Finding parking on N. Spaulding, I made my way up the row of mismatched Spanish revival apartments. Soon, I encountered a tuft of whitish blond hair with a slight pink tinge held up by a stem of in order: Black sunglasses, black cropped t-shirt, skinny black pants and pointy black booties. I knew I had arrived at the home of Cris Vara.
The 23 year old singer agreed to meet me and be my first style interview. To introduce me to his world, his style and a do a photo dress up session with items pulled from his closet. Wine fueled topics ranged from fashion influences, to the importance of Britney Spears in the cultural zeitgeist, to masculine roses.
I met Cris working at my Fabulous Day Job. Like most interesting people, he is a brew of contrasting elements: A kind of Ziggy Stardust meets Billy Idol mixed with a biting wit, a friendly curiosity, persistence and a prudence one could mistake for shyness. He has green elfin eyes which add to his overall otherworldliness-surfacing out of his olive colored skin like curious periscopes.
And that voice. Slightly androgynous with a jazzy vibrato which isn’t quite rasp, his singular tone is almost as hard to classify as his personality. Almost. When I first met him, I had heard about him singing “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas in a kind of Nina Simone influenced way-a clear style but unaffected-not put on. That’s just his voice. A voice that is hard to place in the best way. If one were going to put Cris in a category-at least vocally it would have to be soul. Neo soul, soul pop, whatever…but definitely soul.
Originally from Texas, Cris left his loving musical family to pursue the dream in LA. Finding himself in dingy downtown lofts (partying with the likes of a pre-Skrillex Skrillex) he found himself navigating the “always on a hustle look at me” ways of fallen angels. I ask him what has kept him motivated for so long. Most young people get tired, give up, or find themselves on a constant work-party cycle. “What motivates me is my passion. Its really hard living away from my family, so I think my family motivates me. I feel like I’m so close.”
Musically, he is inspired by some of the greats: Elvis, Freddie Mercury, Amy Winehouse, Prince and Adele. “The reason why I have Prince, Amy Winehouse and Adele records on my wall is you can hear what they are feeling. “When Amy Winehouse got on a record, you f**king felt exactly what she was feeling.” I couldn’t agree more. However, there are exceptions. Some of the bullsh*t is actually good. He does concede to my point that Britney Spears’s Blackout is underrated.
Currently recording a mixtape under a deal with Paramount, Cris and his management are getting ready to pursue various opportunities. In this town, it helps to know who you are-but more importantly…who you are not. Early on, people wanted to try to define his sound…make him go in a direction that would be sellable. “A lot of people here in L.A. compromise themselves and I never will”, he says, detailing how some people in the industry wanted him to go the “southern white boy with a guitar route”. I cringe at the thought but could see how they would try to come up with something to make him make sense. Things have to make sense in order for them to be commodified. You can find links to his social media and get updates about his music career from: http://www.crisvara.com.
Cris makes wonderful sense to me and his home, much like his persona, is a careful balance of masculine and feminine, surprisingly sophisticated for someone so young.He is one of those people whose fashion sense and decorating taste seamlessly meld. Recurring themes are skulls (glamour skulls), crowns, roses. Lots of black and white, teal and white, creamy neutrals and stripes. Touches of humor here and there : Black and white portraits of Frankenstein in his living room (family portraits?!), crowns are everywhere as a nod to British royalty and his fascination with the Little Prince.
His influences are personal. The skull motifs and references that pop up in his dress and home are influenced by the sugar skulls- (calaveras) the skulls left on altars in traditional Mexican Dia de los Muertos ceremonies. Like many of us, he is afraid of death, but intrigued by it at the same time. The calaveras also remind him of his Mexican ancestry.
Nothing about Cris or his apartment looks cheap. When I press him a little further about where he got the amazing mirrored dresser and end tables or where he found the “Adam and Eve’ salt and pepper shakers (a snake and apple), or where did this fabulous McQueen scarf he decked me from, or this black crown! I delightfully discover that he is a ruthless bargain hunter of the best kind.
My favorite bargain hunter is not someone who will buy anything on sale. Its someone who does not scale down the vision that they have for themselves. Someone who knows where it is important to spend the money. He describes finding the mirrored furniture on target.com, shopping for designer pieces on sale, scouring the Fairfax flea market. He also makes and modifies: fixing curtains, spray painting crowns black …he tells me he is constantly changing things-never satisfied, his home is his canvas. I admire some big beautiful peonies on his coffee table. “I think a lot of men are afraid to express feminity. I f*cking like flowers and I’m going to buy flowers!”
Maybe he is on to something. To live in this town, to thrive and keep the dream alive in the face of judgement and fear of failure you it helps to create your own world, treat yourself like royalty-a king in your little stucco castle. Like any true artist, Cris Vara has created a world for himself, one to live in, be a king in- a world of music haunted by the ghosts of legends, a world where sugar skulls dance with the Little Prince, and where Frankenstein wants his f*cking flowers!
Cris Styles Me in His Signature Look:
His bedroom/dressing room is the setting painted in aquamarine, with a mirrored chest of drawers.
Cris is wearing:
Faux leather pants by Forever 21
Vintage Harley Davidson tshirt from the Fairfax flea market.
Black studded crown from the Fashion District in DTLA (he spray painted it black).
Marc Jacobs bone bangle and King Baby Onyx skull bead bracelet.
Majorette hat from a costume shop on Hollywood Blvd.
Alexander McQueen skull scarf and twin skull diamond studded ring.
Leggings, and undershirt my own.
His Favorite Places to Shop:
Wasteland and flea markets for vintage tees
Jeans from Kill City
Favorite online shop: http://www.oaknyc.com