Tag Archives: Black Issue


WE Q+A: Sandrine Pagnoux


Artwork Sandrine Pagnoux
Photography Sophie Etchart 

When did you first begin creating works of art?
As a child, I felt that I needed a world of my own, to transport me out of the real world and out of the banality of everyday existence. I was a very shy and introverted child and I felt that I had to find a way to express myself in an other way than speech.

My first aspiration was to compose music and play guitar but I have absolutely no talent for it. So I started to spend a lot of time drawing and making handmade collages, placing all my feelings into these works.

I was also always very interested by fashion and photography. So, when I arrived in Paris at the age of 23, I started trying doing portraits and fashion photography but I soon realized it wasn’t my true passion. Professional photography was not a medium that suited me. The photograph is too dependent on too many people and I couldn’t express the visions in my head. It was frustrating. So I decided to put my efforts into what I did since I was teenager; using photographs with handcrafted elements like handwriting, paintings and drawings.

Now I know it was the right choice because I can express myself much better through my illustrations and drawings than in any other way. Illustration allows me to create new meaning and translate photographs into my own personal expression.

So after studying basic techniques in a graphic school and working intensively during a year on my own in self-taught, I’ve submitted my portfolio to magazines and advertising agencies and I started to get my first contracts in 2006. I also met a representative agent (Marie et Nous) who helped me to express my work better.

Did you study art anywhere?
I studied visual arts in a graphic school in Paris. I needed the aid of computer technology to create the digital collages I had in mind. So it was a must to gather the techniques that I did. But I quickly stopped attending the school after a few months, because I was afraid that learning too much could hinder my creativity, make me less spontaneous, and I’d never want to lose that. It’s very important for me to keep something really immediate and intuitive in my work. So I spent a lot of time working for myself, in a very personal way, searching my own techniques, using software’s in my own way. Photoshop and I having a very special relationship, we’re very close and very human. We’ve gotten to know each other well over time.

What medium do you prefer using?
My favorite medium is paper. I love the textures, the smell of ink. This is why I hope print magazines don’t disappear. I like to touch of them, to cut them, to tear them. I also love create visuals for clothing. One of my dreams would be to develop my own independent t-shirt brand.

Has your style evolved since then?
My style has evolved over the years but I think the basis, built during my childhood and my teenage years, remains the same. This entire imaginary world that I built myself, through dreams, they’ve stood for so long that they have become indestructible, unchangeable.

But my style has had to evolve with the world that changes around me, my inspirations changes, everything is moving, and my work is the reflection of who I am, of what I feel. I am constantly searching to explore different ways and techniques. Each commercial project pushes me in new directions and allows me to work on very diverse pieces.

What does your process of creating involve?
My process of creating depends on the project but I have always an image in my head first (it can be based on the brief when it’s commercial work), then I work until I have the global composition. I begin to refine the elements and colors. Then I collect everything I am able to find, and create the traditional handmade elements that I need. I work using Photoshop, transferring the images onto there to build my illustration adding elements, touch by  touch, following my imaginative flow. I can spend a large amount of time to find the correct balance of elements or colour. I tried different angle. I add details and tone to the drawing until I feel that the image is completely balanced for my taste.

People and the human body seem to reoccur in your work, what do they represent?
Yes. People are essential in my work. When my work is based on photography I let the face dictate what happens. Faces, eyes and bodies obsess me.

People are the symbols of life. In my work they can appear fragile and vulnerable but I always try to show the force, which emerges from them. I just want to show people in their most vulnerable, powerful and magical state, to convey emotion. I love playing with their beauty.

Your work has a style that is reminiscent of Jean Michel Basquiat, has he influenced you in any way?
Oh. I love the work of Jean Michel Basquiat and yes, he is one of the artists who molded my perception of art. He probably influenced me a little, by his raw powerful style and his huge energy. This is what I try to transmit: a raw energy.

I love to use textured background and I often use multi-layered images with a lot of little details (including text, images, spontaneous drawings, symbols,) to build my illustrations.

But otherwise, I think what I express through my work is very different. My work is much less political, much more based on fashion. I havent lived in New York during the 70s /80s . I think thats a big difference.

My others influences are mostly expressionist paintings, and I love artists like Egon Schiele, my favorite painter. But I always leave the door open for new influences, usually they come from pop culture and stretch as far as classical art, to allow my self to be enriched. I like to spent my free time in bookstores learning more about painters and artists I’ve heard about. I read also a lot of arts, music and fashion magazines and I think, subconsciously, my works are filled with lots of very different influences.

Has your journey in life deeply influenced your creations?
My entire life has deeply influenced my creations. My work can’t be dissociated from my life. My artworks are the reflections of my mood. I find inspiration everywhere. So everything that is happening around me and in the world influences my creation. But what influences me most is the music I listen, they transports me into different worlds and emotions.

The colour palette you use is vast and flat, what does colour mean to you?
I think colors are the mirror of our moods. So I use different colors depending on my state of mind. I don’t’ forbid any color but I often have phases: pink, yellow, bright colors, or vintage shades, The use of colors just depends on how I feel and where I need to go. For the background, I use a lot either black or white or brown colors.

