“I wouldn’t bring you to a place that would kill you,” Amina Blue says in her Brooklyn accent. She chuckles and then smirks playfully. The place in question is Kavasutra, New York’s first kava bar, in the East Village. Blue, a model on the rise who has gained attention for her role as Kanye West’s frequent muse, doesn’t drink. So, occasionally, she comes here instead with her manager/agent, Session Cruz, for a muscle-relaxing beverage made out of the roots of kava, a plant grown in the western Pacific Islands. It numbs your tongue, almost makes you feel a little high, and tastes like dirt, but it's a healthy alternative to alcohol, without the intoxication and hangover.
Blue, 23, is a homebody who spends her days watching Animal Planet or playing with her four pit bulls, so this is a rare outing for her. “I don’t like to have to talk to everybody,” she says. “People assume I’m mute and this nasty bitch because I don’t smile, but I’m just a private person.”
So private in fact that she refuses to reveal her real name (her alias was inspired by her blue eyes). Still, almost everywhere she goes, she gets recognized as the pocket-sized, 5’1” tattooed model from West’s Yeezy Season fashion shows with platinum blonde hair, striking, doll-like facial features, and curves men salivate over (32” bust, 18” waist, 34” hips). On her way to Kavasutra, she was stopped on the street by a boy in his late teens who hollered, “Hey! Aren’t you Instagram famous?”
Blue started off as a video vixen, appearing in music videos for Busta Rhymes (“Thank You,” which also featured West, Q-Tip, and Lil Wayne) and Rich Gang (“Everyday,” though the video was never released). But by February 2015, she was front and center at West’s first Yeezy Season show during New York Fashion Week. “I was nervous as fuck,” she says. “I was like, ‘Shit. I’m the shortest one.’ For a 5’1” model like me to be there… And it was livestreamed.” Since then, she has walked in the three subsequent Yeezy Season shows, appeared in both Yeezy Season zines, and flown around the world to model the apparel for buyers who visit the brand’s showrooms. She’s become known for her provocative poses as much as her carefree attitude. During the Yeezy Season 4 show at Roosevelt Island in New York in September, she kicked off her shoes on the catwalk because they were uncomfortable. “I do everything that has to do with Yeezy,” she says. She has also been featured in CR Fashion Book, the fashion magazine founded by former Vogue Paris editor-in-chief Carine Roitfeld, and recently graced the cover of German culture magazine 032c—completely nude. “Less is more sometimes; more isn’t always less,” she says.
On Blue’s right thigh is a tattoo of a skull the size of two fists with flowers wrapped around it. She got it when she was 18, and decided on the design an hour before she arrived at the tattoo shop. “I just wanted to get something, and I didn’t want anything small,” she explains. Born in Brooklyn to a German mother and a Pakistani father, who are now divorced, Blue admits her Muslim dad didn’t approve of her body art. Once, she checked in on him after he was diagnosed with diabetes, and her father and other family members refused to speak to her. “I had a short-sleeve shirt and a skirt on, and he hadn’t seen me with my tattoos,” she recalls. “I swear to God, they didn’t say anything to me for an hour. They just stared at me.”
Her father didn’t accept her modeling career and provocative poses either. Blue’s older brother was a police officer (he was killed in a motorcycle accident), her older sister is an orthodontist, and her younger brother is a production assistant. “I totally went against the grain,” she says. “My dad was a typical Muslim father who wanted their daughter to have an arranged marriage and be a stay-at-home wife. He told me I had to change my name.” She chuckles awkwardly. “I cut him off after that. Not everyone’s gonna accept what I do, and I’m cool with that. But if you don’t? Bye.”
Growing up, Blue always wanted to be a model. A vegan and animal activist herself—she often refuses to do gigs that require her to wear leather, suede, or fur—she was obsessed with Pamela Anderson (“We connected”), and admired the Victoria’s Secret Angels. “I liked the typical, tall, skinny girl because, to me, it was beautiful to see,” she says. “But also because that wasn’t what I looked like.”
"It's not real modeling. nobody wants to be a video vixen all their life."
Traditionally, the average height of a model is between 5’8” and 5’11”—skyscrapers compared to Blue. “Everyone would always tell me, ‘You have a certain look,’ but there were always these odds against me, like my height,” she says. “I didn’t think it was actually possible for me to [be a model].”
Still, she gave it a try. In 2012, a 19-year-old Blue—with dirty blonde highlights and “no eyebrows”—submitted her photos to Face Time Agency, the New York-based modeling agency that now represents her, for a casting call for a Fabolous music video, though neither Cruz nor Blue can remember for which song. She couldn’t appear in the video, but kept in touch with Cruz, co-founder of Face Time. The following year, they met again at the RichGang video shoot in New Jersey. “We just clicked,” Blue says of Cruz.
Blue was the youngest of the models on set that day, and kept to herself most of the time. Just like at her Yeezy debut, she was “nervous as hell. I was in a mansion full of girls I’d never seen before, who were much older, much more experienced than I was, and had a different look than me. Compared to them, I looked like a little girl. I was like, ‘What am I doing here?’”
