Photography Guen Fiore
Styling Yohana Lebasi
African-Australian fashion historian Kim Russell, aka @TheKimbino, dissects fashion—the present and the past, the good and the bad—on her cult Instagram feed. Here, at the request of cover star (and super fan) Paloma Elsesser, the two women sit down to talk about shopping vintage and how it feels to have your body vs. your brain on display.
On Paloma: VAQUERA top; VICTORIA’S SECRET lace underwear; CHANEL metal, glass, resin, and strass necklaces; all beauty by MAC COSMETICS.
Paloma Elsesser: It’s such an honor to be in con-versation! I feel like we have a very deep internet connection. Ultimately, what I love most about what you do is that you offer really valuable critique and insights into fashion that people often overlook. I’ve learned so much from you. I love your brain, it’s very beautiful, and mother, and all these things.
Kim Russell: Research is one of the things that makes me most excited in life. What actually hap-pened? How did this come about? I realized that was missing in my lane. There’s a few people doing it, but maybe they’re just honed in on one thing like Gaultier or Dior. I wanted to sort of splash it all over. Like if I see a movie with Robin Williams, then it’s like wow Arianne Phillips did crazy costume design for it, and suddenly I’m looking at old Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, all this stuff. I wedged myself in there and got lucky. Even sitting here now, I’m like, oh my God, this is the supermodel of our generation. When I look back in twenty years, I can tell my son, look at this cover story I did with Paloma. It’s crazy!
PE: I’m gagged. I like how so much of the work you do is centered in reference. It’s important, despite the lack of diversity or inclusion, to look back at the fundamental parts of design and creativity. I always revisit the theme of creating a reference. Instead of thinking on a fleeting scale, I’m like okay, at least I am creating a reference that we can always have, that maybe we didn’t have before. Like this conversation isn’t a given and now it will always be a reference between two black women in fashion. Hopefully, when your son is an adult it’s not so heavy handed. I think that we’re in a weird era where everything’s kind of a flash in the pan. Especially looking at this last season and especially with bodies. We moved away from extravagance, in body type and in identi-ty. Ultimately, you bring such intention and beauty to your critiques. I try to be as thoughtful as possible with shoots that I’m a part of when I have the op-portunity. If I’m naked, why am I naked?
PACO RABANNE vintage chainmail dress courtesy of Albright Fashion Library
KR: When I saw pictures from the issue, I literally thought, it’s so thoughtful and artistic and not just purely about fashion. There’s so much there. With the last few seasons, it’s easy to say, oh, you know, this is shit, or make a joke out of it. But recently more people in the industry who work on these things started to follow me and obviously I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but I think it’s possible to channel criticism into something constructive. You can still be funny and entertaining, but also positive. But yeah, the last few seasons, I agree with you. For me, there was a lack of body diversity. I don’t know how or if that will ever change because it’s so shameless. I’ve always been plus sized. It’s disappointing with even the brands who try to be inclusive, like McQueen, there’s only one person on that runway that’s plus size. It’s 2023, it’s time to just break down that gate. It’s easy to say but it’s harder to do and I think people like you do such huge things.
FERRAGAMO hooded dress.
PE: It feels like one step forward, two steps back. Obviously, I’m a very front facing person. I took the season off. I had to focus on some health stuff. My contemporaries in straight sizing take seasons off all the time. Why can’t I? I saw the consequences of that. Since I started doing shows, I haven’t stopped. I also straddle a lot of departments and have a lot of privilege, as a mixed black woman, where my fat sits, etc. It’s an interesting experience knowing that in high fashion, I’m a pariah and then in real life and within the plus sized community, I operate at such a privileged side of the spectrum. I struggled watching this season, for my own mental health, just taking a step back and seeing that there was an active slip.It’s hard when I’m constantly critiquing whiteness, fatphobia, and, also, participating in the machine of it, being a plus size black woman in the world who loves fashion but is often excluded. Why do I care about this when these people don’t care about me? I feel super grateful being able to find spaces and op-portunities and places where people care about me whether or not it’s predominantly sincere. Some-times I want to chin it so that everybody else can come in a little bit more. Fashion is really exclusive about the semantics of sizing, even if it doesn’t al-ways make sense. I always try to bring it back to like, I know what my ethics are, someone like me walk-ing that runway will be a value. I know that making that sample, it can go into editorial seasons and then other girls of my size or above will potentially have something to wear. I rely on that. It does something.
KR: You’re at the front line and it’s hard to partici-pate in an industry that is so opposed to everything that we are. Like, why am I talking about these col-lections? There’s literally nobody here who looks like me. I could never wear this thing that I’m gush-ing about. It’s shit to think about. Why am I gag-ging over something that they would never make for somebody like me, even if I could afford it? Some-times I don’t even talk about certain shows. Maybe this season, I just don’t give a fuck. You are trailblaz-ing though and creating a path for other people. I saw you wearing Paco in one of my favorite shots. I really love how you approach vintage fashion, there aren’t a lot of plus size women being able to indulge in that.
TRICIA VON MUSULIN lucite bracelets and ring.
