Richie Shazam: Blurred Lines
Whether you’re watching as the model struts down the runway for brands like Namilia with long black hair and lashes, or listening as they describe their favorite beauty secrets over the phone, it’s clear Shazam isn’t from our world. Richie Shazam is an alien; an over-the-top personality that can’t be tamed, or easily comprehended.
Despite having manifested a life where walking beside Paris Hilton at a fashion show is just a regular Wednesday, Shazam remains grounded in what’s real. In recent months, Shazam has been working to bridge the gap between generations within the queer community by starting important conversations and continuing the online dialogue IRL.
“Conversation is such a big part of my life,” Shazam explains. “Online, I don’t want to give this air of everything being okay—I’m a real person going through real issues and I know so many other people will not only identify, but empathize.”
It’s that attitude that’s made Shazam’s voice such a powerful presence in the LGBTQIA community and on social media, where he’s incited important conversations about identity from all angles. On Instagram, the Guyanese artist shares photos from red carpet events just as often as posts about the experience of being a non-binary, femme-presenting person of color. In either instance—and both online and off—Shazam is one thing, however: “I’m just Richie Shazam—that’s it.”
VFILES Yellow Label top & skirt, AREA shoes, TUZA jewelry (right); Vintage jacket, Coach tights, Kenzo shoes, TUZA jewelry (right).
I’ve seen you described as a model, activist, and an artist, but how do you describe yourself?
Labels give me anxiety. Me just existing is a form of activism because I’m going against the societal, heteronormative mold of existence, but for me, I’m a multi-hyphenate Renaissance woman. My work transcends categories. I model, I’m an artist, I’m a photographer—my existence is not limited to one singular unit.
Time is such an interesting concept. We feel that we’re supposed to stick to one thing and it’s like, ‘No, we’re allowed to experiment and do as many things in our lifetime as we want,’ especially because we don’t know how much time on this earth we’ll have. If you’re not doing what you’re passionate about, what’s the point? Taking risks and being fearless and saying, ‘I want to experiment, I want to do something new and be free to express myself’—that’s a risk a lot of people aren’t willing to take.
How old are you?
I transcend age, I’m not giving numbers. That’s my new fantasy of identity. People get so hung up on my pronouns and I literally say, ‘I’m sorry, I just transcend pronouns as well,’ I used to be filled with so much anxiety about my pronouns and all of these markers of identity because it’s just this never-ending conversation. But I just demand respect. Be respectful of me, don’t be hellbent on trying to treat me appropriately by giving me a pronoun. Just treat me as you’d treat anyone else—with respect. When you demand that, people just get it—they’re like, ‘Okay, I got it.’ Next.
Were you always interested in fashion?
I was always inspired by the women in my life and embracing feminine aspects of myself. Colliding femininity and masculinity and learning how to be comfortable in that gray area was an experiment that’s been a lifelong process for me. Growing up in New York, I was very fortunate to see an array of identity, and I knew that I could see myself facilitating between many, and having this multifaceted identity. I just didn’t know what form it would take. As I grew up, I became more comfortable with not having to adhere to that societal standard.
Did you have people close to you encouraging you to embrace that gray area?
There were a lot of people aiding me in my identity politics and providing me spaces. I was very fortunate for the women figures in my family, particularly my mother. The loss of my mother when I was a teenager was sort of a stepping stone for me of me feeling like I need to take risks in wanting to embody the person I saw myself as inside. I really have her on this pedestal of beauty and transcendence. She struggled so much with health issues, and I saw in her that there’s a beauty in constantly wanting to have a face of courage and strength. That, for me, is so beautiful and tender and that’s something that I embody to this day—being very tender and caring and empathetic. Patience, too—I think patience is very beautiful.
Vintage jacket, Coach tights, Kenzo shoes, TUZA jewelry (left); Prada sunglasses & top, Sandy Liang dress, AREA shoes (right).
How else do you define beauty?
‘Beauty’ is this incredible term that is very complex. We see it one way, but my brain sees it in so many others. I’m very much a chameleon and I love transforming and experimentation. I think that’s a cosmic activity in itself, not being riddled with people’s ideas of you but rather, ‘How do I envision myself?’ And being around people that want to transform you, like, ‘Let’s play, let’s get into fantasy.’ Fantasy and reality are intertwined, and I’m all about that collision. I think more than ever that it’s no longer about escapism—it’s escapism, but making it real.
What does beauty look like to you within your community?
I think that beauty is something that needs to be reworked and re-examined within society at large. And my community—I think we’re the most beautiful. We deserve to demand, to overtake, the systems of oppression and rejection. So much of my work has been a direct result of constant rejection and repression by people who didn’t necessarily deem me worthy, and me just saying, ‘No, fuck you. I’m gonna do whatever I want to do. I know that I’m a boss ass bitch.’
A lot of brands—not just brands, but entities at large—are opening up towards us in regards to beauty and creating passageways for us to enter. But we have to continue to push, and by no means is it an easy journey. We have to continue to break down walls. I can’t talk into the future, but I know that what I’m doing now is something I’ll be doing for the rest of my life.