What does the colour black specifically mean to you and your works?
Black is essential for me. It’s in the dark that light is the most magicalFor me the dark is not scary, it’s even reassuring. Black color represents the night and then the fantasy, the dreams, the desires. A suspended time where anything is possible, where all is stronger, more intimate, more authentic. Night doesn’t lie. I like to wander the night to discover mysterious forms.

I have a stronger feel for black and white images. I like to play with shadows and contrasts to show the dark side and a lighter side of the world, the tragedy, the beauty, the violence and the magic of people.

Published in Issue 37 – Black

WE also like:

  • WE Q&A: Mike Bucci, Photographer, Oakland
  • Garden of Earthly Delights by Paulina Otylie Surys at Richard Young Gallery
  • WE Curate: Stéphane Couturier at Espace Louis Vuitton, Hong Kong
  • WE Chronicle: Sneak peek at Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec’s exhibit at Musée des Arts Décoratifs de Paris
  • WE Neighbourhood: Prince Edward, Hong Kong
  • WE Q+A: Momo Wang


[ Black Issue ] Rick Genest AKA Zombie Boy

People may wonder what the Quebec born lad was thinking when Rick Genest transformed himself from an unassuming teenage into The Zombie Boy; a living piece of artwork emblazed with tattoos and disturbing morbid imagery. But, if you ask Rico The Zombie Boy, a body inked with deadly symbols, rotting flesh and exposed body parts, it all makes sense.

Born Rick Genest of La Salle, Quebec and growing up in Chateauguay, “Rico” first appeared on the world platform in the Lady Gaga’s video, Born This Way. No, that was not make-up in the video… at least not on Rico. Over 80 percent of his body is covered in tattoos, including his face. Rick’s tattoos are what he calls, his “project”. Rico was not supposed to be amongst the living. In fact, as a teenager, Rick Genest was diagnosed with a life-threatening benign brain tumor. At the age of 15, Rick underwent a surgery that many had not survived in the past. Because of the tumor’s position, his options were death or if lucky, blindness and/or to live as a vegetable. When he emerged from the surgery, he was none of the above. Rick was indeed alive and well. Defying the odds, he literally jumped off of the Grim Reapers deck of cards and began a new life. The runaway embraced the underground Punk scene and became obsessed with body modification as he began to amass more tattoos. By age 21, the newly named Rico The Zombie Boy… a name his friends call him; enlisted the help of now retired tattoo artist, Frank Lewis. Together, Lewis and Zombie created a Frankenstein-like, skull-faced character, with Rick Genest’s body as the canvas. For over 6 painful years, they augmented the appearance of normal, healthy, human flesh into a frightening homage to horror films. Slowly and methodically, Genest’s body was transformed from an average 5’9” man, into a decomposing, Zombie-like corpses, with exposed cadaver parts revealing the skeletal, muscular and circulatory system along with crawling insects that devour the dead. Genest spent thousands of Canadian dollars on tattooing and he is not done. Although it is incomplete, Genest’s obsession led him to two admissions into the Guinness Book of World Records: one for the most bones tattooed on the body (134) and one for the most insects tattooed on the body (176). “My tattoos symbolize life through death, or death through life.” It wasn’t long before Hollywood took notice of the walking freak show he calls The Zombie Boy and he was casted to play one of the freaks in 2009’s Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant.

After 1.5 million fans joined his social media fan pages and a fate changing photoshoot, Nicola Formichetti, Lady Gaga’s Fashion Director and Creative Director for Thierry Mugler noticed the soft spoken, horror film aficionado and wanted to use the tattooed god in the Mugler ad, as well as, model for the prestigious fashion house in Paris. He found Zombie Boy on Facebook. Unfortunately, there were a few youthful infractions on his record and Genest was unable to leave the country. Nicola flew to Canada, hired Immigration Lawyer, Colin Singer and paid his bills. Free to roam the world, Rico The Zombie partnered with Singer (now his personal photographer and business manager) and was able to get the living Zombie out of Quebec and into Paris and The United States. Rico was able to make his official debut in the 2011 Mugler campaign. Formichetti shocked the world with Zombie’s provocative imagery and re-invigorated the stagnant clothing line. Nicola fast-tracked Rico The Zombie Boy into the world of fashion and sent the living artwork down the runway for the Mugler Men’s fashion show and then paired him with his client, Lady Gaga for the women’s Mugler fashion show for Fall 2011. One month later, the Queen of the Little Monsters and Rico The Zombie Boy were dancing in the Gaga video with Gaga in full ‘Zombie’ make-up inspired by Zombie Boy. Since then, he has stalked the runways from New York to Paris, graced the pages of GQ magazine, been photographed by Steven Klein for Arena Homme Plus, popped up on a Vogue cover and is the brand ambassador for Dermablend Cosmetics. Zombie’s fame continues to grow exponentially. Think not? Then ask his mini-me. Zombie has a newly released, limited edition collectible doll and several movie roles opposite Hollywood giants like Lou Diamond Phillips in Carny and the soon to be released $320 million dollar epic, 47 Ronin opposite Keanu Reeves.

