The recent winner of House of DVF and infamous princess of Instagram sits down with 80's Purple to talk about her new book, the end of the LiveJournal era, her creative partnership in love and art with boyfriend Mod Sun, and carving out her space in the fashion industry.
I'm walking up to a blue and white A-framed house marked number "11" ― a stone's throw from the Venice Beach shoreline in Los Angeles. It's mid-February, but you wouldn't know it. The boardwalk is packed with surfers, bicyclists, young women in tank tops and flouncy mini skirts catching the breeze. The door buzzes open and I'm let in. Whatever sounds of a warm, early spring I could hear outside have disappeared once the door closes behind me. Now, it's deep bass vibrating the floor and rap music blaring around the corner. I'm not sure what I've gotten myself into. The flat is massive ― a rocker's fantasy, really ― and a special location request by Hanna Beth. A black lacquer skeleton is riding a Victorian-era chandelier hanging from the middle of the living room ceiling. The walls are papered with ornate illustrations of richly colored exotic birds, spanned by a gorgeous tufted, peacock blue velvet sofa. There's texture and glitter and visual stimulation in every direction, and it's almost too much at once.
A nymph-like young woman greets me and points the way to where my subject for the day is waiting. Hanna Beth is seated in the center of a tornado of stylists and hair and make-up artists. I reach to shake her hand and notice how small she is ― about half my size. She's a streamlined version of herself from my first recollection of her via MySpace ten years prior during the Cobra Snake scenester era. The past decade has clearly refined Hanna Beth through maturity. Incredibly petite in stature, precise and delicate in features. I think how appropriate she was all those years ago to label herself "Barbie Beth," because she is a true embodiment of a 21st century living doll.
Her energy's balanced and mellow, so I figure this should be an easy-ish day. We agree to begin the interview in between wardrobe changes, which gives me some time to observe her transformation in front of the camera. As soon as the photographer starts shooting, Hanna Beth turns on. You can watch her flip a switch and start hitting angles and correcting her posture. I'm a little in awe, being a life-long camera-phobe myself. There's that term you might have heard, "owning it," and whatever that means, Hanna Beth is doing it in today's shoot ― one of a dozen or so she'll model for this week alone. What she might lack in height, she more than makes up for in length of limb and an unrattled, stoic gaze into the camera's lens.
Finally I sit down with Hanna Beth amidst several racks of style options in the only private space we can find, and I let her know that whatever treatment for the shoot I wrote prior to today, we can throw it out the window and just wing it. "Let's just have a conversation. I want to get to know you a little bit," I tell her.
Hanna Beth tells me about her New York roots, but having moved to Los Angeles on her fifth birthday, she's always felt like a California native at heart. Her upbringing doesn't necessarily seem charmed, but certainly different from my own at first glance: private school in the valley; a father who owned and operated production companies for music videos and commercials, now turned art collector and dealer; a beautiful mother who modeled for years and now runs the line Sober Is Sexy, of which Hanna Beth is the face.
"I help her by thinking of ideas for shoots and P.R.-related stuff," she tells me. "A lot of people think it’s my brand, but my mom started it. I think it's a very important message. It shows you can have fun without drugs and alcohol and I think that’s important because I know when you’re young it’s so easy to get caught up in that whole world of substances and partying. I know I did." I'm nodding in agreement, "Especially in L.A."
"Yeah! Especially in L.A.," Hanna says, and then references her young fan base, the first of several instances in our conversation. "I know my followers… some of them are younger… so I think it’s definitely a good message to put out there."
I ask Hanna Beth what she did growing up, when she was the age of some of her youngest followers. Was she ever into ballet as a kid? (She was. Very much.) Did she ever play any sports? (She did. The only girl on the flag football team.) I wasn't expecting that one, so I ask her one of my favorite questions:
"You know, everyone has that year they look back on that was particularly wonderful, and for them it meant freedom and youth and the world opening up. In thinking about that, what was your favorite year when you were a kid?"
"Does 17 count?"
"Sure, yeah," I nod. "So 17?"
"Yeah, because I graduated. [Laughs] I hated school. There was no happier memory than knowing I was done with high school, I was just like, fuck yeah, I’m done. I’d ask my parents in 5th grade if I could drop out, and they wouldn’t let me, and every year after that I’d ask them to drop out again."
For as popular as Hanna Beth is online, the IRL incubators of junior and high school were horribly painful times for her. "I never fit in, I didn’t really have any friends... In 7th grade I had to wear a back brace..."
