Unwrapped: The Big Reveal

This holiday is no doubt free of the frills and distractions of seasons past, but that doesn’t make it any less impactful. With our UNWRAPPED holiday series, we explore the revealing, life-long lessons five inspiring creative duos have uncovered over this year in isolation and solitude.
Unwrapped: The Big Reveal

They say the answers come to us in the stillness, but truthfully, whoever had the downtime? It seemed unfathomable to pause, especially during the holidays, what with weeks of fuss and frills and plans and bodies clamoring all together. But this year, given we’ve spent nearly nine months indoors, isolating and combatting both a health and racial epidemic, we’ve found ourselves with nothing but time. It’s a flat circle these days and life has stripped away, allowing some of the biggest life lessons to finally reveal themselves--as they have for the five creative duos we collaborated with for our UNWRAPPED series.

Photographed in solitude, each muse and photographer pays homage to a year of revelation and newfound sensuality. The expectations for the holidays have become minimal--and that’s okay. The season still remains significant.

As UNWRAPPED explores in the following weeks through a collection of images and eye-opening interviews, a holiday without distractions or the noise of loud celebration allows for a new kind of energy to emerge and new forms of tradition towards self-reverence to take shape that can still incite joy and provide plenty of support.

We conclude by turning our attention to casting director Ania Jozwiak, whose journey as a first-time mother in lockdown, taught her unconditional love. Parenting in and of itself is an overwhelming life event, bringing about all sorts of feelings of joy, doubt, and fear. Am I doing this right? Do I know how to raise another human? is often the refrain I hear amongst new moms and dads--all of which are more than justifiable. But as Jozwiak tells us, she relished in the time spent with her newborn and isolation taught her a greater appreciation for family--just as hers was growing.

Here, Jozwiak--photographed by Sonia Szostak-- reveals why time inside allowed her to cherish every moment she had with her newborn. Explore the lookbook here.

Ania Jozwiak, New York, NY
Casting Director 

THIS YEAR BROUGHT MORE FAMILY BONDING TIME

“I became a mother for the first time this year. It showed me a new meaning of love that I didn't know existed and also to be thankful for the things I have--health, home, food on my table. All the things that we take for granted...I was never a very outgoing person, I am an introvert. but my new traditions are walks and enjoying New York.”



For our next subject, lockdown was a truly transformative experience. Not only did Alva Claire evolve from Londoner to a fully-fledged New Yorker, but the CUUP muse became a vocal presence in the fight against racial inequities found in fashion while disrupting and diversifying Europe’s biggest runways. Photographer Liqiao Zhu, who captured Alva in all her glory, mitigated fears of needing to constantly be doing and found solace in the stillness of work shutting down. Read on to learn more.

Alva Claire, Brooklyn, NY & London, England
Model

LOCKDOWN TURNED HER INTO A NEW YORKER

“I'm sure lots of people will argue with this, but [lockdown] was a transformation into being a New Yorker. There was a feeling of ‘I don't want to go. Even if it burns to the ground, I'll still be here.’ It felt like there's a clear difference to those people that ran upstate--and fair enough, each to their own. I feel no one should necessarily judge too harshly in that period of time because it was very obvious that the lines were drawn in the sand: people that had money, people that didn't really want to admit the fear that they were losing control of the New York they'd always known, which never actually belonged to them anyway. It's that feeling of when the chips are down, it was like, ‘No, I can't think of anywhere else I would want to be. I'm not going to go running off.’”

TIME TO THINK ON HER PURPOSE AND MARK

“Some interviews I've had people are like, ‘What did you do with your time?’ The thinking was more important than the doing for me...I was thinking a lot about just moving to New York, what that meant to me, what my job meant to me. And I also was in the middle of a business transition, which was like, ‘Oh, I guess this is all happening now then.’ I changed agencies and it was just like, ‘Wow, this is weird.’ I realized how important my work was to me. I missed being on set with people because nobody is in it for anything other than they absolutely love it. I was also just reflecting on how much what I'm doing means to me and all the risks I've taken and how I need to continue to take risks and to continue to push and push and push.”