It may seem as though Rico The Zombie Boy has Hollywood wrapped around his skeletal inked fingers. But, at what price? There is clearly more behind the man with the hollowed eyes. This Masochistic Prince who tortures himself with painful tattoos and obsesses over death is in a constant battle with his inner demons. It is quite possible that his shocking exterior is an expression of his inner struggle between good versus evil, life and death, anarchy against authority as he fights against the pressures of organized religion. It would not be a stretch to assume The Zombie Boy is a rags to riches story. But, is he just an exaggerated reflection of the youth culture that are rejecting today’s system, living off the grid and gambling with their lives. Did cheating death and escaping from an ultra strict religious background lead to Zombie embracing this ‘Dead Man Walking’ persona? Is there a price to pay for a second chance and did God answer his prayers or did Zombie make a deal with the Devil? Are these Earthly riches and fan adoration gifts from the dark side? Obsessed with the capitalization of blasphemy products he calls Blasphemous Gear, a t-shirt with the command “KILL ME” and a female pet snake named Luci Fer’ leaves one to question his faith and intentions. And we should all make the sign of the cross.

The mysterious misfit Supermodel’s longevity has been questioned. Whether or not he lasts, only time will tell. But Rico has several plans in the future if the fickle world of glitz and glamour exorcizes him from the fashion pages and movie screens. He has two more years of ink work before his body is complete. And if work ever slows down, he plans to pick up his pet albino boa constrictor from her handler and hit the Carnival circuit again. With Carny-friends like The Executioner and Dr. Cuts, Zombie Boy is set to show the world that the inevitable is near. But, until that day comes, he will embrace his death defying acts, wear the finest clothes of the season and reign supreme over his own self-made…


Text & Interview by Ty-Ron Mayes

You recently were the focus of a body modification documentary. Can you share with us your role in this film and what does body modification mean to you?

Body modification means freedom to me… controlling your image. You have many people in your life that try to push you in a certain direction. It may be teachers, parents or authority figures that push you in places that may not work for you and you have to be able to break away from that and be yourself. Body mod is a great way to control your image and express yourself freely.

On the world platform, we became aware of you with the Lady Gaga video, Born This Way. How was it working with the most influential pop artist of our time?

It was great… she’s rock and roll man. Really, really fun. I had the opportunity to work wither on two different sets. She’s just a blast, full of energy, very open arms to everyone on the set.

We noticed in this video, Lady Gaga tapped into your essence by emulating your look with creating a make-up look on herself, in which she became a ‘Zombie’ as well. How did you feel about Gaga pulling parts of your essence into her ‘Little Monster World’?

When we got there, it was a big surprise at first. We had a memo and originally the draft we had at first was supposed to be a Unicorn character in the clip and I was supposed to be a Punk Rock Unicorn hybrid. They had a horse and they were going to blend my upper body into the horse and have it tattooed. But, on set, everything was completely different and changing at every moment. But, I thought the final result was great and I was extremely flattered to see her pull me into her whole ‘Monster Project’.

Well it was definitely exciting for us, in the fashion world, to see someone so inspiring. So much so that it would create a moment in time where a lot of artists and models would actually emulate that make-up as well. All of this attention led to you being catapulted onto the runways. How did you feel coming from the performance artist world and now becoming a fashion icon?

I love show business. I started getting into it when I was younger. Acting on stage in front of a camera has been a big part of my life and always something I wanted to pursue. And in the last 2 years it has hit a broader scale. It feels like a little bite of success.

It seems in some interesting way you were able to push destiny and go into this new direction in you life. You have been able to spin this ‘Zombie’ and ‘Little Monster’ moment into by merchandising and branding your likeness. Can you tell us about this incredible doll that everybody wants to get their hands on?

I like it personally… when I first saw it made me laugh. It touched my heart for sure.

It’s damn cute and I know a lot of people would like to have one. I understand it is a limited edition. Are you planning on doing a mass production on the doll that is moderately priced in which more people can own a mini-me of yourself?

Oh, absolutely! The 17” doll boasts hand painted details of my tattoos and it has my facial piercing too. Robert Tonner did such a beautiful job on the doll. I was so excited for the final results. I mean… man it has all of these joints and articulations. It was a hit at the Comic Con in San Diego. It totally sold out. It would be great if Tonner can make more with accessories. Like put in a coffin, a guillotine or motorcycle in there.  Something like that would be fun.

I understand you also have interesting friends. Is there any chance that you will pull them into this Zombie Boy collectible doll world. What is the possible future for the doll?

I would absolutely love for my team to be a part of this and that we can produce a little Executioner and a little Mad Scientist Dr. Cuts and get everyone involved would be a dream come true… for sure. Before all of this big hype, we have been work as underground performers. We plan to push our show upwards.

Tell us a little bit about this underground performing world. It brings a smile to your face. It seem that when you are thinking about your friends and this underground world you have embraced, you have a big smile behind the bones. This world is not exposed to the mainstream and you are the conduit that can bring this world to us.

Well, as Lucifer’s Blasphemous we started as an idea and we did a couple of shows. But since I have been catapulted into the mainstream, I am really traveling and our projects have gotten put on the sideline. But, we are still working on it. We are putting the finishing touches to a new electric chair. My friends are working on it and keeping busy while I am away. Down the line we are planning a bigger show. We are still working on it… we are not in performing mode right now but, we are perfecting everything and the time will come for it.

These shows, I assume are local. But, will they possible be available on DVD or live stream and get the experience as well? WestEast is an international magazine that will reach a lot of people. Will your show be available beyond your Montreal?

