Originally published on White Noise

August 2018

Sat on a pair of bar stools in Huckletree West, Monika Kamycka is wearing a selection of dainty pieces, illuminated by the warm August sunshine. It’s the perfect way for East Acton-based jewellery maker to showcase her brand, Mona Pink.

The part-time ethical jeweller and part-time accountant began her journey in 2011. I’m impressed that Monika’s able to use both her head and her hands harmoniously. She agrees: “You work with your head and you work with your hands, and that keeps me balanced.” As logical as she may be, embarking on a new career wasn’t a calculated move. “It seems like everything in my life happens by accident,” she laughs. “I was given a voucher for my birthday from a friend to make my own silver ring,” she explains. “I just got hooked on the metal. You see how it reacts; when it heats up it comes alive and I just couldn’t get enough of that. I discovered a whole new world.”

Not only did Monika discover a new world, but an alter ego too, which you can see on the header of her website. “It’s Mona Pink. She’s not grown up. She can be an older woman, but not necessarily taking life seriously. She’s got that little bit of cheekiness.” Is Mona Pink to Monika what Sasha Fierce is to Beyoncé? “It’s a person outside of me. I always think, ‘Would she say that? Would she wear that?’”

Monika works exclusively with 100% recycled Argentium silver and enamel. She explains that Argentium has a different chemical composition from traditional sterling silver, and is entirely produced from recycled sources. It’s whiter than platinum, tarnish resistant, and hypoallergenic, meaning your skin won’t react to it. “I like how it behaves. I find the process of working with it rewarding, and I got addicted,” she says.

Despite the beautiful creations, Monika assures me that being a trained silversmith isn’t glamorous at all: “It’s a dirty job. I can’t grow my nails, but smashing and banging the metal is a good stress-reliever.” As a jeweller who makes all her own items by hand, being Fairtrade-registered is important to Monika. “I’m certain they’re not working with mercury with their bare hands, and I can sleep nicely at night.”

On the day we meet, she happens to be wearing her favourite piece. It’s the first ring she made, a brown circular gem set in silver. She twists the ring around her finger playfully as she talks. “It’s not perfect, but I wear it as a reminder of how I started.” The jeweller took a break from silversmithing as she struggled to balance her two occupations. “[The ring] really reminded me that I can actually still do this. I wouldn’t sell it.”

The inspiration behind her Luminous collection was architecture, which she feels lies within nature. “Nature has everything, all the shapes and lines you can think of. The feeling I was trying to evoke was calmness in understated jewellery. It’s simple, but it’s not. If somebody wants to see something simple, then they will. If they don’t, they won’t.”

Clients also have the option to design unique, one-off items with Monika, which can be challenging. “People know they’d like something, but it’s hard to get an exact idea of what they want because it’s in their heads, and I’m not there!” She laughs. Despite this, there is one particular client that she remembers fondly, a woman who wanted a non-traditional engagement ring. “They weren’t going to get married, but they wanted a symbol of their relationship,” Monika explains. “They had a story in their relationship about the film Nightmare Before Christmas, so the spiral in the movie had to be on the piece.” The jeweller was left with the creative freedom to work her magic. “She loved it. She was so happy. She sent me a picture of it on her hand and it was the best feeling ever. I was really happy to know that I’m a part of their happiness. Part of me is going to stay with them forever.”

Originally published on White Noise

August 2018

Imagine Secret Cinema, but… sweatier. Our Huckletree West studio-mates Sweat & Sound have found a way to blend fitness, live music and intriguing locations from forests to historic churches. Arnelle Paterson had a chat with founder Ariana Alexander-Sefre.

It’s a dreary Tuesday afternoon, and I could do with an energy boost. “Arnelle?” An unfamiliar voice interrupts my train of thought. As I turn my head to investigate, a sudden gush of energy fills the space. It looks like my shot of Lucozade has come dressed in work-out leggings.

Ariana Alexander-Sefre is the founder of Sweat & Sound. She creates live music fitness experiences to engage all the senses, complete with storylines and themes to offer an escape from reality in secret locations.

Ariana’s spent the last ten years in the events industry, working with companies like Nike, Coca Cola and Sofar Sounds. After moving to Bristol for university, she started to “spot missing pockets of experience” and began catering for the under-represented. She says, “The music scene there is very middle class and white, especially in the uni. There were no hip-hop nights and I was like, ‘Let’s just do one.’ We got a few local artists in and it was a hit!”

