An unretouched image of Damn Rebel Bitch Alex Bruni to accompany an interview for REEK Perfume's platform 'Bitches Unite.'

ALEX BRUNI

ALEX BRUNI

An unretouched image of Damn Rebel Bitch Alex Bruni to accompany an interview for REEK Perfume's platform 'Bitches Unite.'
An unretouched image of Damn Rebel Bitch Alex Bruni to accompany an interview for REEK Perfume's platform 'Bitches Unite.'
An unretouched image of Damn Rebel Bitch Alex Bruni to accompany an interview for REEK Perfume's platform 'Bitches Unite.'
An unretouched image of Damn Rebel Bitch Alex Bruni to accompany an interview for REEK Perfume's platform 'Bitches Unite.'
An unretouched image of Damn Rebel Bitch Alex Bruni to accompany an interview for REEK Perfume's platform 'Bitches Unite.'

REEK model Alex Bruni gives her take on activism and working in fashion as a woman is her 60s. And you young ones watch out, she’ll give you a run for your money.

Is scent important to you and why?

I  think that scent is important, because we often associate smells with specific memories and people. We recognise the smell of a loved one, for example, and I remember reading that babies can recognise the scent of their mother’s milk even before they see her. I recently watched a French movie, The Past, in which a man whose wife was in a coma and had turned into a vegetable, would put on his aftershave, which she liked very much, and then bending to kiss her, he would tell her to squeeze his hand if she knew who he was, in the hope she might recognise him. It was such a moving scene! Smell is often a significant part of falling in love, we are often attracted to the smell of a particular person.

So what are the evocative smells in your life?

Oooh, where shall I start? Freshly laundered sheets, which conjure up memories of home and summer, the gorgeous scent of jasmine which always reminds of my travels through southern India, the smell of oranges which also reminds me of home as we used to have orange trees in our garden. I love vanilla, always did, so I guess vanilla reminds me of childhood and delicious ice creams. I often put it in my coffee, just love to inhale the aroma. Smells are very important to me and I am very sensitive to them. It is not always a good thing, I can easily be offended by a bad odour ie unwashed people. Travelling on the tube in summer during rush hours can be a nightmare – it seems to me that far too many people do not shower at all.

Perfumes are one of my weaknesses, a major one. I love full, rich ones, with a hint of a bergamot fragrance thrown in. There is a strong link between taste and smell, think of wines. You both taste and smell them.

What do you think about growing old and ideas of beauty?

Growing old is inevitable so best reconcile yourself to it. Sometimes I regret not being young anymore, who doesn’t,  but in truth I don’t dwell on it, I tend to accept myself and always look to the future because I have a zest for life. To my mind age is never a major drawback. As you grow older I think it’s very important to take care of yourself, mentally, psychologically, emotionally and physically. Self care and self love are important.  Giving yourself little treats, such as buying a nice perfume, has a rejuvenating effect, I mean it!

As for beauty, I really do believe beauty has no age, nor is beauty dependent on measurements and specific proportions or a particular look. I am always amazed at how diverse beauty is! Somehow this is not reflected in our beauty industry which would like us to look all the same, in a very arbitrary way.

Tell us a bit about your modelling

Well I model because I am, really, a campaigner. I want people to change their perceptions of older people and of older women in particular, and of ageing. I want to eliminate all the negative ‘isms’ from ageism to racism and, of course, discriminatory attitudes to women. Deep down I am passionate about politics, have always been politically aware and at various points in my life I have seriously considered becoming a politician. I care about community, about society, and most of all, about people.

So watch this space. I might relinquish modelling to become fully involved in politics. That may be my next step.


An unretouched image of Damn Rebel Bitch Nina Mdwaba to accompany her piece ‘My Black is Infinitely Beautiful’ for REEK Perfume's blog platform 'Bitches Unite.'

MY BLACK IS INFINITELY BEAUTIFUL

NINA MDWABA: MY BLACK IS INFINITELY BEAUTIFUL

An unretouched image of Damn Rebel Bitch Nina Mdwaba to accompany her piece ‘My Black is Infinitely Beautiful’ for REEK Perfume's blog platform 'Bitches Unite.'
An unretouched image of Damn Rebel Bitch Nina Mdwaba to accompany her piece ‘My Black is Infinitely Beautiful’ for REEK Perfume's blog platform 'Bitches Unite.'
An unretouched image of Damn Rebel Bitch Nina Mdwaba to accompany her piece ‘My Black is Infinitely Beautiful’ for REEK Perfume's blog platform 'Bitches Unite.'
An unretouched image of Damn Rebel Bitch Nina Mdwaba to accompany her piece ‘My Black is Infinitely Beautiful’ for REEK Perfume's blog platform 'Bitches Unite.'
An unretouched image of Damn Rebel Bitch Nina Mdwaba to accompany her piece ‘My Black is Infinitely Beautiful’ for REEK Perfume's blog platform 'Bitches Unite.'

