SHALA MON­ROQUE

THE MUSE FROM MARISULE!

SHE Carribean Magazine - - CONTENTS - BY DEE LUNDY-CHARLES

The dar­ling of New York opens up about her is­land roots and sig­na­ture style.

HER BROAD SPEC­TRUM OF TAL­ENTS AND ACHIEVE­MENTS MAKE IT IM­POS­SI­BLE TO PI­GEON­HOLE HER: ART CON­SUL­TANT, WRITER, MAG­A­ZINE ED­I­TOR, ECLEC­TIC BLOG­GER, STYLE-IN­FLU­ENCER. SHALA MON­ROQUE IS ALL OF THAT AND MORE. WHEN SHALA SPEAKS, THE TRENDY AND TREND­ING LIS­TEN. SMALL WON­DER THAT A-LIST IN­TER­NA­TIONAL PUB­LI­CA­TIONS CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF HER.

In a Vogue pic­to­rial Shala is seen at home in Saint Lu­cia teach­ing wide-eyed kids about pre­serv­ing the ocean. Her Shala’s Rab­bit Hole blog fea­tures pho­tos of Chisel Street, Castries in 1997 jux­ta­posed with Alexan­der Wang’s new store in Tokyo; an In­sta­gram shot taken in Colom­bia presents her in a bright pink cre­ation by Guade­loupe’s Li­ly­dezîles, whim­si­cally framed by a per­fectly match­ing tra­di­tional door­way. And then there are her well-cov­ered front-row ap­pear­ances at fash­ion weeks in New York, Paris and Mi­lan, and on red car­pets the world over. As if al­ready she did not have more than her fair share of tal­ent, it turns out Shala Mon­roque may be ca­pa­ble of be­ing in sev­eral zones at the same time!

Her in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion as a style chief­tain spreads across the mul­ti­ple lanes of so­cial me­dia. The Saint Lu­cia-born fash­ion phe­nom is the dar­ling of cre­ative New York and the world of haute cou­ture.

She grew up with sand be­tween her toes, play­ing at Marisule beach on the north­west coast of Saint Lu­cia. Shala rem­i­nisces: “I loved to play, climb trees, bathe in the rain, ex­plore, walk along the coast from Vigie . . . On school va­ca­tions, and some­times at week­ends, I stayed with my grand­mother at the is­land’s south­ern end, in Saltibus. So in essence I had an idyl­lic child­hood.”

Sto­ry­telling and mu­sic were a big part of her fam­ily life, as was grow­ing vegetables in her granny’s gar­den and eat­ing what they grew in that old time farm-to-ta­ble self­suf­fi­ciency that is sud­denly trendy again. Her mother worked at one of the is­land’s ear­li­est re­sorts, the St. Lu­cian Ho­tel, and it was here that have-not Shala got her ini­tial glimpses into the life of the haves. Saint Lu­cia was even then a popular wed­ding des­ti­na­tion for the rich and fa­mous and from about age seven she was a paid flower girl, spend­ing days at the ho­tel with the guests, snor­kel­ing, lunch­ing or ac­com­pa­ny­ing them on tours. For Shala it all amounted to “a taste of what was pos­si­ble.”

But too much of a good thing can be bad. De­spite her deep-seated love for Saint Lu­cia, for the teenaged Shala is­land life be­came bor­ing. What she saw on TV about liv­ing in Amer­ica con­vinced her that’s where her fu­ture lay. She was twenty when she left for New York. But things are sel­dom as they first ap­pear. New York re­al­ity ini­tially proved a bit of a shock: “Loud, overly ag­gres­sive and stink­ing!”

A few years later Shala Mon­roque gave the USA another try, in­dulging a ro­man­tic idea of tak­ing the Grey­hound bus from Mi­ami to New York like she’d seen in movies. This time, her ex­pe­ri­ence was very dif­fer­ent.

“I ar­rived in New York around Fash­ion Week,” Shala re­called dur­ing a re­cent visit to her home is­land. “My aunt worked back­stage at the venue so I got to go to the shows and some par­ties. I felt so at home in that en­vi­ron­ment. I kept ex­tend­ing my stay, from two weeks to a month, to three months. I didn’t want to go home to Saint Lu­cia. But I did, even­tu­ally. How­ever, I knew New York was where I be­longed.”

Hard as it is to be­lieve, Shala claims to be some­thing of a non-plan­ner, even th­ese days as she con­tin­ues to evolve into a fash­ion house­hold name thanks to ex­po­sure in Vogue, Town and Coun­try, Harpers Bazaar and New York Mag­a­zine. In her early NYC days, Mon­roque went through a num­ber of ca­reer rein­ven­tions to pay the rent, from re­cep­tion­ist to wait­ress to host­ess at ul­tra-hip restau­rants Man Ray and Nobu.

