Meet Velvet d’Amour – The World’s First Plus Sized Super Model!

 Adultsmart is proud to introduce Velvet d’Amour to our lifestyle community blog.  Velvet is the first plus-sized female to make it as a ‘super-model’ in Paris and is the founder of Vol Up 2 magazine which has an emphasis on curvy women, as well as those forgotten by fashion. Welcome and thank you for agreeing to participate in this interview.

Thanks! My pleasure.

Velvet d'Amour Interview
Interview With Velvet

You were born in USA and achieved a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the NYC School of Visual Arts.  What did you learn there?

Yes, I am a proud native of Rochester, NY. My major at SVA was actually Illustration, because I thought that meant I could make Fine Art and get paid for it, lol But in the end my focus tended to be on photography.

You spent a year abroad in Florence Italy.  What was the inspiration for you to spend time there?

I did. I adored it and it actually gave me the impetus to move to Europe.

As an artist, pretty much everything about Italy is inspiring, especially the men, LOL Realistically, the vibe of Italy suggests a time when artists were sincerely valued and art was incorporated into every facet of life. Each corner you turn is adorned in sculpture, and even when I studied there, you could come across a random opera singer singing on the street. They would have an evening where they made a never ending dinner table down the middle of the street, so everyone shares dinner together! Just living in a manner that feeds the soul through connection was inspiring.

James White Instagram

But I was very fortunate to have James White as my Photography teacher in Florence and he is so genius as a teacher, as he could see my passion for photography and he would be so supportive and encouraging. He even gave me a key to the darkroom, which was in this astoundingly beautiful centuries old building and I would spend hours and hours there developing my film and agitating my prints to life.

Velvet D’Amour Photographer

It is there that you developed a passion for fashion photography.  Tell us a bit about that?

I always had a passion for old photos, my parents were much older when they had me so I was always looking at these amazing old black and white pics from the 40’s and my love of fashion and photography initially stemmed from there.

In High School I took my first photography class, and it was fun to try to shoot fashion even at that early age. Then in college I would always peruse photographers like Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber, Steven Meisel and Ellen Von Unwerth, they were some of my favorites back in the day and their work definitely influences my own.

But as a Fine Art Major they forced us to take photography with a Pentax K1000 and I was so intimidated by technology that I had previously just worked with crappy little automatics, but when I managed to learn how to deal with the Pentax I really feel in love with the instant gratification that photography provided.

As a Fine Artist I was very interested in figurative studies so drawing and painting could take eons to complete a concept whereas with photography in the simple snap of an image I have made my statement. Voila!

And at the time very few women were fashion photographers so it was quite cool to delve into a subject that was formerly very much a male terrain.

Velvet d’Amour modeling

You then went onto the other side of the lens and started modeling.  How did this happen?

When I was in High School I’d go out and inevitably people would ask if I was a model because I was tall-ish at 5’8. So they had one of those Model Agency Scout things come to a mall in the suburbs where I grew up and I went and was told I, “had the face of talent” but at 140 pounds I was too fat to model so they suggested I lose weight. I had been competitively swimming for ages and so my body had that tiny waist huge shoulders thing and then I did shot-put and discus on track so let’s just say I was hardly the breakable Kate Moss flavored model of the moment. So I went about losing weight to try to get signed to an agency by doing a 500 calorie diet which was so not healthy, and since it was the 80’s and most models were on the cocaine diet, lol, I wasn’t about to be getting emaciated anytime soon, since your body can’t maintain 500 calories eternally. So when I started yoyo dieting I gained weight and I was having difficulty, as so many young women do, to accept and love my body. I read FAT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE and I went to see a therapist and I started to try to find examples of bodies in mainstream media that were like my own and there were none. Maybe at the Opera but beyond that, nada.

When I started shooting models who were signed to agencies they were the IDEAL, and yet I would see that they too were struggling to accept their utterly idealized bodies! So to me it was a bit of a mind-fuck putting it bluntly, that no women were loving their bodies! So given those two concepts, I started to use myself as a piece of subversive art through photography, by emulating the poses and flavors one would see in mainstream fashion magazines but with myself.   At the time it was considered exceedingly audacious but I was making a point.

Velvet Plus Sized Model

When I moved to Paris they had just opened the first plus size model agency in France, AGENCE PLUS, I knew that very few photographers were interested in shooting plus size models so I offered my services and I sent a photo showing that I was a plus size woman myself. They said they would like to meet me first as is normal for photographers but when I went in they said they wanted to hire me AS A MODEL!?! So while I couldn’t get signed to an agency as a young straight size model, I actually ended up getting signed at age 39 and near 300 lbs. We were able to use all the shots I had created as an artistic revolution as my portfolio and my book ended up standing out a great deal from other plus size agency models, as well as the fact that I was the fattest model ever to be signed to a model agency.

