Sandra Rieder and Chloe Wheatcroft (Muse) wear H&M Conscious Collection. Photos by Jaesung Lee.
We live in our denim — there’s simply nothing else that makes more sense for our lives. H&M has given us new reason to stay swathed in the stuff with the launch of the new Conscious Collection, available to shop now in stores and online. The materials that make up the collection are more sustainable than ever, and the processes used to create each wash are scrutinized for minimal environmental impact. To top it off, the collection is gorgeous. Smart and pretty? Sounds like the perfect package.
Decked out in Stuart Vevers’s spring collection for Coach, singer Alex Winston opens up about pop, New York, and an unexpected background in opera.
The world of pop music seems to be inhabited by teenyboppers making international stardom more a matter of nepotism or highly funded image than honest work. Singers like Alex Winston are a rare discovery, not only in the sophistication and cognitively engaging nature of her work, but also her honesty regarding the difficulties of trying to make it in perhaps the most finely beautified of music genres. Her first album, 2012’s King Con, seems to be belatedly garnering the attention it deserved, with journalists repeatedly mentioning how improperly unrecognized the work went upon release.
The talk of King Con comes mostly from excitement over Winston’s still-untitled sophomore album, which is due out in July. We talked to the excited pop darling as she finished a series of noteworthy shows at Austin’s SXSW, touching on how she started singing, opening up on the second album, and what she learned throughout the years. BlackBook shot the up-and-comer wearing pieces from designer Stuart Vevers’ spring collection for Coach, cheeky Gary Baseman collaboration items among them.
When you’re not out on the road, where are you based?
I don’t currently have an apartment but I’m based in New York. I’m subletting. I’ve been there for five years. I grew up in Detroit and did music there as well but I had an opportunity in New York and I sort of said “screw it,” and moved and kind of didn’t look back, and things started picking up right when I moved and it’s been great.
What’s your experience of New York been like? A lot of artists seem to have a love/hate relationship with the city.
Yeah, it is an artist-friendly city but it also isn’t at the same time. People don’t sit and talk about how much their rent is like it’s the weather for no reason. It’s difficult, it’s not an easy city to live in, but it’s a great city if you can pull it off. Like I’m sitting with one of my bandmates right now and they have to hustle all the time just to make music in the city and play in different bands and different shows to make a living. I’m really fortunate that I started doing this professionally right when I moved there and I’ve been able to keep busy with it.
When you were younger, you were involved in opera. How did that come about?
Well, I think I started doing it because my mom didn’t know what to do with me. I was singing around the house, driving her fucking insane, and she had a friend that taught opera that she grew up with and she just put me in singing lessons with her. I did that from the time I was ten until I was 20. And I liked it fine, you know, but I was out of place there. It wasn’t my choice. I wasn’t like, “Mom, I love opera music so much, I want to do this as a profession.”
But it was good for me vocally to stay healthy and to learn how to actually sing, but then I feel like when I started doing my own thing I kind of had to unlearn a lot of that, because it was all very…you’re pretty much reading what’s on paper and trying to sound like something else, and that wasn’t me…The things that I find interesting are flaws and being able to have your own voice and not be pristine and perfect, and just show a bit of realness.
How does your new music differ from previous work?
Well, this record’s a lot different from the first record in terms of lyrical content and concepts. The first one was totally about other people, completely, and sort of like fantastical stories about things I had memories about, like weird niche subcultures and things that I found interesting. It was stuff that I liked so I was writing about it, but this record was solely a personal record, and it was about the past two years of my life. So it was very different, and very weird for me to write about myself.
Also, the second record is such a weird headfuck too because you understand the process and what’s going to happen. But I think at a certain point you have to detach from that and not worry about it and not worry about being vulnerable and putting yourself out there, because at the end of the day, it’s the most important that you make something really honest as opposed to [worrying about] what other people are going to think of it. But at first it was hard for me to wrap my head around. It was like, “Do I really want to say this? Do I want people to know that this is how I felt?” But now I don’t care. I’m too lazy now.
