IN THE HEIGHTS STAR MELISSA BARRERA

Dress – Paco Rabanne

Photography by Dennis Tejero @ ADB Agency

Styling by Marc Sifuentes

Makeup by Talia Sparrow @ Kalpana NYC

Hair by Cameron Rains @ Forward Artists

Interview by Evan Ross Katz 

Melissa Barrera, one of the leads on Starz’s Vida and the upcoming film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights, opens up about her journey to success and prioritizing her Latin roots within and outside of her work.

Dress, Belt and Boots by Versace

“It feels like so much more than an acting job,” Melissa Barrera says of her starring role on Starz’s hit series Vida. “I feel like it was a gift that I was given.” Barrera stars as Lyn Hernandez on the series which was recently renewed for a third season. “Barrera’s performance in particular blooms with searing clarity,” Vox wrote. The Hollywood Reporter called Barrera’s performance “absurdly funny.” The A.V. Club called the actress “a force to be reckoned with.” 

“It’s important to see Latin stories out there and to see the dreams that our people have and how hard we work. There’s more to us than just the negative things you see in the media or what certain people want to say about Latinx people.” But it’s not just Barrera’s work on Vida. Whether her upcoming role in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical In the Heights, her time on popular telenovelas like Siempre Tuya Acapulco and Tanto Amor or in regional theater productions in her hometown of Monterrey, Mexico, much of the conversation with Barrera seems to circle back to her Mexican roots—and it’s no coincidence.  

“I’m Mexican. I’m fully Mexican. I was born and raised in Mexico and now I happen to work in the United States. And I am proud to be a part of this Latinx wave of shows and films that are finally starting to get made and people that have never seen themselves represented on screen are finally getting to see themselves and I get to be a part of it. So I feel that it is important to wear my identity on my sleeve and be one of the faces of this movement and help people see themselves because a lot of people have felt erased in their stories or their stories are never told. I feel like it’s a responsibility of mine to be a voice for those people who have not had one for so long. And I want to.” 

Dress by Off-White

It’s this passion that emanates from Barrera, who thinks long and hard before responding to questions, constantly aware of the possibilities and pitfalls of a first impression and desiring to represent both herself and her roots with pride. This, according to her friends that I spoke with, is the Melissa they’ve always known. 

Though acting and singing seemed like the natural trajectory from an early age, Barrera did not limit her possibilities. “There was a point where I wanted to be a doctor,” she says, adding that architecture, interior design, even biomedical engineering were all career aspirations at various times. “I even at one point wanted to be a secret agent. I’ve wanted to be so many different things throughout my life. But that’s the thing about being an actor, you get to be everything.” 

She started auditioning for local regional productions in high school and was quickly cast in a musical version of Romeo and Juliet in Monterrey. That was her first taste of the rigor of the theater: working six days a week, with two-shows a day often the norm. It didn’t dissuade her, only making her hungry for more. She furthered her education attending New York University to study theater. She left New York University’s prestigious CAP21 musical theater program two years in after making it into the top 20 on La Academia, a popular Mexican competition reality series that catapulted her star meter. 

“That show definitely prepared me for the industry. It was a very difficult experience because it brought all my insecurities to the surface. It made me doubt if I had what it took to be in this business. It made me fight for it really hard. I’m very grateful I had that experience, even though sometimes I have PTSD about it. Whenever I have to sing in public I get stage fright and I never feel good enough because of all of the harsh judgments I had while I was on that show.” But she’s careful to stress the positives that came from it, like learning to fight for her dream. It’s also the place where she met her future husband, musician Paco Zazueta. 

Dress by Georgine

That show proved a career springboard, landing her roles in a number of popular telenovelas. “I’ve always felt that telenovelas, especially in Mexico, are looked down upon as a genre….but I personally love them,” she says, describing the rigor of the production process as boot camp. “It’s literally shooting 30 scenes a day, one after the other, and it forces you to go through a crazy rollercoaster of emotions, more so than anything else I’ve ever done. I think because of that school of telenovela, it made everything that’s come after much easier for me.”

And thankfully, the “everything” that has come after has been plentiful, from Vida to a recently-announced contemporary reimagining of the opera Carmen opposite Fifty Shades of Grey star Jamie Dornan, to the upcoming In the Heights, a role Barrera has been eyeing for over a decade before she was cast. “I remember going to see it on Broadway at least ten times. I remember the first time that I saw it, what I felt, it was as though my heart was going to explode with pride and hope. All my dreams of being on Broadway after seeing that show just felt so much more tangible.” From there, she set out to be casted, attending open calls for the show, but never quite landing a spot…until now, nearly a dozen years after the show’s first bow on the Great White Way. 

