Here she is front row at Prada; there she is at the Met Costume Gala. You really can't help but notice Shala Monroque.
Her ebony skin, the unmistakable smile and of course her modernist aesthete have made Monroque the darling of international fashion media. Romantically linked to art world heavyweight Larry Gagosian, Monroque's ascension to fashion stardom was first dismissed as opportunism. Now, the creative director of Garage magazine and soulful blogger has eclipsed snarky criticism to hold sway as the global style crush everybody just loves to love.
Odette Dixon Neath (ODN): How does your Saint Lucian heritage influence the way you navigate art and fashion?
Shala Monroque (SM): Saint Lucians are very social. Both art and fashion are predominantly social; you have to have a keen sense of people, of being gracious along with being hard-working, and Saint Lucia prepared me well for these environments.
ODN: You left the island at age 20 so you would have had some fully formed relationships at that time. How do you nurture your Saint Lucian Shala?
SM: That's actually a tough one. When I came to the States, I didn't go back home for a few years and I was pretty much on my own. I have this one really good Saint Lucian friend who is not far from me in New York now. When you're travelling a lot, friendships sometimes suffer because you're never in the same place too long. It's one of the tragedies.
ODN: On your blog there is a very moving tribute to your grandmother Josephine. In opening those personal rooms do you sometimes feel that you are giving a little bit of yourself away, and how do you balance that with "It girl" image?
SM: With the blog I just go with my feelings. It's very personal. I'd written that piece a while back and one day just decided to share it. I think writers get nervous sometimes about sharing their most intimate thoughts but that's why we write. I come from a family that loves to tell stories. I've come to realise that it's inherent in Saint Lucians -- West Indians for that matter -- to tell stories. So when I have something to say, I say it, the way I know how.
ODN: Share your "Empire State" story.
SM: I moved to New York because I was bored in Saint Lucia, and also because I'd visited and really felt like New York was home. I lived in Queens with my uncle for a year and would do the two-hour bus and train commute to the city where I first worked as a receptionist at Daylight photo studio. I then figured that actors and models made a lot more than I was by working in restaurants, so I started at a small French bistro. I wasn't very good at waiting tables and soon discovered that I really enjoyed being a hostess. I liked meeting people and standing at the front desk of the hip restaurant, Man Ray (which in some small way opened me up to the world of art, as we had a bit of a bio about the artist). I kept on reading about the other artists of that era, like Duchamp and Picasso.
ODN: At what point did the fashion media start to hone in on Shala?
SM: I think it started when I began working for Pop magazine and I started going to fashion shows. This coincided with the street-style blog phenomenon and I literally walked right into it, unawares. At the same time, I was blogging for Pop and I think my point of view might have been a bit outside of fashion convention as I didn't really know much about the fashion industry at that point.
ODN: You are an interesting player in the complexities of New York style society. How do you think you are characterised?
SM: So far the press has been largely flattering. For Vogue's first annual Best Dressed Edition, I was described as The Neo-Classical. Somehow I suppose I put a new spin on old ideas and maybe that's not so far from the truth.
ODN: Still, your New York magazine profile ignited a lot of negative comments. How did your Caribbean heritage steel you against that level of criticism or, as we say in Jamaica, "bad mind"?
SM: It was hard, actually; it was a little bit harder than what I expected. I thought I was out there doing something good, but even that people will take and make something bad out of it. You just have to not forget yourself, who you are and what you're doing.
ODN: In one of the most perfect images that I have seen of you, you're standing beside Jason Wu, in a beautiful magenta gown and a turquoise turban. A woman in a turban is obviously going to get some notice, but a black woman in a turban has lots of textures and implications. Tell me about creating that kind of fashion code.
SM: I didn't expect you to ask that but that's a really interesting question, too. I think I do use that a lot, again, because I think black people are seen in a certain way. I think it's also important to use society's codes, as well, to get attention. Yes, I definitely, definitely do play with that. I wish it wasn't that way, but I understand what the rules of the game are and so I use them to turn it around.
ODN: So do you think they're in on the joke?
SM: I don't think so.
ODN: It's the perfect set-up.
SM: (Laughing.) Yes, it is.
ODN: How do you reconcile your public and your private lives?
SM: I almost don't acknowledge the public side of me, because I look at it as something almost that's not real, maybe. I was doing a couple of interviews last week and I guess I've now begun to see what people all see. I guess when you live your life you don't really look at yourself outside of yourself.
ODN: The SS14 collections are days away. Is there a distinctive element characterising each fashion week or are we at this stage just recreating from the same well?
SM: Fashion today is destination fashion. There's not much you can create, per se. It's always recreating. With New York I think it's more commercial. London, there's a lot more creativity. Paris, I think, it's trickier at first for younger designers. That said, I do think that the best fashion comes out of Paris.
ODN: Which collections typically excite you?
SM: Jil Sander, Rochas, and Miu Miu.
ODN: What walls are you yet to conquer in your career?
SM: I want to write more. That has always been my goal. Ever since I was a child, it was to write, and fashion kind of just happened. I hope to be able to use fashion to communicate what I want to say.
ODN: What would you say to a girl somewhere in Kingston or Castries who's probably thinking that her destiny is someplace else, someplace away from home?
SM: She has to really believe that. It is when we believe that it's not impossible. Learn everything about the world she wants to work in, and pay attention. Pay attention. Pay attention.
ODN: What's the best advice you've been given?
SM: My mother always taught me to respect myself, because you should start with that, with self-respect.
Shala Monroque's blog can be found at shalarabbithole.com/blog