You sound like you’re a lot more confident now than maybe on the first album.
I was reading something that was like, “Experience comes from failure.” And it’s true! It’s like, it’s the hard shit that you that makes you a pro. The way you understand how a business works is by going through the ringer and through all the crappy stuff.
What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned or advice you could share?
I think it’s like, learning to know what you’re willing to do and what you’re not willing to do, and also when it’s appropriate to compromise. Like those are some of the biggest things that I’ve learned throughout this; sticking to your guns creatively but also being willing to embrace things that aren’t as comfortable at first, because ultimately it hurts your career. When I was younger, I was so stubborn with everything. And now I’m learning that sometimes compromising is okay, as long as it’s not compromising yourself artistically. But there are so many aspects of being a musician these days. It’s not just about the music; it’s about things like social media, and it doesn’t come naturally to me.
Musicians are now expected to do a lot more than just make music.
It’s stupid and it’s unfortunate too for people that are just musicians. I mean that’s the thing too…people have tried to pigeonhole me into bullshit that I don’t want to do. Like, “What’s your thing? What’s your thing?” Well my thing is making songs that hopefully people will like. But it’s easier said than done. It makes other people’s jobs easier when I guess you have something that’s really marketable.
How did you become certain that you wanted to be a professional performer?
I mean, it’s the only thing I do. I’ve always known I was going to be a musician. I didn’t have anything else. I barely graduated high school. I was working on music back then. I don’t have another thing. This is just what I do so I do it because I have to do it. I love making music. And to have a career where I can just continue to tour and play shows for the next 15, 20 years — that would be my dream. I don’t have to be a megastar. But to be able to have a career, I want to be a career artist, so that’s what I’m working towards.
What type of people do you think is connecting with your music?
I honestly don’t know! It’s kind of diverse. When I go overseas it’s like 40-year-old men. Sometimes young teenage girls or like fun gay guys…I don’t know! It’s just all over the place. And I like that. It’s not like a specific niche, I don’t think. Like I haven’t been able to figure out my demographic yet, which I like.
What are your thoughts on live performance?
I love playing. It’s my favorite part. I love performing and my band is amazing. They’ve been with me, some of them, since I moved to New York. And so we know each other really well. To be a solo artist in New York without a consistent band is really hard, and I’m so lucky to have them, because like I said earlier, everyone’s trying to hustle and make money to make a living, and they have to do what they have to do, but my band is super dedicated. They’re talented and it’s just fun. We have the best time on the road.
Do you ever get tired of life on the road?
Honestly, I like it. I don’t like being in one place for very long. Like, that’s why right now I don’t have an apartment. I’m between New York, L.A., and Detroit…and London. I like living out of a suitcase. I don’t like sitting still. So for now, I still really like it. Ask me in a couple years.
What would you like to say to fans before they press play on the new album?
I guess just know that it’s really personal, and the most honest I will ever be is on this record. And I guess I just want them to know the process and that it took a lot of work, a lot of work to get me into a place where I felt comfortable sharing myself, and I hope that people can relate to some of the things that I’ve been through. I hope maybe it will help someone else out if they’re going through a tough time.
Decked out in Stuart Vevers-designed Coach for this exclusive interview and photo shoot, singer/songwriter Lenka talks about her cheerful new album.
Whether you know it or not, singer/songwriter Lenka’s music has likely graced your ears numerous times. The Australian sensation’s whimsical, cup-half-full attitude fueled the international hit “The Show” from her eponymous debut album, with her music continuing to gain traction with tracks like “Everything at Once.” The irresistibly catchy optimism of her sound is an advertiser’s dream, helping her land music in giant commercials for the likes of Coca Cola, Windows, and Old Navy—not to mention TV features on prevalent shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Ugly Betty.”