"Yeah, that just obviously calls for teasing. So I had this giant back brace I had to wear under my uniform because I had Scoliosis. Kids just didn’t know if I was wearing a bullet proof vest or what was going on. Nobody else had a back brace in school, they didn’t understand what was going on. I remember one boy who was just awful. He'd push me into lockers, and be terrible and bully me because of how I was. When I was in 10th grade I got bullied a lot because I was going through the whole punk thing and had a mohawk, and when you’re going to some private school in the valley with a bunch of kids who all look the same, they just looked at me like, 'Who are you?' It was just out of a movie... Kids would write things on my locker and I’d tear it down and rip it up, and the kid would be like, 'Oh, I have 20 of those,' and would put another up. I’d get yelled at in the hallways, 'You’re a fucking poser!' I got tormented and this was two months into 10th grade, when I had a bad self-harm addiction, I guess. I was going through my teen angst as well. So my parents pulled my out of that school and I was put into a more hippie and diverse school in Santa Monica. That’s when I kinda when found myself... But I knew my purpose was outside of school. I knew I wasn’t benefitting from being there. I just wanted to go out and do my own thing."
"I was going through the whole punk thing and had a mohawk, and when you’re going to some private school in the valley with a bunch of kids who all look the same, they just looked at me like, 'Who are you?'" ― Hanna Beth
Prior to that, Hanna says she doesn't so much have many memories from childhood. "You know, my memory isn’t that good anymore," she laughs, and then sighs. I suggest maybe she's blocked her earlier years out due to so much trauma, and she laughs again adding that it's very possible. I pivot onto what her style was like when she was younger; maybe that's a better place to go. This gets her talking. "I always had rebellious style, I always wanted to think outside the box. I mean, at school I had to wear a uniform so I couldn’t get that crazy with it, but I was always dying my hair different colors, like I had purple streaks in the front, and then blue and then I did all pink. My school was a super conservative private school and we weren’t allowed to do that, so I would do it on holidays or a free dress day, I would do it as a theme and tell them it would wash out and just come to school the next day and say for some reason it wouldn’t wash out, and they had to let me have it. I remember I had these platform Sketchers, too, and really loving ―"
"I remember those!" (Every girl our age does.)
"I loved them," she swoons over the memory. "And then I kind of took a turn with my fashion and got really into FUBU…"
I'm laughing to myself, picturing this no-more-than-90-pound girl in front of me drenched in FUBU. This conversation is starting to go off the rails. "I saw all these FUBU kids, and I was like, I want everything FUBU," Hanna Beth says. "I wore those furry Kangol hats, too. I was really into that for a year. And then into high school I went through a hippie phase, and then I went through a really punk phase and decided to get a mohawk. I really wanted my pants super tight so I’d sew them all, because skinny jeans weren’t a thing yet. So that was a phase... Obviously I know who I am now more, compared to when I was young and 'so confused,' but I love experimenting with different looks still, because I never know how I’m going to wake up and feel. One day I might want to dress rock ‘n’ roll, another day I might want to dress more vintage-hippie-bohemian ― I love switching it up. That’s the coolest thing about fashion is that there are no rules and you can be so expressive with it."
Hanna Beth tells me about how a major theme in her life right now is simplification. "Neutral colors – nudes and blush tones. Like two-piece set type of things. I’ve been loving all of that. Really into just simple, pretty things. I went lighter with my hair and I started dressing a little bit lighter, so I noticed that maybe it's me getting older and maturing." Hanna's personal style has certainly progressed over the years, and it seems, with age, she's reached a point where she is unwilling to be boxed into one category or another. The label "gothic" has been thrown around a lot in describing her, something Hanna herself now rejects. "Like my whole persona, people are always saying, 'You’re so dark. Oh, you’re so gothic.' Why does everyone think I’m gothic? I hate being told that, just because I like to wear black. I’m like, 'Do you even know what a goth looks like?' [Laughs] I like mixing it up. Overall, everything is always a rock ‘n’ roll-glam-inspired look though."
"Why does everyone think I’m gothic?" ― Hanna Beth
The label "punk," however, is not something Hanna Beth rejects. In fact, she names the genre of music, style and period of social history as her earliest inspirations and introduction into fashion. "It sounds like without even realizing it, you were attracted to fashion at a really young age, just trying to find a more interesting thing to wear, even at school, like you sewing your pants to make them skinny jeans."
"At 15 I was dealing with a lot of bullying and not fitting in the most. I was going through some personal struggles, and I just needed an outlet and I didn’t know what that was. But I needed to express myself, and I was having a really hard time. That’s when I discovered and got into the punk movement. I met these kids when I was in East Hampton for the summer, these local kids that were really punk and had mohawks and I was like, Whoa, what’s your life about? I became really close with them and I just got really into the whole… like 70s punk scene, early punk. Through that I became obsessed with fashion and the history of the fashion, and that’s where my love for Vivienne Westwood was born. I just remember that my love for that made me feel like I had something, like I was accepted and I could relate to these people. I thought, This is so cool, fashion is a movement for them. Because the whole punk movement was started by fashion in a way. So it felt like fashion gave me something to live for."
"...the whole punk movement was started by fashion in a way. So it felt like fashion gave me something to live for." ― Hanna Beth
"Let’s talk about your book, Covered in Glitter that just came out last month. I know you’ve been blogging for a long time. What you see on the blog, is that what you’ll read in the book or is it all new content?"
