WE ABSOLUTELY ADORE Velvet D’Amour!!! So when she agreed to do an interview for us, describing her vision of Indianapolis as dotted with 50’s diners and delicious boys who don’t know how delicious they are, we couldn’t wait to find out more from this eloquent beauty, trendsetter, fashion icon, supermodel, photographer galore and storyteller magnifique! Her words absolutely flow endlessly like ripe pear juice down your neck making you want more of her succulent, warm words as they drip from her voluptuous lips. Yes indeed, Velvet D’Amour is a woman to be reckoned and respected, and yet, she leaves you with much more knowledge than you ever expected and still enough mystery to keep wanting more. This interview was so much more than we ever, ever hoped it would be and expected. We can only hope, as our special, delightful treat that you enjoy it as much as we did!
1. You are from the United States but now reside in Paris. Where in the United States were you born and how has where you grew up impacted you today?
I was born n raised in Rochester, NY and escaped to Manhattan as soon as possible. I was fortunate to live in a bucolic suburb where I passed my time pretending I was Pocahontas, when not dancing to HOT STUFF in my short shorts. But it is a very conservative city and I was never a very conservative gal. My parents were older when they had me, and I was the youngest of 5 kids. I would peruse their old photographs from the 40s and wonder how shoulder pads could ever have gone out of style?! I‘d watch STYLE WITH ELSA KLENCH, and I distinctly recall my Mom telling me my, “tastes would mature”, when she loved Ralph Lauren, and I LOVED Jean Paul Gaultier. My Aunts niece actually worked for Ralph and when my Mom and I would head to Clifton, NJ to visit her sisters, we got to go shopping in NYC, even visits Ralph’s headquarters, (not that that swayed me from my love of JPG and Thierry Muglar and Claude Montana). I was always drawn to the more edgy side of fashion. When I would show up at my high school after a trip to the city, everyone who was anyone was wearing preppy everything, and I would don lace or Lycra pants and floor length red satin jackets. I never rebelled through drugs or alcohol, it was always through fashion, leaving home in one outfit, only to change in the smoky girls bathroom stall upon arrival. I took college drawing classes when I was a senior in High School and had a show of my work which included contour drawings of nude models I had drawn there, and they were immediately banned by the Principal! I loved that Rochester was the town of George Eastman of Kodak, and my love of photography is certainly well placed. I managed to look older in my teens, so I would fake id my way into THE LIBERTY , Rochester’s hot gay club, my fag hag ways sealed at the tender age of 17,lol When I was at the club instead of being mocked for my individuality I was appreciated by my fellow edgy outcasts. It was 1984/85 and the AIDS epidemic was killing all my new mates, so this instilled in me a real sense of anger at the injustice that society leveled at people who were seen as different. Losing people during the glory days of my youth impacted me greatly, as the people I lost were such powerful ,magnetic individuals who seemed to live each moment with passionate abandon. I chose to honor their passing by making a pact with myself that I would revel in each moment and live with the same juicy, glorious fervor they did. And I have definitely done so! I’d say the overall feeling of Rochester, while it will always be ‘home’, was one of conservative judgment, and as such, like so many smaller town individualists, I found my way to Manhattan, Florence, London, Paris…
2. How did you come up with the stage name “Velvet D’Amour”?
I volunteered at an AIDS/HIV charity here in Paris for 10 years (before it closed due to lack of funding). One of the tasks was manning the safe sex hotline and we had to make practice calls while learning the ropes, and when I was doing this, the other volunteers deemed that my voice was well suited for phone sex work and started calling me ‘Velvet’, it stuck! The ‘d’Amour’ I added later, as Velvet wasn’t sufficiently drag queen enough for me. I came close to being ‘Crystal Palace’, as I saw a bus in London sporting that and thought, oh my what a lovely lil ditty! I christened my best mate, ‘Flying Buttress’ teehee. So if you need a drag name, come to Mamma!
3. How were you first discovered and how did you begin modeling? Photography?
I was discovered by Sylvie Fabregon at Contrebande models in Paris. They opened France’s first plus size model agency and I wanted to support it by testing the models since I knew most fashion photographers refused to shoot plus girls. I sent my work along with a pic of myself, as I figured I would have better luck getting to shoot the gals if I showed I too was a plus size woman. When Sylvie saw my pics she asked if I wanted to sign on to two different divisions of the agency, PLUS and WANTED, which was the ‘hors norm’ or crazyass looking folk sector. I couldn’t believe it, as I had always dreamed of getting signed back when IMG models showed interest in me at 21 years old. I never got signed then, because I couldn’t lose enough weight, I got down to 117lbs at 5’8 but in the late 80s that was still considered heifer status. So it was highly ironic that I was getting signed at age 38 and near 300 lbs! I considered it a personal victory for all the struggles that I went through to accept my body and the rollercoaster ride which yoyo dieting led it on. My photography was also linked to this struggle as I used it as a tool of both acceptance and rebellion. I would emulate photos I saw of mainstream models and get my friends to shoot me in the same poses, etc. I also shot numerous different body types and tried to bring the same sense of modern fashion to the staid arena of plus size so called ‘fashion’.