The last year and a half I have been busy flying around the world doing fashion and my side project has been pushed far off to the side. But, if my personal projects are more embraced, they will be released in time to come. It would be the plan for the near future to have the show be a video experience as well.

Let’s back it up a little bit and discuss your history. Who discovered you on the fashion scene and how did you get introduced into doing such iconic fashion moments such as the Thierry Mugler campaign, which led to the Lady Gaga video? Who was your mentor and made this all happen for you?

After many years of working on my tattoo, it started to take more shape. It wasn’t uncommon for people to take pictures of me. I was doing side gigs, doing some modeling in pictures… for photographers I was someone who would standout in shoots. I was doing shoots here and there. A lot of it was to do with the Carnival, side show industry and tattoo magazines. My first fashion mag was through a guy I met in the street; a man named Ludo with Tuxedo Agency. He had me come into his studio, put on some designer gear, take some flicks and published it in a magazine called Dressed To Kill. It ended up being a big enough magazine in which it got the attention of Nicola Formichetti and his people. They hunted me down through social media and was interested in me modeling for Mugler. And with that I did a project with Nicola and Mariano (Vivanco) and they liked it and they got positive feedback and for there on he kept inviting me to work along with him and his projects which ultimately got me to the Lady Gaga video.

You story continues to grow. How has this attention parlayed into an acting career? You just completed a movie with Keanu Reeves?

Yes, we were on film location in Budapest. It was my first role with a line. I have done movies with what is called figuration before. But this was my first big production with a speaking role and it is scheduled to come out in November.

What was your role in the movie? I understand there is an action scene? Give us a teaser.

Well, I haven’t seen the final cut, so let’s hope it makes it. It’s a really large budget film by Universal Studios. It’s going to be a 3D movie. The set was huge. I was really excited because I love Pirates. It’s a Pirate and Samurai movie, which is something I was very happy to be part of.

I understand you have some other hidden talents, such as writing. And you are working on conceptualizing a possible comic book series?

I have always been kind of and astronaut with my ideas. I have always been a creative person. As far as the comic book goes, I am still playing with the whole Lucifer’s Blasphemous concept with The Executioner and The Zombie with the eternal battle of between the two. It’s like a Roadrunner and Coyote kind of series where one is always trying to kill the other except for he never dies. Just with this idea, we have done several photo series that I’d like to publish eventually. Also, turn it into a comic book. Telling stories through photos is something I’ve worked on for a long time. Also, we want to do on-stage concepts with taking chapters onto the stage one chapter at a time. I’ve been working on this whole Zombie Project for a while. It’s all just bits and pieces but we are going to try to put the puzzle together.

Let’s move back a little further into your past. I understand you had a brush with death. What happen when you were 15 years old?

That is very vague… can you break it down?

This living artwork can from various directions… Can we discuss your tumor and eventual tattoos?

Whoa… let me fast forward. If we are talking about my artwork, I didn’t realize this until after it already started… I’ll say, living life everyday for it’s fullest… when you got nothing to lose… this is after you realize how fragile life is… you start grasping reality every day. Being surrounded by every day is living on the edge; no pun intended. I was living on rooftops and under bridges and every day was one day at a time. That’s when I started my project.

This project obviously changed your life. It bought you into a complete different direction. How did it connect with your moment in which you faced with going through a very serious surgery? How did your brush with death affect your life? Tell us what you want to tell us.

In the face of death… I had a pretty hard life before the surgery as well. When it was going down like that… I couldn’t deal with it. I was saying, “No way!” I was being born in this world just to be put back down. That was hard to deal with, so I fought it. I said no way.  Don’t believe in any religious propaganda or anything. But when I was under the knife, I prayed to God. I am not a politician, but when you are faced with possible death, going blind, retarded… all of the possibilities when your brain is being cut. I told God that if I get a chance in my life to come through this I would do my best to change the world. I can’t take credit for anything… I just fought, I fought, I fought my whole life! And I have a lot to pay back. And if granted a chance, there’s a lot I want to give back to my people close to me and my loved ones and I do that everyday and the fights not over yet. I am still working on it. I take this job seriously.

We do feel that you take this seriously and that’s why this was not an easy question to ask nor answer and I thank you for sharing that with us because this is a point of curiosity, in which we know that it made a major impact in your life. And sometimes speaking about this can help somebody else that is going through the same process. Let’s go back to more highlights in your career and things that are coming up. Tell me about your Carnival act and the bed of nails?

I am going to bring you back to when I was about 22. By then I had me sleeves done, my chest piece, I had the outline of my ribs. I had some bugs going up my neck and my face just started looking like a skull. I started to look more like a Zombie. The work started to show. I was approached by some different cats to do some shows. I did a couple of side-show gigs. I was in this movie called Carny starring Lou Diamond Phillips. We had a couple of headshots together. On this set I met Kayla Pin Lynn, Canada’s Pin Cushion Queen. She invited me to Toronto to meet The Great Mysterion who is a mentalist. I did some shows with his crew. I was one of his side-show acts. He bought me on MTV Canada in less than 2 years. I performed with his troop. Prior to his act, I was featured in Bazaar Magazine looking like a Zombie. I started to bill myself back then. After working with Mysterion, I started to work with Cirque du Monde which is a company that train street kids how to perform, how to make money in the streets showing them how to juggle and things. I worked with them a couple of times. The summer before last, I was invited by Wayne de Graff, who has one of the two major traveling Carnivals in Canada, to live under a tent with other freaks. The show was based on the Seven Deadly Sins with seven freaks with seven different attributes. I was Sloth because I’m the dead guy. And that was one of the best times of my life. It was the real Carny deal, not just playing it in a movie.  So, I got to do that fro two and a half months before that ended. Working with friends in Montreal, people were taking pictures, one thing led to another and it worked up to fashion.