Looking back, she doesn’t consider such video work to be “real” modeling. “We can call it what it is: It’s sitting in front of a camera and shaking your butt,” she says with a laugh. “That’s not me, but we all have to start somewhere. Nobody wants to be a video vixen all their life.”
In February 2015, Blue got her big break: She was booked as a model for West’s Yeezy Season 1 runway show, which featured a physically and ethnically diverse cast. She wasn’t initially going to go to the casting call because she had just had surgery on her foot, but Cruz convinced her otherwise. “I had to yell at her to go to the casting,” he recalls. “I was like, ‘You better get your crutches and get up in this casting!’” Blue went, with a wrap on her foot. The casting turned into a fitting, and she “never left,” Cruz recalls.
“They plucked her from the casting line, and she stood there for eight hours, working. Most of the girls had to get called back. But for her, they immediately were like, ‘You’re with us now.’” From what Cruz can remember, West and his team told him that they replaced one of the models with Blue because “that [other] girl had no swag.”
“[Kanye] gave me the opportunity, and his fanbase accepted me,” Blue adds. “He’s accepting of everything I want to do,” she says, clarifying that the rapper wasn’t upset when she took off her shoes as she walked the runway during the Yeezy Season 4 show. “I was either going to fall or look like a dummy, so I took them off,” she says, flatly. “I’m not gonna make a fool out of myself. I talked to him about it after and he was like, ‘I don’t care. Do what you gotta do.’”
She calls West a “friend,” and says they’ve developed a close relationship. When asked about West’s recent hospitalization, she’s sympathetic towards the rapper. “Kanye is always under a microscope but people tend to forget he’s human, like the rest of us,” she says. “We all go through things and need all the support we can get to get through hard times. He’s no different.”
Blue is quick to credit West for her modeling career. “It was all him,” she says. But she admits that even with a high-profile co-sign like that, some in the fashion industry still aren’t accepting of her curvy, tattooed frame. “People give me a funny look like, ‘What is this girl doing here?’ Even some of the people Kanye works with look at me and say, ‘Are you really gonna make me work with this girl?’”
"Kanye is always under a microscope but people tend to forget he’s human, like the rest of us."
One person who has welcomed Blue is Roitfeld, the revered fashion editor who has helped shape the careers of plenty of models, including Gigi and Bella Hadid and the similarly voluptuous Kate Upton. In the fall of 2015, Roitfeld reached out to Blue about featuring her in an issue of CR Fashion Book. “I didn’t really know who she was at first,” Blue admits. “I got an email from her assistant, and I forwarded it to Kanye. He was like, ‘Yeah, do it!’ He was so psyched. I did my research on her and realized she’s Carine Roitfeld.” Now, she calls Roitfeld, like Kanye, a “really good friend.”
“I met Amina with Kanye. He introduced me to her,” Roitfeld told New York Magazine’s The Cut. “She is very lovely and interesting.”
Even with high-profile supporters in her corner—or perhaps because of them—Blue has found herself the subject of the uglier side of Internet fame. This past summer, there were rumors that Tyga was cheating on Kylie Jenner with Blue after the rapper posed for a photo with Blue in a mansion. “I had people writing me hate mail like, ‘I want to cut your throat,’” she says. “I was like, ‘What did I do to you? Leave me the fuck alone!’ It was so stupid because Kylie was in the mansion with us [on the set of Tyga’s “1 of 1” video shoot].”
But for the most part, Blue doesn’t seem easily dispelled. When asked about the criticisms of her body, her answer is forthright: “These people don’t think I should be here. But that can’t be my mentality too. If I was insecure or unsure of where my place was, I probably wouldn’t have made it this far.”
Blue explains her tenacity as the result of her upbringing: She was raised by a single mother who worked three jobs, and lost her brother when she was in her early teens. “Most girls who have dads growing up have an easier life,” she says. “For me, my brother was that dad figure to me. When he passed away, I didn’t have that anymore. I had to grow up quicker.”
Right now, growing and expanding the Amina Blue brand is her focus. At Kavasutra, Blue and Cruz are joined by a friend who’s helping write the script for a film Blue is set to appear in. “It’s still new for me, but I like it,” she says of acting. She’s taking drama classes at Actors Connection in Manhattan, and has signed on to be a part of a VH1 reality show about working models, executive-produced by LaLa Anthony and featuring music by Timbaland. “It won’t be anything ratchet like Love & Hip-Hop,” she promises. She’s also finalizing her vegan shoe line and would like to partner with an anti-poaching organization. “I’m proud of where I am, but I feel like I have more to do,” she says. Just as she starts thinking about her future, she cracks that big, beautiful—and very rare—smile. “I want to be able to wake up in the morning and do whatever I want.”
Want more Amina Blue? Check out Complex's 2016 Holiday Gift Guide, which features the beauty as our special guest star. /// Styling by Ian Bradley; Makeup by Elisa Flowers; Hair by Din Calabro