4. You have made comments regarding the US conception that skinny women are beautiful. What are your feelings about body size in relation to beauty?
I am not sure which comments you are referencing but the vast majority of public see beauty in ‘skinny’ simply because they are more effected by medias insidious influence then they like to believe. For me I feel that diversity is most beautiful, most realistic and most healthy. I love the idea of an emaciated looking chick next to a supersize model, or a model in her 80’s and specially-abled models and models of diverse ethnicity. I take no issue whatsoever with a size zero model because my best friend happens to be size 0 and she is constantly harassed for purported bulimia when in fact she is perfectly healthy but in fact comes from a long line of very thin ancestors. There are and always will be people who do not fit ‘the norm’ or what is perceived as ‘the norm’. I am an activist for expanding medias minuscule notion of beauty which they perpetuate in wild abandon whilst touting ‘good health’, when in fact it is a mind fuck, pardon my French, but this ideology of ‘perfection’ which permeates our society only serves to create a public which ends up hating themselves because 99.99999% of us will never come close to the capitalist driven ideal. For me, Beauty is about each individual honoring the innate splendor which they possess. Each of us is different, and that difference is something which deserves to be celebrated! It comes down to choice, you can choose to believe the hype, and feel like utter shit each time you peer at a magazine in the dentist office which shows you virtually the same model on each page you pass, each billboard you drive by, each TV commercial they show, or you can take a walk in a museum and see that each society will always have their icon of beauty, and it is up to the individual to say that it’s their time to shine, whether modern society recognizes their beauty or not!
5. Who are three women, dead or alive, who you consider true beauties and why?
I consider Mae West a true beauty. We have so many parallels too! We are both brassy women who love our curves and use them our benefit. I too eloped at a young age, she got her motion picture contract at 38 which is when I signed with Contreband (and got the lead in the Cannes/Tribeca nominated film AVIDA), she too fell in love with a younger man who was a bodybuilder. She is sassy, as am I! Overall, Mae West had quite a strong sense of self, coupled with a killer sense of humor, and that makes her a legendary beauty in my book.
As terribly unoriginal as it is, Marilyn Monroe for all the obvious reasons. A combination of well harnessed sexuality, a generous dollop of innate curiosity , coupled with a vulnerable fragility serve to make a delicious dichotomy which is very powerful, and very feminine all at once.
More modern beauties would include Kim Kardashian and Beth Ditto. I love Kim’s succulent beauty and I adore Beth’s revelry! If I owned American Vogue, Ellen Von Unwerth would be shooting them as we speak, preferably luxuriating on a recreation of Babe Paley’s Kiluna farm in vintage Mugler!!!
6. Three men, dead or alive, who you consider beautiful and why?
My love would be the most beautiful! He is French, of Tunisian descent and a very stunning bodybuilder. He is as sexy as he is sweet, and that is not always easy to come by, so I consider myself a very lucky girl to bask in both his inner and outer beauty.
I quite like Louis XIV for his outrageous decadence, and his dedication to the arts. Sadly the arts tend to be sidelined in our day and age.
I never much go for actor- modely types, but I suppose if John Malcovich, Joaquin Phoenix, and a young Nacho Vidal were to have a 3some, then I’d find their lovechild rather succulent.
7. What would be advice you would give teenage girls today regarding beauty, health and body size?
I would encourage teenage girls to be active, have fun with it, go dancing, swimming, create a roller disco party or have a dance marathon to raise money for their favorite charity, plan their own fashion shows with whatever they’ve got and be inclusive when considering who will model, try and avoid the judgment that often comes with the insecurity of adolescence. Really the sky is the limit when it comes to the potential of today’s youth and I definitely believe in the strength of the new generation. It’s important that they grasp how the popularity of one body type or size, will change with each era so they have the choice to become bitter and twisted should they not fit the tendency or they can choose to be revolutionary about it and love and respect what they have got and make the very most out of their own individual style. There will never be another You. Remember that kiddo!
8. Who are your three favorite designers of all time?
That’s so difficult! Just 3??? Well, I adore Thierry Mugler, JP Gaultier and I die for Mr. Pearl’s corsets. It’s an excruciatingly pleasant death.