It was in 2009 that she landed the po­si­tion of Pop Mag­a­zine’s ed­i­tor-at-large, at which point the fash­ion in­dus­try be­gan to sit up and take no­tice: Mi­ucca Prada be­came de­voted to this mys­te­ri­ous muse; global

I LOVED TO PLAY, CLIMB TREES, BATHE IN THE RAIN, EX­PLORE, WALK ALONG THE COAST FROM VIGIE . . .

ON SCHOOL VA­CA­TIONS, AND AT SOME­TIMES WEEK­ENDS, I STAYED WITH MY GRAND­MOTHER AT

THE IS­LAND'S SOUTH­ERN END, IN SALTIBUS

HOT GOSSIP!

What did you think of Saint Lu­cia Hot Cou­ture?

I loved it. It was re­ally good, and there’s a lot of tal­ent here and in the Caribbean. This was my first show in the Caribbean, so it was great to see it in Saint Lu­cia.

Who were your favourites?

Oh I’m not sure I should say . . .

When you’re Shala Mon­roque it’s your duty to say, so share the scoop with SHE read­ers!

[Smiles] Well I wrote a few names down: Thelma Wil­liams from Saint Lu­cia, Meil­ing from Trinidad; Ta­mara Depestre (Lily Deziles) from Guade­loupe was re­ally nice, and I re­ally loved Trea­sure Cou­ture from Saint Lu­cia. When I got here I thought I’d have a bunch of stuff made, then go back to New York look­ing like the coolest per­son. It’s a re­ally nice feel­ing to do that. Trea­sure Fred­er­ick sur­prised me – I could see all the de­tails and qual­ity in his pieces – I was ex­pect­ing a younger, hip­per de­signer, but he does have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence and a re­ally cool mous­tache. [Laughs] I was re­ally in­trigued.

How did the show dif­fer from New York or in­ter­na­tional run­way shows?

The for­mat was dif­fer­ent – you had many more de­sign­ers, so it was longer than the usual 5-10 min­utes for in­di­vid­ual shows. It was nice that it was in two parts, so you could grab cock­tails in be­tween the view­ings. I think it was also nice to see Caribbean de­sign­ers along­side Saint Lu­cian, and to see what’s go­ing on in the re­gion. I think that tal­ent scouts from ma­jor la­bels should re­ally be look­ing here for new tal­ent.

You’re known for your pas­sion for Prada, but what other in­ter­na­tional de­sign­ers excite you?

Jil San­der, Rochas, and Miu Miu.

Do you plan to come back in 2015 for Saint Lu­cia Hot Cou­ture?

Cer­tainly!

WA­TER BABY

As an is­land girl, what sig­nif­i­cance did the ocean play in your child­hood?

The first thing the ocean did for me as a child was open up my imag­i­na­tion. I in­stinc­tively knew that it held in­vis­i­ble roads to won­der­ful places around the world and of­ten imag­ined cross­ing it. My child­hood home gave me a spec­tac­u­lar view of the hori­zon, of won­der­ful sun­sets and of cargo ships sail­ing in and out if the har­bour and liv­ing that close to the beach, I was very of­ten in the wa­ter.

[We had] so much free­dom as chil­dren back then, there was usu­ally a pack of us headed to [the] beach to swim, play and ex­press our­selves with­out any sort of fear or hin­drance. We even bought fresh fish from the fish­er­men on cer­tain days. So in ef­fect I think the ocean gave me a won­der­ful sense of free­dom of the imag­i­na­tion and also phys­i­cal free­dom.

Why did you choose to work with La Mer and what do you hope to con­trib­ute?

Work­ing with La Mer hap­pened very or­gan­i­cally. I was con­tacted by them to find an ocean-re­lated char­ity to support and heard about Kid­s4Co­ral through the [St. Lu­cia] tourist board.

It to­tally made sense for me to support them as I felt very con­nected to the cause. As a child snor­kel­ing and swimming right off the shore, I had been ex­posed to what at the time was breathtaking marine life at Jalousie beach. I’m sad to re­port that with the de­vel­op­ment of that beach, much of what I re­mem­ber has gone.

The mem­ory of the marine life there has re­mained vivid. It was a sight so beau­ti­ful that I wanted to share it with ev­ery­one. Kid­s4Co­ral is one good way of mak­ing St. Lu­cian chil­dren aware of our marine her­itage and also spark­ing a de­sire to pro­tect it as they are the fu­ture lead­ers of our coun­try. La Mer is a brand that sus­tain­ably uses sea kelp in its for­mu­las and is ded­i­cated to sup­port­ing Ocean con­ser­va­tion and aware­ness. It made per­fect sense for us to align our in­ter­ests.