PE: I fucking love clothes, I always have. I’m a girly girl. I’m digging through Goodwill, I’m on Posh-mark and Vestiaire. I love vintage. It’s not a super diverse past but it’s okay to just appreciate the gar-ments. It’s illuminating to now be on the side that has access to these clothes and work with stylists where we can make this dream a reality. Being a size 14 woman it’s not that effortless though. It’s a very considered experience. It’s because I’m like, the girls that get it deserve more than a stretchy dress. Or if it is a stretchy dress, there’s a really special shoe and a Dior bag or a great necklace. We deserve that. Fashion is about expression and freedom. It’s meant to excite you. It’s meant to provide you a world that you want to participate in. I want to be the old Céline girl this day and the old Dior girl the next. When I get dressed, especially publicly, it’s import-ant to be able to give that example to a girl who’s not thin and white. But if the thin white girls look too...as black women, we are always the reference. I have a growing collection of things that, yeah, weren’t fundamentally designed for me. I have tons of Junya and tons of Comme. I take it to my iconic tailor Tao, remix it and freak it and make it my own. Then the girls that appreciate Junya and Comme see it and think maybe I can do that too.
KR: Sometimes I’m on Ebay and I’m like, wow, that would be sick if I could just purchase this old Prada leather and fur vest but how can I make that work for me? I love that you just do it.
PE: I think it’s cool how you don’t really insert yourself into your work. You don’t really preface your commentary on your identity.
MISS CLAIRE SULLIVAN custom tulle and lace underwear; AREA crystal pyramid earrings.
KR: Yeah, my page really isn’t that personal. I want to create images that have artistic, powerful, posi-tive, moving narratives as well. But I’m not trying to be the face of a brand so there’s room to be hu-man. Sometimes it’s hard balancing everything. I’m fucking tired today. You’re not gonna get anything from me today. Do you like being personal on social media?
PE: I don’t love it, all the time. I’m an OG internet girly. I loved LiveJournal. I loved Myspace. Tum-blr. When I started posting on Instagram, it was my face and my style, but it was also weird things that I thought were cool and beautiful and then the com-munity I was hanging out with. I was already in New York, running around, partying, living my life. I nev-er really anticipated my career being so front fac-ing. I didn’t grow up considering modeling. When I started, I realized hinging any self-fulfillment on it meant disappointment. I had to bring myself in order to find my footing. Luckily, the timing worked in my favor. It was kind of the first major genesis of models opening their mouths. Currently, I'm Just not in a place where I need to open up about my struggles on the internet all the time. I have an amazing network of support and care. I’ve navigated my twenties on the internet and sometimes it’s super useful and sometimes it’s not. I think it’s important to keep some things for me when my face is all over the place. Like, my bare ass is on Victoria’s Secret. For you, your brain is on display. People are coming to experience your thoughts. It’s okay for your daily life to be your own.
KR: I think when people see too much of you, they see it as an invitation. My brain is on display, and I would hope that’s enough. And if it’s not, then you have to just jog on, you just have to just fuck off.
ALIX VERNET silver body sculpture.
PE: The motto I try to bring into every aspect of my life is, “What would I do naturally?” separate from, “What is strategic” or “What is the next per-son doing,” which I’m totally vulnerable to obvious-ly. We’re human beings on the internet and work-ing within capitalism, we’re always gonna think like that. This is what interrupts that psychosis for me. I’ll say it to my friends too. They’re like, what do I text a guy? And I’m like what would you say natural-ly, before you asked me? I’m down to help, for sure. But what would you naturally do? Do I actually want to go to this event? Right now, I don’t really feel like posting that much. That’s just naturally what the fuck I want to do. Sometimes I want to be in my bag and do money jobs. I really try to go with what I want to do. I couldn’t do that five years ago.
KR: That’s a healthy place to be. I’m always like, should I do this? I’m doing my first ever boutique opening for Valentino in Sydney and I’m hitting myself.
PE: It’s exciting! I’m very proud of you. You’re cre-ating the reference!
KR: I’m really excited. I do feel like the beauty/fash-ion space here is so limited, not just diversity wise, but there’s just not that many fashion jobs here in Australia. It feels at times really desolate. You see the same 20 people at the same events and they all look the same. I think that’s another reason why I’m nervous. What if they’re like, “you’re not what we were expecting.” But no, I’m the shit. People just don’t know.
PE: People in New York really do. We’re all obsessed with you.
RAF SIMONS sleeveless blazer, net bodysuit and stocking jersey leggings.
KR: There’s nobody doing what I do here. I’m Af-rican Australian, right? I know there’s models like Ducky who are killing it, but there’s nobody in my lane in Australia doing what I do. I had never been invited to Australian Fashion Week. This was the first year they invited me! I’m like, yeah, it’s about time. I think now is a good time for me to try to, I don’t know, dude, I don’t want to say make change because I’m not fucking Oprah, but to contribute in some way. So, I’m taking every opportunity I can.
PE: Text me if you need anything. I’m serious. One token of advice is just like, you’re only gonna have this first time once and I don’t mean relish it, but it’s just like, once you do it, it keeps getting better. Well, relish it of course, but also know that it’s just the beginning.
"I, Paloma" by Guen Fiore in HommeGirls Volume 9