9. What was the last book you read and what are you reading currently, if anything?
The last book I read was The Poets Guide to Life, The Wisdom of Rilke obviously by Rainier Maria Rilke. I do love me some Rilke! I’m currently reading BONK by Mary Roach. I had to read her book STIFF when I played the role of Avida, and she actually managed to make death hysterically funny, so just starting BONK now, bring on the tears, this chick makes you laugh till you cry.
10. Today, you seem to be more focused on your photography, which is amazing. How does being behind the camera differ from being in front of the camera?
Thank you so much! I’m so pleased you like it and I am in the midst of getting my photo website made, which is LONG overdue. I’m probably the only person in the free world without my own personal website, but I have had such crap luck with these so called web design people, that I took it to mean life doesn’t mean for me to have one. So the fact that I am actually getting a photo one up, is quite wonderful for me! I’m very excited to have one place which allows me to share my vision.
Great question! I think that for me I am much stronger in each of the two fields by working both in front and behind the lens. Being behind the camera gives me control, versus offering myself up to whomever I model for. It allows me to speak, and to share beauty which has a tendency to be overlooked. It gives me the power of making dreams reality. It affords me the potential of making someone see how very beautiful they are. I suppose some of my strength lies in taking what may be seen as average, if not ‘unattractive’, and bringing out the beauty that is there. Whether society sees that or not, is up for debate, but my experience is that the people who model for me inevitably see it, and the extent to which this seemingly subtle dance of photographer and model impacts their personal vision of themselves is exceedingly moving to me. It is a way of making a positive impact to both the individual as well as to combat how limited the current beauty dictate happens to be. I also shoot more mainstream models and I have a great love of fashion photography so it is liberating to partake in this world, which has tended to be more dominated by males, but now we have the goddess Ellen Von Unwerth and people like Bettina Rheims etc. So I quite like being a woman in a ‘man’s world’.
11. What is the sexiest city in the world? Sexiest hotel? Sexiest club?
The sexiest city is whichever one I happen to be in at the moment. Sexiest hotel would be a tie between the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, and Huvafen Fushi in the Maldives, and the Duvet club in NYC was kinda sexy.
12. Who are three celebrities or famous people you haven’t met yet but would love to meet?
I would have loved to meet Alexander McQueen, I was just devastated to hear the news, a genuine tragedy. I want to meet Ellen Von Unwerth over and over again,lol, but I guess she doesn’t count as I have already met her and of course the divine Dita Von Teese, she I could also meet again. But for not having yet met, I guess Vivienne Westwood and Steven Meisel are up there in my book, and I quite like Jill Scott. I like meeting people in general, they don’t have to be famous for me to be intrigued, its fun to discover new people.
13. What are your three favorite movies of all time?
Oddly enough, I am not very movie orientated, though I do have a penchant for popcorn and purple velvet chairs if that counts. I recall adoring Auntie Mame as I wanted each and every outfit she wore,
I caught Max and Mary and really adored it. I even ordered one for my Momma’s 86th birthday. Should be out in dvd this summer.
I absolutely love Betty Blue
Check these out! And of course being in AVIDA, makes it up there for me,lol. My preference is always to make versus watch.
14. What advice would you give someone regarding accomplishing their dreams?
I recall my Momma getting us kids (we were 5 kids in our family), some books, one was MANIFEST YOUR DESTINY and the other was FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANYWAY, not sure I read them all the way through, but I do believe that those are two primary componants to accomplishment. Many people are held back by fear of how people will judge them, and that is something that you can bypass, (oddly enough, the more you do so, the more respect people seem to have for you). And be aware that you create your own life story, it’s not because everyone has a 9 to 5 job, and shops at the mall, that you need to do so, you can live how aire you please. I have certainly had to take risks, and I suppose I live more precariously in some respects, then the folks whom I was brought up with in suburbia, but I wouldn’t change my life, the more daring I have been the better the results I have had- Go out on a limb. It’s important you listen carefully to what your soul desires, then you end up making your dreams come true, more out of passion, then painstakingly setting up some roadmap to success, it should be FUN. We have magic within us, but it is up to us to turn off the distractions, and close out the perfectionist ideals, in order to let what aire you have within you, make its appearance. So in short; You control your destiny, you will have to take risks, and it will be exhilarating to do so, manifest your destiny, feel the fear and do it anyway, and be not afraid of the judgement of others. Lastly, the more you give the more you get. It doesn’t take much to make someone else smile, a kind word or a fresh baked pie for a unsuspecting neighbor, bringing some bubbles to blow at the next office meeting, or shoveling the driveway for an elderly neighbor, no dream is complete without Love. Our world is now filled with such gratuitous violence that the more each individual makes a difference at sharing the Love the better off we are as a whole. Im sounding scarily new age at this point so I shall stop here, heehee.
