RJ: Hi Velvet! Thanks so much for taking time out of your day for this interview! We’re honored to be speaking with you.
VD’A: Thanks. It’s great to be approached by a company that I have purchased from!
RJ: Where does your stage name “Velvet D’amour” come from?
VD’A: Velvet has been my nickname for ages, and it stemmed from volunteering on a “safe sex” hotline for an AIDS organization. When we were practicing calls everyone said that with my voice I could be doing a different type of phone work. And thus they started calling me “Velvet” and it stuck, so when I eventually ventured online, it was a natural choice to use and maintain a sense of anonymity. “D’Amour” just got attached as more of a drag name. I had christened my friends “Flying Buttress” and “Crystal Palace”, so I was bestowed the fitting “D’Amour” as I am all about love.
RJ: I have to ask about your role in Avida. I haven’t seen the film, but I loved the trailer! What was it like playing the character Avida?
VD’A: Ah yes, glad you liked the trailer. It is a highly surreal, very French movie, screamingly different than what most are accustomed to. It does not in any way spoon-feed the audience the story line… it’s more a visual journey that you have to be open to taking. What I like about Avida is that (with) 99.99999% of every movie we see nowadays, we enter the cinema already knowing the outcome and with Avida that is not the case. It was a great experience! I had a blast, and on top of it I learned a lot as an artist. The character “Avida” was quite different from me in some respects: the fact that she is an alcoholic and I never drink alcohol, she is quite brisk, hard-edged, so it was a fun challenge to develop that role. Then, that it ended up landing me on the hallowed “red carpet” at the Cannes Film Festival and over at the Tribeca Film Festival, appearing in front of the audiences, answering questions after each run, was literally “pinch me I’m dreaming” material! I’m originally from New York and got my college degree at SVA (School of Visual Arts – which has a great film department) so it’s just hard to describe how honored and damn lucky I felt to be there!
RJ: Do you have any other films in the works?
VD’A: I appear briefly in the upcoming French comedy La Baltringue (starring Vincent Lagaf). Then there is a writer/producer in Manhattan who has a role for me in his impending short film. But we need me to actually be in NYC for a spell to shoot that, so it’s conceivable that it will go down in August. Should be cool!
As far as other film work goes, I have had the good fortune of late to be asked to perform with a lot of hip French bands. So that’s rather unexpected, that
at 270 lbs. and near 42 years old I get to play “video chick”! (Artists including) ancy, Scarlett Queens, Neg Marrons, The Producers of Porc (asked me to sing with them at Glazeart!), and now tomorrow night they are shooting me for the 7 Questions music video, so I’m psyched to do that.
Also, recently I was approached by France’s number one Reality TV show Secret Story, which would have certainly made me famous, but I need to respect my values and participate in what I believe in. So there are a number of projects that I end up rejecting if I don’t feel they jive with what my intents are as an artist. That is the hard part, as roles for women of size are so few and far between, and the money (especially on this reality show!) is amazing, but what good is that if you come away knowing you are not true to yourself?
Apart from that, I haven’t an agent other then my modeling agent, so the work that comes my way tends to be more fashion- and less film-related. I should get my act together and find an agent but I tend to always have something going on, and sadly, that ends up getting put by the wayside. So, any acting agents out there, get at me! [Laughs]
RJ: What was it like posing nude for the Ron Arad Expo? Have you posed nude before?
VD’A: I have posed nude on occasion. I am very fastidious about who I get naked for, especially as the vast majority of work thrown my way tends to request that I appear/pose nude. So much so, that my friends and I were joking when Galliano and JPG magazine came calling. They will probably just tattoo my body with their logo and have me prance down the runway starkers. [Laughs]
I believe I said it best on my Model Mayhem model profile: “Notes on nudity… I’d say a good 99.999% of the artists interested in working with me wanna get me naked, not that I blame them.” [Laughs]
It is quite the odd dichotomy that as a society, fat is viewed with derision, yet should one go out on a limb and include a genuinely voluptuous model, nine times out of ten they will do so by harkening back to the Renaissance. Rubens and the like are seemingly our only reference point for a larger body. Given I photograph as well as model, I certainly have shot my fair share of nudes of all shapes and sizes, thus I understand the drive. Were Herb Ritts to come back to life, I’d greet the boy starkers. I have posed nude for DanieleIango, Rancinan, and in the film Avida, so certainly I do not dismiss all tasteful nude propositions. But my main reason for modeling is in fact as a political statement, that we need to diversify modern standards of beauty. If we continually marry the fat body with nude classics then we are hardly creating a revolution. It’s too easy. In a sense, one gets a different look and perhaps is praised for such, but if you really want to be “revolutionary” then why not do a fashion shoot with a bigger body, versus pulling out the old Botticelli standard?
