On the day of Jeremy Scott's autumn/winter 14 show, we look back to The Ice Cream Issue, and i-D's interview with his gorgeous main muse, Devon Aoki.
Spotted aged 13 at a Rancid gig, the model of German/English/Japanese ancestory, was right away modelling for Nick Knight, hanging with Kate Moss and walking for her mentor and mate Jeremy Scott. Placing her fashion career on the backburner in favour of film - 2 Fast 2 Furious/Sin City 1 & 2 - to mark and celebrate Jeremy’s 10 Year Anniversary, Devon dons a selection of favourite outfits and shows us exactly how to work. In Jeremy’s own words... “Live the Dream.”
Devon has just bought her first house, up beyond Beverley Hills in the hills of Benedict Canyon, LA. She says the area, famed for its bohemian Califabulosity, is ‘kinda magical’. Now this we cannot dispute, but for Devon Aoki, model/actress/fascination, it is also a weird step into the abyss. Devon is a home girl. She’s lived with family for all of her astonishing 24 years so far. “I think you might call me a late blossomer when it comes to leaving home,” she says, neatly and sweetly. Lucky, then, that she has been such an early blossomer in most everything else. She did her first photo shoot at 13, her first pop video a year later and her first movie three years hence. Her relationship with the über designer Jeremy Scott has mirrored her 11 years in the business. She says he’s a sweetheart, but this you know already. Most recently, Devon’s starred in The Killers’ Tim Burton-directed Bones video and started a denim line in collaboration with Levi’s that will debut in Asia this spring. Later this year she’s wielding her sword again for Sin City 2 and honestly, she will hardly have time to unpack her boxes...
How come you decided to buy property?
I’d been leasing forever and decided it was time to buy but it took me forever to find something that suited. I’ve been looking for the last couple of years and checking in pretty much every day with the realtors. Then I found this guy Jonah that I really liked and he showed me this house. Its house number was the year I was born and I thought it was fate. I was immediately attracted to it - fell in love with it...
There was some mystical connection?
For sure. And then I found out it had already been sold. I told myself that I had to move on, but I was actually heartbroken. Anyway I went out with Jonah a couple more times to see more properties and I kept on reminding him of this one.
I feel this story has a happy ending...
Yup, so the sale fell through, there was online bidding for it and I just kept on waking up in the middle of the night with the house in my head and I knew I had to have it. I was in, like, a cold sweat thinking about it. And then a month ago it all fell into place and I bought it.
You literally dreamt your way into the place?
You visualised it and it happened?
That’s certainly a gift. Does every cloud have a silver lining for Devon Aoki?
Believe me, determination is the story of my life. Visualisation can work. Sometimes we don’t give ourselves the credit as human beings that positive thinking can affect situations. But it can.
My God, I have never heard anyone sound more LA!
Ha! (laughs) It isn’t an LA thing! No, it’s not! It sounds like fluff but it isn’t.
I didn’t mean to cause offence.
I know. And LA can be a weird place, for sure.
I think people judge LA with a combination of bemusement and envy.
I think that too. I think that just about gets it.
How did you end up there? Did you visualise it?
Not at all! I grew up in Malibu, New York and spent seven years in London. So I always knew that I’d end up in one of those cities in one capacity or another. I am in love with those three cities. I didn’t know that I’d end up here especially, but I tend to follow my Mom and she ended up back here. So I did too.
What’s the best thing about your Mom?
Where do I start? She has this wealth of incredible characteristics. Her self- reliance. Her passion. She’s an incredibly fascinating woman. People fall in love with her strength straight away. She’s the reason behind my positive thinking, like, way more than LA. She’s my Mom, you know. I’m bound to have a really romantic vision of her and to think she’s the best woman in the world, but a lot of people agree.
Is she beautiful?
Inside and out. She’s my idea of perfection. She’s self-sacrificing and an artist. She paints and designs jewellery. I’ve always been around this fresh and stimulating way of thinking because of her.
Was your relationship weird at all because you had the mixed race thing going on that she would have never had to deal with?
It was weird for her, I think. And, sure, I guess it was weird for me in some ways. When I was an early teen, particularly, not being one definite thing could be really confusing. Where do I fit in? Who am I? But I went through that experience with her. We talked. All the time. Being a mixed race kid – she’s half German and English my Dad’s Japanese – I was told over and over again that I was ‘different’. And all you want to be at that age, of course, is the same. You feel kind of betrayed by yourself.
By your genes?
Yeah. I mean, seriously. But the lucky thing for me was that fashion embraced me and took all that boring garbage about being accepted and not being different away for me. Being different was spun on its head and turned into this really positive thing. People forget that the fashion industry can be courageous like that. There’s a certain courage that makes it a remarkable, even honourable profession. It encourages defying convention. Which is incredible, really. But the growing pains were there before fashion found me. It must have been so interesting for my Mom. I mean, sometimes I would say to her ‘why did you have me?’
What an existential question to throw on her!
Well, we’re talking when I was 12 here, so it’s everyone’s existential year. She knew what to expect. And she was completely sure of her belief about having a mixed race family. This was not a normal thing back then. It was pushing the envelope for her generation. She was 23 when she met my dad and she’s 55 now, so it was unconventional. Even her family, who were mostly back in Buffalo, had a problem with it. It raised eyebrows, shall we say. But she didn’t give a sh... damn. And that kind of strength and convictioncannot help but shape you as a child. And then fashion gave me more courage, because I was very young when I started.
I know. At 13 didn’t you think ‘Who are all these weird fashion people?’ that you were suddenly surrounded by?
No, not at all. I was a little punk rocker. I felt happy. Nobody ever scared me in that world. Not even from the start. I didn’t know much about fashion when I began. I knew a bit of culture around it. Obviously I knew and adored Vivienne Westwood because of the punk thing. But the thought of being a model had never even crossed my mind for a second.