15. You have commented that you love Korean food. What are some of your other loves?
Thunderstorms, being fireside when there is a snowstorm, the smell of burning leaves and freshly mowed lawns, American diners, Buffalo chicken wings and donuts, Country fairs, old homes (whose soul has yet to be ripped out), 70’s cars, 70’s a lot things actually, Funk, R+B, dancing, dancing and dancing in the moonlight, the skin of a roasted marshmellow, riding in the back of a truck with friends (admitedly this never happens in Paris,lol), the Eiffel tower when it sparkles, hot men who don’t know that they are hot, hot men that do know that their hot, men in general LOL, Louie Theroux dvd’s whilst snuggled under a fluffy duvet, traveling the world, snorkeling in clear seas, fresh picked flowers in an old pitcher, flea markets and garage sales, reading in candle lit bubblebaths, taking photos, having dinner with friends, getting a new corset, shopping on etsy.com, wow I could so go on, what fun questions you ask, my pretty!
16. Do you consider yourself “plus sized” or are you offended by that term?
I tend to use the word fat as it is being reclaimed, much in the way ‘fag’ was, but plus size, voluptuous, whatever, in the end I am never defined by any word.
17. You have said you adore tree houses. If you lived in a tree house, where would it be and what would it look like inside?
Ideally it would be in a Willowtree as they are my favorite. It would be in Seychelles, not that I saw any willow trees in the Seychelles but cest la vie. It would look like a thatched roof cottage and be covered in crawling, fragrant, pink English roses. Inside would look very quaint and grandmothery, shabby chic as they say. I would have made the dishes myself, the stain glass windows too, quilted the quilts, and all that. And most objects would be vintage, and walls filled with art, no two by the same artist. And you Indianapolis boys would be inside having tea and cake!
18. If you could only listen to three CD’s for the rest of your life and they couldn’t be mixed, what would they be?
Best of Mariah Carey, Best of Jill Scott and Best of FunkDisco (and it would have to include TO BE REAL, JAMAICA FUNK and HOT STUFF/BAD GIRLS)
19. Tell us something we wouldn’t know by looking at you?
Hmmm, that I just got back from living on a nature reserve in Zululand in South Africa for 9 weeks away from any technology, no TV, radio, cell phone, etc.. French folks would know as I was on a popular reality tv show each and every night, called THE CELEBRITY FARM (with folks like Bridget Neilson and Baywatch heartthrob David Charvet). I was pleased to have lasted 9 of the 10 weeks. Learned how to milk cows, got bit by a huge python, have a baby crocodile named after me at ZULU CROC, cared for baby Cheetahs, lynx, warthog, lamb, crocodiles, giraffe, pigs, nyala, bush pigs, bunnies, snakes, ostrich, lions, etc. It was astounding. I am proud to have earned my charity http://www.fondation-enfance.org/ over $72,000! I highly recommend South Africa!
20. What is next for Velvet D’Amour?
I am just fresh off the red carpet at Cannes, so still flying high! Now I am putting together my photography website, super excited for that to come out. I am also working on an expo of my photography here in Paris. I have 3 film projects ready for my perusal in NYC with the award winning Joe Spaid, hope to get to them this summer. I will be working on a cd of original music with the astounding Phil Broikos, also this summer as they are both New York based. I have started to create my own music videos which feature people who generally would not be in the spotlight, atypical muses if you will. I will be shooting a fashion spread with the astounding stylist Olivier Mulin, where I have chosen to feature a wheelchair bound model. I am in talks with an American TV producer so we shall see what that brings. But my main aim is to continue to challenge modern medias limited beauty ideal so that more people can feel beautiful. I will continue to revel in every minute I am fortunate enough to have. Carpe Diem!!!
21. On guys, what is sexiest…Boxers, briefs, jockstraps…or nothing at all?
Love ya Velvet!!! See you in the treehouse…And we expect a visit to Indianapolis soon so we can stay up late drinking bad coffee in poorly lit diners and show you just how delicious the boys here really are!!!
Eyes Open, We’re Watching!
(Dearest Velvet asked us to include photo credits and here is what she sent us…charming itself! God…we love her!)
1. MAYA GUEZ
2 FRANK ANTONIO
3 TED OTTAVIO
5 MAYA GUEZ
6 MAYA GUEZ
7 ILLANIT ILLANOUZ
8 PETRA PIKKELOVA
9 CHRISTOPHER PARRY
10 Some actor from SEX IN THE CITY, lol