Nina Mdwaba talks about her experience modelling as a woman of colour and how she is done with appeasing white culture’s beauty standards. We are with her, are you?

I was recently involved in a fashion show , where I happened to be the only model of colour. Don’t get me wrong I had a wonderful time and all the people were welcoming , I rarely felt like “the other”. But the closer we got to the show, the closer I knew I was getting to that time of the night I dreaded, where the mua and hair team came in.  

In that moment I knew that I would be made the “other”, the girl who had a face of glitter and bronze that barely showed on my dark skin. I don’t know if the mua team had not been informed that a darker skin model was going to be part of the team or (as I would expect from past experience) the mua and hair team didn’t really give a shit, but they didn’t have products suitable for me!

Now you may look at me and think, your hair is short, what were you expecting? My answer to that would be ,”not much” and to be frank that’s only because I’m used to the same tired , dismissive excuse of “you look great as is”. Well yes, but you have to imagine, when all the models were being fussed over with their sleek blonde hair ( as the show had been curated) I was seated with a face full of glitter and my natural (peroxide bleached) fro.

There was a bitter irony in the fact that one of the hair team members had luminous orange braids (just to throw some appropriation into the mix) but somehow had no idea what to do with a black girl’s hair, so I did my usual of running some water into my curls and that was me for the evening.

Growing up, I bought into the industry of weaves and chemically straightened hair, an industry that every black girl buys into because we’ve been assimilated into believing that the western aesthetic is the only aesthetic. My mother and her mother bought into it too – it’s what was taught to them.

Then I grew up, and the more I read about black beauty, the more I saw and the more I  became my own woman, I realised that I was no longer happy with adopting another’s perception of beauty, so I chopped off my hair and began to grow it naturally.

It didn’t solve my problems – if anything it made things more difficult. I found myself entering into black hair salons where stylists refused to touch my hair because they hadn’t a clue what to do with it now that it wasn’t chemically straightened. I was fed up , so I began to do the work.

I started watching YouTube tutorials, learning about protective hair styles and products that were good for my natural hair, oils and beautiful concoctions that made my curls pop and my hair glisten. I felt more at peace with myself, my appearance and my identity as a black woman. Something I didn’t know was being stripped from me.

It’s been 4 years since I’ve cut my hair and I still get the odd request from (white) people to touch my hair (it’s annoying but I don’t always mind). It’s also kind of sweet when they genuinely want to learn. I’m more than happy to teach people about OUR culture , OUR beauty and OUR natural hair.

It’s funny now I suppose, as I sit here writing this piece remembering the day I told my mother I had cut my hair. I remember the first thing that came out her mouth was “why, are you in mourning?” “Mourning?” I responded. As though something as tragic as a death would have to occur in order for a black woman to decide to cut her hair? I was dumbfounded.

Until I remembered that as a black, South African woman from a rich cultural background filled with traditions, one of which was that a woman/mother is expected to cut her hair when in mourning. Still, in a western setting my mother was unable to separate the two and in the same way, I was unable to put two and two together. I guess what it really came down to was that she too had been assimilated into the western concept of beauty – so much so, that even her own culture was secondary to the “norm” we’d been forced to adopt as our own.

So finally, I’ve reached a point in my life where compromising my Africanness and my blackness at my own expense for the comfort of the West is no longer an option I’m willing to entertain. This is for a number of reasons, but I also  endured a traumatising experience after New Year back home, in what my country supposedly refers to as “A Rainbow Nation” where “every race and diversity is celebrated”. A white man told me I wasn’t black enough because  of the lightness of my skin, referring to me as “mocha” He used horrible racist slurs around me in an attempt at what he probably thought was “banter”. He did this even after I asked him several times to stop, and reminded him that it wasn’t only inappropriate but offensive. I eventually walked away because I realised that you can’t change the mentality of a racist, you can only walk away and hope they haven’t left a permanent mark.

As such I’ve come to an informal agreement with myself that when I see fit , I will educate those who are willing to learn and when I see a wasted opportunity I will walk away. Some people are just not worth the effort.

