Sarah C Prinz, independent director, and Arin Hayes, creative director of No Sesso share a meal and talk “WORTH”
East Hollywood, June 2019
Sarah C. Prinz = bold
Arin Hayes = Italics
*Many first names are used throughout this conversation, supported by visual assists. A full list of players are referenced at the bottom.
"Beauty both shouts and whispers
and still it explains nothing."
Sarah: Okay so let’s talk about this piece...I was at a point where I was like, "I need something that feels impactful. I need something that makes me feel like what I'm doing generates a meaningful experience, or it brings my friends together, creates family. I feel like it was the most seamless project. I hit you up. You guys were down. Every single person that I hit up… Chris, Cody, all... There's, like, 15 talent in there! They were down. It was a really meaningful moment of energy, and everybody being like, "Yes! Let's just do something for fun and fuck it up."
Arin: It’s really refreshing to just see something that I don't look at all the time, that Pierre doesn't look at all the time, in a completely different way and a completely different medium. Seeing all the different collections that we've done, all together, it's a culmination of our work within your work, especially because we gave you free reign. It feels so good to see it like this.
Sarah: That's what's really interesting, because very, very rarely, as a director, do you actually get full creative say. What was honestly the most inspiring and just warm-feeling thing was that you all were just like, "Cool. Do it."
My friend got me this poetry book for my birthday by Mary Oliver as a present, and there was a quote in it that I flipped open immediately to. It says, "Beauty both shouts and whispers and still it explains nothing."
Oh my God. That.
And especially because we are both ultra-queer people and identity being so... Right. It came at the perfect moment of this piece, where I was like, "That's what this piece is. It's about beauty both shouts and whispers, and still it explains nothing."
This sounds really conceited and narcissistic, but to be honest, [that phrase] has been my saving grace... I've been thinking a lot about the concept of vanity, and about how important it is. For a large part of my life, I always knew that I wanted to be in fashion, but of course I'm somebody that really cares about really hard, critical issues. I don't just care. I have done my research. I have the language to discuss it, especially being the intersectional being that I am. I am very comfortable with expressing myself and expressing my plight and also being aware of my privileges. To be honest, a lot of days I feel like I'm going to have a mental breakdown, but... When I look in the mirror I'm like, "At least I'm still beautiful." I know this sounds crazy, but understanding that really does ground me for the day, and allows me to go through things. Especially being a black, queer male, a lot of people try to take a lot of different things from me, and so far, that can't be taken away from me, and I know the power that that has.
I don't think it's actually vain - we are allowed to and should feel empowered to feel beautiful....
Everybody needs to understand their beauty, and everybody needs to be able to live that and have comfort in it. Your face is the very first thing that people see. How does it feel to not like your face every single day. That's discomforting. For some people it's a journey. I've been thinking about that a lot. I think it has to do with growing up, and especially me growing up in a Christian environment my entire life. I didn't have any awareness of my sexuality or anything, and it's not that I even fucking cared, but of course people tried to prescribe that on me. It’s just a part of the process. It’s about embracing it and being like, "This is a part of who I am right now, and I am not only comfortable in it, I'm going to celebrate it and you're going to fucking see it, and if you don't care, too goddamn bad." What we do, with No Sesso, we dress up, and I think that that's the entire ethos of the brand. It's beyond the politics. It's about you feeling good in these clothes... And of course, again, we have the knowledge and we have the vocabulary to discuss the politics of it. But at the end of the day, what it comes to is the visceral reaction that you being in these clothes, knowing who it's from, knowing that it's made with love.
"This is a part of who I am right now,
and I am not only comfortable in it,
I'm going to celebrate it
and you're going to fucking see it."
This piece is about power. That was, I think, what I pitched to you. I was like, "It's about power. It's about pulling your own power."
That's something that's incredibly important to us. Power, and not in a way to where it's greedy or crazy, but that's, inherently, that's what I am about as a person. That's what Pierre is about as a person. That's what No Sesso is as a brand. It's all about power. No Sesso is all about power, and again, we can never take away the fact that I am a black queer man. Pierre is a black trans woman. And so, especially for black trans women, especially now, where it's like, they're the group that is the smallest possible group in the entire universe, but they're also the most disproportionately killed group in the universe, and so that's something that I think about a lot on a regular basis, in terms of how we navigate things, how we show up in space. It's just about power. It's about being grateful to be in those spaces, but also being like, "Well, we should have been here a long time ago."