As to my experience posing with the Rod Arad chair, while modeling for Daniele Duella and Iango Henzi I agreed to do so after requesting that I also model in a fashion shoot for them, explaining my reasons for modeling in the first place. They were very understanding, and if everything goes as planned I will indeed have the pleasure to pose yet again for them! When they specifically requested for me to pose, I immediately checked their work out and knew based on what I saw, as well as what I felt, (having met them beforehand for coffee) that I was very fortunate to be considered. The image they were striving to make was to be iconic, shot with an incredible archival process (costing a mint) and selectively reproduced. There is always a vulnerability to posing nude and it takes a mutual sense of trust between the subject and the photographer to do so. That sense of shared respect is what allowed me to graduate from Model to Muse, instinctively giving what it was they sought.
The funny thing is I felt more exposed without any makeup and my hair seemingly scalped, than I did simply being devoid of clothing. I felt (in looking at the images shot) that much more of me was in these images and that was unexpected. But then that is what is great about modeling… that you can continue to evolve as a person by taking risks and “feeling the fear and doing it anyway”!
RJ: I saw what looked like a fan-created SIMS character of you on your MySpace page. Have you had any crazy fans or stalkers?
VD’A: Ah yes, MyVelveT, that was my friend Thibault Guerin’s birthday pressie to me! You have to know Thibault for his mighty famous film Plastik. While he is far from a stalker I have, unfortunately, had the hideous experience of being stalked. Anyone unlucky enough to have suffered such a nightmare will relate to the fact that I want to say nothing further on the subject. It is an added reason to hold fast to my nickname. Sadly, my hometown paper refused to publish an extensive article they had done on me if my real name wasn’t used (despite my having dictated this term before giving any interviews, or doing the photo shoot!).
But literally every other publication (and media outlet) worldwide (including things like National Public Radio), have all understood and respected this. For the most part my fan base is terrific! I especially like the fact that it is now composed of equal parts male and female. I even have one very sweet fan who has sent me my favorite, See’s Victoria Toffee! If you haven’t tried that yet, you haven’t lived. Mmmmmmm!!!
RJ: I read that you started out as a photographer. How did you make the transition from photographer to model?
VD’A: Well, I would encourage any photographer to model and any model to shoot, because without that you are less sensitive to your art. I don’t perceive a transition as they both intersected in my life, having started to model and shoot back in high school.
But as far as being a signed “Model”, that came about when I saw Contrebande Agency was opening France’s first plus-size model agency, Agence Plus. I have always been active in the size acceptance movement and I saw testing the girls there as yet another way I might help out. Given that there are fewer female photographers, I sent my pic along showing that I too was a woman of size. When they saw my photo, they asked that I sign as a model in both the Agence Plus and the Wanted divisions of the agency. And the rest is history.
RJ: Do you notice a difference between shooting curvy girls and straight-size models? Do you enjoy one or the other more?
VD’A: I enjoy shooting period, be it a torn flower or a naked body. I find a great joy in the poetry of photography. My preference has always been shooting people, and yes there are differences in shooting a straight-size model versus a plus-size model. I am very drawn to high-end editorial photography and at the moment the style of posing is very inward, imploding, shrugging – a less bold stance and a lot of subtle, less structured poses. And yet there remains a negative space when shooting this style pose with the straight-size model because there is less flesh. If you shoot a more voluptuous model in the same style pose you can’t pull it off because there isn’t any negative space, so to try to be innovative and carry across a similar feeling while using a less traditional body type is a fun challenge.
Plus-size modeling is often relegated to a more commercial approach, catalogues etc., and straight-size models tend to have more experience modeling (for) editorials. I love shooting plus-size models editorially because it is powerful to show mainstream people that it can be done, and done with class, while maintaining the sexy edge that high fashion more often than not encompasses. Plus-size models tend to have more curves and an accentuated femininity, which is lovely to highlight. I also enjoy shooting much older people. I like shooting people who tend to be excluded by modern media. I have shot 600-lb. women in the same fashion that I have a 115-lb. woman. I don’t adhere to the ideology that beauty is thin, young, white, tall, etc.