She set up her first business aged just 19, running underground music gigs and club nights. “It was all cash-in-hand and I was cycling around Bristol with ten grand of cash in my backpack at 4 am about to get mugged and then I got to the bank the next day like, ‘Would you mind cashing this into my account please?’” she laughs. “And they were like, ‘No, you can’t do that!’ So I’d end up stashing it in my room. This is money I owed people as well; I wasn’t this super-rich student.” The entire operation lasted two years.

After university, Ariana emigrated to New York, where she worked for a bank and ran events for their ultra-high net worth clients. “It was ridiculous. I was booking private jets from Switzerland to the Bahamas so they could go to a golf tournament.” Despite the initial excitement, Ariana realised it wasn’t for her. “I hated the corporate world. You become a robot and a bit depressed, and you manage it with drugs and that’s what everyone does,” she admits. “75% of New York’s on Xanax; they prescribed me Xanax.” The idea for Sweat & Sound was niggling away, but visa constraints held her back. “I didn’t want to be one of those British people in New York working in a bar. I thought, ‘I’m going to go back to where I came from, set up this business and hopefully move it back to New York one day.”

Sweat & Sound experiences combine the mind and body, and tap into emotion for escapism. I’m interested to know why this combination works. “It’s been scientifically proven,” she says. “They proved that when you listen to live music, your happy hormones increase and it makes you feel better. When you’re doing exercise and movements, the same thing happens. When you combine the two, they increase even more than they would otherwise.” She tells me that exercise and music are being used for post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

Ariana describes a study on multi-sensory immersion using VR and the senses (example) that’s being used to ease post-traumatic stress disorder. “We’re so used to living these one-dimensional lives where we go from work to transport to office block. We’re sitting for eight to nine hours a day in fake light, fake air,” she explains. “All these senses we were using 500 years ago on a daily basis, we don’t use them any more. Anxiety and depression are increasing every single day in major cities.”

Aurora is one of Sweat and Sound’s most popular events. It’s yoga and meditation in a historic church with a live orchestra. Expect a journey into outer space with the help of projected visuals. “Ahhh, it’s so beautiful!” Ariana clasps her hands together with satisfaction as she beams. “I look around and there’s tears streaming down people’s faces. We have other experiences where everyone’s really happy and laughing. By tapping into these little emotions, it’s your body saying, ‘Thank you for engaging these senses that I don’t engage with every day.’”

The effects that these experiences have on people are pretty profound. “People have said that the event stayed with them for a couple of days. They’ve described the experiences like a mini-retreat, like they’ve been there for a day or two. It’s an extra way to disconnect people from a far more mundane reality for that two or three hours. With what we’re doing, the biggest angle is the mental over physical.”

It’s no surprise that mental health is important to Ariana, as the Londoner has had her own battle. “My anxiety was linked to my purpose and what I was doing. You can probably tell I’ve got a lot of energy, so I need to put it into something that’s going to matter to me and make a difference,” she says. “I work so much harder and I’m probably a lot more stressed, but it’s good stress, rather than negative, depressed stress. I still get anxious and overwhelmed and I’ve got coping techniques, but setting up this business has been one of my biggest helps.”

Ariana’s got a pretty jam-packed schedule, with a session last week for White City Place’s Not-So-Sporty Sports Day, a space-themed event in Seven Sisters, as well as some retro Bollywood yoga in the mix. Her closing sentence makes me smile: “I’ve got the yoga and live orchestra at the beginning of October in New York.” 18 months after moving back to London, this logical dreamer has realised her dream.

Originally published on White Noise

August 2018

How do you sneak onto the ‘frequently called’ list of influencers, models and bloggers alike aged just 21? Fashion photographer Kirin Sall is fast becoming known for her down-to-earth fashion portraits and deft approach behind the lens. Arnelle Paterson found out how she does it.

Arriving at Kirin’s home in West London, I’m greeted with the Sall hospitality that my 14-year-old self knows so well. After all, Kirin’s big sister was one of my closest friends at secondary school. As born and bred Hounslow girl, I know it isn’t exactly the town of dreams; most people don’t know where it is unless you mention Heathrow airport, and our claim to fame is Chabuddy. However, this 21-year-old has managed to defy the odds and mingle with the stars – with a few great shots of it all along the way.

The freelance photographer picked up a camera at 14, and by the age of 16 she’d already snapped high-profile media personalities from fashion blogger Yasmine Chanel to radio host Snoochie Shy. It all began when Kirin was attending a wedding at the Sikh temple, and her dad handed her his camera. “I walked outside of the Gurdwara and went around taking photos of everything,” she says. “I was like, ‘Dad, teach me more, teach me more!’”

For the then-schoolgirl, pursuing her ambition came at a price. “I took as many days off school as I could to go out and shoot with people,” she laughs. “I got in trouble so many times for not going to school!” But she has no regrets. “I thought, I’d rather just do photography and learn as much as I can, because even though I was doing art at school, they wouldn’t let me do photography.”