Stay true. We deserve it. You know what I mean? Regardless of our identities, but because of our identities, everything is so difficult to navigate. This actually makes me really happy, because I was just about to say, "Stay true to your worth," and that's what I've actually titled this piece. It's called Worth because it's all about self-value, and the choreographic motifs, if you take a look at the whole piece, in every scene, there's a different orientation of gravity, choreographically. So, like, Gigi walking on the walls. There are all these backbends. Voguing. Different orientations of gravity. Kicks, flips, on top of cars, in trees. Different orientations, like people in handstands, walking in the air. And it's about find your own path, walk your own walk, own your own worth, and find your power, and just ride that fucking out. Ride it out as hard as you can for as long as you can. And it's okay to be weak. This kid, Tay, in the backbend... Poor Tay. We were making him do so many backbends that day, but he was quivering, shaking... But he was in it. He was in it. Honestly, that first shot, when he super slowly falls back into this really dark underpass, but there's a shooting beam of light above him and there's also a light post coming out of his chest, like, "Find your light. Find your path." He was just living in the quiver. That's the fucking worth. And it's so hard to show people your process, or to show people the hard parts of things. We just always want to show them... Product.
Product. And I get it. It's really vulnerable to be in those places, and it's a really special place, like, really creating things, but being in that quiver-
That is where you grow.
... is important. Exactly.
And that's also, I think, really important to show to people because that's what's actually, genuinely, right now, relatable. Weakness is what I think people need to see.
"Weakness is what I think people need to see."
For the shoulder walk, we were in a garage and basically there's this choreographic motif in which I wanted to try to show as many different ways to shift our orientation of gravity, so whether that be with the camera, how we just saw the camera flip, or we see, choreographically, her walking on a wall, it’s this idea, coming back to the thesis of, "Own your own path, own your own walk, own your own power."
It doesn't matter what orientation to this gravity that we all have is, but own it and walk it and do it. So that was why it's important that there's all these specific extreme positions of the body in which they're almost experiencing an antigravity or a different orientation of gravity.
And then when Amiche comes in. Amiche is like our senior year of high school, where we're fucking tight. He's going through all these people, and there's more people involved, and he's doing a dance style that we don't see in the vocabulary of the movement at all in this film, except for that scene, and he's owning it. He starts by himself, and then he goes through this little trajectory of people, and he's just fucking owning it.
And the way that you shot it, it's disruptive to the movement that's been happening beforehand, but it's not disruptive to the film or to the feeling, and that's really powerful.
Amiche, to me in this piece, is like, "Own your shit. Have fun. Do it with color. Interact with people. Make community." And like, "Have some style."
One thing I want to talk to you about is, something that you said was about the idea of creating yourself. And I think that's really powerful in the queer narrative, because it's actually what it's all about, especially when you come from an upbringing that's really oppressive and inherently and very explicitly against you as a human being. The concept of creating yourself is super powerful. Having the space to create yourself and the power that that has. It's just like-
It's about a solo narrative. It's about showing up in a space for who you are, standing on the top of a car by yourself. It's about, like, Monty at the end of the entire film, by himself on that little rock in the middle of the ocean. You are alone in your own narrative. You are going to find yourself walking totally off your path. Like, walking on walls, doing fucking crazy shit, but it's your solo narrative.
No Sesso is about a lot of things. It's definitely about community, but it's also about standing out and standing out within yourself and being confident. It's about really existing and these places that's all about community, et cetera, but also being an individual and being really comfortable and grounded within that.
In terms of being a creative director, like you said, it's all about trust. If I trust you and if you ask me for some kind of parameters, I will give them to you, but for the most part I just want to see how you interpret our vision, because me and Pierre, we have this really weird syncopated mind.
You have to find the people that understand you and also, like we were talking about earlier, just about friendship. It's also finding people that can meet you in a new way every day.
We're all about the metamorphosis. We are very comfortable with us continually shifting, and that's something that... It isn't even a game for us. It's not a ploy for us. It's just who we are. We change our logo every single season. We embrace metamorphosis. Not only do we embrace it, we are metamorphosis. We're always about the constant change, and I think that that's something that's really frowned upon, especially now, when everybody's supposed to brand themselves and there's certain things that you're supposed to do to be a brand. But it's like, that's a part of our brand. We want to change.
"We change our logo every single season. We embrace metamorphosis. Not only do we embrace it, we are metamorphosis."
I remember, before I made this film, I was looking at your Instagram feed, and of course, the lines are all super different, but also just the way things are photographed are super different.
That's who we inherently are, and then we allow artists to have that space to just be like, "Well, let me just roll with it." Of course Pierre and I, we know what the No Sesso vision is for that season, but we also want people to interpret it in their own way.
Where are the spaces for interpretation? I think, the root of this, or how this conversation started, is like, there wasn't that much conversation. It was just trust and you allowing me to interpret, and me just being like, "What do I have to offer to this brand? What are the things that I've experienced with the time that I've spent with you? What can I take from those experiences, the way that I feel, and how can I put that in a film?" I think that’s really rare for brands to allow. I felt really clear in pitching to you, being like, "It's really quite simple. It's about people finding their power. It's about people owning their own path, finding their own beauty, regardless of anything, really. Like, owning their own shit.".