NOTHING ELSE MATTERED BUT STANDING UP FOR HER PEOPLE

“I was afraid, though. And I was afraid on a selfish level that everything I had worked for was going down the toilet. And it was really scary because you've sacrificed and built something that's very important to you. But then also I think that any Black and brown person living in America, or across the world, has a fight inside. When I went out to protest [in the BLM demonstrations this summer], it was like, nothing else mattered. That was when fear disappeared. I’d never felt that way before.”

TAKING THAT FIGHT TO FASHION

“The fashion industry just loves to pat itself on the back. ‘Oh, it's just such a great job...Oh, we're amazing.’ No, you're not. None of you are. It came to a place where I was like, ‘I'm no longer going to sit here.’ I continue to challenge situations around me and be very selective with what I'm doing, and think carefully about how I will not fit into the thing they want me to. I think that so many people's narrative stories and lives have been used to sell things without follow through. So now I just feel very strong and actually really looking forward to the future.”

WORKING TO CHALLENGE NOTIONS OF BEAUTY

“I just think there was a time where curved women in fashion [had to be] very smiley, always very pretty. Nah, sometimes I'm ugly. Sometimes I'm mean. Sometimes I'm not going to sell you my freckles. Sometimes I have a lot of makeup on. I have a lot of friends who are dark-skinned models, and they're like, ‘People are always just, ‘Oh your skin, your skin, your skin. We just want to see your skin.’ It's like, wait, ‘Well maybe I do want to do a full blue eyeliner, or maybe I want something else like a lash, maybe I want a wig, maybe I don't want my natural hair. It's still oppressing models to put them in these holes. And so it's important to me to constantly challenge that.”

CHANGING THE INDUSTRY ONE RUNWAY AT A TIME

“I will never forget walking out on the Versace [Spring 2021] runway. That emotion will always be so strong in my memory. It’s emotional for me because it's never just about me. And that's the point. Maybe I don't say it often enough, but things are so much more beautiful when they're not just about you. When I can remove myself, it actually makes me braver, because I think, ‘Well it's not about you. Get over your nerves. Come on now. You're not just doing this for you. It's for so many people, and this is so important. This is also going to inspire change in other brands, in other fashion houses.’ But it's just the beginning. It feels to me like consistency. And that's what I want to see, I want to see consistency, and I want to see growth. For each season, I want to see that changing and pushing. Because if you are changing the body diversity on the runway, the dress I wore for Versace can then be worn by a different curve model inside the magazines, inside Vogue, inside these spaces that have excluded--and not only excluded but hated bodies like mine. So the work for me feels like it's just begun. And I'm very lucky to have women that I look up to in my industry that also I think feel the same way. I think that it would very easy to just be like, ‘We're here now, we've done it.’ It's like, ‘No. You have so far to go.’” 

A MORE HONEST BODY POLITIC

“I feel like ‘Love yourself,’ is just a catchphrase. Nobody loves themselves all the time. I think it should be more about creating a healthy relationship with your exterior where you feel like you're a team. You're a team, and you're going through life, and your body can do amazing things. You don't always have to love it, but you can have a relationship.” 

Liqiao Zhu, London, England
Photographer

FINDING SOLACE IN THE STILLNESS

“At [the beginning of quarantine], I was terrified, and my self-worth went down because I thought, If I cannot take images, what else is there for me? Waking up every day and not knowing what to do made me feel a bit lost. However, acknowledging there was nothing I could do, and realizing that many other people were in the same position made me feel less alone.” 

TRYING HER HAND AT NEW INTERESTS

“I took all this time to try out all the things I wanted to do finally but never had the time to, like making clay figures, crocheting, acrylic pouring, etc., you name it. Every DIY video you have seen online, I have tried it out during quarantine, and what did I learn out of it? I am terrible at all of these things, but it was fun, haha! A few years ago, I tried yoga, but I hated it because my mind just wasn’t in the right space, so I took this free time and tried it again, and it just felt right. Ever since, I am practicing yoga every morning before I start working. Also, I would not have been able to binge-watch loads of Korean dramas if it weren’t for quarantine!” 