Dress by Tom Ford

“It’s going to be very different from the stage version,” she says of the movie, set for release next summer. “It’s been updated to reflect the situation of immigrants today, so it has appropriately been adapted to take place in 2020.” For Barrera, it’s about leveling out the audience with the content, noting the disparity between Latinx content consumption and shows casting Latinx actors, created by Latinx people and/or telling Latinx stories. To that end, Barrera says she hopes to begin producing her own work down the line. “Because [Vida creator] Tanya [Saracho] gave opportunities to people like me, I’m going to make sure that I follow in her footsteps.”

And with that, Barrera is back to set to shoot the final week of filming In The Heights. Though she’s not filming any scenes on this particular day, she says she just wants to be around it all, near the cast, watching the process unfold around her. Like much of the pride Barrera so often spoke about, it’s not necessarily about her, but about who she can be to and for those who come after her.

Dress by Victoria Hayes

 

Interview from Issue 12 of IRIS COVET BOOK available in stores and online by clicking —> HERE! 

FREDERIQUE AND THE CITY BY ELLEN VON UNWERTH

Frederique and The City

Frederique van der Wal by Ellen von Unwerth

Clothing by Georgine

Makeup by Romero Jennings

There is no denying that Ellen von Unwerth and Frederique van der Wal are legends in the fashion world. Between the photographer and Supermodel, there is a prolific collection of coffee-table compendium worthy images that, through the years, have inspired a generation of photography enthusiast and fashion fanatics alike. 

The universe brought the two fashion juggernauts together when they discovered they lived in the same New York City apartment building. Together, with fashion designer Georgine Ratelband the two icons have created images in Ellen von Unwerth’s unmistakable aesthetic of “sex, fun and rock & roll.” Iris Covet Book documented the chat between Ellen, Frederique and Georgine on how this shoot came together, staying creative during lockdown and their plans for 2021.

IRIS: Hi ladies, can you give us a little background on how you and Ellen met and how long you have known each other.

ELLEN: Ok yes, we know each other because we live on the same floor in the same building in New York and we run into each other often. You know, we’ve always said let’s shoot together but never found the right time. But this one morning I came home and saw Frederique with a totally new look. Her hair was totally blonde and you know how I love a blonde! I said “Oh my God this is the moment. We have to shoot!”. So, I called Georgine and I asked her if she wanted to join and Georgine offered us pieces from her collection.

FREDERIQUE: I’ve always adored Ellen’s work and strangely enough we had never yet worked together. Somehow it hadn’t happened until both of us, this past September were stuck in New York City.
Then it all came together…this sexy rock and roll Ellen element mixed with the city and the roof. It was very inspiring. For me sometimes, you have these moments when you really get your adrenaline going and that’s how the shoot felt for me. It felt great! It was a day where the playfulness was there, the fun, the sexiness, the rock and roll. It was so Ellen and then the fantastic clothes by Georgine.

GEORGINE: It was very spontaneous And it came together very effortlessly which I enjoyed very much! I think Ellen called me two days before the shoot, I pulled a variety of looks for Frederique that I thought would suit her and we were ready to rock & roll!

ELLEN: Yes, but also you look incredible in the pictures! It’s one thing to see you coming in and out of our building every day but when you see the pictures, you’re like “Wow! There’s Frederique the supermodel!”. I was really blown away when I saw the pictures. Also, it’s very intimate because it’s in my apartment and our roof. A small home production with friends.

IRIS: Frederique, I was reading about a new venture that you have called lifecycles. Is that a project of yours that we can look forward to later this year?

FREDERIQUE: Yes, I created a series with newswire.fm where I visit friends and or celebs from different industries. I’m always riding around on my bike and I talk about life in New York and what keeps them there and we discuss their ups and downs and inspirations. We did our first seven and we featured a bunch of people from different artistic backgrounds. As in fantastic singer Marieme Diop, actor/director Griffin Dunne, designers Badgley Mischka, architect Winka Dubbeldam who did both Ellen and my apartment. An amazing mix of people and it’s coming out this year. It was really fun and it’s a good thing to show the love we all have for New York City. It’s funny, I’m not a Native New Yorker but I do feel like I’m a Dutch-New Yorker.