Speaking of puzzle, it seems that your puzzle was hidden under a lot of make-up recently and that you have this interesting contract with Dermablend. There is an interesting video on their website with you removing their make-up which looked like your original face. How long did it take to put it on?

It took a good three hours to apply and to completely cover me up. And we only had one shot to take it off. For those who had not seen it before, you didn’t know what to expect for the first time viewing it. It made an impact. You should all go and see it at gobeyondthecover.com.

Speaking of contracts, you have a recording contract as well?

I have always been very passionate about music. I’ve always been close to music. Growing up it was held in my heart. It had a lot to do with my lifestyle and the scene. You know music… you feed off of it. Everywhere I go I wear my headphones and listen to music. I look up to many of my idols or inspirations are through music. As a kid in high school, I was playing guitar and I always wanted to be in a band and all of that kind of stuff.  I am looking forward to possibly this year… breaking into music with a recorded album.

Speaking of role models, who are some of your idols? Who do you listen to? Who’s in your iPod right now?

Some of my favorite artist would be. Immortal Technique, Jedi Mind Tricks, Keny Arkana and Las El Dianos… revolution music… power to the people.

It looks like you are becoming a Master of Multi-Media as you go further into film, recordings and music videos. It seems like you are capping things off with a fashion line of your own. Can you tell me about your clothing?

So when I first started working in fashion; what really grabbed me was working alongside of Nicola Formichetti, who brought me into the upper scale of the world. He invited me to a couple of events that really touched me. There are real artist that create whether it’s couture, or the clothing itself or make-up artist, video artist and all of these different talents brought me into their world and included me in charity events that collected money for good causes. I was invited to a model photoshoot against using nuclear power that correlated with the power plant meltdown in Japan.  These things really grabbed my attention. Maybe being a model, it can hold a greater power. Being in my position, I can bring greater attention and awareness to causes. And this attention can bring funds, as well as, an awareness.

So do you feel you have a voice and a platform now?

That made me feel like I did.

So, now that you have a voice and a platform, can you tell me about your upcoming fashion line named Zombie Boy Gear?

I have always been a DIY (Do It Yourself) kind of guy. I have sewed my own leather… patched pants, studded things, studded gloves, hats, jackets. Studding leather and sewing. It’s just what Punk Rock kids do. When you don’t have much, make your own. You need an imagination. Same with music or graffiti… you got to make your own to get by.

So you feel like you have not lost that imagination and you can channel this into a lucrative fashion line?

Yes. It’s the same with tattoos… you got to build from the bottom up, stay strong in what you believe in.

There definitely a niche market that has not been filled as of yet. There are a lot of skull and skeleton t-shirts and things that people wear. Are you planning on becoming the Ed Hardy of skull apparel and things that are frightening?

Until a couple of months ago, I didn’t know who Ed Hardy was. I am just going to be myself and do what I do.

What is your driving force? What is your mantra?

I always had a hard head and I am very persistent. For better or worse you reap what you sow. The fearless generation… I’m saying… we gotta stick up to our bullies. Especially, in the age of my youth, everyone says with all the protests going on… what has the industrial revolution left for our generation? I’m saying that to not fall for that not having anything to gain. We can take the world back. Being independent is power and we got to find the power in ourselves.

You have a Zombie App called Zombie Hits?

I first saw it at the Comic Con convention. I love arcade games. I’ve always been a huge Nintendo, Super Nintendo fan. I know all of these games by heart. I beat several games. You stick one in front of me and I will most likely defeat the game. I am really big on games and as little participation that I had in the App, I’m really ecstatic that I got my own App and I want to work hard on developing it.

Do you want to eventually develop a Rico The Zombie Boy video game in the future?

Absolutely! I want to take this project by its horns and I want to contribute to the Zombie App. So, I hope your readers stay tuned.

Photography: Colin Singer
Styling & Art Direction: Ty-Ron Mayes
Model: Zombie Boy
Make-up: Ty-Ron Mayes
Styling Assistant: Coco Johnsen

Published in Issue 37 BLACK, 2012

Model to Mogul and Beyond: Tyra Banks

Model to Mogul and Beyond: Tyra Banks

Born beautiful, Tyra Banks hit the genetic lottery and was embraced by the fashion industry. As a teenager, the ‘it’ girl appeared on every important cover in fashion history. Continue reading

Diandra Forrest & Shaun Ross

Diandra Forrest and Shaun Ross

The sky is the limit for these unusual Supermodels. Albinism was once considered a curse, but for the luminescent New Yorkers who have taken the fashion industry by storm, Diandra Forrest and Shaun Ross show the world that being different can be a blessing in disguise.


Where are you from? Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in the Bronx, New York.

How did you get discovered as a model?