Agence Plus France

What was most exciting about this was that I had come to love myself and thereafter this gift of getting signed came along and that was such a lovely payoff to the self esteem I had worked so hard to build.

For most people this would be more than enough to occupy all of their time but you then became a recording artist.  When did you learn to sing?

Thanks!

I always loved to dance, and in high school they had a SHOW DANCE group, but in order to audition you had to sing. So being typical me, I was making fun of singing Opera and the teacher heard me, and said I had A GIFT! I ended up getting into NYSSMA, which is the best young singers of New York State, and was fortunate enough to spend a summer being taught by the best, up in Saratoga Springs, NY. And from there also studied opera in NYC and Italy.

In 2006 you starred in the film Avida as the main character Avida.  That must have been a hell of an experience! How did it come about that you got that role?

The very first casting I went in through my French model agency was for the role of AVIDA. They were looking for a very fat women who didn’t take issue with being naked. The nudity was part of the film as art and the role was quite interesting as she was an aging singer who had become quite depressed and wanted to commit suicide in a very spectacular manner. When I went to the audition I was able to sing some opera, which was quite fun and unexpected, lo,l but because they saw me as ‘too glamorous’ I didn’t end up getting the role!

Velvet VIP

So as a sort of joke, you get that I’m a bit of a jokester at this point, lol I had my friend take THE most unattractive images you ever did see of ME! Then I sent them and thanked them for seeing me as such a glam doll. WELL they ended up calling me back! UGLY PICTURES PAY DAMMIT! lol They said the person they had gone with ended up being more American than Belgian and I ended up being more Belgian then American so they went with me in the end.

I had a blast shooting it! The guys who made it are kinda like the Saturday Night Live comedians of France, very antiestablishment Frenchies, quite funny, always drunk and laughing and having an absolute BLAST while they make ART. So I had pretty much forgotten about it when they called me in NYC where I was at the time and they said THE FILM HAD MADE IT INTO THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL!!! Then it got into THE TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL!!! So freakindeakin cool man!!!

Avida Cannes Film Festival
Avida Starring Velvet

It is a very artsy film, if you like Jacques Tati you’ll dig it.

The difficulty is that there are little to NO roles for women my size in film and that really needs to change. I mean think about how many fat people you see walking down a street. Then think about how many roles in films, let alone lead roles, where they include a fat woman. How many do you come up with? Maybe, GILBERT GRAPE? And most all involve pure mockery not any real substance. So it would be awesome if there was more inclusivity within film making and not just hiring thin actresses to wear fat suits, etc.

What do you feel the main differences are between still photography and moving pictures?

I actually make videos for VOLUP2 now so I live that difference, lol I think the possibilities in film are overwhelming when one is accustomed to still imagery. Still photography breaks down a millisecond in time, it literally stops time, whereas film is like liquid motion it can tell a million stories in a million ways and editing it down can be a bitch. But it is the future of fashion. I am currently working on a submission to Nick Knight’s SHOW STUDIO which is the Mecca of all Fashion Films.

Global Fashion Studios

And I have to agree with Nick that it is the future of fashion. It isn’t stagnant in any way and because clothes move with you it is one of the best ways to showcase fabric which in the end is what fashion is.

I love both arts and think they both have their place in the world.

Then you played as the lead dancer at a Lionel Banjo piece at the Pallais Chaillot at Trocadero.  Did you have any formal dance training prior to taking this part?

I was very into volunteering to help people with AIDS and HIV and as such I worked for a nonprofit and was collecting donations which I was rather brazen about, lol.  So at a restaurant one night I asked the cutie next to me if he would like to donate and we ended up becoming great friends. We both liked Hip Hop so we would go to this tea dance in Paris and spend hours and hours dancing all night there, it was SO FUN! He saw me dance and he was the administrator for the well known Lionel Hoche dance company MEME BANJO and so he said one night that he may have a role for me in their next piece! SUPER COOL! I played the role of a vegetarian ogress, lol.  And it actually was performed at the coveted Palais Chaillot Trocadero! I about passed out when I first got on stage. But the most difficult performing is live theater, having 1000 people staring at you while you dance and act in French is beyond the realm terrifying but it made everything else seem easy, so I am so appreciative that Lionel took a risk on me. I was very impressive with the sense of inclusion the world of contemporary dance had. Their bodies tend to be smaller by virtue of the work they put them through but there was a wonderful lack of judgment, not only from the dancers but from audiences as well.

I actually started out with dancing for Lionel before I modeled. It was Adam Vidocvic who ‘found me’ before anyone else.

Velvet on stage

As an influencer and female activist, your message has been that using yourself as a vessel of change combating the stereotyping of what a woman should be portrayed by mainstream media.  Where have you been most successful in achieving this?

I suppose by infiltrating high end Parisian fashion through taking the runway for John Galliano

Velvet and John Galliano

and then Jean Paul Gaultier

Velvet and Jean Paul Gaultier

would be considered my greatest coups. That, and getting into French VOGUE being included in an editorial shot by Nick Knight was great!

