NYU LOTD: Maria Belafonte and Eli Harper

‘At the end of the day, we’re all just playing dress up. So dress for yourself.’

Name Maria Belafonte

Age 20

School Gallatin

Concentration Art History, Film, and Art Direction

Hometown Venice, CA

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Name Eli Harper

Age 20

School CAS

Hometown Larchmont, NY

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Tell me about when you first started getting into fashion.

ELI HARPER: I’ve never really been into fashion, but I’ve always liked clothes. I remember when I was little, I would refuse to wear anything but these red pocket tees. I mean, I never read Vogue or anything, but I’ve always liked clothes, especially as I’ve gotten older.

MARIA BELAFONTE: Yeah, I think a lot of it stemmed from seeing old photos of my mom and my Grandma, and knowing that they had a really deep interest in, not even the fashion world, but just having their own style.  It interested me to go through different magazines or movies or online fashion blogs,  to gather things that I liked and put them together in a way that was my own. And of course, I was always a fan of the idea of working as a stylist at a magazine where you could use other people’s clothing, but have your own creative input and create style in a new way, in a way that hasn’t been worn before.

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Vintage Saint Laurent coat

How has your style evolved since coming to college in New York?

EH: I’ve always kind of had the same style, or mindset of putting pieces together. But what’s appropriate or socially acceptable in Westchester is completely different than in New York. Not in a bad way, a lot of that still reflects what I gravitate towards and how I buy clothes today. But there’s definitely a very preppy, New England contingency to Westchester. It was very much about shaggy dog sweaters and Brooks Brothers chinos, and I still love that stuff today, but I’ve always been more on the fringe of that. I guess the only way my style changed was that I was able to dress more freely when I got to college.

MB: For me, it’s different literally just because of the change in weather. My mom lives in New York and I would always beg her to let me come and visit family, so when I wasn’t in LA, I was in New York. So I had the ability represent what I liked in fashion, but show it differently on each coast. LA has such a laid-back feel to it, but I always felt that in New York if I wanted to wear something crazy one day, I could, and not get a second glance on the street.

The thing about New York is that you’re constantly stimulated by inspiration, seeing so many types of different people just by walking down the street. When I came here to college, I was able to really experiment with different styles, and emulate what I liked in a way that I could feel comfortable and push boundaries at the same time. Layering is key in that, you can’t really layer in LA, but now I can wear 10 different outfits in one because if you take off layers, it just keeps going. I think that New York allows you to experiment with so much more in the fashion world, that’s definitely helped my style evolve since coming here.

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Can you talk a bit about how you’ve worked with fashion in college and New York?

MB: Coming from LA to New York, I worked for the same stylist, Taylor McNeal, for two years. The first shoot she took me to in LA was for Vogue, and it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. It was so interesting and cool for that to be my first step into the world of fashion, so to speak. I kept helping her with more and more shoots during high school, and then I got lucky that she moved to New York right as I did, so I was able to continue with her. I think that’s where I gained an appreciation for vintage, because all she would do was pull from vintage stores, and find ways to tie old pieces into new trends. She could connect something from the 40s with something from today, and make it look brand new.

I found that really amazing. From there, I went into retail and now I’m working at Reformation. It’s definitely a different world working at a retail store, seeing people come in everyday and looking at new trends in what they’re buying. I have a deep appreciation for fashion, but also I’ve used it more to help me to grow into what I really want to do, which is art direction. And having an eye for fashion, you can use it in film, you can use it in art, you know you can put all of these worlds together and be able to look at everything with that eye, with an appreciation for style and putting outfits together, and translate that on screen or in art creation. It all ties together.

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EH: I kind of took an opposite approach. There was this shop on Bond Street that I always used to go to as a high schooler whenever I was in the city, and so during my first semester in college, I was  looking for a job, and it was my first instinct to go to this place that I liked, just a random place where I liked to buy clothes, and so I asked for a job there, and they were looking for someone part time so they said yeah. It was just me working at this shop, the boss was only there a few days a week, so it was pretty much only me running this retail boutique. I did that for a semester, and I was always really into this one brand that was carried in the store. I got to know the designers because they would always come in to check on their stock, and they asked if I wanted to intern for them and I said yes.

I never really aspired to work in fashion or anything like that, but the past year or so I’ve been interning with them. It’s just me and the two designers, and it’s cool because we’re very like-minded people in our approach to clothing. We’re not into the whole runway thing, we just like clothes and we like the culture surrounding it, not the “fashion culture,” but more the backend, the things that influence clothes. That experience has kind of shaded how I dress, I wear a lot of the clothes we design. I look at clothes differently now too, with understanding how everything works, and how an idea goes from a design to being made into a product.

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What inspires your approach to clothing?

EH: Everything, really. I don’t like style blogs, more just the people around me, particular clothing items, people I look up to. I’ll buy a pair of boots because they look like something Joe Strummer would wear when he was in the Clash, or I’d wear the black mock neck cause I’ve always really liked Apple products.

I guess the way I relate to clothing is that one item is influenced by my interest in an aspect of culture, and then how I put those pieces together is my personal style. I buy clothing items based on the things that influence me, but then after that point the way I dress myself is entirely my own. You know, the books I read, my wristwatch I wear because Andy Warhol wore it, all that kind of stuff. I like things because the people I respect and identify with like them.