It’s funny because growing up I had quite a few people approach me about modeling and Ty-Ron, you was the first ever. Ty-Ron spotted me riding the subway in Harlem and told me that he was a Stylist and that I was beautiful and I should model. He immediately gave me his card and took some digitals. We had lost contact but a couple of years later a photographer by the name of Shameer Khan scouted me while I was shopping on 34th street. He worked with me for a couple of months then presented me to agencies in NY.

And then we reconnected backstage at the Arise fashion show and have worked together ever since. What do you love about modeling?

I love the feeling that I get when I am in front of the camera. And how excited everyone gets to see the image pop up on the photographer’s screen after he takes a shot and you can tell its something amazing. And of course the clothes!

You are one of the most creative Black Models to hit the scene in a long time. What ignites your creativity?

Music plays a very big part. It sets the mood for me while shooting. It’s crazy how the mood in a whole room could change just by what song is playing.

What is your biggest accomplishment as a model?

Traveling to so many different countries, meeting and working with so many different beautiful people. I never would have thought this would be my life and I love it.

What was your favorite modeling job?

Diandra: So far the most fun that I have had on a job was a shoot for paper magazine where there were about 12 models and we were all dressed up like Nicki Minaj.  The styling was amazing. We looked like life size Nicki Barbie dolls.  We had crazy makeup, hair, nails… the whole works and we were shooting outside. The reactions that we got from people were priceless.

Most models start off very young, have you ever had any other type of job?

Yes, I remember my first summer youth job working as a camp councilor for the summer camp at my school. I was 13yrs old and actually too young to be apart of them summer youth program, but the head coordinator let me slide since the younger kids took to me so well. From there I worked at a couple of daycares, some office work, and did A LOT of babysitting.

Most models have a situation that they can not believe they found themselves in… What was your most unusual, funniest job or situation?

It was a very hot day during fashion week castings and I was running all over the city trying to make it to all of my appointments. So I was rushing upstairs to a casting and bumped into a model that I knew and was chit chatting, but still on the move. I wasn’t looking where I was going and as soon as I turned around (SMACK) I ran into the glass door where all of the designers and models could see me. Everyone got quiet and I was a bit embarrassed but I was so tired that all I could do was laugh.  Everyone made sure I was okay but the designers ended up loving me so they did booked me for their show.

Ok, now that I stopped laughing… what project would you love to do?

Ahh… there are so many that I would love to be apart of now but my dream job would have been to walk in a show for Alexander McQueen. Also, I would love to be a Victoria’s Secret Angel.

The media often reports that Black Models do not get along, for example, Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks had a tumultuous relationship in the past. Who would you say was your ‘Black Bestie’ in modeling?

Shaun Ross of course.

Do you think the Black Models of today have forged better relations amongst themselves or are they still fighting?

I’d like to think so but I’m sure there are some rolled eyes and hair pulling still happening.

Diandra, since you bought up the subject of hair, you are becoming known as the Linda Evangelista of Albinism with you coloring your hair and changing from long to short in a blink of an eye.

(laughs) Different jobs like different things.

Now we have to get serious here. Your hair is naturally blonde and your skin in white… being an individual who was born with Albinism, was it difficult growing up in a ‘Black’ or ‘Brown’ community?

Very. When I was growing up, there wasn’t as much awareness as there is today on Albinism. So growing up in a neighborhood and going to a school where everyone was much darker, they were not as accepting or understanding.

Are there any physical limitations to having Albinism?

No. A lot of people, even some doctors think since we are so fair we shouldn’t be out in the sun or should cover up which I think is ridiculous. I have enjoyed many summers on many beaches with just wearing sun block.

The purpose of this next statement is for it to be a “teachable moment” if I may quote Oprah? How do you feel when the word “Albino” is used? Is this derogatory or is it a word that has become in the community?

Most of the time it’s not what you say it is how you say it. Personally I am not at all offended when people refer to me as an “Albino”. It’s a long way from being called “white girl” or “Casper”. It shows that people are at least aware on what being “Albino” is, but most would prefer you say someone has Albinism.

Since this is the ‘Black Issue’ with Black being more of a state of mind rather than a skin color, what does ‘Black’ mean to you?

When I think of the word “Black” I think of power and strength. My mother is such a strong black woman and not only for herself, but for my whole family. She gives me so much faith and I could only hope to grow into the woman that she is.

What’s the one thing you know now, that you wish you knew when you were growing up?

I wish I knew that things would get better. Its funny how when you are a child and something happens to you, you just think that it’s the end of the world. But the things that you go through makes you that much stronger.

You and Shaun have worked so well together, even to the point that you agreed to kiss on film. Are you friends?


When did you first notice Shaun? Were you aware that there was another top model with Albinism ruling the print and runway world?

You know I really can not remember when was the first time that I met Shaun. I know that he started modeling before I did and I immediately found out there was a male model with Albinism. When I finally saw his work, I was so amazed at how he moved so gracefully and with such power. But, I do remember the first time that we shot together and I remember thinking “this guy is truly a character. I love it!”

Due to the controversial presence that people with Albinism face today, are you surprised that you have been accepted into the modeling industry?

Not surprised… but I think it’s been well overdue for us to be looked at as the unique beauties that we are. A lot of the time in the entertainment business, people with albinism have been portrayed as something supernatural or odd or freakish looking and I love that we are being seen in a different light.

Do you feel successful?