Whatever happens, the city breathes a sort of inspiration. It’s the mix of people, the wild experiences which can happen in the city at any moment. It just makes it such a special place. I think New York has such a heartbeat. It keeps you coming back to it.

ELLEN: Each time I’m coming from the airport and I see the skyline I just think “Wow, I’m coming home.” You know? I really feel like this is my city. It is so special because even when I’m in Paris, Berlin and all these other beautiful cities, it’s still not like being in New York. Of course, it’s a sad time at the moment, but I love how quickly and creatively they built up all the outdoor seating restaurants. Some of them with really nice decorations and music. It’s nice to see how New York always overcomes challenges.

FREDERIQUE: And also, that resilience of a New Yorker. It’s interesting to see it from a European perspective. For example, the Dutch if you would say to people you have to take another job or you have to come up with an idea to have a different approach to what you’ve been doing, it’s harder for them. But here in New York people are like “Yes let’s go for it! Come on let’s do it!” And I love that.

GEORGINE: New Yorkers are so strong and also very flexible and easy to adapt to a new situation.

ELLEN: It’s also kind of a survival mode of being a New Yorker. You don’t have the luxury to wait things out, you have to be creative to make it there.

IRIS: What are some things you have been doing during the lockdown to stay creative?

ELLEN: I still have been working but of course much less than normal. Productions have slowly started again with many precautions with testing and mask and everything. You never know how the virus reacts so it’s always stressful after a shoot to not know if you might have it or how your body might react to it. I also did some facetime shoots. Like facetiming a shoot in Paris and another in LA. So, I guess we have found new ways of being creative which is the good side of things I suppose.
It can be kind of fun because you feel very voyeuristic since you’re practically in somebody’s apartment.
And then I’m like “Oh, I want to see what is over there… ok you could just sit over there you know and pose like this.” It does feel weird. I would much rather be with somebody in person of course.

FREDERIQUE: I think that the future will be more about coming together. I think we will see more value in what we are doing because of this time of reflection. And be a little bit more focused on what we really want to do. And I think when you do that, as in organizing this shoot and being surrounded with people you like, it creates something great.

ELLEN: I don’t always photograph the people I love for jobs, but I think we can definitely focus more on what we want to say through our work. Now that we see that time is precious and we can’t waste it, I think it’s more important than ever.

IRIS: One of the things that you talked about is reflection. Since we all had much more time for personal reflection, was there anything that you learned about yourself this past year?

FREDERIQUE: Well, I was quite lucky that I could escape to upstate New York where I have a farm. We were able to go back and forth from there and back to the city. It was so nice to be in nature, how healing that was actually. And I realized how much I loved the time I spent in nature and in the garden. Planting and gardening with all this free time felt new to me and it was different to have this solitude with just a few people at my house. Of course, I miss going out and I’m dying to go dancing and to go to all the fun events, but it was interesting to realize how much I actually love being more in nature and working with my hands. So, I ended up creating gardens, planting vegetable, and painting. I loved it.

GEORGINE: We got back from Paris Fashion Week and doing a last minute trunk show in Texas and enjoyed the time off. We are always on the run between places and running around so it was great to have a moment to relax. Catched up on a lot of tv shows and re-watched some classic movies and of course did a lot of cooking.But after a couple of weeks I felt very restless and needed a project. We have always wanted to renovate our showroom and give it new light. This seemed the perfect time for it. If not now, then when? We started with the kitchen area, and before I knew it, we reimagined our entire space and were living in a construction zone for the next 8 months!

ELLEN: And we went to our country home and we always go there for winters. We have a huge cherry tree in the garden and we actually got to see it blooming this summer and it was so amazing. It was a good time to really appreciate it. We also did some vegetable gardening. I also just photographed everything in sight from rain drops on the leaves, to the bees, to my neighbor’s horses. And I really feel like I experienced nature in a very intense way.

IRIS: What new projects should we expect from you this year? Frederique let’s start with you.

FREDERIQUE: Yes, there’s a couple of shoots that I did. I did a story for Vogue Living on my place in upstate New York and I’m actually working on a television program. It’s a bit futuristic where we will use virtual reality. We will follow how certain products come to us. In 2D and also in 3D. For example, the artists from Studio Drift, they create amazing light art and we follow their journey through their creative process. I’ve also decided that I should write a book. It came to me while I did a ‘journey’. I will see once I start writing if it indeed moves me and if it’s something I would like to see to completion and published.

IRIS: Georgine?