After taking time to focus on her growing family, Lenka is back to spread the jubilant vibes with her fourth studio album, The Bright Side. We talked to the multifaceted artist about her musical evolution, working with husband James Gulliver Hancock, and the wonders of exploring fashion via social media while she happily tried on pieces from Stuart Vevers’s sunny spring collection for Coach, including a t-shirt designed in collaboration with artist Gary Baseman, to whom Lenka just happens to have a personal connection.
You’ve been both an actress and a singer. Which passion came first?
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a dancer, and then that changed when I was a teenager. I decided I wanted to be an actor and my mom helped me out getting an agent, and I started acting quite early at about twelve, thirteen. So I was like a professional teen actress, which was really fun, being in high school and getting to leave school and go for acting and stuff.
And how did the shift to singing come about?
I think maybe I was a little bit burnt out from that career choice already by about the age of nineteen (laughs). I don’t know, I just knew that I wasn’t going to be 100% committed to the life of an actor, as my mentors were. Like my teacher at acting school was Cate Blanchett. She’s like, 150% an actor–she just lives and breathes it, and I knew I wasn’t like that. I went to art school and studied sculpture, performance art and video, and that didn’t feel like the quite right fit.
And this whole time, you know, I liked music and I could do a little bit of music, and my dad’s a musician, but I never was thinking that it would be a career, probably because of my dad. I just wanted to rebel against the whole notion of doing the same thing. But I was singing in a play when I was about 22, 23, you know, like an Off-Broadway, fringe theater thing, and my director sang a song, and that was the moment where I totally flopped over and I realized that I was enjoying singing more and I was getting more out of it, and it felt like the audience was getting more out of it. People kept saying to me, “You should do more music.” So that was when I sort of shifted focus and spent my time brushing up my music theory and writing songs. And then I joined a band so it kind of quickly became my life.
It’s funny how you end up falling into the things that wind up being your strongest passions.
I know, and sometimes I regret a little bit that I didn’t know earlier because I was actually 30 by the time that my first album came out, because I was in the band for a few years and then I started doing solo stuff, and then it takes a few years to sort of get people to believe in you and give you the money to make an album. So I’m like, “Shit, if I started at 15, I would have had so much more time to do all that experimenting and everything. I’d be touring and be 23, which would be more fun I think because now I’m like married and I have a kid and my life doesn’t feel that “Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
You and your husband, visual artist James Gulliver Hancock, have worked quite a bit together. Can you talk about being a creative team?
He’s an illustrator and a visual artist…if you’re a New Yorker, you’ve probably seen his work on the subway. And from the very beginning, when I started to do solo music, he was really there for the visual side of building up my identity as a singer/songwriter. This sort of whimsical, childlike thing I have going on is partly developed by his style as well. We’d actually just started dating as well, so really the joining of us together romantically was the joining of us together creatively as well, and that was quite exciting. We were like, “Yeah! We have lots of stuff that we can do together.” And we wanted to help each other’s careers move along in a parallel path.
We don’t work together as much now. I tend to hire more people. But he’s always there as a kind of production designer or at least another pair of eyes to help out, and he still does all the layout and everything for all my albums and merch. He’s gotten a little busier; he’s fulltime now, doing books and things, but yeah, we’re lucky because I think you want to have a partner that has a similar career to you, but I don’t know though if I would want my guitarist or someone to be my partner or something like that.
The Bright Side is going to be your fourth studio album. Can you talk to me about the musical evolution you’ve experienced since the beginning of your career?
Well this album, it’s a little bit of a return to what I feel like is my strength as a songwriter, with sort of optimistic, kind of happy songs that I had departed from for a little while. But my mood in my life right now warranted me to revisit, so I’ve just made those happy tunes again. And also, I have a toddler who wants to dance, so he was really responding to me making things with a more up-tempo, upbeat kind of feel to them. I mean I’ve been striving to try and be very happy in my life and I feel like I’m at that point [now], and I just wanted to bottle it. This album is basically a capsule of my happiness. I want to be able to look back on it and say, “That was a good time in my life.”