Working with stars like Cadet and Alisha White was a daunting experience at first. “It was really fun, but weird because I was quite young. I thought, ‘Wow, these people are quite influential. Am I ready?’” And how did she get these opportunities? “I literally slid into the DMs,” she laughs. “I emailed, commented and showed that I liked their work. I’d just reach out to people and hope for the best. The worst they could say is no. I didn’t really lose anything.”

Kirin’s work focuses on street style, fashion, and beauty. Events are also a favourite, and it’s not just about rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous (although she did bump into Gok Wan and Alexandra Burke on a recent job). She says: “I like getting candid moments. A lot of the time when people are drunk, they don’t remember the memories they’re making. So I thought, you know what? I’ll help these people out! I’ll capture their memories and they can see them later.”

When it comes to retouching, Kirin has strict guidelines. “I’ll make the client as happy as I can if they’re paying, but I’ll never go against my style,” she explains. “Editing out eye-bags on a long shot? You can’t even see them!” she laughs. “That’s your fault [for showing up hungover]. I’ll still do it anyway and try my best, but you can’t make everyone happy. If that’s your face, that’s your face.”

A proponent of self-love and body positivity, Kirin has found time for a passion project that celebrates stretch marks. “Girls need to feel sexy in their stretch marks; it’s so normal. People always say you get them when you’re pregnant, but I’ve had stretch marks my whole life.” I nod in agreement. “I can’t remember a time when I’ve looked at my bum and haven’t had stretch marks,” she explains over a cuppa. “I’m going on holiday next week and usually I’d be like, ‘I need to get as many pairs of skirts and shorts as possible because I’m not walking around like that,’ but now I’m like, ‘That beach will get whatever body it gets.’” We burst into a fit of laughter. “I do not care.”

Kirin has branched into the lucrative world of wedding photography this summer, and tells me that male photographers dominate the Asian scene. “They’ve said to me, ‘You’re a girl, you did fashion, that’s the easy work, you won’t do well at weddings,’ but they’ve not done the other side. The grass ain’t always greener.” The support of family has helped her through. “It doesn’t really matter what anyone else says. The people who love me don’t care. My dad is the best. He’s the one who helped me buy all my kit.”

That being said, being a young female photographer has its advantages. “A lot of my female clients say it’s easy to work with a girl. They’re more comfortable.” She’s also had requests for gender-segregated pre-wedding and wedding ceremonies, popular amongst some West London Muslim communities. Growing up in a Punjabi Sikh home, she talks to me about what that means on set: “There’s a lot of assumptions about the Asian community which people ask me, and it’s like, why is that relevant? I can’t speak for every Asian female photographer.”

Kirin’s off to study a master’s in advertising and public relations next month, and leaves me with a few words of wisdom for aspiring young photographers. “Don’t let anyone say you can’t do it. Persevere – trial and error is everything. Don’t let people give you no shit. Stay true to yourself; never ever cheat yourself, because you’ll lose yourself. In this industry where you can get mugged off very quickly, you don’t want to do that.”

Originally published on White Noise

August 2018

From snipping the locks of Diane Abbott to P. Diddy’s mum, we met the celebrity hairdresser shaping an afro revolution.

Walking down a narrow corridor into Derek ‘DeCutter’ Clement’ssection of Bella & Bello Hair and Beautyin Ealing, I’m met with a flurry of customers entering, leaving and waiting. Known for his dedication to black hair, the Grenada-born hairdresser’s career spans over three decades. Having worked with the likes of Billy Ocean and Patti LaBelle and in the historic Splinters salon, his CV is enviable. The DeCutter range now encompasses hair products, cosmetics, and nutrition. He’s even penned a series of erotic novels set in hairdressing salons.

Derek shared the secret of great haircut, the future of black hair, and how he impressed P. Diddy.

You’ve said that hairdressing found you after you visited a salon. What was it about that visit?

I never knew about hairdressing. I must’ve been 17 or 18, walked into Splinters International, owned by the late Winston Isaacs. While I’m sitting there waiting for my girlfriend to get her hair done, I saw all these black people. As a black child going to school, the white kids would be pushed to excellence and we weren’t. I thought to myself, “Bloody hell. When I leave school, it’s quite likely I’ll experience the same thing, so I need to work for a black company.” But no such place existed. I went to the West End, and there it was, a black salon! Owned by black people!

Splinters was nothing but brilliant. It was the Motown of hair. You were taught to speak, to dress well; the standards were extremely high. The place was massive. There could have been 50 young hairdressers working at the same time. I started shampooing hair, I moved up to become artistic director of the company and, soon after that, I owned my own shop.