Now that you’re regularly flying around the world, how has your relationship to your hometown changed?
I have so much gratitude to the universe for facilitating my ability to travel and experience culture and identity and different ways of life, and having the IRL conversation. That’s been a lifelong yearning, to be able to see the world and actively engage.
I enjoy meeting people in their contexts and telling them about New York and having this self-reflective exercise. There’s a global understanding of trials and tribulations within the LGBTQIA community. We may be living in different circumstances, but we all understand each other. There’s this sense of, ‘Oh my god, I’m in this agonizing situation, but through this agonizing circumstance I’m still growing, and I’m still effervescent, and I’m still gonna be larger than life, because those are all mechanisms of how I have to protect myself.’ That, for me, is what keeps me pulsating: when I see my community shine.
What can we do to find acceptance from the places we come from and the people who raised us?
A big part of it is knowing your worth and standing up for yourself, and not accepting disrespect. Being our authentic selves—me walking down the street presenting the way I want to present, that comes with backlash and fear for safety and security. Me going back to my neck of the woods in Queens—that was one of the most anxiety-inducing days I’ve had ever. For me, safety and security, especially for people in my community, is a day-to-day thing. People don’t get to experience this on a screen on Instagram, but these are real things happening in real-life spaces. It’s a disservice if I don’t touch upon it.
Moving forward to make progress, practicing patience, I’m also not pointing fingers at people, like, ‘Oh you hate me.’ It’s not that I want to understand where they’re coming from, but I do want them to know that I exist, and I want them to know that I’m not going anywhere and that I’m going to continue to live and breathe. Whether or not you want to understand, that is no longer my issue. So much of it is about building up yourself and building up your character, and meditating on these things.
The Blonds bodysuit, vintage glove (left); VFILES Yellow Label top & skirt, AREA shoes, TUZA jewelry (right).
What do you think of the internet as a means of facilitating conversation and connecting the community?
I think it’s a powerful tool because it unites people and gives them food for thought, but it’s debilitating at the same time, because if you’re not actively interacting with a community that you don’t know, those things need to happen tangibly in IRL spaces. So, I try to find a happy medium because I meet people all the time that are like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve never met someone like you!’ and it’s like, ‘Okay, we need to have these conversations and dialogues.’
But the internet is also this damaging thing that causes young people so much strife. One negative comment or any negative thing that comes across with people arguing or being mean to one another—it causes so much pain. The loss of young people is normalized, too. It’s scary. There’s so much discourse that’s being built, but I’m not sure if it’s being talked about in mainstream society.
Where do you draw inspiration from when it comes to your looks?
I’m very much inspired by the people in my life, but also the strangers on the street. My brain is a mental sketchpad. I’m constantly seeing people on the train and being so drawn into what they’re doing, how people are existing and what they’re playing with. I’m also very inspired by the tutorials on the internet. I get into really deep holes watching hours upon hours of makeup and hair tutorials. That’s been a really soothing thing for me.
Do you have any favorite Instagram accounts for beauty videos?
It’s just the ones on my feed—Instagram is so psychicly in tune with our brains, so now all my suggested pages are these beauty videos. I don’t even know who these individuals are, but I love them. They’re, like, the people in my life—I feel like I know them because I see them perform right before my eyes. And it’s crazy, because in these 60-second sped-up videos, you see them from start to finish, and they’re so beautiful, they’re radiating—they’re giving you this step-by-step journey, and you’re on it with them. I see myself in them.
I love looking at the brown, chocolate beauties who show you our faces are 30 different tones and matching it with the right foundation—that whole process is so breathtaking to me. Even when I’m getting my makeup done on a shoot, the glam team are always my best friends. Because it’s such a trust exercise and you’re in that chair for three hours. You become so close with them and talk about all these anecdotes and stories. And you’re trusting them to accentuate your cool and your beauty. I respect hair and makeup people so much—they make my heart beat. It’s such a magical skill to transform someone. That’s very much part of my general aesthetic—transformation.
So, for you, the performance of beauty is largely in the process and all the connection that happens there?
The beauty is in the process and I think that’s something that’s constantly overlooked or never seen. And now more than ever, with makeup tutorials, there’s such a consumer situation where it’s heavily branded, which can kind of override what’s happening. But my brain doesn’t even see that anymore—it’s merely what’s happening on the face and the skin and being in complete awe.
I’m trying to transcend those ideas because I want to use my voice through imagery, through discussions. Whichever way I choose to have my ideas be revealed, I want to show people that we are beautiful and that beauty is this thing that is multidimensional. I’ve been really fortunate now that the way I envision myself, I’m growing day-by-day and it’s a process of acceptance and understanding. And it’s not something that I have completely figured out. I want that to come across—I want people to know that we’re on a spectrum of development and I don’t want people to just see me in this one-dimensional light. In regards to beauty, I want those ideas to be parallel to that—beauty is multidimensional and multifaceted.
Assistant Beauty Editor: Sláinne Linnane, Photo Assistant: Josue, Fashion Assistants: Madeleine Shepherd & Janina Perez