Unfortunately, a lot of women don’t feel comfortable in their skin and the most powerful moments for me have been being able to transform their vision of themselves with my photography – taking part in revealing a beauty that may have existed without being seen – bringing that to light and watching how that millisecond in time can incite positive change.
RJ: Do you plan to stay behind the camera or continue work as a model,or both?
VD’A: I have been doing both for some time and I plan to continue. I have been very fortunate to model recently for photographers like Louis Decamps, Daniele
Duella and Iango Henzi, Ilaro Magali, etc., who have a great cutting edge quality to their work. Given how rare it is to view a model of size in editorial fashion, I feel privileged to use my modeling as a way of opening people’s vision of what they perceive as “beauty”. I do the same with my photography and as such, I see it as intrinsic to my life as an artist – be it as a model, photographer, actress, singer, dancer using whatever talents I have – to open the concept of “beauty”. So many people suffer low self-esteem and we don’t need to. By infiltrating modern media with a more diverse vision of beauty we make “beauty” more accessible.
RJ: What has been your most memorable shoot as a photographer?
VD’A: I suppose it would be when a woman I photographed broke down in tears when she saw the images and expressed a sense of disbelief at her own beauty. Every one of my shoots holds special moments.
RJ: And as a model?
VD’A: All my modeling shoots are a blast because I am a real “people person” and when you model there is always a makeup artist, hair people, assistants, creative people etc., and it’s always a good time. It’s really a small world. I had the chance to be invited by Camilla El Fayed to perform at the Acne Paper party at the Ritz. She had explained (that) her makeup artist would be doing my makeup, and what an amazing artist he is! When I arrived at the reception he was there and it turns out he had done my makeup for the Vogue shoot by Nick Knight that was, funnily enough, shot in the same hotel!
We had a gorgeous room above the bar to prepare for my appearance. And the stylist, makeup artist and I were out on the balcony, and I thought: here we had initially met backstage at the Galliano show, then he did my makeup for the French Vogue shoot, then later we bumped into each other at Jean Paul Gautier’s retrospective party – which happened to take place at the Olympia, whose lights were now shining just down the street from the balcony where we stood! And we meet up again back at the Ritz! How crazy – all these connections – (what a) small, wonderful world!
RJ: What is life like for you living in Paris? Would you ever move back to the states?
VD’A: It’s a common question I am asked and yet, being here for over 15 years now, it just feels like home in a sense. I can’t really envision moving back, though Obama being in office definitely tempts me. [Laughs]
What would be ideal is to spend a few months each year back in the U.S., which I often do. (It) just depends on what I am up to, but I get back often enough that I don’t feel super disconnected. I guess the main difference is how much TV Americans watch and how that is so integrated into life in general, so all the Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives jokes are lost on me. And more often than not when I get back and something like Entertainment Tonight is on TV, I tend to be clueless as to who all these stars are.
Then I do get accustomed to Paris-size proportions, so when I am asked which size drink I want with my meal I literally remember breaking out in laughter when the final size seemed that of a small bathtub! And for a few cents more you could wade in your drink as well as quench your thirst!
I do love decorating and the cost of homes there, compared to here, is sooo insanely cheap that if I could get myself a cute farm house complete with porch, or a cottage, or a cabin, and just have fun doing that up, it would be fun.
But when I do get stateside I inevitably visit friends and family. So after NYC it’s upstate, then Philly, then DC, etc., so (moving back) doesn’t make much sense… unlesssssss… I held some “plus-size summit in the wood”! We could have a cabin and do photo shoots in Hips & Curves lingerie by the stream, and hold “confidence” seminars on the back porch, go horseback riding, pick blueberries… all very On Golden Pond. But then that seems to be what happens when you live as an “expat”… the States teeter between “Norman Rockwell idyllic bliss” and “chainsaw massacres awaiting you on each corner”.
It’s easy to watch the news (you can, btw, watch Desperate Housewives dubbed in French, but I can’t stomach much dubbing, let alone the madcap 6-year-old voice they tend to use for women). So when you see the news, clearly it’s all “serial killer city”, especially when compared to France where violence tends to be more social – like the (employees of the U.S. firm) Caterpillar who, when they were laid off, decided to kidnap the bosses and hold them (hostage) until they got some compensation they felt their due.
Anyway, for now, I have the best of both worlds!