My name is Alva Claire and I’m a model from south-east London, based in Brooklyn. It’s hard to remember exactly when my obsession with fashion started. It feels like even before I knew what the word fashion meant, I was thinking about colors, textures and most of all a magnetic pull to anything different. I loved how it made me feel to wear something that made a statement, something that wasn’t ‘cool’.
The beginnings of how I learnt to express myself and my personality was through clothes. That’s not to say that I didn’t get sucked into the teenage conveyer belt of conforming in my early to mid teens (we all do) but it wasn’t for me. I soon came back to my ripped tights and tutus. Getting dressed has always been an important process for me. By the time I left school this was all-consuming and I was determined to work in the fashion industry. That was that.
Over those years I would save up my money from my different jobs – babysitting, working at a fudge stall and eventually working in a store – and I would use it to buy fashion magazines. I’d go to my room and lay on the bed leafing carefully through the pages, reading every word, cutting out my favourite editorials to stick on the wall, pouring over the runway pictures and even looking at every advertisement in detail. I loved making collages in my sketchbook and being generally obsessive about having every issue! What started as a small pile soon grew to take up half of my bedroom.
This was a place to go where I could escape from everything. Nothing made me feel the way fashion did. I was fascinated in every way. I know I’m not alone. How do we find ourselves here? It’s the love for it. The giddy excitement I still feel over putting together an outfit.
Every teenager has something to get lost in but, when you experience trauma and huge changes in your family and home life, you are especially inclined to create a safe place to go in your mind. A place that takes you to another planet entirely; a place that is yours and yours only.
I spent lockdown in Brooklyn, mostly alone, and it was the thinking for me. I didn’t bake or zoom or knit, I thought, I read and journaled a lot. I protested, I cried, I healed, I switched off my phone. I followed my instincts and tried to nurture myself as best I could. I returned to London near the end of the summer for a little while. Quarantining for two weeks in my teenage bedroom was odd and after a few days, like lots of people spending time at home, I decided to get to work.
Living in New York for two years, it now felt like time to clear out the room. It would still be my room to come back to but without all the stuff on the walls, copious piles of shoeboxes, clothing, makeup, and of course the vast library of magazines collecting dust. I committed to a task that would take me more than two weeks. Time stopped and I was confronted with myself. Eventually this process was a cleanse, but, at the time, it felt like an emotional, never ending story.
I started with the magazines, as they were taking up the most space. First, I was silent, flicking through each one methodically. I started a ‘recycle’ pile and a ‘keep’ pile for the laborious task at hand. Then I started laughing. An eyebrow raised kind of laugh. My page turning became more frantic as if I was searching for something in the gutter of each page. Eventually, slumped on the floor, nose dripping from all the dust, sitting in a sea of white faces staring up at me blankly from their covers, a hot prickly tear worked its way down my face and slapped the page I was open on. I felt sick and really angry.
To be clear this was not a feeling of shock, just a stern reminder of what I had grown up with. Always my freckled nose pushed against the pane of glass looking in on this fantasy world, dreaming of the stories in the editorials, lusting after the leather, tie-dye, pearls, denim, chiffon, pinstripe, silk, plaid, feathers. Always on the outside.
These magazines only ever told one story. They only ever had one crispy dry wafer thin white story.
When I first started modelling, I felt uncomfortable. I craved to model and be myself at the same time. Editorial was not something I thought I would ever get to do – makeup campaigns, runway, my own style and personality. I didn’t fit the predetermined mould. I often felt empty. It seemed I would never be able to be myself in my size, in my skin, in this industry.
Then, the industry began to shift. We saw more Black and models of colour being used, yet, it started to feel like Wizard of Oz trickery. There were days I would leave set feeling so weary and drained having worked for brands and being the only person of colour on set.
Dealing with racist and fat phobic microaggressions, listening to the lunch table chatter of ‘feeling so fat today,’ ‘I’m trying this great new diet,’ all in the same breath as ‘we are SO happy to have you here.’
I would wonder: was anything ever going to be authentic? Would I ever feel like myself?
I can only speak for me and my own experiences. I did decide to be myself because it is the only way. I will never slot into the projected limitations of what people think somebody like me can do in this industry.
I am aware of my own privilege in saying this, but I do feel like we are on the road to change, but, to get there, the performance has to stop. The curtain has been pulled down.
The systemic racism and fatphobia is so woven into the fabric of every part of the industry. A lot of work needs to be done. A lot of changes need to be made. Black people and people of colour need to be in front and behind the camera – editors, hair stylists, makeup artists, art directors, casting directors, brand directors, creators, CEOs, set designers, this list goes on. If fashion is an integral part of culture, let’s actually involve, listen, pay and respect the culture.
You know I recycled a lot of magazines this summer. It felt good to have them gone. Making room for the future.