Elena Ruiz | Will to Adorn Interview
Interviewer: Nyah G
Interviewee: Elena Ruiz
Elena Ruiz is a recent high school graduate of Oakland School of the Arts. Her focus was in literary arts, but while attending school with her I noticed her unique style. I knew she would be the perfect person to interview because of her unique approach to fashion and her captivating way of speaking. I knew she would also be able to express her identity in a way that others could not. In the fall she will be attending PRATT studying creative writing.
NG: What is the story or message you are telling with how you dress?
ER: I want people to know that I’m a fun, approachable person. For a long time people have strayed away from me because they felt that I was intimidating. Although intimidation can be a nice aura to give off, I feel like it has presented me with issues when it comes to making new friends. My style acts as an icebreaker for new conversations, something that pulls people in instead of drawing them away. I also want to tell people to unapologetically be themselves. Especially people of color, whether that be considering yourself an “alternative” person of color, or not. Being you and being confident in who you are is a beautiful thing that attracts the most positive energy. What you put out into this world is what you will receive. If my outfit is “screaming for attention,” in a way that I feel suits my personality, then I will receive the attention I want.
NG: What do you want people to understand about they pass by you on the street?
ER: I don’t want them to understand anything about me. As weird as that may sound, I think questioning can lead to so much more exploration rather than a depth of understanding when it comes to fashion. I want people to look at me in a new light, to question themselves and their beliefs. I want people to break their stereotypes when they see me, and allow themselves to increase originality in the way that they dress. Yet, I do want people to understand that the style I present to the public is very intimately mine. That although they may adore the way I wear my confidence, it took me a long time to get to a place where I could truly express myself and be confident in my body. My personal journey is nothing to be replicated or taken for granted. The way I shine ain’t free. I’ve had a lot of people in my life feed off of that energy in a negative way that made me feel like I had to evolve in order to escape the imitation. Yes, take influence from your style icons, but make sure you still feel like yourself at the end of the day, throw in your own flair, it then becomes that much more special.
NG: How does your African American identity play into your style?
ER: As most black children do in America, I had a desire to appeal to European beauty standards and those that lived by its ideals. Internalized racism is a brainwashing that never ceases to stop, end, or begin. By this, I mean that I do not remember a time without internalized racism. Since the day I was birthed there has been a plethora of ways in which the media, children’s marketing, and politics have tried to define who I would be as a black woman, a mixed woman at that. After leaving a predominantly white elementary school, going to an arts school in downtown Oakland that originally had predominantly black students was a big change for me. Art school was definitely a platform that allowed me to safely explore my identity through clothing. Not to brag, but I was probably the best dressed seventh grader. Only because at that age I made a conscious realization that my ideal self will never be able to flourish unless I allow it to. I also got a lot of flack from black people in my community for “not being black enough” or “an Oreo,” but if you never step out of the stereotype that people want you to be , how will you ever find out who you are beyond the politics? That being said, my style is still black style because I am a black woman. We are not subject to being one thing, one commodity, or one identity.
NG: How do the intersections of your identity influence your personal style?
ER: A big part of my identity is that I’m an artist. I’m a writer whose work mainly focuses on social justice issues, familial trials and tribulations, and spirituality. I’m a black, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Native American, and European woman who is the lead singer of a rock band. I was raised Buddhist. My perspective definitely dives into multiple cultures and belief systems. I like to bring all aspects of my identity into one creating a hodgepodge of past and future history. Being a black woman in rock music really helps me push along my agenda of making people question what they thought to be true. Rock n Roll is known for its anarchist nature, and no matter how cliche it is, it’s so important to remind people that being yourself without being sorry, or apologizing, or questioning it is probably the most powerful thing you can do as a minority/ person of color. Being a performer in a genre that is wrongly perceived as white, when it was created by black people, allows me to go back to my roots in order to shape who I am with the rawest sense of rebellion. You are a rockstar when you live unapologetically.
NG: Who is the audience you dress/create for? Why? Does a desire for approval play into how you dress?
ER: With the popularity of social media today, it becomes easy for people to tend to what other people want to see from them. A lot of people seek validation from likes, or from appealing to the audience that has been curated for them by psychological algorithms within these apps. This creates an addiction to the frequent validation people get online. I hate it! I absolutely hate it, because it creates an artificial sense of importance that clearly does not last as the person feels the drive to become even more active on social media to seek this validation. Then we lose lack of reality and what it means to genuinely be supported. Social media can be helpful for people who feel like outcasts, but how will you ever separate your real life identity from your online persona? Some people don’t have the confidence in real life to do so and that’s where the lines get blurry. I say we support each other in real life and stop giving out meaningless validation that undermines real work and importance. Do you for you and no one else, that includes fashion! I don’t dress for anyone but myself, if I dressed for other people I would never be satisfied. Dressing up for me is similar to writing in the way that it heals me, it helps me become my ideal self. No one can make me feel the way I want to feel besides me. Love yourself and game will recognize game, that’s the way love goes.
NG: What was an outfit that made you feel powerful?
ER: Recently I did a photoshoot with my friend Joey who is super open to creative input and crazy fashion statements. So I created a fusion of mob wife and 60’s housewife and HONEY, it was a look! I had pink rollers in my hair, 60’s mod makeup, a huge leather fur coat, pinstriped pants, and heels while roaming Downtown San Francisco. It generated many interesting looks and some compliments here and there but people were overall surprised to see this odd throwback walking down the street. I felt powerful because I held people’s attention simply by having fun and not being concerned about how people would perceive me. Captivating people’s attention generates a weird power dynamic. It almost feels like you could tell them anything and they’d do it because they’re so mesmerized by your originality. It feels good to be seen doing something you love, wearing something you love. And who knows you just might have encouraged someone to take steps towards living their authentic truth out loud.
NG: How has your community shaped your style?
ER: I have pulled off so many looks I couldn’t even categorize my style, this probably has to do with the fact that I grew up in Oakland where diversity has always been a prevalent factor of my life. Oakland and I have stood back to back growing against each other, my city is my support system. Whether it be people, places, or experiences, Oakland in general holds the gold medal for being the most influencing power when it comes to my style. From the Hyphy movement and underground teen parties, to the music scene and art murmur, even the landscapes of Oakland, I give credit where credit is due and I owe it to those spaces for molding my fashion sense. Black and Latino communities play a big role in this as well. My culture and ancestors provide me with the skills needed to express the deepest parts of my soul in one outfit. Never stop searching for your lineage and ways to define yourself, but don’t get lost in cultures you may identify as but have not experienced first hand. Educate before you practice and practice with those who are educated! Make it a community affair.