MB:  I think it’s interesting because when I was younger I thought the only way to find style was to look at a blog or something like that. But I fell out of that so fast. Going into 11th grade, and continuing on from there, I have the same exact mindset as Eli where I have an appreciation for the fashion world, but I think it’s more about the backend to that world. It’s not like a jacket was made because; it was made because that designer looked at this art piece that he fell in love with, and then got this inspirational burst to create. Now I think I tend to look at fashion in a respect of a culture, I find a lot of  influence through art and films more than things I see other people wearing.

EH: Yeah, definitely.

MB: I think it’s more of realizing, wow 60s French New Wave is beautiful to look at and I would love to emulate that in what I wear. Or Woody Allen films, like  Annie Hall, you see those characters and it becomes more than just a movie, it becomes a way to look at how you dress and a way to look at the world through a character’s eyes. That film shaped a lot of the way I look at fashion.

EH: Absolutely. I think it’s cool to dress like the people you aspire because at the end of the day, we’re all just playing dress up.

MB: Yeah, I think it’s different today because there are many ways to be inspired with fashion, especially with like Instagram and all that. You see a lot of people just wanting to put on a jacket and be an Instagram blogger. I think that world is really removed in a sense from the world that we’re talking about, in terms of inspiration.

EH: Yeah, exactly, it’s important to dress for yourself. Dress because you want to feel a certain way or fit your mindset on any given day, not just to impress other people.  

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Vintage Helmut Lang painter jeans, vintage cardigan

Are there any words you would use to describe your personal style?

MB: I don’t think so, I feel like depending on the day it’s a different word.  

EH: Yeah, not really. I don’t think about it.

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Reformation pants

Do you have a favorite piece in your current collection?

EH: I have one vintage Helmut Lang denim jacket that I bought it off a friend a few years back,  and I’m like obsessed with it. If it were up to me I’d wear it every single day, but sometimes it gets cold.

MB: For me, it might be the coat I’m wearing, it was my grandmother’s. Being able to wear something today, that she wore when it was probably at the height of fashion, is really cool. It’s a nice feeling to feel good in wearing something that has a backstory, that has so much history behind it.  

EH: That’s definitely something interesting about clothes or items in general, when does something becomes yours? Especially with vintage fashion, it’s fun to think that this jacket was somebody’s at some point, that they had experiences in these clothes.

MB: Yeah, exactly.

I think that’s why vintage pieces are so fascinating, they’ve been around.

MB: We were talking about that the other day, how the majority of our closets are basic pieces and vintage pulls.

EH: I don’t buy anything that’s new these days, and not even from a “vintage is better” mindset, but truthfully  it’s just wasteful to buy new all the time.

MB: What goes around comes around.

EH: Anything you buy, you should look at it with the perspective of future vintage, what are things that you would buy back twenty years from now.

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Do you plan to work with fashion in the future, career-wise?

MB: I came to NYU with the mindset that I was going to go into fashion and honestly, being immersed in the fashion world more and more makes me not want to work in it as much. I still love it and have deep appreciation for it, but I want to use it in a way where I can have more creative control. I think that with art direction you need to understand fashion and art from the past, things that you can emulate through film and show in a character. Understanding how those aspects can come together and be used to create something new. For example, if mean you look at something like set design and you look at fashion, the inspirations are so similar.

It’s creating a environment, in a way.

MB: Yes, you’re creating an environment for a place or a person. It’s good to play around with using fashion in a way that it’s relatable, and appreciate why a person wore something, what’s the story behind their choices.

EH: Personally, I have zero interest in working in fashion. Somehow it seems I just keep getting pulled back into it every time I leave.

Do you prefer the business side over the creative?

EH: I mean I’ve always liked business, but the thing about fashion for me is that it’s just clothing. There’s much more valuable things to devote your time to in this life than the pursuit of fashion, because how you dress is great and everything, clothes are great, but at the end of the day there’s nothing to strive for or aspire to be with fashion. It’s just a a bunch of people buying really expensive pieces of fabric, it doesn’t change anything at all. I think it’s better to stop paying so much attention to fashion and just live your life. A buck’s a buck and I’ll work in fashion and if that’s the job offered to me, but really there’s so many more valuable things to be doing with your time. It’s just clothing.

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Someone who’s trying to find a voice in what they wear, what advice would you give them in terms of developing their own style?

MB: Fashion is this weird world that everyone’s drawn into. If I had to give advice, I would say that when you’re shopping or looking for something to wear, choose something because you genuinely want it to wear it, and not because of an ad with some superficial model wearing it. People come into Reformation and I start them a fitting room, and when I ask them what they put in their fitting room and they can’t remember one thing, I say don’t buy it.  Understand what you’re wearing, and why you’re buying something. Use fashion as a creative outlet

EH: Yeah, clothing should be an extension of yourself, not an extension of how you view other people. It shouldn’t be something outside of yourself. I don’t think the fashion world should be such a club, that wearing a certain brand or designer makes you part of some club. It doesn’t, it’s just clothing.

MB: Also, be inspired, but see how you can use that to create something new through yourself, rather than just trying to copy what’s on the rack.

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Featuring @mariabelafonte

Photography by @matthew.babcox

@ellcasado

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