I do. I feel that I have accomplished a lot but I am not even close to being finished.

I must say, I have followed your careers and watch your Facebook posts. I noticed you hugging young children with Albinism. Do you find ways to support the children who are born with Albinism community?

I get so happy when I read all of the inspiring Facebook messages and get pictures from my fans and from parents who have children with Albinism. They definitely keep me going. A lot of parent ask me for advice on what they could tell their children who are growing up with Albinism and I help them the best that I can.

What’s the one rule you feel you can break with impunity?

Oh goodness… the rule that I always break is jaywalking… LOL… it’s a New York thing.

When traveling and you are away from home, what foods do you love and miss?

I am a big foodie, but I must say that I miss hot wings and homemade mac & cheese the most when I am away.

There’s nothing like a super hot, hot wing. LOL!  Let’s play a game. Since you are on your way to becoming a Supermodel… if you were a comic book hero, what super powers would you like to have?

Hmm… I would want the ability to freeze time.

What is the riskiest thing you’ve done in your life?

 (Laughs) I was in London running late to a job and of course I got lost. I had seen a delivery man and asked him to point me in the right direction and instead he offered me a ride. I wasn’t hesitant at all but when he pulled off I thought, “Oh God what if this man is crazy!” LOL! it turns out it was only about 5 min away and he was actually really nice.

What social or political cause are you most passionate about?

There is an organization that I have worked with called Assisting Children in Need (ACN) and they have a project called, The Tanzania Project, which helps provide people with Albinism in Tanzania… with housing, schooling, meals, and protection. For years there has been discrimination against Albinos in Tanzania because Witch Doctors have told horrible myths of Albino limbs being sort of good luck charms bringing good health and wealth. So far there have been over 60 mutilations. This organization helps to keep them safe.

Thank you so much for sharing the plight of people with Albinism. I did see your story on 20/20 and I am extremely proud to see that the little 14 year old girl I discovered on the train has become such an activist. You are a beacon of success and your presence and voice can help save so many lives and prevent others from being maimed. It is important that not only the fashion Industry understand or other people with Albinism be aware of your work with this organization, but every human being should be aware of this atrocity and help in any way that they can.

Yes, this is such a huge problem. If anyone is interested in learning more information about ACN’s Tanzania Project it can be found at www.assistingchildreninneed.com

When you are not modeling, what do you love to do in your leisure time?

I love to party or hang with my friends… oh and I love to shop and eat.

Diandra, you have posted Rihanna lyrics in the past on Facebook, what are you jamming to right now?

Diandra: Definitely some Rihanna, Adele, Beyonce, Nicki Minaj and Kayne West.

What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Diandra: To Pray and never loose faith.

If you could say one thing to the next generation of Black models looking to enter into the world of fashion, what would it be?

Follow your dreams. Don’t listen to people that tell you otherwise.

What do you hope to get out of modeling? What do you want to do next?

I want to keep moving forward in my career and inspiring others as well as being inspired. And I would love to do some acting!


Where are you from? Where did you grow up? 

I am from New York and I was raised in the Bronx.

I am as well, from New York and raised in the Bronx… how did you get discovered as a model?

I use to be a dancer when I was younger and posting videos of my latest moves on youtube was a passion of mine. Along with that came messages from different people telling me how good I was. Eventually, a NYC based photographer by the name of Shameer Khan discovered me. He asked me for my measurements and expressed how he thought I could be a model. I responded and then a day later I was taking shots and signing my first contract.

What do you love about modeling? 

Traveling! I love seeing other parts of the world that I would only dream of as a child.

You are one of the most creative Black models to hit the scene in a long time. What ignites your creativity?

The ability to create and be creative is a gift in itself. People like Michael Jackson really inspire me because I ask myself how can one person have so much power, so much charisma. That drives me to do the same, to be creative to allow people to see something they are not use to and help them to understand it .

What is your biggest accomplishment as a model?

My biggest accomplishment in modeling has to be the fact that I have created a name for myself and I continue to work hard to keep my image relevant. I am making something that is a “ Wrong “ look so “ Right “.

What was your favorite modeling job? 

My favorite modeling job had to being co-starring on Katy Perry’s E.T. music video with Kanye West.  In this video, there was an endless amount of inspiration on the set and I had never gone to California before then.

Most models start off very young, have you ever had any other type of job?

I worked for a month in a Haunted House as a prop when I was 15, other than that, no.  LOL!

LOL! Well, it seems that you have always been an artist your for most of your adult life. Most models have a situation that they can not believe they found themselves in… What was your most unusual, funniest job or situation?

Posing nude in Katy Perry’s E.T. music video. 160 million viewers have glanced at my tooshie! LOL!

Yes, I think we have all seen it… What project would you love to do?

I would love to work more with NYC Cares. They take on serious social issues here in NY. It’s the largest volunteer organization, running over 1,200 non-profit, city agencies and public schools. They really are trying to make the city a better place for everyone.

We worked on a film together called THE SKINNY directed by Partik Ian Polk. I was the key make-up artist and hair stylist on the set and it was our first time working together.  I also played a waiter who eventually went to the club that night. What was your role in the film?

I was a fierce, catty doorman at a nightclub,  along with being a ballroom scene Voguer for the float during the Gay Pride Parade scene.

