By Vanessa Gonzalez|Dec. 6,2016
Vanessa Acosta is an LA-based Bolivian fashion designer, photographer, and stylist.
Vanessa and I met at a collaborators meeting for Shop Latinx Biz and as I perused her Instagram feed, I was immediately drawn to her work, artistry, and self-confidence. I was left feeling inspired and was eager to do a portrait session with her.
A week later, we met up at her home in Echo Park, where we instantly hit it off and chatted like old friends. Vanessa and I drove around, took some photos and spoke about her art, love of travel, her online shop Paragon Desert, and deep connection to her Bolivian roots. Below is a little glimpse:
Tibetan necklace purchased on eBay.
How do you manage each creative outlet, or are they all intertwined?
I approach each outlet in a different way, but all intertwine. Designing is where I puzzle pieces together; it’s more of a thinking game, a test and trial process. I’m a person who loves puzzles. Styling depends on who I am styling for, and it varies from minimal fashion to couture. I think that’s why I delve into styling because it gets me out of my own aesthetic box. If I’m given a specific direction, I like to challenge myself and create a style that is out of my comfort zone. Living in LA, photographers are everywhere. You can have all the equipment and knowledge, but you have to have the vision. I already have that artistic eye and mind, so I know exactly what I want when I shoot.
What inspires you to create? Talk to us about Paragon Desert!
Everything inspires me. As annoying as that answer is, everything has to inspire you. In design school, I realized that the smallest thing can create an entire collection. I keep my eyes open for inspiration, whether it’s an old building, or the foil I wrap my food in. Everything has to inspire you, or nothing does. There’s a spark that happens when that inspiration hits and you rush to your metaphorical drawing board and create. You never know when it’s going to come. Paragon Desert is my shop. It carries my indigenous/modern self-made designs ias well as vintage and clothing from around the world. All of my pieces are focused on culture from all over the world.
You often use the hashtag #liveauthentic. How would you guide someone looking to find their own voice or authentic self?
Always. Don’t try so hard to find your voice. I found mine when I stopped caring what people thought. I stopped trying to be inspired by a culture that wasn’t mine. I dug into my own culture to find my voice. It’s so simple yet so hard to reach that point. To know oneself so deeply and realize what that calling is. That calling is like a small little locked door that you have to find in yourself.
Your instagram feed is full of color and beautiful textiles. I’m very conservative when it comes to color but would like to start incorporating more color in my everyday life. What advice would you give others trying to do the same?
A lot of people always say this to me, and it’s this common habit that women have. “I love that but I couldn’t wear that like you.” I think people just need to step out of their comfort zone and have a little bit of fun. I’m always all over the place with my own personal style, so I have my phases where I wear subdued tones and no bright colors at all. There needs to be a balance. If you have all black clothing then throw some color in it occasionally. You don’t have to go from wearing all black to wearing the entire rainbow. A gradual process, a little bit of spice!
Portrait of Vanessa in Echo Park (Los Angeles, California)
You have a trip planned to Bolivia and Peru in January. What started your love of travel, and which have been your favorite places to visit?
The moment I was born, my parents set off on a road trip from Virginia to California. I was pretty much born on the road, it’s been embedded in me since infancy. I can’t describe it in few words, but when you travel to somewhere new, or into the wilderness, there’s this sort of excitement, happiness, freedom that you don’t feel when you’re at “home.” I’m addicted to that feeling. I traveled to India last year and it was too short-lived for me, I loved it so much I intend to go back for a longer period of time.
There’s a photo on your Insta that I love — it was from a recent peaceful protest in Los Angeles. You’re carrying a sign with the proverb, “They tried to bury us they didn’t know we were seeds.” What does this mean to you?
The older generations often tend to mute and push away the young generation. They look at us as if we don’t know, aren’t educated. We are the “lazy millennials.” They’ve underestimated our power, knowledge and fight for what is right. That proverb means they tried to keep us down all these years, but didn’t know we had been growing and rooting our own evolved ideals and values. Older generations are twisted trees that can’t be untwisted. They don’t like to accept that we are the future, and it is a very different future than they would have liked to see.
As a POC that creates Bolivian, cultural clothing, what’s your stance on the cultural appropriation of indigenous textiles?
There’s a very fine line between cultural appropriation and APPRECIATION. As a POC who designs with indigenous textiles, I have a lot of power on who wears it, how it is worn, etc. When I design, I don’t exclude anyone. I design for everyone. So if a POC wants to wear it and embrace my culture even though it is not theirs, then by all means appreciate the craftsmanship. If a white girl wants to wear it as well, same goes for white people. Just respect the culture, the craftsmanship, and the origin.
The delicate thing about “indigenous” inspired clothing and textiles is that it is already costume-y by nature. For example, Bolivian Tinku jackets are vibrant, colorful, gaudy, bold and can come off as a bit costume-y, but that’s my aesthetic. It’s not for everyone, but whoever wears it and appreciates it with me will work that shit like a champ. Ethnic clothing isn’t for the faint of heart, you’ve got to commit to it and that is why the people I collaborate with are colorful beings who like to be opulent in their life. That is the difference — people who culturally appreciate do it for the aesthetic, for the quality, for the history, it’s all appreciation. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is. But when you take my culture, and diminish it as a silly joke, then you lose the message and beauty behind a beautiful piece of clothing.
It’s all really about educating yourself. Just educate yourself and think before taking action. But I’m here with open arms to help anyone who needs it. And I’m a POC who designs very cultural clothing and has no problem having it be worn by all walks of life. If my culture is shown on many in an authentic way then I’m doing my job well.
What other brands do you support or keep our eyes on?
Right now, I’m really into small WOC businesses and jewelry designers. I am having a BIG jewelry phase. The last four necklaces I’ve purchased were all handmade by Native and or Afghani people. I’m into small beadwork, appreciating the work that goes behind that. There’s a whole community of us that are small businesses that sell handmade items with a cultural aesthetic. It’s a small community, but it’s there. Pachamama Bohemian, Sage & Brass, Inali Campbell, The Luxe Project…I can go on! There are so many great creators out there. It’s all inspiring and it’s what keeps pushing me too.
What’s on your playlist at the moment?
Oh, that’s a hard one. I am constantly listening to everything. Right now I am off to Iceland so I am listening to my Iceland playlist that consists of Sigur Ros, Adult Jazz, Moses Sumney, Animal Collective, FKA Twigs, Solange. I’ve created a whole vibe for this trip. Something I do for every trip I take. I always create a specific playlist because I like that nostalgic feeling that you get years later, when you listen to a song and you relate it back to that moment in time.
What projects do you have in works for 2017?
Too many to count. I am collaborating with some jewelry designers, magazines and traveling to South America to take my designs to a whole new level, closely working with weavers in Bolivia and Peru. I am constantly doing things, so as soon as I’m done with one project I am onto the next. It’s going to be a busy year!
You can follow Vanessa on Instagram @fromabolivian. She doesn’t disappoint!