I approach things predominantly with the body. I'm very interested in the body and how it emotes story and how we can use it as a storytelling vehicle for a larger narrative about people and the things that we feel and the human condition, and multi, different facets. But I feel like, if anything, I approach stories in a way that makes people feel like they can live a little bit of a fantasy, in a way that's relatable, and that it's really about a personal narrative, and making people feel something, I just like to tell stories through the body because there's no language involved, so anybody can interpret it. Anybody can see it and feel something.
"Your identity does not validate your art. It does not validate what you're giving to the world."
It's about the way that Pierre and I navigate the world and navigate the specific spaces that we're being brought into with power. But also, even more importantly, it's about the power that people feel looking at our clothes, being in our clothes, and coming to our events, and that's something that I would have never, ever anticipated, but it means so much, and especially for who we are and the people that we actually do empower, that's what it's really all about. We want to empower people. We want to be making fashion. And I think that gets misconstrued a lot because of our identities, and everybody wants to make it a fucking mission statement, which of course I'm not afraid of, and I understand the importance of it, and I do want to be there for those people, but if I'm being completely honest, I know for both of us, it's about the fashion. It's like, telling a queer narrative, not because it's about coming out or being queer, it's about the nuances of being a queer person living a very normal life. Your identity does not validate your art. It does not validate what you're giving to the world.
Everybody wants to write a fucking article, but a lot of publications are falling flat because they're focused more on identity, as opposed to identity with actual great work. That’s what I feel like a lot of journalism is, right now.
It's very surface level, of these hot topics, but there's no actual human normal narrative in it. It's all very stigmatized... One of my best friends is in a writer's room, and there's cis males writing lesbian women... and she's like, "You're writing, just literally, how it would never go." Just goes back to that thing, there's not really, like, nuanced, intricate, intimate details about how these people live their lives being represented in fashion and film and all these things.
That's exactly why it's important for the particular community to be in charge of their own narratives.
"I'm into being open with every single person that is like-minded, no matter what your color, gender, or anything else... because we are all creating something."
Coming into working on a No Sesso film, knowing that you are a black-identifying brand, and wanting to properly represent that image and that branding, I was like, "Pretty much everybody in this film needs to be of some color." So then, what does that mean for me, as a white woman, being the director of this piece? What is that? How can I approach this in a way that is right? I had a lot of conversations about it, because it's not something I knew that I could figure out or wanted to figure out on my own, in my own mind. I talked to a lot of black people about it, and what they thought about it. Is this okay? First of all, do you think that's cool? I will never tell a narrative story about a black person's experience. I'm never going to do that. It's the same way that I feel hurt by a straight woman telling a lesbian story. I had a really long talk with a friend about this piece, and what it came down to is intention... if my intent is pure. Also, I will never try to tell a story I do not know. This story is a universal concept. It's about power. It's about owning your own power, owning your own worth. It's not about growing up as a black kid and then turning into a man.
You also did have the permission of, us, two black queers. I felt really comfortable in knowing that you weren't going to fetishize us in a weird way, which is something that I'm continually afraid of.
What's fetishize? Like, in a visual landscape?
A lot to do with media. Media is all about the clicks, and even when we went to Vogue, the very first thing that I said to them was, "I want to make sure that we're not in a space where you're using us for clickbait, especially now, because you're trying to prove that you guys are being so woke." Showcasing this brand that's run by this trans black woman and this gay black boy. That's not what our brand is about. At the same time, clearly you're doing this to make everybody aware that you're woke, but I'm like, "What the fuck are we getting out of this?" Nothing. And that's why I think it was important for me to, one, just become infatuated with you as people, and that's honestly the only reason this whole thing came to fruition, is because I was at your parties and I was specifically, at this moment, when this opportunity came, was in a really sort of like, "What is the meaning? Where can I find meaning in my life?" Can I be completely honest? As of a year or two ago, I'm finally coming into being like, it's not about, "Fuck white people." We're all God's children, whether you believe in God or not. We're all a part of the universe, so we should embrace each other. Not everybody is bad, and even though things are systematically are against me, I'm into being open with every single person that is like-minded, no matter what your color, gender, or anything else... because we are all creating something.
CAST OF PLAYERS
Sarah C. Prinz, Director @sarahcprinz
Arin Hayes, Creative Director @decorvm
Chris Emile, Choreographer @chrisemile
Cody Perkins, Composer @codyofthealgos__
Autumn Randolph, Stylist @mmmmylipshurt
Gigi Todisco, Dancer @gigifaye
Tae (Damontae) Hack, Dancer @__txe_
Pierre Davis, Designer @pierrehommes
Enyce Smith, Dancer @eynceson
Monty Colemand, Dancer (no insta)