photographer richie shazam couldn't care less about being accepted
'I need things in my wardrobe that express my DNA very vibrantly.'
Richie Shazam is the self-described ‘NYC Bollywood Princess’ and a photographer, who has walked the runway for the likes of Vivienne Westwood and Ashish, shot for Interview and Thom Browne, and injected some much needed glamor into New York’s sometimes drab streets. During the summer, the creative polyglot is seemingly omnipotent Downtown, usually wearing something rather miniscule. “I need things in my wardrobe that express my DNA very vibrantly,” Shazam says, which is one way of describing their often wild, always fabulous getups.
Shazam recently teamed up with photographer Conor Lucas and iRi shoes to create a fantasy self-portrait, replete with big hair and no rules. i-D caught up with Shazam to talk about the power of transformation, the importance of demanding respect, and why “If someone's not saying, "What the fuck?" then we're not doing something right.”
Welcome to the end of winter!
I'm not wired properly for the seasons. I'm a born and raised New Yorker. You would think at this point I would have had winter figured out, but I don't. I just refuse.4 My family's from the Caribbean so it's like, I have the hot blood in me. I got the Chutney soca music playing in my head. I'm in my fantasy land and it's like, "No bitch. You need to be pragmatic, you need to be realistic or you will get sick." I just can't.
So much of your work is just about being joyful and visible — tell us about that.
I think just the global hostility is just appalling towards people that don't fit within any sort of societal module. I think that visibility does change the attitudes of society, but for me it's even more pushing boundaries, helping to destigmatize. It's almost like visibility's great, but we need more. We need more rights, we need more justice, we need more protection. I'm not forcing anyone to accept me. I really could care less. I just want respect, and I want you to look me in my eyes and just see, whoa... I want us to meet on this level, like we're hardworking, we're responsible, respectful human beings.
Tell me how this shoot came about.
The shoot sort of sprouted out with a budding relationship with iRi, the shoe brand that's based in New York. I was really drawn to them, there was this personal connection because the shoes were super architectural and aggressive, and had all these awesome materials and colors. I was just like, “whoa, this is so cool.” They're produced in Italy. I feel like they're also accessible and they have this futuristic fantasy. They're offering this futuristic fantasy without being kitsch.
Right, they are functional.
I'm evolving in my dress, I need things in my wardrobe that express my DNA very vibrantly, and are fun and whatevs. I also kind of loved that they were sort of embracing me, and they wanted me to create, and whatever that looked like they'd given me the agency to do so. So obviously when I'm producing something, I want it to be a family affair. Like I want to work with friends. I'm a good time gal, so I want everyone to have a good time and create and do the stuff that we don't normally get to do on shoots.
When you’re modeling are you playing a role?
When I'm playing the role of model, I feel like I get really into sort of... my awareness of my body and the shapes that I'm creating. Really having that big hair on my head, I was like, the focus is my face.
Would you ever consider going blonde IRL?
Honestly, I'm not opposed to it. I'm totally down to create a new silhouette for my hair. I love blonde. Against my brownness, it creates a really nice allure. I see myself differently when I'm a blonde, for sure. From the clothing to the hyper feminine, sexual silhouettes that were happening, it is very much me being in my skin and being comfortable.
Where does that comfort with your body and self come from?
I think growing comfortable with being in my body, and how I envision myself. I always like to juxtapose myself with images of individuals that I see. And say, "I can do that too." Seeing an iconic image, but let's queer it up, let's do the Richie version… I want to create something that's visually stimulating that is uncomfortable, that is like, oh my god what the fuck is that.
If someone's not saying, "What the fuck?", then we're not doing something right.
You just have a real exuberance.
That's how I see it. I want to make people uncomfortable because that really sparks a conversation. In that, I have to be really comfortable with myself. I have to feel because it's not like I'm making a mockery of myself. It's more of I'm just re-envisioning beauty and it's a testament of my individuality and how I see myself. I want to spark a conversation to a wider audience, where people are like, “whoa, what's going on.”
Is fashion where you want to be expressing yourself?
It helps me to connect with people in all different mediums. I'm not just solely confined to fashion. I do so many different things across mediums, and I'm always in an active conversation with other individuals that are inspired, or want to get inspired, or want to re-envision how they see me and they want to utilize my brain, my body, whatever, to carry a larger message.
Are you working on anything else at the moment?
I'm currently working on a one night exhibition with Red Bull that's happening at the end of April. It's going to be called the Dark Room of Richie Shazam and it's going to be a visual maelstrom of just everything and anything that your desires want. I just want everyone to dance, and I want everyone to be energized and have a good time. I feel like New York is kind of stale, and boring.
Photography Conor Lucas
Styling Briana Andalore
Makeup Michaela Bosch
Hair Dale Delaporte
Clothing Sandy Liang, Chris Habana, Collina Strada, Kota Okuda