Optimistically, I hope for a day where the colour of my skin, the texture of my hair and my gender will be a mere aesthetic and not a clarion call to stereotypes, prejudice and hatred. Because My Black Is Infinitely Beautiful.


An Image of Damn Rebel Bitch Ellie to accompany her interview for REEK Perfume's platform 'Bitches Unite.'

WOMEN IN THE ARMED FORCES

WOMEN IN THE ARMED FORCES

REEK INTERVIEW: ELLIE

An Image of Damn Rebel Bitch Ellie to accompany her interview for REEK Perfume's platform 'Bitches Unite.'
An Image of Damn Rebel Bitch Ellie to accompany her interview for REEK Perfume's platform 'Bitches Unite.'
An Image of Damn Rebel Bitch Ellie to accompany her interview for REEK Perfume's platform 'Bitches Unite.'
An Image of Damn Rebel Bitch Ellie to accompany her interview for REEK Perfume's platform 'Bitches Unite.'
An Image of Damn Rebel Bitch Ellie to accompany her interview for REEK Perfume's platform 'Bitches Unite.'

Model, Feminist and former military officer, Ellie, on perfume, bravery, beauty and gender equality.

What female or gender equality causes mean the most to you and why?

Communities of any kind where there are human beings, in all their glorious rainbow of differences, who have no voice, no vote, and no ability to decide their own future. Equality, in the right to vote, in employment; in terms of opportunity, job safety, security, and remuneration is of the greatest importance. My strong feeling is that people can and should only be seen as human beings and that race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and colour are all false qualifiers and no sane measure of humankind. I am passionate that every person must have the right to choose the person they are, not for it to be chosen for them.

Girls in areas like Rwanda, Uganda and South Africa missing a week of school a month because they have no access to basic sanitation/underwear/sanitary towels, and so can’t go to school during menstruation. Without education the cycle of poverty cannot end.

Curiously also the right for mothers to be just mothers, where they wish to. I chose, very early on, not to have children, but I see raising children as the most important job, it has such a huge effect on what shape the next generation takes. In this sense mothers make the world. It seems to have become the norm for mothers to be expected to be back at their desks 6 months after childbirth or they somehow haven’t been tough enough. So many of my friends feel they must be mothers, have careers and run the home, and I am yet to meet one who is finding that experience satisfying or fulfilling. I know a lot of burnt out career mothers who are struggling to prove they are happy or ‘tough enough’, and putting a brave face on it, but in reality aren’t doing more than just about coping.

I feel we must get better at integrating motherhood and childcare with high-ranking professional positions. Many of my friends have left promising careers in the military because it proved impossible to balance the demands of raising children with professional careers.

Do you think female success differs from male success and if so how? Have you experienced this in your own career?  

It is my experience that male success comes with congratulations and female success comes with criticism. A man getting a promotion is a ‘Good chap’, his female counterpart clearly slept her way there, bent equal opportunities and diversity policy to her benefit or had an easier time of it because she fluttered her eyelashes. Rarely does it seem that we commend women for their success, because they have just been good at their job. When a woman succeeds, there always seems to be a question mark held over that success, with an implication that it was somehow easier for her. My experience of working in a very male dominated world as a military engineer, is that the knives come out for a successful female’s reputation in a way that I haven’t seen with men, even when particular men are well-known for using unacceptable means such as bullying or cheating to achieve their success. I have been a called a ball-busting bitch, too soft on my troops, frigid and a whore all in the same sentence, upon outperforming a male counterpart.

I can recall several times in the military where I excelled in a major project or particularly difficult task, I rarely recall being commended for intelligence, hard work and planning, but I can remember many inferences that I somehow got an easy ride because I was a woman, or used feminine wiles to achieve a goal. On the occasions at which I excelled, being good at my job, was almost never considered the reason for my success.

I want to clarify that there are some amazing leaders of all genders in the military and I had the pleasure of working for an incredible feminist in my first job, and I know he would be proud to hear me refer to him that way, but it was my broad experience that sexism was prevalent.

What women do you most identify with from history to the present day that have also inspired you to push further in your career or your personal life?

Undoubtedly Her Majesty the Queen, whose unfaltering service to her country has given me greater inspiration than any other, to continue where I would otherwise have given up. She has never faltered under the enormity of her task, has maintained a strong moral compass, has not been swayed by fashions in clothes or politics and still maintains great charisma, intelligence, elegance and a sense of self. She is incredibly wise and I feel one of history’s greatest leaders.