How have you seen black haircare change?

Black hair’s evolved phenomenally. We used to emulate the white salons, the big names like Vidal Sassoon – the Trevor Sorbies, the Daniel Galvins of the day. Winston Isaacs himself was a Sassoon-trained hairdresser, so he brought the technique of cutting white hair into afro hair. Our approach was to ensure that afro hair was relaxed, that it moved, bounced and had direction. We expanded on the idea. So when you see a customer from my shop, you’ll see the bounce. Afro hair moves with shape and balance. Afro reincarnation, that’s the term I use! For years, it’s been straightened, it’s been Jheri curled, but 90% of our clientele prefer the natural look at the moment.

What was it like working with the likes of Billy Ocean and Patti LaBelle, as well as managing P. Diddy’s personal barber shop in New York in 2001?

Splinters was the salon to go in those days if you were a celebrity, politician or lawyer. Everyone aspired to Splinters; it was a high-end salon. I was blessed to do all the famous people. As a young stylist, it was brilliant. Sheila Ferguson, Paul Boateng, Diane Abbott, they all came to the salon and I did their hair. I was very blessed indeed.

Were you starstruck, awkward or nervous?

No, I think P. Diddy was quite impressed with me. [Derek laughs.] I’m from London! They loved it over there.

You’re also big on the teaching element of hair.

It’s about honesty. Somebody taught me the trade; it’s incumbent upon me, therefore, to teach others. My daughter’s only two and that’s all she talks about: hair, hair, hair! It’s important to ensure that we create legends of the future. Hair growth is holistic. The hair shaft is actually dead, it doesn’t have any feelings. The hair root however, is within the scalp. So the emphasis should be on healing or nourishing the hair root.

And you run hair surgeries too?

I use this wonderful thing called a hair and scalp facial: coconut oil, aloe vera, mangoes and bananas mixed together and put it on the hair. The scalp is where the hair enters into the world. It’s like your plot of land. It should be healthy, nourished and moisturised for the hair to be healthy. The scalp, to me, is absolutely fundamental.

Do you find that scalp issues are more problematic within our community, as opposed to other ethnic groups?

Not really. I think black hair needs moisture and as a result, I tend to recommend that my clients drink water. It’s crucial. It goes directly to the hair root and nourishes the scalp.

Do you deal with problems like traction alopecia?

Traction alopecia is massive; it’s almost pandemic. Weaving is fine, wigs are great, braiding is brilliant. But we have to ensure that the braids aren’t done too tight, the weave shouldn’t stay on your head as if it’s the be-all and end-all. Wear a wig, fine, but remove the wig at night. Your weave should be done in a way that won’t break off your hair. The problem is leaving a weave in for too long.

Let’s talk about your technique. What is it about cutting that you love so much?

With a good cut, the customer gets the benefit of a great shape. You’ve got three things in a good cut: shape, balance and movement. Without those three things, the hair doesn’t move, there’s no direction. There’s nothing better than seeing a woman walking on the street and her hair’s moving, but it falls back into that shape based on the cut. As a result, I’ve created my own scissor collection. They’re marvellous. I love cutting hair.

What’s been the high point of your career so far?

I opened my first shop at the tender age of 24. It was a three-storey building in Maida Vale called Derek Clement. A year later, we had another shop in Lewisham called Noir. We had another shop in the West End where we collaborated. The year after, I was nominated for afro hairdresser of the year by the Hairdressers Journal. I didn’t accept it. I was young and naïve. I thought, “Why am I afro hairdresser of the year? I’m a hairdresser! I didn’t want to be referred to as an afro hairdresser.” So I didn’t take the award.

Do you mind being called an afro hairdresser these days?

Oh, I love being called an afro hairdresser now! I love it; it’s afro hair! [Derek laughs.]

What’s been your biggest obstacle?

I love obstacles. Obstacles are nothing but stepping stones, so when I come to them, I have to keep it moving. I lost my shop in 2014. It got burnt down. I’ve had to collaborate with others since that time. The only obstacle I have now is to make sure that we get back the Derek Clement shop.

What do you think the future of black hair is?

Black hair is going places. It’s achieved respectability and integrity. It’s a great thing to see that the average black girl doesn’t feel embarrassed to wear her natural hair. I’m looking forward to the different trends, textures and styles. I’ve got this wonderful acronym called BLACKS: braids, locs, afro, curls, kink and straighten. Afro hair can do all of those things. Afro hair is phenomenal. It has no bounds, it’s brilliant. My business partner, Rudy Page, says afro hair is vibranium. It’s the one thing that brings us all together. Wherever you come from or whatever texture, it binds us together.