How did you spend Ocean Day 2014?

I spent World Oceans Day at Rock Away Beach in New York.

“I LOVE SAINT LU­CIA,” SHE SAID FOR MAYBE THE TENTH TIME DUR­ING OUR IN­TER­VIEW. “I LOVE THE SLOWER PACE, THE WAY PEO­PLE HERE ARE SO LAID BACK.”

gal­lerist Larry Gagosian was papped with the smil­ing sphinx-like Mon­roque. Ev­ery­where, ed­i­to­rial ears perked up at the sound of her name.

This from Essence: “The stun­ning so­cial jet-set­ter, art enthusiast and ed­i­tor-at-large of Pop Mag­a­zine pos­sesses a high level of so­phis­ti­ca­tion and el­e­gance with a dose of ec­cen­tric­ity that is rarely seen and sorely missed in to­day’s fash­ion land­scape. Mon­roque first [piqued] our in­ter­est at the Paris Fash­ion Week Spring/Sum­mer 2010. And how could we miss her? Among a sea of se­vere black and leather en­sem­bles, there was Mon­roque front row at ev­ery show in a riot of eye-pop­ping hues, prints, tex­tures and state­ment neck­laces. We love her will­ing­ness to stray from the pack with con­fi­dence. It’s no won­der this ed­itrix made Vogue’s top ten best dressed list.”

A for­mi­da­ble fash­ion­ista! What a sur­prise, then, to meet Shala Mon­roque for the first time and to dis­cover her a sweet, shy, almost guarded woman. Which is not to say she projects any­thing but self-con­fi­dence, es­pe­cially when in front of the cam­era. An air of mys­tery seems to sur­round her, but as she swigs on fresh co­conut wa­ter and sucks the sweet flesh of a ripe mango through its punc­tured skin—Looshan style—the ob­server is left in no doubt at all that she’s one of us: An au­then­tic is­land girl!

Sit­ting down with SHE Caribbean on the heels of last May’s Saint Lu­cia Hot Cou­ture, the lo­cal tourist board’s spe­cial guest opened up about her pas­sions and the al­to­gether so­phis­ti­cated life she leads as a fa­vorite of New York’s ded­i­cated fol­low­ers of fash­ion. Don’t call her a celebrity, de­spite her rave reviews and fash­ion-house­hold-name sta­tus.

“I don’t think of my­self that way,” she says, “not in New York and def­i­nitely not in Saint Lu­cia. It al­ways sounds weird to me. al­ways sounds weird to me. I still think of my­self as just Shala, the girl from Marisule.”

Nev­er­the­less she con­fesses to soaking up the lo­cal “in­spi­ra­tional vibe and chan­nel­ing the pos­i­tive is­land en­ergy” when in NYC. She’s reg­u­larly stops on the way home from He­wanorra air­port just to sam­ple Looshan treats such as Cre­ole bread, co­conut turn-overs and co­conut wa­ter—now be­com­ing a fa­vorite in the big wide world — she drinks as much as she can when on the is­land.

I couldn’t help won­der­ing how Shala felt about be­ing de­scribed as a “style icon” and “It Girl.” She seemed to mull over the ques­tion for sev­eral seconds, as if she’d never be­fore given thought to it. Fi­nally, she said with a shrug: ”I guess peo­ple see what they see. Some­times they see things you don’t see about your­self. Every­body has his or her own sub­jec­tiv­ity.”

But when asked if she feels the la­bels di­min­ish what she is achiev­ing in her pro­fes­sional life, a cir­cum­spect Shala ad­mits that it can. “In the be­gin­ning, some­times, I found it . . . I don’t want to say an­noy­ing, but, what’s the word? I guess I used to be pre­oc­cu­pied with the world’s im­age of who I am. Or who I think I am. Some­times it can be a tight line. The me­dia will do what the me­dia will do.” She pauses, smiles. “You’d be sur­prised who fails to fact-check in­for­ma­tion. So for the first few years, even now, I stand back and look at it for what it re­ally was.”

And what of the sin­gu­lar style that has caught so many ed­i­to­rial eyes? “I’m not quite sure,” she claims. “I’ve been told that I have a great un­der­stand­ing of colour. I also dress for what­ever en­vi­ron­ment I’m in. I guess I un­der­stand fash­ion’s rules and know how to use them. Also when and how to break them.”

Shala does not sub­scribe to the style-canbe-taught school of thought: “I don’t think of style only in the sense of the clothes you wear. I think it’s how you go about life. For me, style is some­thing that’s in­nate. It’s not so much the clothes you wear that peo­ple re­act to. Rather, it’s the life you live in the clothes you wear that they re­spond to.”