GEORGINE: Actually, as I’m talking to you guys, I’m sketching some proposals for the First Lady. It’s very exciting! After redoing our space I’ve ventured into interior design besides designing collections because many of our clients that have come over to our space since we did the renovation were so enamored by the space that they asked me to help them redo their homes! I’m also working on a new spring line and trying to improve my italian by taking classes via zoom.

IRIS: And then Ellen what about your plans for 2021?

ELLEN: I am planning to do another photography book because people are still so fascinated with the time of the supermodels and I lived that time you know? I shot with Naomi when she was 16, I discovered Claudia and Eva and I have so many pictures. So, I think it’s actually a good time to pull them all out. The glamourous fashion from the nineties in a book will be my next project. I also got asked to do a very exciting project which is to create a cabaret burlesque show in Los Angeles in a very special venue. It’s not really what I do but why not? I want to try different things, so why not? It’s good to go in a bit of a different direction sometimes. Everyone is going to be so ready to go out, so I’m super excited about it.

Frederique with designer Georgine

Photography: Ellen von Unwerth @ellenvonunwerth

Model: Frederique van der Wal @frederiquevdwal

Makeup: Romero Jennings @romerojennings

Clothing: Georgine @georginestudio

BLONDIE

On the brink of a summer tour promoting the release of her 11th studio album with Blondie, the punk/new-wave/rock goddess, Debbie Harry,
shows no signs of slowing down.

Blazer by Vivienne Westwood | Fox Fur Leopard Print Boa by Georgine | Sunglasses by Le Specs Luxe

Photography by Nicolas Kern | Styling by Britt McCamey | Interview by Roger Padilha

Ever since she injected New York City’s ground-breaking, underground music scene with her infectious presence, Debbie Harry found her rightful place as Queen of Cool, and for the past 41 years has reigned as a trailblazing pioneer within the realms of pop culture, fine art, high fashion, and music. Arriving at Splashlight studios with an entourage of one, the low key Harry informs us there is no need for the more discreet side entrance. Instead she prefers to stand in line and check in with the front desk security like everyone else. This drama free attitude seems in line with her polite demeanor upon entering the set with a shopping bag full of past Blondie tour t-shirts and introducing herself to everyone on the crew. “Hi, I’m Debbie. Would anyone like a t-shirt?”

At the age of 71, Harry and her world-famous, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band, Blondie, have released their eleventh studio album entitled Pollinator. Since their debut album in 1976, through the band’s signature look and pioneering new wave/punk music, Blondie has become an internationally recognized and praised band. With her photogenic face, two-toned hair, and punk style Harry quickly rose to the level of fashion and pop culture icon. Debbie quickly became a muse for Andy Warhol, the late fashion designer Stephen Sprouse, and famed fashion photographer Steven Meisel, to name a few. She was and remains very influential across music genres, and Blondie’s song Rapture became the first #1 song in the US to feature rap, thanks to her influence by friends Fab Five Freddy, and hip- hop pioneer, Grandmaster Flash.

Frontwoman Harry and guitarist/conceptual mastermind Chris Stein were the founding members of Blondie, along with drummer Clem Burke, whose powerhouse playing always distinguished Blondie’s sound. Their newest project, Pollinator, is a fusion of pop and disco with that ineffable Blondie sound. The newly released album is mostly comprised of collaborations with outside performers and songwriters. The list of collaborators include Dev Hynes of Blood Orange, Johnny Marr of the Smiths, Charlie XCX, Sia, Laurie Anderson, Joan Jett, The Strokes’ Nick Valensi, comedian John Roberts, and Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio. The album’s first single, “Fun”, sets the tone for the album, with a music video that features technicolor footage of an astronaut flying to Mars cut with scenes of the band performing at a psychedelic rave in space.

The album title, Pollinator, refers to Blondie’s creative cross-pollination over the years with many other icons in the industry. With the fabulous collaborations between Blondie and other artists throughout the studio album, Pollinator is a veritable hive of delicious tracks and beats to enjoy. The Rage and Rapture Tour kicks off on July 5th and features the acclaimed alternative rock band Garbage.

Though the tunes were culled from disparate sources, the feel of the album is impressively unified, with a playful nod to 1978’s groundbreaking Parallel Lines. Harry, Stein, Burke, and company took this raw material and deftly transformed it in the studio into an album that’s quintessentially Blondie. The emphasis is on arrangements that are fast and fun, lyrics that are romantic and teasing, and synth-stoked hooks that evoke the New Wave era. It was Grammy-winning producer John Congleton (Franz F