE PHOTOS OF VASHTIE FROM OUR EXCLUSIVE SHOOT