Where did your inspiration for the songs come from this time around?
A fair few of the songs were born from briefs for film and TV writing. I’ve been sort of taking a bit of time off, having a baby and stuff, but still doing a little bit of writing. So, you know, sometimes they’ll be like, “This is the character, these are the themes in the show. Can you write a song along those lines?” And I’m allowed to use those songs whether or not they’ve been used in that project, so I’m still able to put them on a record or something if I want to. So I’ve sort of had this collection of songs that I loved and they made up about half of the record and then I sort of rounded it out with the last few tracks.
So some of the songs are about your own life, and some are about characters that were described to you?
Yeah, but the thing is that the characters that I’m given to write about are usually young, joyful girls, so it’s kind of the same vibe anyway because that’s what I’m known for. So the two are intertwined. It’s like, “Oh, perfect! This is exactly how I feel right now. I can easily write a song like that.”
Where does the album stand at this moment?
It’s totally finished. The vinyl is getting printed as we speak and it’s slated to release on June 16th, so I think that’s probably enough time to get it all ready. I’m sure we’ll release a new song before then, too. I’m not sure which one; it sort of depends on which one I want to make a video for.
So the visual component plays a factor in which singles get released. Do you have any ideas yet?
There’s one video that I want to do that [my husband] wouldn’t be involved in, because it isn’t going to be that pretty, but there’s this one song called “Unique” and I want to do it with fans, get them to send in videos of themselves, and I bought a selfie stick. I was so embarrassed by it–I was like, “This is for a video. I’m allowed to do this.” But I’ve used it so many times, it’s so much fun. I mean, it’s amazing! I’ve got a new iPhone and the camera is amazing and I just sort of want to take it with my life a little bit and do one of those sort of behind the scenes, just walking along the streets kind of videos. It won’t be all that artistic, but I think it will suit the song.
When it comes to fashion, do you think about what you wear on stage heavily?
I do think about it heavily. I spend a lot of timing trolling vintage markets and things like that because I do love ‘50s Mod and kind of vintage looks. At the moment, I’ve been doing a lot of blue, like “Blue Skies,” almost like a bit Normcore and suburban, just black and white and blue. And then I’m obsessed with polka dots at the moment…I love graphic prints and unusual color combinations so my eye is usually caught by things like that.
Is there anyone you look toward as a fashion icon?
As far as icons, I don’t know who it would be. I feel like it would be vintage-y people too. I should look at my Pinterest right now. It’s been a really big tool for me when I have to communicate with stylists. It’s great. I can just be like, “If you want to see what kind of stuff I like, have a look at this.” Or you can make an album specifically for a particular shoot, like that’s what we did with my album cover shoot.
I like Mary Quant, 1960s stuff. There’s a lot of Mary Quant in here. I often really like what Taylor Swift is wearing. I’ll see her walking down the street and be like “Hmm, I think we have the same Pinterest board.”
How do you find a lot of your inspiration?
That’s a lot of Pinterest too. You do find that if you start to follow people or you get on a thread, it sort of learns what you like. Like it knows that I like bold patterns, so it will just show me people’s latest runway looks that have lots of crazy patters.
Roman and Williams (Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch) photographed by Nigel Parry for BlackBook.
When you walk into a room that Roman and Williams has designed, you will feel something. You will discern texture, notice scale, and you may even feel warm or cool. “There’s an amateurism we love to maintain so we don’t end up too professional or too polished.… It’s a lot of emotion, a lot of passion,” says Stephen Alesch, half of the design duo (and husband to his counterpart, Robin Standefer). To them that’s more important than staying true to one particular aesthetic. It’s why visitors will develop an attachment to the glittering, Champagne-filled Boom Boom Room, and the casually bohemian Ace Hotel lobby, worlds apart and brimming with particulars. One is where you dance till dawn looking out at the city lights, and the other is where you take advantage of the free Wi-Fi and get your work done. Same goes for the spaces they’ve created at the Viceroy, Royalton, and Highline hotels, and restaurants like John Dory Oyster Bar and The Dutch.