THE IMPORTANCE OF FAMILY

“This year has also made me realize that I might not have been the best daughter to my parents. In the past, I would forget to call them or even ignore their calls because I would tell myself I would ring them back but never did, so I started to make more of an effort to call my parents and beloved ones, and that did change a lot of things for me. I am now closer to my parents than ever, and whenever I feel lost, I just give my family and friends a call instead of living in my head or mindless scrolling through social media.” 

CHERISHING THE SMALL THINGS THIS HOLIDAY SEASON

“I’m not big into large gatherings, but I have missed the small things like going to restaurants or the cinema or seeing a band play and holidays and trips back to see my family. I have found happiness and comfort in simple things like cuddling on the sofa and watching movies, immersing myself in computer games, anime, books, and being creative. I have even gone all out for Christmas with a real tree and decorations, which I would never normally do, but this year has been about making the small things count and, where possible, making things feel special that I would have taken for granted.”

Explore the lookbook here.

Take UNWRAPPED’s fourth muse, Annahstasia Enuke, the next feature in our ongoing campaign. The Los Angeles-based multidisciplinary artist and model used quarantine and solitude as a time to reconnect and place a renewed focus on her original passions and grow community despite the distance. Slowing down, she was able to put more intention into her work, rather than forcing output. The world, she tells CUUP, can wait. While photographer Lauren Leekley, Annahstasia’s collaborator who captured the model in solitude for this project, began combining compassion and action to make sustainable change. Read on to learn more...

Annahstasia Enuke, Los Angeles, CA
Artist & Model

LEARNING HOW NOT TO RUSH GREATNESS

“This year has shown me how resilient I am. Almost none of the plans or goals I had, or most of us had, came to fruition because of outside forces we couldn’t control. That was a big thing for me: giving up control and re-learning patience. I was always an intentional person but this year inspired me to bring that forward into the new year. I saw how my intentional actions bore fruit, and all it took was having space and time to fully believe in what I was doing instead of rushing because I feel like the world is waiting for me. The world is indifferent; you bring what you want to the table, when you want, and when you can. There will always be people ready to consume it.”  

GETTING BACK TO HER CREATIVE ROOTS

“I had been neglecting my fine art practice for the last two years since I moved back to L.A. because I was juggling music and modeling, and between the two, I just didn’t have the time or money to get myself set up here. But when quar hit, I was actually very excited to have that time just to create. I certainly wasn’t bored. This year reminded me that I’m a well-rounded artist who can do literally anything I set my mind to. And not even abstractly but with my own two hands. I learned how to develop my film again, and I finished my papermaking studio at home, and I finally got a kiln and pottery wheel. Things have gotten busy again, but I hope the government shuts everything down again and extends benefits and SBAs so we can get Covid under control. I’d rather be safe at home making art…” 

ISOLATION AS A PLACE TO CONNECT WITH ONE’S BODY

“I’m used to spending a lot of time by myself. I think I’m a rather lonely person. So I learned in my teen years and early twenties how to love myself by myself; I learned to worship my body as the hardworking warrior that it is.” 

DISTANCE HAS BEEN HELPFUL IN BUILDING CONNECTION AND COMMUNITY

“I’ve been lucky enough to have built a beautiful bond with an amazing group of artists and friends this year, so I feel less alone than I’ve ever felt. It’s wild that it took a pandemic for me to finally come out of my shell enough to build community and make friends. This year is certainly the opposite for most people, though, and if you’re home and unable to see family or friends, my advice would be to put on your favorite party music and FaceTime your family and friends and cook a meal and eat with them while they’re all on the phone. Thankfully, these days it’s quite easy to simulate togetherness.” 