Women like Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher, strong women who ignored criticism and forged ahead. I didn’t always agree with their policies or methods, but I wholly admire their strength. My old office cleaner, now into her 80’s, was in the Met police for 30 years, I can’t imagine what she must have been through, just to be allowed to do her job. She’s my hero. Another friend who was the lead hostage negotiator at Scotland Yard. Amazing tough, bright and brilliant women, who maintain their sense of self, moral compass and personal style.

What smells remind you of femininity? What are your favourite smells and why?

My grandmother’s perfume. If I happen upon the smell of it today I find myself instinctively sitting more elegantly! She was a beautifully put-together woman and had a fantastic eye for style.

My favourite smells are amber and tobacco, warm notes. I also love fresh smells like lime, neroli and orange. I have different scents depending on what the day calls for. Damn Rebel Bitches is my ‘going to war’ scent and I feel more confident when I walk into the boardroom wearing it, it reminds me that I don’t need to lose my femininity, to do battle.

Do you feel pressure to act/look a certain way to fit in with the ideals of female beauty? How do you combat or comply with these pressures?  

I used to! I really don’t know when I decided to throw off the mantle of that expectation, but somewhere along the line I decided I preferred elegance to fashion. I love diversity, I love to show character through a scarf or a hat. I love to dress well paying attention to individual details, and I despise looking like a High Street window.

I don’t seek compliments, I dress to feel fabulous for myself, but I note that I receive most compliments, including those from strangers, when I dress for myself, rather than for convention or fashion. Coco Chanel is quoted as saying ‘Don’t be like the rest of them darling,’ and I think she had that right.

I love hats and scarves and gloves. With these items you can make any outfit special.

You should also know that I spend a lot of time in sports kit with my hair scraped back in a scrunchie, because adventures and experiences mean more to me than how I look. I am at my happiest in my overalls, fixing things or out on the river in my kayak.

What makes you a Damn Rebel Bitch?

I applied.

At Public Speaking engagements I meet so many women who tell me that they wanted to do things I have done. I ask them why they didn’t. Mostly they say because of convention and that other people’s expectations prevented them from trying. Try. My mantra when applying for sponsorship to be an Engineering Officer was to push forward and keep pushing forward until something or someone actually stopped me, not theoretically made it difficult or put a hurdle in my way, there were plenty of those, but I mean actually stopped me. No one ever did.

I was awarded a Commander-in-Chief’s Commendation for Bravery in the London Bombings (a story for another time), a number of my peers were caustic and jealous of the award. I happened to be in London during the bombings because volunteers had been requested to act as Media Handlers at a major commemoration event. A lot of my peers talked about applying, but I was the only one who did. Apply. Don’t wait for permission.

I notice often that women wait to be given permission in all sorts of areas that men don’t. It’s a learned behaviour. Learn to decide, to assess for yourself whether you need permission, and not to assume you must wait for it or have it, or that it will be denied. No one decides your future but you.

Tell us what kind of bitch you are.

I am the Damn Rebel Bitch who just came back from working with Syrian Refugees in Northern Greece where I was volunteering for a charity as an engineer, carrying out works in the Camps, AND will be drinking cocktails in a 1950s dress at the Rivoli Bar at The Ritz tomorrow. I don’t wish to sound arrogant, but I want to introduce the concept of a part of feminism that I feel is lacking. AND not OR.

I spent so much of my time in the Forces believing I somehow had to apologise for my womanhood in my chosen profession. I wore my uniform too big to hide my female form and tried to be one of the boys. I got so good at it that my own troops didn’t recognize me, when dressed as a civilian at my leaving party, assuming I must be someone’s wife when I walked in. I look back on that with great regret. It’s important to be relevant, putting on lipstick while digging a trench isn’t sensible, but I played the concept of being one of the boys too hard. In my day, being a feminist was twisted to mean you were a problem-maker, whistleblower, not someone anyone would want on the team. I let countless, incredibly damaging, sexist remarks slip in the name of ‘acceptance’.

It took me a long time to reclaim the word feminist. I have zero of the current proliferation of prejudices and find the moral courage to stand up to intolerance, whenever and wherever I meet them. I thought that would cost me friends, I thought I’d become the dinner party bore no-one wanted to sit next to, but felt it was the path I must follow. I was wrong. It made me more friends than I could ever have imagined. When one person speaks out, it can be a great source of strength to others.