“Our starting point is love: loving an object, loving a space, thinking of an experience we want to have,” Standefer says. It’s not just about what’s new or in fashion; the two have a humility that allows them to comb over memories and the familiar, searching for aesthetic details and ideas that will make you experience emotions. It’s just going to be a different emotion depending on where you are. Guests at the Freehand in Miami, Chicago, and soon Los Angeles will pick up more on the handcrafted, homey sparseness of the hostel/hotels, while the rarified Chicago Athletic Association, a historic landmark and soon-to-be-hotel, will attract a ritzier crowd. Each project inhabits its proper space. Filled with all the right particulars, they become fully developed worlds of their own.
This article appears in the spring 2015 issue of BlackBook on stands now.
Gabriela (Re:Quest Models) and Mark Sopcik photographed by Fred P. Goris. Styling by Alyssa Shapiro
These compression shorts are made by a start-up called Athos and contain embedded EMG sensors that feed information on muscle effort and activation to an app on the user’s phone, allowing lab-quality monitoring of one’s own workout. The matching compression top launches this spring, alongside special partnerships with some of the country’s most elite trainers, like Stephen Cheuk, whose New York gym S10 is photographed here. Using Athos, Cheuk is able to instruct trainees on how to better activate the right muscles for the right exercise — plus tell if they’re cheating the movement.
Rapid arm movements with the rope create tension throughout the body, providing a concentrated arm workout and also strengthening the core and lower body.
Properly monitoring muscle activation during lunges ensures both legs receive a good workout.
At S10, Stephen Cheuk’s trainees focus on anabolic conditioning work. That means less jogging and more pushing the Prowler.
Few exercises build more muscle quickly than a squat — Athos allows trainers to ensure that the correct sequence of muscles is activated through the movement, essential to both increasing strength and maintaining safety.
Mark wears Athos shorts and his own shoes. Gabriela wear (from left) Athos capris, S10 sports bra, Nike Bonded Woven Bomber Jacket, Nike Flyknit Zoom Fit Agility sneakers; Athos capris, NikeLab x JFS cropped long-sleeved top, Nike Pro Fierce sports bra, Nike Flyknit Roshe Run sneakers
Grooming by Ashley Rebecca
This story appears in the spring 2015 issue of BlackBook Magazine on stands now
Don’t let the errant snowflake or sudden dips into freezing temps fool you; Friday is the first day of spring, and that means the first day of spring shopping has arrived.
Whether or not the weather is ready for it, we’re moving into the new season — even if it takes some time to come out of cozy hibernation.
Go ahead and take the fuzzy layers — in pale lavender and soft blush — from winter with you, just be sure to add some new warmer weather favorites (like these breezy dresses from Wes Gordon, Kaelen, Tibi, and Karolyn Pho), too. Lijie (Marilyn) models the best spring looks to wear now. Photographed by Robert Johnson, styled by Alyssa Shapiro.
Wes Gordon gray melange strapless dress; Tibi trench coat; Karen Gallo Stevie sneaker; Stylist’s own belt
Creatures of the Wind Jenna parka; Kaelen iridescent cowl-back slip dress
Ryan Roche turtleneck; Ryan Roche shorts; Karolyn Pho hand painted Timberlands
Karolyn Pho Slate slip dress; Wes Gordon ribbon tweed knit pullover (around waist); Ryan Roche lavender cardigan; Karen Gallo Carter sneakers
Wes Gordon blush stretch crepe long sleeved wrap dress; Ryan Roche cardigan
Tibi Maritime dress; Ryan Roche turtleneck; Karen Gallo Carter sneaker
Photographed by Robert Johnson Styled by Alyssa Shapiro Hair and makeup by Ashley Rebecca Model: Lijie Liu (Marilyn)