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Originally published on White Noise

July 2018

Instagram is their shopfront and their salon is someone’s living room – their place or yours. But the inexorable rise of the social media nail artist has mostly remained an East London phenomenon. Arnelle Paterson paid a visit to one of the exceptions: Triple N Salon.

With nearly 10 years under my belt, when it comes to acrylic nails, I’m a veteran. Stiletto, coffin, oval, ballerina, square, French, plain, and huge chavtastic gems – I’ve had them all. You’ll usually find me on the high street amongst a stream of Vietnamese chit-chat, low prices and minimal interaction. Today, however, I’m ready to take it to the next level.

Mobile and home-based nail artists have been popping up all over my Instagram feed with a brilliant array of designs and colours, but until now they’ve been primarily in South and East London, and I’m not prepared to make a nearly two-hour trip.

Triple N Salon is one of the few independent nail technicians in West London that offers the kind of nail art you’ve got pinned to your Pinterest board, and I’m pretty pumped.

The woman behind it, Niki Nikolova, opens the door to her home nail business in Isleworth, which started in February this year. She describes nails as her passion, a hobby that she’s had all her life. It’s no surprise when she tells me that she grew up around hair and beauty: Niki’s mum owned a salon in Bulgaria complete with nail technicians and she used to observe them working their magic. In fact, she’s only had someone else do her nails once or twice. I think I’m in safe hands.

Bulgarian-born Niki moved to the UK nine years ago, and that’s when she started to experiment with nail art. “Back then, my English wasn’t even entry-level. It was really bad. I couldn’t understand English for a few years!” she admits. “It was time for my GCSEs and they gave me a list of subjects that I had to choose from, and I was thinking: what subjects can I pick where I don’t have to speak English?” she laughs. “And I thought: art! Oh my God, that’s it! I’m going to start drawing. My teacher was such a great lady that I fell into it.”

She went on to study computer animation and effects for films at university, but nail art was always at the back of her mind. Later, after bagging an office job in Colchester, she had a revelation: “The guy that was sitting next to me, every single second that he wasn’t working on an actual project he was researching stuff. He was into the job, and I wasn’t,” she confesses. “I was trying try to sneak a look at nails, or thinking about what I was going to do to my nails that night. I was really good at my job, but that’s not enough. You have to like it as well.”

After a year, Niki decided to get her hands off the keyboard, and into some adhesive. “I wanted to be my own boss. Being able to schedule my own time – I absolutely love it. I usually prefer to work in the evening. My brother is five years old and when he’s not at school and someone has to take care of him, we can take turns.” Judging by the beaming family photos surrounding the room, it’s obvious that family is important her. “It shows me that in the future when I have kids, it’s going to be so easy. I also love going on holiday, so this is perfect. I don’t have to ask anyone for permission, I can just book!”

I ask her about a typical workday. “On most days, I work 11 or 12 hours back to back.” My eyes widen at her response. “But it’s so fun, I love it! And sometimes those hours are travelling between clients, so it doesn’t really count.”

It’s not only Niki’s new-found freedom that she enjoys. “There was this girl that had an operation on her toe and her whole nail was gone, so she needed something because she was going on holiday,” she recalls. “It was just so sad – you want to look pretty! So I did an acrylic extension and she was so happy. It made my day.”

Want to be a nail art pro? “It’s just practice. Everyone has different nails and you have to know how to work with that. You can’t do one or two people and expect to be good.”

Niki’s technique is completely different to what I’m used to. Each small movement is carefully calculated. I’m impressed that she remembers the exact size and even hue of ombre that I wanted. It feels different too, less plastic, more nail-like. Showing me an array of samples, she realises how indecisive I am. Is it that obvious? “I’ve got three shades of pink. I think the middle ones are more like the ones you showed me,” she smiles. Phew.

Niki warns me that my nail-biting habit may affect the longevity of my acrylics, although I’ve never had that problem before. She also gives me some pre-holiday advice. “Be careful with sun lotion, same with chlorine or swimming in the ocean. Don’t bang them against anything, or open cans with them.” I leave feeling pretty inspired.

After the appointment, it quickly dawns on me how immobilising nails this long can be, from putting necklaces on to keeping them debris free (the chicken eating experience just isn’t the same). One of my nails fall off in the shower sooner than I expected, and I blame London’s hot climate. Niki advises that I get some nail glue prior to my Marrakesh trip and it does the trick. Nearly a month later, my gel polish tootsies remain intact. Long nails don’t work for my everyday routine, but you can bet you’ll find me with a full set before any special occasion.