So I am the kind of Damn Rebel Bitch who tore down the walls of her pigeon hole. I don’t pretend it was simple and it took more than one attempt but I love having bright red nails and having qualified as an Explosives Engineer. By that I mean I have been and done many of the things that women from my background aren’t supposed to, and learned along the way that capable does not have to be at the sacrifice of feminine (and I am by no means suggesting that a woman must be feminine – a woman must be whatever she chooses is right for her, but that was the battle I had to fight.)

My all time favourite picture is the one here of my wrist, wearing jewellry I inherited from my immigrant grandparents, with a decent manicure and my work watch, which I still use, and bought when serving in the military. Of any photograph that has ever been taken, it best captures the essence of Me.

What signifies female strength to you?

Doing it anyway. Even when people tell you you will fail/ shouldn’t try/don’t have a right. Do it anyway. Forge ahead, be the woman your soul tells you to be.


An image of Damn Rebel Bitch Julian Kynaston, founder of Illamasqua, to accompany an interview for REEK Perfume's platform 'Bitches Unite.'

JULIAN KYNASTON

REEK INTERVIEW: JULIAN KYNASTON

Julian Kynaston is a legend in the beauty business. As Marketing Director he led hair beauty brand, ghd, to become the UK’s fastest growing private company in 2005. Following its management buy-out in 2006, Julian left ghd to establish Illamasqua, a global cosmetics brand, which is already breaking industry sales records. He sat down with us to talk perfume, beauty and gender politics.

An image of Damn Rebel Bitch Julian Kynaston, founder of Illamasqua, to accompany an interview for REEK Perfume's platform 'Bitches Unite.'
An image from the Illamasqua campaign to accompany an interview for REEK Perfume's platform 'Bitches Unite.'
An image from the Illamasqua campaign to accompany an interview for REEK Perfume's platform 'Bitches Unite.'

Which women have inspired you most in your life?

It’s got to be Kate Bush. I love her voice, her attitude, her spirit, and her sheer stage presence. She’s one of the most influential singers of all time, and to cap it off she was so incredibly young when she started out.

Do you think female success differs from male success and, if so, how?

I do, yes. The word equality gets thrown around so much these days, but realistically, for a woman to be considered anywhere close to being equal with a man, she’s going to have had to work ten times harder than him to get close – and she probably still won’t get recognised for it.

What smells do you consider feminine?

I particularly like Habanita de Molinard, the fragrance created by Richard Burton for Liz Taylor, and the original Fendi perfume from 1985.

How do you feel about beauty industry advertising? What would you like to see change?

Quite honestly, I think it’s stereotypical, condescending and damaging to society. It feels like we’re seeing an accountant’s tunnel-vision of what he thinks advertising should be – it’s unachievable and unfulfilling. But I’m trying to change this with Illamasqua. We were one of the first brands to use men in makeup adverts and celebrate models with skin imperfections, all to try and break down these barriers and social norms we’ve become accustomed to.

What are the challenges of being a male feminist?

The biggest challenge I’ve had to deal with is society’s preconceptions. I’m really proud to be a feminist and to break the traditional stereotype. I’ve got tonnes of really ‘laddie’ mates who I go to the football with and as a group, they’ll say loads of stupid things – but when we’re alone, or I’m with one or two of them, they take pride in telling me how much they love what I do.

You were involved from the beginning with Sophie Lancaster Foundation. Tell us about your work there.

I can remember the exact moment – I was drafting my mission statement for Illamasqua. I’d written the words “I want women to wear their makeup bolder and prouder, and I want to help men rediscover makeup,” and Sophie’s story broke on the news. As you know, Sophie was killed by a group of feral youths simply for looking different (part of this difference being the edgy way that she wore her makeup). And this was the very thing I was fighting for – self-expression and acceptance. In that split second, I knew I was prepared to do everything I could to stop this from happening again.

Is there too much pressure in the beauty industry to conform to a single ideal of female beauty?

There are so many different kinds of beauty. I think it’s disgusting that the industry has tried to shoehorn one particular kind of beauty into the mass market. But, that said, I think it’s finally starting to change quite rapidly. We have this saying at Illamasqua, “no amount of makeup can make a person beautiful on the inside.”

What does beauty look like?

Like I’ve already said, beauty looks like many different things to many different people. At Illamasqua, we use an analogy of a snail; some people will look at one and think, “Urgh, that’s disgusting.” Other people, like myself, will see the beauty of it, and think, ‘Wow. That’s totally and utterly incredible,’ and we’ll admire everything about it, from its shell to the way its trail glistens.