Richie Shazam’s Roadmap to Radical Representation in Fashion

Shot by Richie Shazam | Courtesy of IMG New York

As a born and raised New Yorker, for Richie Shazam, the hustle is an innate part of her craft – which spans photography, directing, modeling, and more. As a mainstay in the city’s creative scene, alongside her partner-in-crime Julia Fox, the artist is a figurehead for the trans community and remains at the forefront of representation for queer people of color in fashion. When she’s not in the front row at fashion week for brands including Prada, Loewe, Diesel, and Ferragamo, you’ll spot her on the runway – a chameleon who is as at home at GmbH as she is at Tommy Hilfiger. A firm favorite of industry heavyweight Katie Grand – who selected Shazam as one of her’s Top Newcomers for the Spring/Summer 2023 season – the stylist has tapped the model for shows including Matty Bovan and Tomo Koizumi as well as putting her on the cover of The Perfect Magazine. However, it’s Shazam’s work behind the camera that is her focus, turning her lens on Zendaya for Interview and Julia Fox for Elle US as well as recently releasing her debut photobook – featuring self-portraits and her New York City peers. contributor Dominic Cadogan spoke with Shazam about her fashion journey, New York’s creative community, and how representation has changed in the industry over her career.

Interview – Dominic Cadogan | Editor – Irene Ojo-Felix

You broke into the industry as a model, was that always your intention or an opportunity for you to explore your other creative pursuits?
That’s an interesting question for me because it wasn’t a linear journey of setting my sights to be a model because I’ve always considered myself an artist first and foremost. Being a born and raised New Yorker, the arts have always been very integral to my expression and existence as a person. There were so many layers of my identity that I wanted to explore: being a person of color, being queer, being trans, coming from a disenfranchised neighborhood, and being first-generation immigrants.

A lot of these creative spaces are made by white people for white people. I knew that something had to shift and I definitely feel like I was at the forefront of that. But in the beginning, I was just a downtown girl doing my downtown thing, hustling with my 10 jobs and just trying to survive and stay alive. When you’re trying to find your voice in these systems, you’ve got to hit the pavement running, knock on doors, and work closely with your community.

You made your runway debut for Vivienne Westwood, what do you remember from appearing at the show?
I first met Vivienne in New York, they were shooting a campaign that was all about the new-gen New Yorkers and we met at the casting for the campaign which was shot by Juergen Teller. That was the launching point for something bigger and more global and led to me being in Europe and being booked to walk her [Fall/Winter 2018] show. It was definitely a pinch-me moment. Getting to converse with Vivienne and break bread with her and be a part of that family made me feel so fortunate. I was breaking ground and spaces that were never allocated to us, so it felt like a poignant moment. They put me in those insane platform shoes and I’m serving the look and it was such a euphoric feeling because it’s almost like I was stomping the streets back in New York. That’s what I channeled in that moment and on any runway, I was to project myself like I’m back home.

Shot by Richie Shazam | Courtesy of IMG New York

Was that your first runway moment?
Before Vivienne, one of the first shows I walked was Ashish in London and I walked down the runway with a snake! I’ll never forget because I was a big fan of his work and he had the industry in a chokehold at that moment. Everyone was wearing sparkles and sequins. Anna Trevelyan, the stylist, was really about me being on the runway and they asked me if I was comfortable wearing a live snake. I was like, ‘Hello, yes, I’m ready for my Britney Spears moment,’ and it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done and such a powerful moment.

How do your photography and directorial work inform your modeling and vice versa?
Through modeling, I was able to see a lot of the dynamics on set and I would always talk to everyone. I want to change some of the dynamics of sets I’ve been on in the past that have been toxic and unsafe so that everyone feels seen and heard. I want everyone to feel essential to the making of what it is we’re creating and through modeling I’ve learned to redirect my energy to building those relationships when I’m directing and photographing.

“I want everyone to feel essential to the making of what it is we’re creating…”

As a multifaceted creative, what are you looking for in the projects you undertake?
For my lens, it’s always really important to be seen as a storyteller and I think multihyphenate has been lazily used because people don’t understand. It’s very easy for people to be misinformed about a brown, trans artist who does a lot of things, so I’ve been very clearly identifying exactly what I do.

I’m a photographer and when I’m photographing something, I want my subject to feel empowered, sexy, and in charge. I really want them to feel in charge and know that it’s a safe space so I love getting them involved in the picture-taking to help understand what feels good and instinctual. It’s important for me to shift the narrative of being a photographer and taking my own lens because I’ve worked with so many incredible, iconic photographers.

Richie Shazam | Courtesy of IMG New York

You’ve frequently collaborated with Katie Grand on various projects, what can you tell us about your creative relationship and how it’s developed over the years?
After being a very big fan and seeing all of her amazing work throughout the years, to be a part of her lens is so incredible. She really champions me and the things that I’m working on and I’ve gotten to be in runway shows she’s been styling and on the cover of Perfect. It’s always really fun working with her and a privilege to create with somebody who has been in the industry for years. I’m very informed by people who have been working for a long time and how we come together is always cool and special.

What have been some of your career highlights so far and why?
Working on my photobook [Shazam] was definitely one of my career highlights. During confinement, I started taking a lot of self-portraits because I couldn’t shoot other people. I wanted to create a new body of work that focused on anatomy and explored make-up, hair, and styling. I didn’t want to just create for the internet, I wanted it to live in a book that is an artifact for a queer baby to pick up and see themselves in.

I also recently walked the British Vogue x LuisaViaRoma Runway Icons show and getting to walk alongside so many icons that I’ve admired my entire career was really cool. It was quite nerve-wracking but I think I served and I really tried to bring my New York spicy flavour and injected that on the runway. I’ve been so fortunate that lots of people have let me be a part of their creative experiences.

Shot by Richie Shazam | Courtesy of IMG New York

You always look incredible, how do you use fashion and beauty as a way of affirming your identity?
Fashion, make-up, and my hair are like my second skin, my armor. It doesn’t matter what situation I’m in, as long as I feel comfortable with how I’m presenting. That’s why fashion is so incredible because it allows us to be who we are and it affirms us but also informs others. It’s not frivolous, these are the things that give us the courage to go outside and feel safe and secure.

In your short film Savitree, you explore the idea of a trans utopia – what does that look like to you today?
For me, a trans utopia is my journey towards divine feminine and I think wherever we are in our journey, it’s about how we feel within. Community is a very big pillar of what I do and I work within my community to uplift them. We really have to lean into each other for support. Trans utopia is a mutual aid network of interconnectedness and creating fluid passageways of security and safety. Through my storytelling lens, I put our needs and desires at the forefront because I don’t want to just be marked as being a trans artist. Our stories are not all the same, our journeys are not linear and that’s why it’s so beautiful because we’re all different. That’s why it was important for my film to showcase this.

Representation in fashion has changed so much over the span of your career, how would you like to see it continue to improve in the future?
It feels like a business question, how does fashion operate as a business? I think by giving more trans artists, creators, and models the autonomy to lead these discussions and giving us more power in those conversations. Not just muses, but consultants who inform the design, story, and presentation. It’s about getting the creative, business, and financial power we deserve. That’s only going to expand the representation and we will continue doing what we do best, inspiring the world.

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