And how does New York’s most cel­e­brated style in­flu­encer choose what to wear? “I don’t have a rou­tine. It de­pends on where I’m go­ing, the weather, what I’d like to ac­com­plish, the mood I’m in. Some­times I’ll be hell-bent on wear­ing a cer­tain shoe, in which case ev­ery­thing has to follow that. Other times I like to blend, so that has its own dic­tates.”

Given her no­madic life­style of the past few years and her re­luc­tance to plan ahead, it’s quite un­der­stand­able that rou­tine is not her thing. Still she hopes one day to have a home base in Saint Lu­cia.

“I love Saint Lu­cia,” she said for maybe the tenth time dur­ing our in­ter­view. “I love the slower pace, the way peo­ple here are so laid back. You know it’s very easy to keep com­plain­ing about what we don’t have while miss­ing out on what we do have. My favourite thing about mod­ern-day Saint Lu­cia is that I can buy bot­tled co­conut wa­ter at the road­side. Not only be­cause it’s fresh and nu­tri­tious but also be­cause it shows an en­tre­pre­neur­ial en­ergy that didn’t re­ally ex­ist when I was grow­ing up here. It’s a shame that farm­ing has such a bad stigma in Saint Lu­cia when we have so much arable land.”

On the flip side: “I wish we had a bet­ter re­cy­cling pro­gram. When I left no one re­ally bought bot­tled wa­ter; now ev­ery­one does. I’ve got­ten used to re­cy­cling in New York and it hurts ev­ery time I put a plas­tic bot­tle in with the rest of the garbage, know­ing it will most likely end up in the ocean.”

As a school­girl, she was al­ways in­volved in some form of artis­tic ex­pres­sion, whether danc­ing and act­ing as en­cour­aged by her mother, or writ­ing po­etry and prose at Leon Hess Sec­ondary School with the en­cour­age­ment of her prin­ci­pal. But she at­tributes much of her artis­tic di­rec­tion to read­ing: “I was a mem­ber of the Castries Pub­lic Li­brary from as young as I can re­mem­ber. I was al­ways a par­tic­i­pant in the chil­dren’s sum­mer pro­grams. Read­ing ex­posed me to much of the out­side world . . .”

Like Saint Lu­cia-born poet and Nobel Lau­re­ate Derek Wal­cott, Shala too fears for the fu­ture of the arts on her is­land. She re­cently vis­ited the Saint Lu­cia School of Mu­sic and dis­cov­ered the gov­ern­ment had cut fund­ing for the school’s com­mu­nity out­reach pro­grams, in par­tic­u­lar a com­mu­nity orches­tra in one of the is­land’s most in­fa­mous ghet­tos.

“There are many ways of com­bat­ing crime,” she ob­served, “and one of the eas­i­est is by af­ford­ing idle chil­dren in vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties pos­i­tive ac­tiv­i­ties to en­gage in. I’m not sure why it was on the gov­ern­ment’s list to cut fund­ing for th­ese pro­grams. I re­ally hope they have a very valid rea­son. We can’t that eas­ily give up on our chil­dren.”

I asked Shala for her opin­ion of one of the most con­tentious mag­a­zine choices this year: the in­fa­mous Kimye Vogue cover. As a dyed-in-the-wool fash­ion maven, did she share the skep­ti­cism of many of the crit­ics who saw the im­age as a sell out?

“Well I guess fash­ion is about re­flect­ing the times, and that’s where we are. You can’t dis­count the fact that Kim has 18 mil­lion fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram. There is tremen­dous value in that. Kanye is a phe­nom­e­nal mu­si­cian, su­per-su­per tal­ented, and she is a suc­cess­ful busi­ness­woman with her own cloth­ing line.

“That par­tic­u­lar Vogue cover was his­toric. I don’t think the mag­a­zine has ever had a cou­ple on its cover; cer­tainly not an in­ter­ra­cial cou­ple. So it spoke vol­umes. There’s a lot that could be bro­ken down from it. Anna Win­tour had the same is­sues in the 80s when she put Madonna on the cover. There was ab­so­lute out­rage. Win­tour has her fin­ger on the pulse of the times so there are more re­al­ity stars and mu­si­cians on mag­a­zine cov­ers.”

That may be so, but with all her cre­ative guns blaz­ing and a grow­ing army of fol­low­ers on the planet’s trendi­est we­b­zones, it seems clear that the world can look for­ward to many more cov­ers fea­tur­ing inim­itable Shala Mon­roque, the girl from Marisule.

Silk chif­fon gown by Trea­sure Cou­ture, St. Lu­cia

Swim­suit by Rhion Ro­many, Trinidad

Known for her love of colour, Shala rocks this hot pink cot­ton gauze dress from The Cloth, Trinidad

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