You were picked up by your agency at a Rancid gig in New York City, right?
Not by the agency, by someone from Interview magazine. Of course I had no idea what a deal it was back then, either. But that was my first job. I’d blagged my way backstage at this Rancid concert because I heard The Ramones were there, and I was desperate to meet The Ramones. I was 13. And someone came over and asked if they could shoot me for a story in Interview. And I said I’d do it if they introduced me to The Ramones. And they did.
Your rock credentials are great, Devon. Tim Burton directed you for the last Killers video. That’s a number.
It certainly is. It’s the only music video he’s ever done. Tim is a totally ‘Oh my God’ person. He’s the coolest, most unpretentious guy ever. We shot in Malibu, but I wasn’t around the band.
Shame. Brandon’s really hot...
Yeah. I mean he’s... he’s really... talented. (laughing) They’re all really talented.
Why has your height never gone against you, given the profession?
Do you know what? I have no idea why it hasn’t. I’m 5’5”. I’m the shortest. I’m even shorter than Kate.
What do you think of when you hear the word ‘Supermodel’?
I guess someone like Kate! I don’t know what I think. I don’t think of myself, that’s for sure. Supermodel is a cool thing but it’s a funny thing, too. Putting super before anything makes it a little weird.
(laughing) Maybe not supermarket. But it’s a funny word, super, isn’t it?
Is there one job that you could point to that defined you as a model?
No, there isn’t. Do other people have that?
Some do, yeah.
No, there isn’t one. There are certain ones that I’m very proud of, but definitive I don’t think is quite right. They all have specific memories for me. I don’t think in bests, you know?
What’s so special about Jeremy Scott?
What isn’t? Oh God. The thing with Jeremy is... I get a little high whenever I’m with him.
What, on drugs?
On life! Anything can happen when you’re with Jeremy and it usually does. He is so carefree but it’s a kind of comfortable carefree. It’s unmistakeable when you have that relationship with someone. That you might end up doing anything with them, that they are a true friend.
Do you think that he’s a genius?
Yes, I do. Definitely. He is courageous and he has a clear vision. I’m so honoured to be this little piece of his story. He has a way of making things magical and fun all at once. This shoot was the first time I’d worked with him in a long time but there was a real delicacy and harmony to it.
Is his unique skill to mix the avant-garde with humour?
It’s important, yeah. I mean, he is naturally hilarious. He is a pleasure and his pleasure comes from his strength, too. It’s not just funny. It’s bold.
Take me back to when you lived in London. Where were you?
All over the place. But we had several neighbourhoods. The main address was Wellington Square, just off the Kings Road. Can you imagine growing up around all that in the early ‘80s? I was there when I was two, which is where I think my punk thing came from. It was on the doorstep. But we were in Tufnell Park and Primrose Hill and we lived on Prince Albert Road for a bit. I did my high school in London.
Did you like it?
It made me. I came a child and left an adult. In California you need a car to go everywhere so you’re at the mercy of your parents as a young teen. In London I could just hop on a bus or the tube. I learnt about culture and history. It was my first taste of life outside of my bedroom.
Was acting your get out of jail card for when modelling comes to an end?
No, there was no ticking time bomb thing going on. It was a simple desire to do different things. I’d been in front of the camera before, for pop videos and the like.
I love the Ginuwine one.
Thank you. That was quite late though. I’d done some shorts with Bella Freud. And then Damon Dash and Jay-Z, who were friends anyway, asked if I’d do this spoof comedy thing called Death Of A Dynasty. So I did it. That was my first film set.
Was it scary?
It’s still scary. There’s something about acting, about letting yourself go, that I find difficult. It’s fascinating and I’m learning as I go. In fact, I’ve just been for lessons at the Lee Strasbourg film institute. My nerves can get in the way.
You seem like a very strong person, but you have film insecurities?
Totally! Sometimes when I see myself on screen I want to rip my eyes out of my head. I was a total mess of insecurities when I started.
Where do you stand on the whole size zero debate?
It’s a big debate over there, right?
It’s tough. A lot of girls are naturally thin and that’s why they become models. I am. I might even look like I’m anorexic sometimes but I can assure you that I’m not. It’s my DNA. I can eat as much as a 500lb person and not put on the weight. If there is a sickness, it’s tragic. We have to look out for that and help girls that are unhealthy for the sake of work. But I can tell you it is very hard to work out when there is and when there isn’t a problem. I’ve never had pressure to lose weight. No one has ever said to me ‘look Devon, you’re getting a little chubby’. I guess I have good people around me. I can be conscious of it myself. I can put on a little weight around the face. But an agent should look after you as a person, not as a commodity. Mine does. This is about encouraging girls to be clever about themselves.
It’s always quite odd when you meet a model and they’re clever. Why is that?
Oh, it’s the same in life. The world is not filled with clever people. It’s probably easier to think that people aren’t clever, generally. So it comes as a surprise when people have a couple of original thoughts. I do believe in the general goodness of people though. It can get beaten or twisted or soiled out of you, but it’s there. Everything is crazy right now, but rather than thinking about an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth I like to think of love, compassion and understanding as being the way forward. I have a hippy side, but in a tuned in way, not a tuned out way. I know my physical reactions to brutality towards human beings or towards the planet and it makes me sick to the stomach. You can’t fake that. But as Rousseau said, you know, everyone is essentially good.
Are you quoting Jean Jacques Rousseau at me?
Oh my god, I am. Omit that!
I think we’ll keep it.
OK, go. You can have it...
Devon, have you ever been to Devon?
Of course. It’s really beautiful. My mother was obsessed with her British past; I’m named after it. I had to go.
Yes, I think so.