28 Feb 2024 ///

Kristi Vlok’s Love Affair With The Feminine Experience

I am always interested in how creative people arrived at the confluence of their practice. In fashion, this is always particularly interesting, as invariably most people arrive in the industry with a completely different background. Well, at least the most intriguing – Vivienne Westwood was a school teacher, Virgil Abloh was an architect – Raf Simons was an industrial and furniture design graduate. As if pulled in by a sartorial orbit, I think it was i-D Magazine’s founder Terry Jones who once remarked that he ‘rarely ever hired graduate students from fashion schools’ because they had been taught too much about how to think regarding ‘fashion’ than – well, the breadth and depth of existence, and the inspiration that can be derived from all of life’s messy, strange crevices and crannies. So, it came as no surprise to me that one of South Africa’s most thoughtful and considered stylists, Kristi Vlok, is a former actress, life-long theatre kid and film school graduate. Ah – the storytelling does run deep; and it shows in Kristi’s work, along with her innately effervescent and curious nature.  

“I did theatre from the age of six to eighteen – so studying at AFDA was intended to be a transition from a tactical approach to a more technical one, particularly in film. I want to hone in on storytelling which is what I’ve always been most fascinated with, and it’s only later in my life that I’ve realised that I actually prefer storytelling from my own visual perspective, rather than being a character or tool for someone else’s vision. I think this has informed the way that I can use images to evoke emotion and storytelling. I love that the images I create don’t require a context in order for the feeling to be grasped.” Kristi explains, whose work as a stylist has spanned from Vogue Italia, to Boycott Magazine – Rimowa, Vice Magazine, The Wall Street Journal – Calvin Klein, and many more. On when the shift happened – from performer to curator – Kristi notes that “it’s actually funny how it happened. I was working as an actress and I was deeply unhappy – which is strange for me, because I’m a perpetually sunny optimist. I ended up going to Canada for six months and I worked as a barista for a friend who’d opened up a restaurant. It changed my perspective entirely – and it made me realise that my life is less about what I want, and rather about what I don’t want, especially what might dictate the course of my life.”




I am a fate-believing kinda girl, and conversations like this one, with Kristi, truly reinforce my stance – that, what is for us, will always lead us towards it. Kristi shares that “I had been doing tests for agencies to just make some extra cash. It was only when a very good friend of mine – and very talented photographer – Betina du Toit, reached out to me and asked me to style a portrait. A couple months later I had work published in Vogue Italia, so it was a snowball effect, right time, right place.

The artistic direction involved across Kristi’s work relays a specific thread – which Krisit explains as “always feminine. My work is always feminine – across the spectrum of it, too” Fashion has historically made an effort of caricaturing women; as objects or as billboards for selling – reduced to seeking the scrutiny of the male gaze – Kristi’s practice is in intentional defiance of this. She remincises that, “femininity is so complex and one of my favourite moments, that embodies this principle for me, was for Thalia Strates. We shot on a farm up the west coast in scorching heat. We just had this vision of the model as a mother and the feeling of the leather and her energy – we had said in passing, ‘Ah, we wish we had a baby!’ and the owner of the farm, ran and asked one of the ladies who works on the farm to bring her baby; and she let us shoot her baba, in the model’s arms. It was this beautiful moment of motherhood – and the right time, the right place and intention.”

Kristi’s work embodies a kind of softness surrounded by light, colour and form; even within these variables, there is a nod the Feminine Principle – the creative force from where all life born, “light is very important to me – from how I shoot my own photography, to how I layout my apartment! I find a lot of inspiration in the mundane aspects of life – something as simple as a light flickering on the side of the road can become cinematic for me. I can definitely attribute that way of perceiving, to having studied film.” I ask Kristi then, what would she describe as her muse? “I love women! They are my muse. I think we are the most incredible, strong – phenomenal creatures. Especially older women; I feel we have so much to learn from them. There’s such a focus on youth and this “social media sameness prototype” and I think we have to return to embracing ageing – and how powerful it is to grow older. The older I get, the more inspired I become.”




Kristi is the kind of creator whose emphasis is on style over trends is evident. Asking about how her process has informed one of her most magical moments – of arriving precisely at the point of a good idea that ended up better articulated than she had imagined – Kristi says that, “there’s so much magic that happens when you’re on set and the right model steps on – or an unexpected moment unfolds. A lot of my work has had those moments.” and that “one of the things I am most proud of is the project I did for Rethread, which we put together in like six hours. We shot it in lockdown and there were so many limitations – but we just happened to find the perfect faces. We decided to go for a punk influence – and the make-up was inspired by Vivienne Westwood’s friend, the late Pamela Rooke (known as Jordan) who had this amazing signature eye makeup, which was very sexual and abrasive, but still with a softness. The night before, I had no idea what props I wanted to use and I had the idea of the taxidermy. A very good friend of mine collects taxidermy – so it became a crocodile on a safety-pin leash with a diamante collar! We named the crocodile Debbie, after Debbie Harry.” The principles of a punk attitude are guiding stars for Kristi’s work – even in her most soft and tender work, Kristi uses notions of punk to resist any rigidity or sameness, particularly in how women are portrayed, and the how clothing can be used to tell the cerebral, complex nature of the feminine experience.

On the surprising nature of each project or shoot that Kristi is involved with, she relays how no outcome is ever what one might think – and that open-mindedness to the process is critical for continuing her work. Krisit shares that, Kent Andreasen and I did an editorial for Boycott Magazine and I had the fortune to work with the PR for Louis Vutton, Kenzo and Saint Laurent. It was amazing but the LV look got stuck in customs – so we could only shoot it two weeks later, and then we just pulled it off. It was emotional for me because it was one of the last collections that Virgil Abloh designed for LV before he passed away, and I got to hold this garment in my hands. We got the shot in like twenty images and it ended up being the hero.”




For Kristi, self-producing work as a stylist and creative director remains her single most important balancing act. As she notes, “I think it’s very important for us to take charge of our own portfolios. Self-producing work is key and I definitely work the best without any constraints – so, I need to make sure that I am doing that in between briefs, budgets and client expectations.” With a decade behind her – Kristi’s insatiable vision still has miles ahead. Kristi makes mention of a potential clothing brand in the future – to which I respond with a resounding ‘YES!’ – and then, the continued embrace of her love affair with life and creative expression – too many more visual stories that nourish us, Kristi.

Written by: Holly Beaton

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