Fashion 

Storytelling Through Style With Ajani Russell in the Vans Knu Skool

The avant-garde artist and skater styles the 90s-inspired silhouette on set.

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Storytelling Through Style With Ajani Russell in the Vans Knu Skool

The avant-garde artist and skater styles the 90s-inspired silhouette on set.

Through their self-expressive style, artistic approaches and self-assured attitude, skater and visual artist Ajani Russell tells the tale of their passionate personality. From their fantasy-inspired fashions to their various virtuosic mediums, the Brooklyn-born and bred artist highlights how they navigate NYC’s style scene and their tight-knit creative community as authentically as possible. Whether they’re testing new tricks at the skatepark – simultaneously showcasing their skater sense of style – or covering a canvas with strokes of color in their studio space – displaying their artist attire – Ajani tells a story through style in every creative expression. Continuing onto the next chapter of their style story, the multi-hyphenate models the Vans Knu Skool.

A modern approach to a signature 90s’ silhouette, the Knu Skool shares similarities with Vans’ fan-favorite Old Skool shoe, however holds dramatic design details that set it apart from its predecessor. The newest addition to Vans’ arsenal arrives with oversized, chunky laces for that nostalgic feel and an inflated tongue and 3D-molded Sidestripe™ for an extra edge. Building a bridge between the past and the present, the skate-inspired shoe embraces style elements of the early aughts in today’s trends. With funky fashion inspirations dating back decades, Ajani nurtures their nostalgia by styling the Knu Skool in three self-expressive ensembles.

“The Knu Skool is such a timeless and versatile design, I really like the simplicity of the silhouette of the shoe. You can really wear it with anything,” they share. “I wanted to show a look with pants, a dress and then I did a skirt and a sweater. I wanted to show the different silhouettes you can wear with the shoes. I [tend to] wear a lot of black so I wanted to wear something colorful [for the shoot]. I did a denim look as well as some printed [pieces] and knitwear to be able to show the versatility of the look.”

@hypebeast Visual artist and skater Ajani Russell styled the @Vans Knu Skool with a playful approach, incorporating fun prints and silhouettes showcasing their personal style. #sponsored ♬ original sound – HYPEBEAST

To get to know the East Coast creative, their sartorial approach to style and the ways in which they paired the Knu Skool shoe with their personality-packing pieces, continue scrolling below.

You have explored and excelled in various artistic avenues as an actor, model and skater. Talk to me about your journey as a multifaceted artist and how it has shaped your sense of self.

People don’t know this about me because I don’t post about it or talk about it that much but I’m primarily a visual artist. I’m a painter and a ceramicist. I work at a ceramics studio and I’m an art teacher at this gallery in Brooklyn. I’ve been doing art for as long as I can remember. When I was in first grade everyone thought that I was going to be a writer because I would write short stories and novels. I’m actually working on a book and writing four different scripts right now. [Also, being an actor] actually has me very interested in directing. With all my art forms the things that tie them together is storytelling and world building. I love fantasy. I love creating and evoking emotions within people. I feel like art has always been the way I connect with people.

As a skater, what do you prioritize in your sneaker silhouettes, fashion or function? How has being in the NYC skateboarding scene influenced your style identity?

With skating, I try to get a mix of both [fashion and function.] I think there are some sneakers I obviously cannot skate in but if I like a pair of sneakers and they’re [good enough] to skate in, I’m going to skate in them. My friends [will] ask me “why are you skating in those? Those are nice sneakers.” [I just say,] “it will be okay. [They’re just] sneakers.” [But,] I guess functionality is the most important thing for me when I’m skating because I have to protect my ankles.

[With the skating scene] and [my style], it has to be functional. I’ve always loved wearing baggy clothes so when I’m skating, I wear baggy clothes. I need to be too warm since it’s cold in New York. In the summertime when it’s hot, I’ll wear baggy shorts and t-shirts. I love a crop top, I love having my stomach out. If I’m wearing a shirt and my stomach is covered, I feel like something’s not right.

Through the Knu Skool silhouette, Vans introduces a modern interpretation of a classic 90s style. When it comes to your sense of style, do you ever draw inspiration from different eras? If so, how?

For sure, I love looking to the past. I love a little bit of nostalgia in your outfit because it feels so familiar. My parents grew up in the 90s’. My mom’s from Brooklyn and my dad’s from DC but he moved to New York when he was 18 and they listened to a lot of Hip-Hop. So, I used to wear Sean John and Baby Phat when I was younger. I was also really into Y2K, Missy Elliott and Lil’ Kim and as I got older, I got obsessed with Earth, Wind & Fire who had the craziest costumes. I was always really obsessed with the 70s, 90s, early 2000s and then of course all of the early Goth and Emo fashion and music.

Vans Knu Skool Style Storytelling Interview with Ajani Russell

Tell me about your approach to fashion. What words would you use to describe it and how does it reflect your personality?

I draw a lot of inspiration from anime characters and video game characters. I love fantasy. I love creating an illusion. I’m really into textures. I’m obsessed with how things feel on my body. If it doesn’t feel good, I can’t wear it. I also love to be cozy. As much as I love a “lewk” and creating the illusion of fantasy, I love to be cozy. Fashion is also so empowering. I was reading some of Alexander McQueen’s old interviews and read how he wanted people to be afraid of women and for women to feel powerful. I think that’s so inspiring especially being a fem-presenting person and finding the power in that as well. In the past, I used to dress more masculine to feel more powerful. But now, dressing more feminine makes me feel more powerful.

The clothes I wear, it’s what I want to look like. I’ll wear colored contacts or costume pieces. I love to wear a tail or ears. I like to cosplay, I like fantasy. If I could grow cat ears I would but I can’t so, we just put some on. I just like the fact that I can change how I look everyday. My clothes also reflect my emotions, if I’m sad, I’m going to wear a “sad” outfit. A sad outfit might mean that I’m going to wear a gown that looks like I’m going to my dead husband’s funeral or something dramatic. I love drama.

What are some styling tips you’ve learned on set as a model and actor that you live by today? Could you share some advice to someone who’s in the process of developing their personal style?

Editing is very important. Sometimes less is more. I forget that less is more and I want to wear everything at once. If I could wear three pairs of shoes at once I would but I haven’t figured out how to with only two feet. I love accessories, I love rings. I also feel that hair defines an outfit. If my hair doesn’t look good, my outfit doesn’t look good. I would rather spend more time on my hair than my makeup. Take care of your skin too.

[In terms of] developing your personal style, there’s always going to be trial and error. You have to walk outside looking a little crazy sometimes to realize that you don’t want to go outside looking like that anymore. I’ve definitely looked at old photos of myself and wondered why I wore something or wore a certain lipstick color but you really just have to try things out.

Break down the details of your typical studio fit’. What’s the most important element of your look and why?

My studio fit is usually either a pair of sweatpants, a pair of Dickies or a pair of overalls. I have two or three designated pairs of pants that I wear to the studio. So, every time I go in there, if I’m painting or if there’s chemicals and it gets on the clothes, the clothes become an ongoing art piece. It tells the story of how I make my work, it’s almost a palette or a reference for me because it reminds me of how I can make that color again. In the studio, I need to be warm so I’m probably wearing a long-sleeve graphic t-shirt of some kind. Hoodies are good too but I like to roll up my sleeves since my hands need to be free. Ceramics is a messy [practice] and dusty so I like to wear gray to the ceramic studio because I’m always so dusty.

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