Lauren Leekley, Los Angeles, CA
Photographer

PUTTING HER COMPASSION INTO ACTION

“I read this quote from Susan Sontag at the beginning of the year, and it’s really stuck with me: ‘Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers.’ I’ve learned that compassion isn’t enough; that to truly care, it can no longer just live in my head and heart but in my actions. I hope to apply this by being an active member of my surrounding communities, using my platform to amplify the voices and causes I care about and supporting other artists and small businesses.”  

A RENEWED VALUE IN PARTNERSHIP

Quarantine has given my partner Mikey and me the chance to spend all our time together. His career calls for a lot of traveling, and every year, there are months we spend apart. Moving forward, I’m empowered knowing I have someone with who I can get through anything despite a hard year that has been so isolating.” 

LESS IS ALWAYS MORE--ESPECIALLY DURING THE HOLIDAYS
I look to my closest friends and family for support because they are whom I trust the most. Large gatherings have never made me feel sensual; it’s actually the opposite. I feel better with less noise and being able to focus on my craft and the people who are dearest to me.” 

Explore the lookbook here.


With uncompromising honesty, model Elle Dawson reveals in the third installment of UNWRAPPED how isolation this year allowed the muse to finally confront past trauma and her own reflection in the mirror. Sharing her story of abuse, coping, balance, and growing self-acceptance, the model is finally finding peace. Equally, photographer Donari Braxton, who snapped the empowered beauty in isolation, reveals how a connection and newfound interest in nature had a steadying effect during such a time of turbulence

Elle Dawson, Los Angeles, CA
Model

TAKING CONTROL OF HER NARRATIVE THIS YEAR
“I am a sex trafficking victim--or survivor, I will say, instead of ‘victim.’ I'm not a victim. I came forward about that. I had stage zero breast cancer at the beginning of quarantine. I'm now going through a breakup. So, there's been a lot of things. It has so much potential to hurt me. It has so much potential to get under my skin, and it has so much potential to put me in not the best place. But I have to make the conscious choice to be like, ‘This doesn't control me. These things happen. Life is shit sometimes,’ for lack of a better word.”

ON STANDING STRONG IN HER TRUTH
“It's been a lot to unpack. Whenever I came forward with my story--and this was three days before my breakup--getting blasted with hate messages on my Instagram and all of this stuff about like, ‘Oh, go kill yourself. You're never worthy of love. You're disgusting. You're this, you're that.’ It sucks, but I had the choice to see the other side, which was the really empowering positivity of it all. And then, once I had the breakup, those messages tried to get back into my head. And I was like, ‘No, this is where I have to take control. This is where I have to be able to be okay and to know that it doesn't matter what any of these people say because as long as I am on my path of being true to myself, it doesn't matter if anybody else thinks anything about what I do, what I say, who I am. If I know that I am stepping into something that is my truth and leading me to what is bigger and better for me and what helps me heal, nothing can stop me. Nothing can bring me down, literally.’”

HAVING THE DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS WITH THE WOMAN IN THE MIRROR
“I'm just tapping more into the self-care routines. ‘I've been having 30-minute morning conversations with myself in the mirror. I'm just like, ‘Good morning. What's up? You’re amazing. You're incredible. You're going to be everything that you want to be. You have nothing to worry about...You're good. It's been you and me since the beginning. Here I am.’ I've heard of [talking in the mirror] as a really good healing practice, but the first day it happened, I just knew to reach out to people I felt were really close to me. I started adding up the collective advice of, ‘Be kind to yourself.’ You can't control the way that you feel, but you can control the reaction to how you feel.”

GETTING IN (PHYSICAL) TOUCH WITH HER FEELINGS
“Whenever you get into those feelings of, ‘Oh, I don't feel good right now,’ instead of just sitting in it, you can get up and dance, or get up and go talk to yourself in the mirror and remind yourself that, ‘Hey, girl, you're worthy of love. This isn't something that you should be worrying about because you're amazing. You're beautiful. You are every inch of yourself, and nothing matters except for you feeling good about you."

