I suppose it’s fitting on many levels that Braina Laviena is the face of our latest secret society collection. She’s mysterious, quiet – sweet yet straight-forward. The type of woman who rolls her eyes when she finds out the interview is being recorded, but ends up drinking tea with me for hours beneath the warm June sun. A balance between kind and sharp-tongued, feminine and androgynous. She’s a walking portrait of beauty and a complete dichotomy, someone we of course had to induct to the society.
You’re probably well acquainted with Ms. Laviena’s story by now, but in case you aren’t, here’s the short version: the Puerto Rican native moved to Coastal America in 2013 to pursue a career in modeling. Plagued by the plight of being an out of work model, Laviena decided she would do something that others had advised her not to. She was going to shave her head during her 10 minute break at American Apparel. “I was like ‘fuck it, I’m gonna cut off my hair since I’m not modeling anymore.” She shrugged when my eyebrows raised in surprise. And so the Braina Laviena we love and lust after was created.
The following bullet points of her story are the makings of the American Dream: The Los Angeles Edition. She becomes Kanye West’s personal assistant. Then she becomes his muse. When pressed on how she went from grabbing his coffee to being featured in his iconic collections, she exudes modesty. “I was his assistant, but he knew that I was a model. We talked about it and he was like, ‘I want you to be a model and if anything, I want this job to be something that allows you to meet people and help your career.'” Humble. Simple. Sweet. Sure, there’s a part of me that wants to pry – surely nothing is ever that simple in this city. However, there is a certain brand of authenticity that rolls off Braina’s tongue.
Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of Braina is her bold sense of bravery. Never cocky; merely authentic. She is completely herself, leaving me feeling a bit foolish when I press her to expand on her androgynous demeanor. “I can’t walk into a room with a push-up bra, sway my hips and be the nicest person to everyone, you know? Some days you feel that, some days you don’t. I’m not going to wear the biggest fake smile just because.” When she explains this to me, a veil is lifted from my eyes and her dynamism is revealed. She isn’t making a statement. She is existing as the most honest version of herself.
We asked Swedish artist Arvida Byström to observe Braina through her lens. Byström is a creative similar to Braina in the sense that she exists and creates solely for herself rather than for another’s consumption. While Arvida’s work is often perceived as playfully feminine, a seasoned spectator can look beyond the color scheme of the images and body of the subject, leaving behind all that we are told about the constructs of gender to immerse themselves in an enchanting world. What struck me most about the collaboration between Arvida and Braina was the undeniable chemistry within each frame. It’s as if all aspects of the image – Braina, the vivid flowers, the lush fabrics – have a magnetic charge, pulling to one another for life. A pairing such as this is nothing short of magic.
You play yourself when you approach Braina with a mind full of preconceived notions. This is what makes her such a brilliant subject to study – there is no figuring her out. Despite her repeatedly being cast as a tomboy, she is quite girlish, even delicate at times. And while she is warm and welcoming, there is a barrier that leaves one wanting to know more, an insatiable desire to devour her thoughts, opinions, experiences. The desire to know her deeper, to understand her better is at once frustrating and intoxicating. Exactly how a muse should be.
Welcome to the society, Braina.