Aware that styling is so much more of an art form than it’s given credit for outside of the industry, Vanna Youngstein pieces together outfits for her own characters she’s invented, referencing past eras in a contemporary context and purging them all into an aesthetic that is entirely her own.
Dressing-up rules are there to be juxtaposed and it’s all the more fun when gender stereotypes are slyly bashed. In a typical Vanna Youngstein set, an ethereal, freckled teenage model will be in tomboyish trainers, gold doorknocker earrings, a pastel toile dress with Marabou trims and a wry New York smile that says “you fuck with me, I’ll fuck with you”. It is overt girlishness with a cutting edge.
When she’s not working her skills backstage on an editorial, Ms Youngstein is busy making her infamous Cherry Baby t-shirts, which quickly sell out from her online shop as soon as a new colour edition drops. The graphics are a nostalgic Americana style and hint at an imagined 1990s teenhood; shot in a feminine bedroom with a sticker covered door as a backdrop, coy, soft-bodied brunettes are consciously employed to model the designs – interesting, real girls that you would see in the street, in place of generic, anorexic catalogue models. A refreshing sight in fresh clothing.
We caught up with the NYC based wardrobe guru to chat about what’s in her archive and how she’d style her own open casket.
Your Cherry Baby t-shirts broke the Internet. They’ve sold out everywhere. How did that all kick off?
I made myself a Cherry Baby t-shirt a few years ago because I simply just liked the two words together and it represented my style. When I wore it out, people would shout “Cherry Baby!” in the street and ask where I got it from, so finally one day I made a batch. Actually, I put one on Manon Macasaet in the Carly Rae Jepsen Boy Problems video that I did with Petra Collins and it all started from there, really. I imagined the kind of girl buying them would be some sort of ethereal, independent, girly-girl, but my first customers were actually men.
Are you gonna take the concept further?
Yes, absolutely, I want to do a capsule collection. I’m looking forward to having pinned down the total look in one collection; I am drawn by cult motifs like cherries, cherubs and smileys. I like simplifying them and honing them down into fun graphics. I’ve always wanted to have my own brand with signature pieces ever since I was little.
What is your drive to make your work?
I like inventing characters to shoot. Having a vision and making it come to fruition is the ultimate expression of creativity. I love designing for my own brand because it’s really exciting to create something that hints at a greater theme. Its so cool to see people respond so well to a product that I’ve made and to see how customers put their own style on to it and wear it in their own way. I think that my manifesto is to create quality product that makes people of any age, race, gender, shape or size happy when they wear it. I always include stickers and little gifts within the packages I send out and encourage customers to send me pictures of themselves in the shirts. That’s actually the best part of the whole process – seeing the pictures!
Do you have a particular character that you channel when you’re building a concept for a shoot? We’re picking up vibes of barely legal, 80’s boudoir, like a pre-pubescent mob wife.
Ha! Well, my ultimate muse would be something like a pre-Raphaelite girl who raided Marie Antoinette’s closet, hitched up her skirt, tied a hoodie around her waist, then threw on some trainers and went shopping at Claire’s Accessories. The world in my head looks like an underwater Miss Pacman. I really want to communicate my imagery, mixing semiotic references together and creating something fun and modern and fresh. I love styling that has an acute attention to detail and which is referencing the past in a modern context.
If you could give anyone a makeover, who would it be and what would you do to them?
Well, I don’t think she needs a makeover because I think she is great… but I would love to style Kylie Jenner in a different way. I would dress her in a Cherry Baby tee with two plastic hair clips on either side, a marabou trimmed cardigan, an anklet, Jiwinaia earrings, Adidas gazelles and a vintage petticoat with pink ribbon trim. No makeup though, only blusher and freckles.
You were born and raised in London but now live in New York; which do you feel has a better art scene, your adopted city or your hometown?
You know, ultimately, I think it’s less about the city itself and more about finding your people.
In a parallel life, if you weren’t styling and working in fashion, what would you be doing?
Hollywood! I would have loved to be an actress but I’m too shy.
Do you hoard props?
Of course. Yes. I have a vast collection of props, clothing and jewellery. I have thousands of hair clips, charms, scrunchies and always keep an eye out wherever I am in the world to pick up more. All of my accessories are organised into plastic boxes in divided sections. I look for inspiring items or imagery wherever I am. Right now I am into mall style friendship jewellery and I like to take traditional holiday souvenirs out of their usual context and use them in editorials or video shoots. I have been collecting this stuff since forever, from all over the world.
So, what is your favourite item?
That would be my mother’s dark blue velvet top from the 1980s. It’s completely off the shoulder and has a slight petrol iridescent shine to it. There is something so luxurious about velvet; the way it looks and feels is just unparalleled to any other fabric. It has a 1980s graphic generic shop label inside with the logo that says something like Hot Kiss with a red lip logo. The top itself is in perfect condition and it’s simple with long sleeves. I also have it in black velvet too. It is the kind of top that makes you wish that it were winter outside. I feel like a Palmer girl when I wear it. Thanks Mum!
If you had an open casket at your funeral, how would you want your look to go down?
I dressed Ally Marzella in the Boy Problems video in an open casket and I loved the look we created, so I would probably like to be wearing something similar to that. I imagine a rose pink 1980s Gunne Sax dress, which would be slightly off-the-shoulder and adorned with tiny bows and pearls. I’d pin my hair back with a rose hair clip and a soft half veil with tiny diamantes stuck on for a sparkle when they catch the light. Around my neck would be a gold locket with pictures of my family inside. I’d wear tiny gold and pearl earrings, my family gold charm bracelet along with my usual jewellery: I have a gold pinky ring that says Botticelli, which almost never leaves my fingers. On that note, let’s not forget the French manicure! Hair has to be in perfect waves. Beside me would sit my big teddy bear Sonny, a small bouquet of carefully cut roses and my embroidered baby pillow that has the words Je Suis Asleep on it.
You can check out Vanna’s shop – www.vannayoungstein.com