Ava Nirui: "It’s cool to make people uncomfortable"
Where are you from and how long have you been in NYC?
I’m from Australia and this is my fourth year in NYC.
Would you say this is your home now?
NYC? Absolutely not. I love NYC, it’s my second home, but it is never going to replace Australia. I’m so proud of where I’m from. All Australians are.
The reason I’m in NYC is because there are not that many opportunities in Australia, fashion-wise. I was like, “I’m gonna be here for a year!” and now it’s been four. But Australia is definitely growing in the creative field. Before, there was no scene for anything creative for young people, but now it’s up-and-coming. Some of my friends that live there are phenomenal creative people and come up with amazing concepts with next to no media support.
What else do you do?
I work in fashion e-commerce full-time. On the side I write, I’ve done that for around four or five years. I’ve been contributing to Oyster magazine for about three years, and I also write for Dazed. I think I’ve been with them for about two years. They’re my favorite.
How did you get into writing?
I studied media and was always interested in it. When I was in school, my first internship was at a music magazine. I was writing so much for them, since it was a weekly magazine; sort of like a newspaper. It was so high pressure. I enjoy writing the most. It’s very emotional and personal, and I’m very opinionated.
I know you do a lot of things—photography, writing, etc.—but what did you start to do first?
I got my degree in media, and all throughout school I was interning at music and fashion magazines, and I was writing freelance as well. I moved to NYC as soon as I finished my degree, I started writing almost immediately. Then I got a job at Opening Ceremony, working in a lot of different things like e-commerce and contributing to their blog.
I started writing first, but it was frustrating collaborating with photographers, so I started taking photos myself. When I was younger, my parents got me an SLR for my 16th birthday and with that I learned that I hate taking digital pictures. There’s no element of surprise. I get it, but it's not my style. I don't like the norm. I started shooting film about 3 years ago as a side hobby, and it stuck with me.
What about your fashion? How did you get into all the cool stuff you do for Instagram?
Backtracking all the way, I’ve always been interested in fashion. My mom was into luxury fashion when I was younger, and when she couldn’t afford something, she would just buy a fake. She didn't care, which I found admirable. She didn’t really give a shit about the authenticity, it was more about the message.
Then, when I was working at Opening Ceremony, I met my boyfriend [artist Alex Lee]. He was really into bootleg like years ago. Before I met him, he would collect Gucci and Louis Vuitton knockoffs. He had a ton of matching sets, and I thought he was the coolest. People would think his dress sense was “weird,” but I liked the fact that he was an individual. This was fully before the streetwear and bootlegging thing exploded. He was always customizing sneakers, he had his own brand, and I asked him to work on a project with me. We made these little designer Barbie dolls.
I saw them! Did you sew the clothes yourselves?
Yeah we did, and they’re all vintage Mattel Barbies. The concept was to take Barbie out of her element. Barbie is a very culturally significant toy, but she was made for only one certain type of girl. She’s very feminine and she’s overly sexualised. We started making little clothes based on gender-bending designers that we thought were going against the norm. We made an Eckhaus Latta and a Marques Almeida Barbie, among some other contemporary designers. From there, I became more crafty and interested in the concept of a “fake.” I had all these materials from my mom such as luxury dust bags, paper bags and ribbons. I started repurposing them. I would do things like lace shoes with the ribbons, or cutting up packaging to creating new concepts. And that’s how it all started.
Do you do the embroidery yourself? Do you have a machine?
I have a machine, but for the Champion sweaters, I outsource embroidery. Those are really ridiculous. I don't understand why people are interested in them. I love them, don’t get me wrong—I love the idea of creating something crazy and tacky and generic, and writing “Chanel” all over it. Yes, it’s ridiculous — but they kind of didn't take much thought, which is the whole premise of the project: simplifying all these brands and making the logos super in your face and kinda tacky and catchy. It’s so funny, I’ve been making them for a year, and I’ve seen like 50 stores rip them off. It’s backfiring on me. [Laughs]
I sold them once, only ten of them because I wanted to see what would happen. I was getting a ton of Instagram DMs from people wanting to buy them and they sold out as soon as I put them up for sale. It’s hilarious, because I'm bootlegging brands and now other brands are bootlegging my bootlegs.
Why don’t you want to sell them?
When you start selling or mass producing things, they lose their value. I am not interested in being a designer and I am not interested in monetizing my ideas. I would rather just have one-off’s for myself, and if someone wants something badly, they can find a way to make it, just like I did.
Would you consider yourself a writer, then, if not an artist?
If someone asked me about my profession, I’d say I’m a writer or work in e-commerce. I’ve been doing it for a while. Instagram is a hobby, and a fun, non-serious project. It’s cool to make people uncomfortable and take them out of their element.
Do you get a lot of mean comments?
Sure. They usually come from streetwear kids that don’t get that this is a joke. They’re traumatized by the “It Aint Laurent Without Yves” era of bootlegs. But it’s fine, so am I.
Reconceptualizing and rethinking existing ideas is the whole basis of art and fashion. People rip off Raf Simons and Margiela for example, and no one ever points it out. The other day I saw that some brand had called out another brand for “copying” a sweater, but the actual original concept of the garment came from a Raf Simons collection. It was an exact copy!
What is one accomplishment you’re most proud of?
I guess not getting trampled on in this city, and getting a job; a real one. Also being in the New York Times. That was a great achievement. The New York Times is no joke. I’ve had Vogue and W magazines cover me before, which is incredible, but the New York Times is the most important newspaper in the world. The guy who wrote about me told me that he fucks with what I do, and that he really gets it, and that was a really good feeling.
On another note, I saw the Hot Cheetos shoe concept reblogged/regrammed so much!
I find this “regram” thing very funny. I always wanted to say this in interviews. So many repost accounts exist. Inspiration and meme accounts that just steal and repost content. I get that it’s sort of to create a moodboard, but if you have cool ideas and the capacity to create things—even if you’re not that crafty—you can make something original. Do it in photoshop, or draw something by hand; go out there and take original pictures. Go and create the ridiculous thing in your mind! You can be lazy and repost things and get a million likes, but that’s not what this is about. You need to put out creative and new original things in the universe. That’s the only way we can grow.
Why, at the end of the day, do you think people are really into your stuff?
Because it’s not so literal. My creations are not meant to be functional, necessarily. I fuse the high with the low, and repurpose mundane objects from the everyday. Luxury brands are something we’ve all grown up with, whether we are buying it or just seeing them, their iconography means something different to everyone. It’s a ubiquitous thing that resonates with all of us.
Check out more from Ava Nirui here.
Special thanks Bella Stewart.