Do you have any other films or projects out that we should be aware of?

A wise man never tells his secrets and I have learned that you have to keep your projects under your hat until they are ready to be released. I have not Tweeted or discussed my cover story and cross-over shoot with West East Men and West East Magazine with Diandra because I want it to be a total surprise. This is such an amazing concept linking the two magazines together. As soon as it is released, I would tell everyone to get it. If you guys continue to follow me on Facebook, I always post what I am doing for my fans.

The media often reports that Black models do not get along, for example, Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks had a tumultuous relationship in the past. Who would you say was your ‘Black Bestie’ in modeling?

I was never the type of model to hang around a lot other models or have the fake ‘bromance’. I always stayed to myself, so thank God I did not have a Tyra / Naomi moment.

Yes, I noticed that about you. You were far more quiet than people would imagine and extremely professional. Do you think the Black models of today have forged better relations amongst themselves or are they still fighting?

I think the situation between Black models have gotten better but, I think the media will always make it seem as if it has not improved because it is more interesting to show the negative side of modeling.

Now we have to get serious here. Your hair is naturally blonde and your skin in white… being an individual who was born with Albinism, was it difficult growing up in a ‘Black’ or ‘Brown’ community? 

Most people ask me this question. I do not want to say yes and ask for sympathy because almost every child gets teased along with being bullied, but yes it was hard. Growing up in the surroundings of everyone looking somewhat the same, yet so different was a problem because children did not understand.

Are there any physical limitations to having Albinism?

We just tend to have poor vision along with getting sunburned easily.

The purpose of this next statement is for it to be a “teachable moment” if I may quote Oprah? How do you feel when the word “Albino” is used? Is this derogatory or is it a word that has become common in the community?

Unlike others, I do not feel offended when I hear someone says, “…He is an Albino. “ I just correct them. Not everyone is educated on the condition so I am happy I could be an advocate to those who do not understand.

Since this is the ‘Black Issue’, with Black being more of a state of mind rather than a skin color, what does ‘Black’ mean to you?

Black to me is a color. But being of the African decent is another feeling. I think of culture and for some reason a lot of body movement. The energy we call “Black” flows through me and I am fascinated with African dances and the way you move all of the parts of your body.

What’s the one thing you know now, that you wish you knew when you were growing up?

To be patient and keep my mouth shut. LOL!

You and Diandra worked so well together even to the point that you agreed to kiss on film. Are you friends?

Yes, Diandra Forrest is a good friend. I love hanging with her.

When did you first notice Diandra? Were you aware that there was another top model with Albinism ruling the print and runway world?

I was aware of Diandra because we were both discovered by the same person… at the same time. We came up together.

Due to the controversial presence that people with Albinism face today, are you surprised that you have been accepted into the modeling industry?

Not at all because I knew what was planned for me was nothing but greatness. I would not strive for anything that I knew I could not manage or handle and this was something I could do and do well.

Shaun, I have worked with several male models in the past; none quite like you. You struck poses that are not typically seen in the male modeling world… striking very difficult positions, high-kicks and Voguing poses, what experiences are you bring into your modeling?

I studied dancing in Alvin Ailey for some time along with early dance advances from Bronx Dance Theatre.

Well your training has paid off and aided in making you a very unique model. Shaun, how often do you stretch? Do you implement your dance background into every photoshoot?

I stretch once in a while, but I always remain limber.

Do you feel successful?

Yes, every single day, but I am always hungry for more and to do better.

I must say, I first met you at 16 and have followed your career since. I noticed you hugging young children with Albinism on Facebook. How do you find ways to support the children who are born with Albinism?

Yes, tolerance and education helps our community and I go to Belgium for conferences pertaining to people with Albinism; to see how we can help educate others.

When traveling and you are away from home, what foods do you love and miss?

For some reason when I go across seas, I always crave Chinese food… like some real ghetto, New York down-home Chinese food from your local neighborhood. LOL!

Same here! General Tso chicken to go! LOL! Let’s play a game. Since you are on you way to becoming a Supermodel… if you were a comic book hero, what super powers would you like to have?

I would love to have the power to create life in a dramatic amount of time!

I choose flight. I wish I could fly. What is the riskiest thing you’ve done in your life?

Walk outside the house! Haha… no… just kidding. Maybe… Shoot on a horse that had an attitude.

What social or political cause are you most passionate about?

Anti bullying!

I agree. It kills spirits, which is exactly why people do it.

Obama or Mitt Romney? Who gets your vote?


When you are not modeling, what do you love to do in your leisure time?

I love to sit on my roof or go hang with friends and family.

Shaun, you deejayed at our shoot and kept the studio pumping, what’s in you music playlist right now?

Everything you could ever imagine from Bjork to Beyonce. I love music… it is my drug.

What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Singer and song writer Brandy told me to remain humble.

If you could say one thing to the next generation of Black models looking to enter into the world of fashion, what would it be?

Be an original!

Text & Interview by Ty-Ron Mayes

Photography: Emin

Editor and Styling: Ty-Ron Mayes

Models: Diandra Forrest @ Krush Model Management, Shaun Ross @ Natalie Paris

Make-up & Hair: Roberto Morelli for NARS

Photography Assistant: Chris Morel

Styling Assistant: Polina Roytman

Published in Issue 37 BLACK, 2012