THE MODEL CHANGING THE FACE OF ABORIGINAL CULTURE
photography/ Kitty Callaghan
designer/ Kee Kee
model/ Noni Cragg
Noni Cragg is not your typical model. Looking at her work, though edgy and raw, you wouldn’t be able to see the thing that makes her different. That’s because Noni is an Australian Aboriginal; part the country’s native people that are often marginalized by the larger culture. While many Americans don’t quite understand the delicate intricacies of Aboriginal life, we can certainly recognize how the media and general public ostracizes those who came before settlers. Particularly in fashion, when we do see representations of these cultures, more often than not, it’s appropriated or flat-out stolen.
Teaming up with two other Sydney natives, photographer Kitty Callaghan and Laurel & Hector designer Kee Kee, Noni and her friends are bringing a lighter and more artful perspective to the conversation about Aboriginals. In the interview ahead, we talk with Kee Kee and Noni about fashion, life and culture in Australia.
Can you explain what Aboriginal culture is like today?
Noni Cragg: Aboriginal culture, much like the culture of First Nations People in America; is not widely visible in mainstream media. Fortunately, though, there is definitely a demand for diversity and difference. For the most part, I feel the general public wants to learn and understand more about cultures other than their own. Aboriginal culture itself constantly evolves, absorbing the new while always maintaining a deep respect for the past and its traditions.
Why did you decide to start modeling? What kind of obstacles did you face?
NC: I have been very fortunate with the women in my life, my friend Sophy encouraged me to model while in high school and I’ve been doing it ever since. I have not had to endure any particularly terrible obstacles as I’ve mostly worked with legends and whilst represented had a pretty fab booker.
Kee Kee, tell me a little bit about your background.
Kee Kee: Laurel & Hector[my company] started as a vintage online store specializing in Japanese vintage. I bought some hand printed fabric in Osaka & made 5 simple dresses out of them, that’s when L&H the label was born. Noni was actually one of my first models in my handmade designs. Everything was handmade back then & I had no life, I was just cutting fabric & sewing all day. I couldn’t keep up with the work load. Now I produce offshore in Hangzhou, everything is ethical & I visited the factory to make sure it’s all above board before putting that Laurel & Hector label on anything!
Why did you want to work together?
KK: I used to run ma. gallery, an art space/DIY gallery and Noni showed up to the opening, underage & absolutely wild. I made out with her brother and we became friends after that. We’ve always got each other in mind for creative projects. It’s so easy to work with Noni, she’s always keen and positive to work on anything.
NC: As Kee Kee said, we’ve known each other for quite some time and have both always enjoyed working together. She is like a big sis to me and I think we will always work together creatively.
What was the inspiration behind the shoot?
KK: We shot with Kitty Callaghan who is known for her collaging, she’s a super talented Sydney based photographer who’s worked with a lot of big names & happens to be a friend of ours. All the photos are on film and Kitty just works her magic with all this amazing collaging. Most of the shots are done around my house/side alley! When I style any shoot, the models always end up looking like some version of me. We both draw a lot of style inspiration from the same sources and as a result end up wanting to work together whenever possible!
Kee Kee, what intrigued you most about Noni?
We’ve had such a long friendship, I think what intrigued me back in 2009, when we first met was probably her cocky, loud mouth, self assured personality. At first, I was kinda like “who’s this kid?”, but then getting to know her & watch her grow from this leggy 16 year old, into this crazy-talented artist, self-made model & strong willed activist, our friendship has acquired so much more depth & love.
What do you hope the audience gets out of these images?
KK: These images are the merging of 3 strong female creatives from Sydney. I hope the audience has a little fun with them, they’re not overly serious. It was a chilled afternoon with awesome sunlight.
NC: I hope that women in particular, look at our images and get inspired to create something spectacular with their own girl gangs!
KK: I’ll be taking L&H to the States in Oct-Nov, so I’m just starting to think if I’d like to do some pop up parties again or maybe just some shoots. Who knows! I’ve also started on the next collection cos this ones almost sold out!
NC: I’m pretty much flat out with commissions at the moment and working towards a solo show next year. I’m out every month with The Rough Period – offering sanitary item care packages to women sleeping rough in Sydney. And just recently my partner and I were sent to Japan for a music video clip, so I’m hoping a few more adventures like that pop up over the second half of the year!