There’s a good chance you’ve seen Clara Chon’s work even if you have no idea who she is. The little-known New Zealand artist is behind Kim Kardashian’s favourite new piece, the 'meta selfie jacket.'
Kim has worn the custom-made jacket at least four times over the last few weeks and it’s simultaneously enraged and enraptured the internet. Everyone from Vogue, OK! Magazine, Huffington Post, Refinery 29 and the Daily Mail have written about it.
Last week, Kim gave Clara a shout out on her website, describing her label Blue Blank as a "sick bespoke brand in New Zealand." By the time I manage to call Clara, her phone is buzzing with notifications from excited friends and fans.
She says the jacket was inspired by another she’d painted last year with images of Drake for a photo shoot with stylists Sebastian Hunt and Dylan Richards. “They got scouted by Kanye on Instagram,” she says of the duo. “He called them and then they were in L.A. the next day, working for him. It’s incredible,” Clara gushes. Her big break came soon after.
"Kanye had my jacket on his mood board and then Dylan and Seb saw it and thought it would be cool to get one made for Kim. They messaged me and were like, 'Okay, we're going to tell you something: We want to commission a piece for Kim from you. I was like, 'Whaaat! Can I Facebook about it?!' And they were like, 'No fucking way!'"
For the next six weeks, Clara worked day and night to produce the goods, using a vintage leather jacket she’d picked up in Belgium. “It was kind of an informal agreement that I would keep it under the wraps, but the whole process took so long it really was hard to not yap about it!”
Clara chose the selfies to paint from Kim’s Instagram, and added the words “chill” and “slay”, taken from Kim’s KIMOJI app, down the arms of the jacket. “Those words seemed like an apt summary of her social media presence,” she says. “Also I wanted to keep my references completely tautological and contained within the mass social construct that is Kim Kardashian.”
Clara, whose fine arts background means she approaches clothing design as art rather than fashion, then connected the project to French philosopher Jean Baudrillard’s idea of "simulacra and simulation," or image and imitation.
"I feel Baudrillard’s concept of hyperreality correlates with the selfie on many grounds—like the online world serving as a somewhat comforting construction of simulated ideals, and the paradox of the selfie as a denial and validation of the self. And who better than the selfie queen to represent this existential plight?"
Clara’s paintwork was so hyperreal that the Daily Mail reported the selfies were "printed." But this doesn’t seem to bother Clara. "It was kind of intentional to make them actually look like photographs, just to keep consistent with the idea of simulation and simulacra—a painting mimicking a photograph," she says.
Predictably for the polarizing celebrity, thousands of internet commenters came out to diss Kim and the ‘meta selfie jacket’ for being vapid, narcissistic, and self-obsessed.
“It’s so funny, everyone’s saying ‘She’s such a narcissist! She’s wearing her own face!’ And it’s like yeah, she knows that. She knows that you think she’s a narcissist! I thought that was such a cool idea, and a fun commentary on the nature of celebrities and tabloids,” Clara says.
In light of her recent nude selfies also attracting vitriol, Kim’s quick adoption of Clara’s creation into her wardrobe makes the jacket a part of the broader discussion she’s leading on self-love. The fact that it’s become her go-to for everything from a friend's birthday party to a movie date with Kanye makes the message all the more powerful, considering celebrities often wear a piece only once. “I was under the impression that it was going to be for photo shoot,” Clara says. “I had no idea if it was going to be worn at all, let alone four times! So that completely blew my mind.”
It’s also an interesting dichotomy for an independent artist to be elevated to that level of celebrity by someone who’s so famous they’re basically writing their own rules. “She’s really trail-blazed on this whole new level of celebrity,” Clara says. “It feels really surreal watching something you’ve made take on a life of its own, with a bunch of different narratives getting constructed around it—from being described as awful to being hailed as a new trend.”
But as Kim—and Kanye—have shown us, polarizing is popular, and this will no doubt put Clara in good stead. She already shares similarities with the power couple, in that her work is fundamentally interdisciplinary, not bound by medium. Clara naturally freaks at this comparison: “I’ve always felt like a master of none, since I’m such a medium whore. I think art should be about doing what you shouldn’t be doing.” This sounds like something Kanye might say.
Since she’s been shouted-out by the queen of the internet, Clara’s career has already started taking off. She’s fielding requests from people all over the world on Instagram, but her priority is finishing up another important commission—this time for a fellow rising Kiwi, choreographer Parris Goebel, who works with Justin Bieber and Rihanna.
Clara’s also working on new bag designs for Blue Blank, which, along with the painted jackets, produces bondage-inspired accessories incorporating harnesses, chains, and Egyptian iconography. After that she’s going to the U.S .to work on other projects and hopefully snap a selfie with Kim.