How Clothing Connects Us: Two Strangers Subverting Everyone’s Expectations
For our first editorial in 2020, we’re telling stories about how clothing connects us. We spoke to three pairs — one connected by love, one connected by family, and one connected by a shared idea — to highlight how the simplest pieces of clothing can become the tie that binds two people with different perspectives and senses of style.
Raisa Flowers and Tziporah Salamon had never met before the day they came to Universal Standard, but as soon as they connected in front of the camera, it felt like they’d known each other for years.
Perhaps it’s because the two — while wildly different in age, style aesthetic, and experiences — are both committed to the same idea: change the world’s expectations of what people “should” look like, simply by being true to yourself.
Flowers is a makeup artist, model, and creator of what she describes as weird art. She’s done makeup during NYFW, modeled for Savage x Fenty, and most recently, she was featured in i’D’s Rihannazine. Salamon is a celebrated fashion icon and one of late fashion photographer BIll Cunningham’s muses — it’s no surprise, since she’s lived and breathed fashion since the day she was born. Currently, she’s working on a one-woman show called “The Fabric of My Life,” and teaches a course called “The Art of Dressing,” which she’s done in various locations around the world, including her own apartment.
Independently, they’re both compelling, influential voices in the fashion landscape. Together, they’re pure power; the kind of duo you'd gravitate towards at a party where you don’t know anyone. Trust: we vibed off their energy for two straight hours. Here, they talk about their style inspirations, what motivates them to share their ideas, and how in a world full of sameness, they each demand to be different.
ON WHO INSPIRES THEM
Raisa: I have celebrity inspirations, but I feel like a lot of celebrities have toned down their looks over the years. Everyone’s just into looking like everyone else on Instagram. I loved when everyone was able to be wild and free with their style. I guess now, I like seeing little kids dressed up — I’m inspired by that. Those little kids that be in those really popping outfits with their hair dressed up, they look really cool. I'm like, "Dang. You guys are fly at a very young age."
Tziporah: You know who I’m inspired to look like? Georgia O'Keeffe. With all those lines and wrinkles, she was just gorgeous at the end as she was in the beginning. And I think that's very important. A woman is entitled to age and have freckles and have lines. We've earned these. I'm very, very, very verbal about that.
ON HOW THEY BOTH USE STYLE TO SUBVERT EXPECTATIONS
Raisa: My whole thing is to normalize weirdness, because weirdness is normal to me.
Even as a child, I was very into being weird, and being different. My parents were like, “Oh, you're so weird. Why? Why do you like this stuff? Why do you like rock music? Why do you like any of this?" I’m Carribbean, and a lot of Carribbean people associate the way I look, or the way I present myself to the world, with me being devilish in some way. It’s just because they don’t understand. For me, I’m not being devilish — I’m just being myself. I feel like because I have piercings and funky contacts and look the way I look, some people put me in this box of being aggressive, or weird, or assume I’m probably hard to get to know. And when people get to know me, they’re shocked I’m so chill. And the thing is, there’s no reason for anyone to judge me against anyone else they see on a normal basis. People like me exist in the world. Some of them might not have piercings, some of them might. I don’t want to conform to society’s basic standards and be regular. I’ve been this my whole life.
Tziporah: I guess when I realized the power my clothing had was around 60. My friend came to visit me from Boston, and as we were walking through Manhattan she said, “I can’t believe it. You’re not invisible. People turn around after you.” She told me that she felt invisible, and I said to her, “It’s because of the way I dress.” I love turning heads — I want to turn heads. I want the world to turn around and look at me because I want the world to be a better dressed place. I am a terrific dresser, and you learn by looking at me. I push the boundary of what “old” should look like. I don’t do fillers, I don’t do Botox, I don’t do the pills, I don’t do any of it. I’m just always dressed really well.
ON WHAT THEY LOVE ABOUT DRESSING
Raisa: I love dressing for my mood. I know a lot of times people want to see me looking super outlandish — with the contacts, the piercings. And I love that, but sometimes that's just not my mood. Sometimes I want to look toned down. And then some days, I want to be extra and I want to wear contacts and I want to wear a lot of makeup. But no matter what, if I’m being extra or being basic, I dress the way I want to dress all the time. And people always think I'm super expressive even when I'm super basic, because I’m wearing pieces that I really love and connect with.
Tziporah: I love dressing like a little boy. I love looking androgynous, and I love being out of the box. I love being on the bicycle. I'm a great biker, and I dress for the bike. Bill Cunningham loved me because of that. I loved that Bill Cunningham loved me. I'm have and wear things from the 1800s. I'm very spoiled, I have an amazing wardrobe. God has always gifted me with an amazing, amazing wardrobe. And to this day, I mean, I look at my wardrobe and I'm in awe of it. How did I amass this museum? I'm very excited and I'm very proud of all of it.
ON HOW THEY CONNECTED WITH EACH OTHER
Raisa: I loved the fact that she owns her age, and her style. I loved her hat and her little heels. She was also just really cool with me, right off the bat, and when an older person is cool with me like that I get more giddy than when it’s a younger person. When an older person likes my style, or I wear something that impresses them, I love it because I feel like they get it. Even though some of them don't even like the things I like or they're on a different whole wave or whatever. It's just when they say “Oh, you look good,” I'm like, "Oh, yeah…I do look good."
Tziporah: I used to be a lot bigger than I am now. I didn’t love myself the way [Raisa] does. I didn't embrace it; I felt so ashamed. And I love that she is not, I love that about her. She's like, “I have curves, I have fat, this is who I am. My tits are huge.” I was embarrassed about my huge tits, and she adores them. Which is how it should be. She's a good role model for me in that way. She’s also very different — I’m always kind of proper and covered up, and she’s out there. With the piercing, the claws, everything. Her style is very different than mine, but she’s owning the fact that she’s a goddess of big proportions. I love it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.