One of the preferred images I created with Maya Guez was…

(image too small to publish)

But I made my point by actively working to be included in editorial fashion so modeling for iconic photographers like Daniele Iango… Kourtney Roy Etc. So I feel pleased to have gotten as far as I did to work with so many incredible artists.

Velvet and Daniele Iango
Velvet and Courtney Roy

Thereafter, I ended up doing a reality TV show here in France called, CELEBRITY FARM where they ship pseudo celebrities off to work on a farm. But I was so fortunate that the year they included me, we were flown to the South African bush to care for animals!!! I actually managed to hang in there for 9 of the 10 weeks so I ended up beating out the vast majority of other celebrities, and the best part was each week you raise money for your chosen charity so I ended up making around $72,000 for ENFANTS DISPARU which helps missing and abused children and their families.

Velvet Celebrity Farm

My favorite part was feeding the crocs! I did get bit by a snake but that probably happens every 15 minutes in Australia, when one isn’t being attacked by a shark, so I won’t end up impressing anyone on here with that ,lol.

You describe your photographic works as allowing you ‘to share beauty that otherwise may be overlooked’.  What do you most enjoy in taking an alternate perspective of beauty?

I most enjoy sharing the beauty that is humanity, because mainstream media completely ignores it, and chooses instead to create optical illusions in order to drive capitalism, versus celebrating the innate beauty that each and every person is blessed with.  I encore bucking the norm and changing how society views beauty so that it may be more encompassing.

People often want to denigrate imagery which is inclusive of fat bodies in particular, because they like to perceive any admittance of such as a ‘Glorification of Obesity’ and therefore UNHEALTHY. Yet the reality is, by including only images of beauty which are now utterly unattainable- for anyone really, there was a point that like, 1% of the human population who happened to be young, white, able, size 0’s, who were 6 ft tall existed, but now you have all that plus retouching! So now even those few can’t attain the current beauty ethic, unless they can walk down the street Photoshopping themselves. This creates so much self loathing, which not only fat people are effected by, but the preponderance of the population! So while the topic of Health is the number one reason people cite as their reason for prohibiting fat bodies from mainstream media, they never touch upon Mental Health. And that is genuinely a crisis in modern society.

I have had a look at your magazine and personally love it.  What is the general feedback you get from viewers?

Thank you! We are fortunate to receive really positive feedback. People are craving to feel represented and I genuinely try to include numerous types of people who fashion has forgot. Why don’t we ever see burn survivors in fashion? Did you know that burns are the fourth most common type of trauma worldwide?!

Velvet Models

Why don’t we see amputees?

Amputee Model

Or people living with Albinism, Downs Syndrome, Wheelchair-bound, Treacher-Collins, Vitiligo, Alopecia, elderly, different ethnicities, sexualitys, the list of people that we systematically exclude is fucking endless, seriously.

Velvet and Racism

But I aim to change that, to ‘be the change I want to see’ in my own very small way. I actively showcase difference and NOT in terms of shock value, (which is where you MAY see some different types of people included in fashion, an able bodied model posing in a wheelchair for instance comes to mind), its more an exploitation of difference then a glorification of humanity.

Everyone has flaws and in your magazine you encourage people to revel in their imperfections.  What a fantastic outlook to have.  Did you ever battle to accept any of your own imperfections?

Yes, sure I did! In the end the mere fact that I was in a position to worry about my imperfections is a privilege in itself, as so many in the world suffer just to simply survive and that I am very conscientious of that.

But there certainly was a time I hated myself mainly because, like so many, I was working inordinately hard to achieve the unattainable beauty ideal through crash diets, and doctors would give me metabolizers and appetite suppressants etc etc which only served to make me fatter ironically.

I remember after losing like, 80 lbs the hair and makeup people that I was reping at a Hair and Makeup Agent in NYC encouraged me to join a popular plus size model agency there. I went to the open call and was told that – my nose was too wide, my face was too long and my eyes were too close set. I literally laughed out loud! I just couldn’t grasp that beauty could be so formulated! Thereafter, I ended up getting signed by Agence Plus in Paris and made it into so many coveted fashion spaces that it just went to show there is no formula. Period!

But what I think is one of the keys to self revelry is to honor those that came before you. Why put more respect into a system that is setting out to intentionally force you to reject yourself, so that you will invest in whatever they are marketing to you, versus dignifying the millions of ancestors that came before you?

You are a successful woman that has done so much in your life.   Where do you see yourself in ten years time?

Thank you! I very much live in the moment to be honest, so not sure, but hoping to be living each day to the fullest!

 

Please find Velvet’s links here!

Vol.UP.2 Magazine
Facebook Vol Up 2 Magazine
Instagram Vol Up 2 Magazine
Facebook Fan Page Velvet d’Amour

 

Velvet d’Amour on Linkedin

 

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