Known as one half of the duo behind Patta’s ‘Ladies’ editorials, photographer Violette Esmeralda is helping shake up the streetwear industry with her fresh take on gender roles. We sat down with her to find out where her inspirations come from and exactly how the Patta editorial came about.
First grabbing the attention of the streetwear world when Patta’s ‘Ladies’ editorial dropped on the scene last year, Dutch photographer Violette Esmeralda has since become a hot commodity. With the third ‘Ladies’ editorial having just dropped, it has proven once again that the pairing of Violette and makeup artist Ace Dia’s distinct style, which is simultaneously feminine and androgynous, is exactly what the industry has been craving. With a long-running partnership with Amsterdam institution Patta, as well as more recent high-fashion work, at the young age of 22, the photographer has a long career ahead of her.
Having been influenced by streetwear and sportswear for a long time, Violette’s knowledge comes from experience, and a thirst for always finding the next inspiration. The research and depth in her photography shows through immediately, as her work aims to delve deeper than the superficialities of fashion. Influenced by cinema, surveillance techniques, and the psychology of clothing, Violette Esmeralda’s work continues to push the envelope and provide a fresh perspective in the male-dominated streetwear industry.
Tell us a little about where you’re from, your background, etc.
I’m 22 years old, grew up in Amsterdam but moved to London in 2011, though I still work in both places so I constantly go back & forth. I graduated at the London College of Fashion where I’ve been studying the BA Fashion Photography course. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of work for Patta, Hemsley London, Tommy Hilfiger and Theo Parrish. I’ve also had features on I-D online, Bread & Butter magazine, and the Stüssy bi-annual magazine. Besides my own photographic work, I’ve also been working on set with Mario Sorrenti and Craig McDean, so I travel around quite a lot in both Europe and the US.
When did you first become interested in photography, and what drew you to it?
When I first started, I found out that it helps me to become hyper-aware of my surroundings in a really particular type of focus, and I like being in that sort of mindstate. I tend to look at everything around me in the context of my work, to find specific compositions, subjects, colour palettes or body language that I like. In that sense it doesn’t even feel like such a conscious process but rather something that I just ended up doing naturally. When I find something that works with whatever it is that I’m interested in at the time, I get insanely hyped up, so every day I find myself looking for the next thing that can get me in that sort of vibe.
Where are you based, and how do your surroundings influence you?
I’m mostly based between London & Amsterdam. London has so many creatives that everyone is pushing for something new in order to stay ahead of the curve. I suppose there’s a lot more experimentation going on because of that, and you come across new people every day so it constantly feels fresh. On the other hand, Amsterdam is so small in comparison to London that everyone knows each other. Whenever I’m out there it’s like I come back to this massive family so in that sense it’s really good to work within a team that you know and understand so well. Being able to experience both is incredibly important to me. It puts me in a really amazing position which enables me to incorporate all of that into my workflow and I wouldn’t be able to go without that balance.
You have a BA in Fashion Photography. What made you decide to study photography formally at university?
Besides wanting to develop my work aesthetically, I’ve always been interested in the academic side of what I do. If I wouldn’t have chosen to be a photographer, I would have wanted to study either cultural studies, anthropology or psychology. The university I studied at has an amazing academic team so that allowed me to combine it all.
How did you get started in your professional career?
I guess this ìs the start of my career. I’m 22 years old so I’ve got a long way to go before I can start reminiscing over my early days.
Your photographs are immediately recognisable as your own. What inspires your style?
Most of my concept development starts with location. I can take days or weeks to scout for one project, in order to refine ideas from there. When the surroundings are right, everything that’s going through my head immediately falls into place.
Is there one definitive image or photographer that constantly inspires your work?
Most of my inspiration comes from movies rather then photographs. I’m always taking screenshots of every movie I watch and started building an archive out of that. I’ve also been looking at a lot of traditional sports photography and surveillance imagery which has a lot of influence on the stuff I’m working on right now.
