The bright white ivory towers that fashion built for itself are crumbling. Exclusivity is no longer a product of exclusion, but of drops and limited editions. And if a Black kid from Chicago with no academic fashion background can go from graphic tees to the creative director of Louis Vuitton in six short years, well, this isn’t Kansas anymore. Brands championing a more fluid, less pretentious perspective on fashion, like Telfar, started by Telfar Clemens 13 long years ago, are finally on the rise (he won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund last year). Heron Preston, Gypsy Sport, Chromat, and Pyer Moss are all on that disruptive tip too, and people are ready for them. Another key member of the conversation is Shayne Oliver. His Hood by Air label is on hiatus, despite that all-pink ensemble Rihanna wore to the 2016 VMAs. But Oliver’s off on an avant-garde tangent—first his work with Helmut Lang, headliner of its guest designer series, and now at Diesel in a similar position, but bringing his singular creativity to denim. In this all but alternate reality, Kendall Jenner is currently the highest paid model in the world, not Giselle, who held that gilded title for years and made her money from high-profile fashion campaigns. Jenner has those too, but she’s also made millions from reality TV, a clothing line, beauty collaborations, a ghost-written novel for tweens, and, of course, sponsored Instagram posts—because forget Anna Wintour, it is Instagram that makes this fashion world turn.
Instagram has transformed fashion into something almost unrecognizable, with fans being able to peer into their favorite designers’ shows and lives, and models making big bucks on the platform. Plus, like our fashion-spread star, Alecia Rodriguez, models are breaking through via social media. I first saw her at the Adidas Originals x Danielle Cathari presentation at New York’s Fall 2018 fashion week. Then, A$AP Rocky’s new video hit, “A$AP Forever”—there she was again. So I DMed her. I pulled looks from the Fall 2018 collections of those aforementioned new-guard designers, and we met at Teyana Taylor’s new Harlem nail salon, Junie Bee Nails, for a chat.
When we went into the mock-abandoned train carriage in the salon to wait for an available technician, we were given colored markers to add our tags to the already heavily scrawled-on walls. We talked about her childhood—she was born in Ithica but moved to the Bronx when she was three. “I love it there,” she said. “My life was chill before the modeling. I went to school, worked retail, and then Joe and the Juice—I liked that.” She talked about her start in modeling. “I always wanted to be a doctor or something. I was always into fashion, but I didn’t think about modeling, honestly, until I [shaved my head]. My friend convinced me to try it, so I approached a photographer, and I actually paid him to do some portfolio shots for me. They were so bad! I didn’t know what I was doing. We did my makeup in Chipotle, and I was wearing some floral hoodie and ripped jeans and Vans that didn’t work, and I was so awkward. But you know, I did some more work and I got better.” So much better, in fact, that she caught the eye of a scout on Instagram, who cast her in that A$AP Rocky video, shot by Dexter Navy.
That progression from awkward photos to an A$AP video, magazine spreads, and fashion shows in two years is so…Virgil Abloh. “Ha! Yeah, I suppose so,” she said. “I love Off-White. I think what he’s done in the time he’s done it is fire. And two years ago, I didn’t know about Off-White, or Raf Simons. I didn’t know about Slick Woods, Ugly Worldwide, or any of this, and in two years, like, look at me now!” She pointed her fingers in the air and we laughed. But why isn’t she signed? “I actually have an agent, and he got me an appointment at one of the major agencies, but they said I need to slim down, and that really hurt me, because I really wanted that agency, but I’m a 26-[inch] waist and a lot of sample sizes are a 24. I’m naturally slim, and I would even like to put on weight, and I know the industry’s changing, but it seems like they’ll just cast a plus girl or two, and be all like, See? Diversity! But then all the other models are rails. I’m going to the gym a lot now, and I’m gonna try to meet with Lion and Women Management and see what happens.”
A fabulous nail technician with talons the length of a pterodactyl’s appeared in the train car doors. “We’re ready for you!” she said, so we went and sat at the desk. “What color should I get?” Rodriguez asked me. I turned to the technician and explained the orange in the Heron Preston, the yellow in the Pyer Moss, and the indigo in the Shayne Oliver for Diesel that we’d be shooting later in the afternoon. “Let’s do matte black,” she replied, with a roll of her head and a flourish of her nail-fangs. Rodriguez concurred. “Oh,” she said, “that sounds fire.”
Photographer and Stylist: William Buckley
Model: Alecia Rodriguez
Makeup Artist: Bob Scott
Production Assistant: Corinne Worthington