"It’s all new content. It’s basically a biography, it’s about my life. I wrote it and I also included pages from my actual journals from when I was really young. I basically gave people an inside look on my life. Because I think a lot of people see me on Instagram and make assumptions about the kind of person I am. 'Oh, this is how her life is so this must be her.' But for every person there’s a whole other side to them. People just put what they want people to see on their Instagrams, but to really get to know about them you have to sit down with them and actually have a conversation... Or read something like this. I think it’s important for young girls, my younger followers, in particular, to be like, Hey, I’ve been through these kind of struggles and this is how I dealt with them and rose above. I guess in a way it's like a giant blog about my life, but people don't always want to read long personal blog posts online anymore, so it's all here in the book."
"Yeah, since the Livejournal era is over."
"Exactly! People's attention spans are so short. So I give them what they want, videos and photos and shorter content. But to truly know someone a little deeper, you need more than that."
"Sounds like it was a vulnerable thing for you to be releasing this book. I get from you, though, that you’re not actually afraid of being vulnerable with the public." Hanna shrugs and says, "I embrace it. It mean, it took a while, I had to get that confidence and strength to really find myself, and once I was able to, I was able to accept myself and embrace it."
"Let's touch on your boyfriend, Mod Sun's, publication company you mentioned earlier, Youniverse Publishing, where 'Covered In Glitter' was published through." At the mention of Mod Sun's name, Hanna's face lights up, and she details the rapper's best qualities as well as creative entrepreneurial projects, the independent publishing company being one among many. The couple now are in pre-production for a cut and sew clothing line called you+me, which will drop in about a month.
"Wasn't that fast for you two to begin dating, and all of a sudden start undertaking various projects together?" I'm genuinely curious.
"Well we've known each other for like ten years. That's really the difference with my relationship now… We both kind of know who we are and what we want to do and we’re able to actually respect each other. That’s a huge part of a relationship. And I think, you know, in my past I might not have been in a good place myself, so that’s what I was attracting. But at this time of my life [when Mod Sun and I started dating], I was at a really good place and I was feeling confident with where I was; I was feeling good about things. I think that’s why I attracted a strong relationship with him. I mean, I’ve known him for years and I never looked at him like someone I would date—I’d just look at him like a friend."
"I can tell how in love you are with him," I say, "and that your relationship seems really strong and stable. I imagine everything is easier when you have that kind of partnership and support system, and you don’t have any drama at home." I ask about their first proper date. Hanna Beth is smiling revisiting the memory. (He took her to a circus he had been to alone the week prior, which was odd, endearing, and — as it would turn out — incredibly fitting.)
"I was dying. Everyone was like, 'Hey! We remember you!' So funny. Then we went to sushi, and I don’t know, it was the craziest thing. Almost like meeting for the first time, but being so comfortable with him because I’d known him for so long. We've been together ever since."
I hadn't seen Hanna Beth crowned the winner of the most recent season of House of DVF on E!, but I could imagine what an honor it would be to be recognized on such a grand scale. Hanna spoke a bit on her experience starring in the show:
"Working with someone like Diane [Von Furstenberg]... She’s been around forever. She made the wrap dress iconic and people still wear it today, which I think is amazing. She was totally a part of the whole Warhol scene. And, I don’t know, I had never really worked for a major fashion brand and I thought, this could be the next big step for me, so I pursued it. And who better to learn from than a powerful woman in the industry?"
"That's incredible. And you ended up winning the whole thing."
"It's crazy. I was so surprised Diane chose me as the winner because I figured she thought I was too edgy. It just felt like over the years, I was finally being rewarded for all the work I’ve done with my fashion blogging, or just anything I’ve done in fashion. I’ve done so many things in the industry, and it felt like finally someone was recognizing me."
"Absolutely. Recognizing you for having something legitimate and valuable to offer the industry," I say, and Hanna Beth smiles. "Exactly."
Watch the exclusive video from our shoot below starring Hanna Beth, shot and produced by Kevin Gonzalez.
You can pick up Hanna Beth's book, Covered in Glitter at Youniverse Publishing, and keep an eye out for her and Mod Sun's original clothing line, you+me, launching soon.
Photographed by Emilynn Rose
Talent by Hanna Beth
Styled by Jacob X Jordan
Hair by Seto McCoy
Makeup by Chantel Nicole
Photography Assistance by Kylee Kwon
Videography by Kevin Gonzalez
Words and Interview by Henri Maddocks
Special thanks to Venice Supper Club.
Hanna Beth wears Dress Flynn Skye
Look 2 Dress Flynn Skye
Look 3 Clothing Aeneas Erlking
Accessories Maison De Morgana
Look 5 Clothing FETE
Look 6 Jumpsuit Flynn Skye
Aeneas Erlking, Fete, Maison De Morgana, The 2 Bandits provided by Dietch PR.