You shot the Patta ‘Ladies’ Winter 2013 editorial, which blew everyone away. How did the idea for that come about?
Me and Ace Dia both grew up in Amsterdam, where Patta has been playing a massive role in street culture for a long time now. We just naturally started to wear Patta items with our outfits, never really thinking of it as a statement or anything. In the last few years we’ve been seeing so many girls doing the same, and it made us really happy to notice that the brand had such universal appeal. We felt the editorial was a nice way to acknowledge and celebrate that.
It really turned the idea of gender in street wear on its head. Do you feel the role of women in this area is changing?
Women definitely have a lot of freedom to express their femininity in a lot more ways than before. The world is just becoming more flexible in terms of what is considered feminine, or masculine for that matter. Streetwear on women isn’t necessarily a whole new thing though. We all know a huge amount of girls have been seriously rocking that type of gear ever since the ’80s. Of course boys always have been, and still are, the dominant target market. It’s seen as something originated by men, and appropriated by women.
Which isn’t a bad thing at all, just the way things happen to be – in the past there happened to be more men interested in that part of the industry, and therefore taking more initiative in terms of production. Lately there’s been a massive rise in girls who feel connected and dedicated to this industry, producing high quality product, originating new brands and holding serious power positions at established brands, so women are naturally going to hold more responsibility over it’s future. I think it’s more a matter of interest, and women happen to show increasing interest in the production of streetwear brands which I’ve noticed is being embraced and celebrated everywhere I look.
What other brands or people would you love to work with right now?
I would love to work on a project with Google actually. I’ve been obsessing over surveillance techniques, Google Streetview and the look of that type of footage for ages, so if I’d ever be able to work with their technical team I wouldn’t even know which project to begin with.
You are also well known for your sportswear aesthetic. There is a pastiche quality to this style. What is it about sportswear that you are so drawn to and did you grow up wearing it?
I like the idea of sportswear being practical at it’s core. It brings about a really particular aesthetic that’s interesting to play with. It seems somewhat distanced from pretentiousness, as its traditional focus is to enhance performance rather than create an illusion. In part, yes I did grow up wearing it. It’s been that way for the biggest part of my life and it’s what I can identify with most, though I’ve been experimenting with what I wear ever since I can remember. Also when I was younger I was really interested in the fluidity of appearance and identity, so I don’t think I’ve ever been completely comfortable in sticking to one specific thing.
What are your favorite brands?
Cottweiler is one of the most exciting brands I’ve seen in a long time. The way that they challenge conventional ideas of streetwear, but also masculinity, is something I haven’t seen as brilliantly executed as they manage to do. I also love Iris van Herpen’s work. She’s the one and only technical visionary of our time. I admire how she works with developers outside of the fashion industry in order to create innovative pieces in every collection. And last but not least, of course the Patta family. If there’s anything I respect it’s their story and especially their work ethic. There’s no brand I can think of that stays so true to themselves in every possible way, making decisions based on what makes sense, and what seems right, rather than what generates the biggest hype. In my eyes that’s the only way to maintain longevity for a brand.
Where do you see the future of streetwear and sportswear going?
I think for our generation, showing your identity is based a lot less on one particular trend, or one particular type of fashion vs another. We are coming across so many different aesthetics lately that it’s more about conveying mentality in quite a refined way, rather then working with an industry that boxes everything into categories or superiority. Streetwear conveys particular ideas, high fashion for example, also conveys other specific ideas. Within both industries, different brands yet again convey something different, so in the end it has little to do with different genres of fashion or its divide, but more with what you’re trying to communicate with each type of item and how you combine it.
At this point we have the freedom to choose elements from either side in order to put something together, that we might be able to relate to more specifically instead of having to choose either/or. I believe that type of freedom is supposed to go without saying, identity is identity whether it’s a 99 cents JD sports cap or a $5,000 Givenchy coat. I’d like to think that rather than hierarchy, we see difference, so for everything to merge and create yet another aesthetic only seems logical.