EMBODYING THE CHANGE YOU WISH TO SEE
“I think that a lot of the times people try to say things like [talking to yourself in the mirror] is ‘disassociation,’ but it's like, ‘No, I'm reframing the way that I react to the things that make me upset.’ I still feel a type of way, and I still carry that friction with me. But how do I move through space, and how do I sit in space with myself as I'm processing those really complex feelings?’ Whenever you're going through many different things and trying to figure out how to feel comfortable, the only way to integrate them into your cyclical thinking pattern is by actually embodying it because that's the physical reflection. You have to be a physical representation of, ‘Okay. This is what makes me strong. This isn't what makes me weak,’ even though it hurts.”

NO ONE EVER SAID PERSONAL GROWTH WOULD BE EASY THOUGH
“I feel with everything going on right now too, it's so hard to just say, ‘Oh, I'm okay. Everything is okay. It's okay. Me feeling sad is okay.’ It’s not about not acknowledging how you feel. It's about just knowing and being able to say, ‘Oh, this really sucks, and this really hurts,’ but ‘I am growing into a bigger and better version of myself.’ I don't think that whenever a butterfly comes out of its cocoon for the first time it's, ‘Oh, this is comfortable.’ It's more, ‘What are these things? I have to fly, what?’ 

FOR HER, SUPPORT AND COMMUNITY START WITH SELF-ACCEPTANCE
“This is the first time in my life that I have allowed myself, honestly, to have friends. Not only to have friends but having more friends, people saying, ‘Hey, what's up?’ and me actually being able to realize, ‘Oh, my god. I can connect with people now that I'm not hiding behind all of my trauma…’ “I think that my relationship to support has changed because I'm in a place where I'm able to accept it, whereas before I wasn't ready to. I couldn't accept somebody giving me something that I couldn't give myself first.”

SENSUALITY IS THE LUXURY TO GO DEEPER
“I've always been a pretty forwardly-sensual person. I think what is sexy is integrity and confidence and how you look at yourself and how you walk into your space and smile and make somebody feel comfortable...I think that sensuality is a touch, where I feel like a lot of the time, sexuality nowadays tends to lose a little bit of that touch. Sexuality feels a little less luxurious than sensuality. I guess it comes with depth, sensuality. Sensuality is depth and perception. It's like the difference between eating Reese's peanut butter cups and fine chocolate.”

Explore the lookbook here.



Here, our second creative pairing in this month’s long campaign--textile artist and CUUP muse Cassandra Mayela and photographer Delphine Diallo. Detailing their life in lockdown, these dynamic women reveal the soul-searching, self-care, and career-edifying moves that surfaced once everything else around them finally slowed down.

Cassandra Mayela, New York, NY
Textile Artist

FINDING HER PURPOSE IN ISOLATION

“Having so much alone time was key to really dive into my practice, and understanding what it is all about, why am I doing what I’m doing, what is my calling...Instead of being so down by isolation, I took the opportunity to focus on the inside, and that was really important.”

THE SATISFYING JOY OF DOING THE WORK

“Hard work and staying true to yourself pays off. It’s a rather painful journey because there’s no room for procrastination nor lying to yourself when you want to achieve your intentions, but it’s equally satisfying.” 

THE SENUSAL APPEAL OF A HALF-DRESSED LOCKDOWN
“I think my mood oscillates between feeling strong and feeling rather lazy. I tend to wear sweatpants and sports bras and socks and then make myself snap out of it by dressing up a little more while still feeling comfy. My CUUP bras have been key for that because they are so comfy.”  

SELF-CARE GETS PHYSICAL
“I’ve started a more consistent self-care routine, so that has also been very helpful. I use Maison Quiquine’s buff scrub twice a week all over my body. I moisturize daily. I’ve been really pushing for those 12 glasses of water a day. And I take B12, collagen & Vitamin C every morning. Now that winter is here, I’m still figuring out my indoors routine. Dancing makes me feel really good, so I think something on that note. Also, I just bought a hula hoop!”

