romina cenisio is giving the streetwear universe a paris hilton makeover
The graphic designer who brought rhinestones to Hood by Air has a new line, Venomiss.
Photography Kathy Lo
"Question. Does everyone look equally lathered?" Hayley Pisaturo examines the scene unfolding on her bed: five shirtless guys, abs glistening, lie crowded like hot dogs on a china plate. On top is the relish: a model named Hedy La Fleurt wearing thigh-highs and glitter belly-button art, her legs squeezing someone's neck.
Everyone doesn't look equally lathered, so Hayley heads to the back row and smears baby oil on chests. A stylist runs in and rearranges Hedy's butt-length hair extensions. It's decided that the Venomiss logo—inscribed on the clothing in rhinestones and all of the boys' chests in temporary tattoos—isn't quite visible enough. A rearrangement is proposed: "What if she's laying on all of them with her leg popped up like 'I'm the bitch'?"
Romina Cenisio, who co-founded Venomiss with Hayley, watches this unfold from the corner. Her fingernails extend into pink talons, identical to the ones Hedy's wearing. You can tell she's thinking about how the photos will turn out when Venomiss launches, like she thought about Skrillex's glow-in-the-dark T-shirts or Luar Zepol's Matrix-inspired prints or those Hood by Air contact lenses, all of which she designed. The thing is, that stuff was for guys. And Romina's a girl—the kind of girl who wears a bikini top and a pink "R" belly button ring when you meet her for the first time.
Venomiss is the collaboration of Romina, graphic designer about downtown, and Hayley, a stylist who's worked with Lady Gaga, Brooke Candy, and Nicola Formichetti. When it launches in June, it will be a fashion line and a creative consulting agency "by the girls, for the girls." For both, it's a side project, but one that lies close to their hearts, considering so many labels in the high fashion and streetwear worlds are run by men. The aesthetic is feminine (booty shorts) yet powerful (sharp stilettos). When one of the male models on the bed is stabbed, Hayley teases: "You're not used to the girl being aggressive. It's usually the other way around!" The male models are basically props, Romina explains, since Venomiss is a womenswear line.
A native of El Paso, Romina, 28, moved to New York ten years ago for school at FIT, and made her first foray into design as an intern for Gerlan Jeans. Next came Luar Zepol, Astrology IRL, and Hood By Air, the first two which she continues to freelance for. She also did a stint at Trukfit, Lil Wayne's line, as head graphic designer ("He loved anything that had to do with being stoned, so I drew a lot of joints and weed leaves"). Growing up in El Paso, she was a cheerleader but also a partier, sneaking out of the house on weekends to go to raves in the desert and clubs in Juarez. Mexico was where the girls in her high school went to settle beef. Once, after one of them attacked Romina in a moving car, Romina opened the door and threw her onto the road. These days, she'd never fight a girl. "We have to help each other out."
All along, she was making her own clothes, for instance, a Y2K rave outfit of cut-up Smurfs bedsheets. "My style in highschool was Tommy Hilfiger slutty preppy [during the week] then on the weekends I'd glitter and do all the buns, like I guess Miley is doing now." This situation—where a widely loathed fashion item Romina has been into for years has a renaissance—happens over and over. In 2010, Romina was living in Austin and going to school, and had started bedazzling chokers and selling them on Etsy as a hobby. When she came back to New York, Gerlan Marcel of Gerlan Jeans had seen them on Tumblr, and invited her to intern. These days, similar chokers are ubiquitous, and Romina doesn't wear her own as much. "I don't want to be some Tumblr ho!" she says sadly.
The trend cycle is a problem that both fuels and plagues the world that Romina lives in, from which fads like logomania recently emerged. Unlike past downtown subcultures, which defined themselves in opposition to pop culture, the current scene embraces and borrows from the mainstream. This creates a paradox—if coolness wants to be recognized as such, it has to keep producing new creative variations, which both resemble and differ from the masses. I'd argue that this is a pretty nice encapsulation of Hood by Air's aesthetic, which in recent seasons has moved from logo bombardment to logo deconstruction. While she was working there as head graphic designer, Romina created one logo out of silicon mold, another in Swarovski crystals, another on the pair of contact lenses. "I could probably sell them on some black market now," she says with a laugh of the lenses.
Romina and Hayley are considering marketing Venomiss to one area of mass culture still mostly ignored by the hip universe: EDM. The tanks, tees, and dresses, made out of white ribbed cotton and decorated with logos in rhinestones, are less high fashion than "your basic mall girl brand," per Romina. They recall '00s-era Paris Hilton, who, by no coincidence, is now touring the world as a DJ. EDM is a perfect launching pad for a line, Romina says, because everyone in fashion dismisses it. Meanwhile, she embraces all subcultures. "I go home to El Paso and I go to the country club and I two-step. Or I go to EDM night at Webster Hall on Saturdays, and it's bros from New Jersey in neon having the best time."
Coming from a lot of people, this statement would be ironic, but not Romina. "Every subculture is here for a reason," she says. "When people hate these things it's pointless to me because if it's alive and it matters to someone, then it's worth something." In other words, if you show up at Webster Hall EDM night next week in a bedazzled choker, Romina won't throw you out of a moving car. She'll probably be happy. "It means it's catching on."
Text Alice Hines
Photography Kathy Lo