Delphine Diallo, New York, NY
Photographer

CREATING BALANCE OF SELF IS KEY
“If the world is such a mess, one thing that we have to be good at is to make peace [for] ourselves or accepting what we have [in order]  to grow and get through right now. I do my part and make sure that my frequency is up from doing my meditation, training, and cooking--to be involved physically in the world.”

THE POWER OF PATIENCE IN 2020
“My biggest flaw is I'm impatient. It was like, ‘Wow, I need to shut up! There are no chances anything is going to happen today. And then the next day…’ For me it was crazy because I got four solo shows [this year]. It was the peak of my career this year, supposedly, and then everything shut up. So I had to be humble again. ‘I'm breathing. I'm going to be humble. It’s not going to be this year, it is going be later. It's fine.’...The work that I did will not be diminished by the fact that I'm not doing it now. The work has been there for 10 years. And it’s not going anywhere.”

CAPTURING SENSUALITY AND THE EVER-EVOLVING FEMALE FORM
“I love to photograph someone whom I know. Cassandra and I met before, and we had a conversation before shooting. And I was able to understand the body, I was able to be the painter. This is very intuitive work. It's not just like, ‘Oh, I am completing the image.’ Intuitively I understand what she exudes. ‘Exude’ is a good word because it means the sensuality of a being, not an object. It's something that is new to the eye of the photographer….I didn't see the body of Cassandra. The sexualities are completely disappearing. A good example is actually My Octopus Teacher on Netflix...this octopus moving in the water and changing color. And when I'm watching the movie, I realized exactly why the movie was successful: Because the octopus is transforming. It could be like a woman, right? We can change forms. And women are actually changing form a lot during her lifetime.”

Explore the lookbook here.

Here, our first duo, muse Kelly Mittendorf and photographer Lauren Dacchache peel back the layers of a year spent in lockdown.  

Kelly Mittendorf, Brooklyn, New York  
Head of Community at Newness 

GROWING INDEPENDENT AND PATIENCE IN LOCKDOWN

“I left home at 16, but it wasn’t until this year, a decade later, that I started to take that on and proactively take charge of the way I exist. Professionally, romantically, personally, etc. I think the curveballs of this year helped me understand how to carve out space for myself and be introspective in a way I wouldn’t have been able to without a bit of outside help.” 

NO LONGER DISTRACTED, ISOLATION BROUGHT KELLY CLOSER TO HER TRUEST SELF 

“So I came ‘out’ this year - at 26, in the middle of a global pandemic, in a city where I knew very few people and even less about what I wanted to happen next. The enduring isolation that this year brought juxtaposed my previous experience of feeling like I was a ‘successful’ independent person. I couldn’t lean on social media for validation or distract myself with friends. When I was alone in my apartment for days on end, it was a lot easier to download a dating app and toggle to women instead of men for the first time. I could not focus on avoiding small talk because this big change and opportunity was the only thing I could think about. There was a separation between all of the aspects of my life, and I dove into it. 

That happened...then I cut all of my hair off, bleached it, and moved from Philly to Brooklyn. Because if you go from wanting to look like Gillian Anderson to also wanting to date her, what else are you gonna do?”

LOCKDOWN OR NOT, THE LIFE LESSON THAT’S STAYING WITH HER

“I feel like a lot of pressure has been taken off my shoulders, and I have more room to play. I’ve felt the most in tune with myself, the most authentic, and that’s probably the most important future carryover.” 

A NEW HOLIDAY PLAN? NOT PLANNING THE HOLIDAYS

“Sounds simple, but I’ve been doing things that I want to do. Seeing friends safely, not making plans, trying not to be too worried or scared of what others may think of me. A lot of my happiest moments this year came about serendipitously or coincidentally because you can’t plan for anything - that somehow made them all the more special and meaningful.”

Explore the lookbook here.

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