Omahyra Mota on Her Career, New York, and Being Unapologetically Yourself

Omahyra Mota on Her Career, New York, and Being Unapologetically Yourself

Wielding striking looks, piercings, tattoos, and an unmistakable attitude, Omahyra Mota blazed a trail for non-conformers within an industry of traditionalism. Signing her first modeling contract in 2000 at the age of 16 with Boss Models, Omahyra quickly became a defiant icon, posing for luminary designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, and Tom Ford, as well as celebrated photographers including Ellen von Unwerth, Helmut Newton, and Steven Meisel. Forever challenging the status quo, Omahyra has since expanded her impact to humanitarian projects, film, design, and the fine arts, firmly cementing her status as an enduring multidisciplinary icon.

KP: I, too, both started and succeeded in fashion at a very young age and it shaped my life incredibly in both positive and negative ways. What were some of the things that having a successful career so early in life taught you, and is there anything that you regret about its impact that early on?

OM: It’s a lot, you know? But I don’t think at the beginning, or even at any time during my career, I ever saw it as a career because I was so young. It didn’t register like that. It registered more like, “Oh, I’m participating in this great opportunity.” I never saw it as a job because it was my first everything… you know how these things are. Like you’re super young, you don’t even fucking know what time it is.

KP: Yeah. [Laughs].

OM: And you’re just going with the flow really, and just hoping that you keep on working and making money. You know what I mean? But honestly, I feel like all the good and the bad needed to happen when it happened, cause the times where things went wrong, even then it was a lesson. All of these things make me who I am today. So I really can’t say anything like, “Oh my God, I repent, I wish I would have done it this way or that way.” I really can’t say that. But it’s a lot to take in… you’re traveling, and you’re like, I don’t know, 14, 15 or something, and you don’t even know what the fuck is going on.

KP: That is exactly how it is. Vogue labeled you as fashion’s “original bad girl,” pointing out that your “androgynous good looks” and “tough girl attitude” made you stand out amongst “scores of pretty, but also unmemorable, models.” Did you ever feel at odds with the industry, or their values in any way? And at any point, did anyone ever try to alter your image or make you more commercial throughout your career?

OM: For me it was, um, how do I say this? It was hard, because, you know, at the beginning you’re not used to seeing models like me. So I’m thinking, “Modeling, what? No. I don’t look nothing like these girls.” You know, walking into these rooms, with all these beautiful, like, bombshell Brazilian, beautiful girls… I’m just like, “Oh, my gosh.”

KP: [Laughs].

OM: But somehow it works. You know what I’m saying?

KP: Absolutely.

OM: Somehow it works. The designers were like, “Oh my God, I love you. We need to do this together.” They just kept on saying it and I couldn’t imagine what they were thinking. They were passionate about the look, and they went with it, and I was just like, “Whoa, this is cool.” I just went with it. You know what I mean? [Laughs]. I was just happy the whole time… happy to be there, happy to be traveling, happy to participate in all of these amazing shows. Everything for me was an experience. It was almost like gift after gift, really.

KP: Yeah, absolutely. When I was researching some of your past work online, funnily enough, the word “provocateur” kept coming up to describe you, over and over again. Was provocation ever something that you strived for, making people think in a different manner? Or was it something that just came naturally by being so yourself?

Omahyra Mota on Her Career, New York, and Being Unapologetically Yourself

“The more fire they give you, they don't realize that they're making you even stronger – more determined.”

OM: I think the fact that I didn’t fit… I felt the pressure a little bit here and there, you know what I’m saying? So I just took that negative voice basically, and I transformed it into like, “No, I have to show you that that’s not how to think.” I have to show you. The more fire they give you, they don’t realize that they’re making you even stronger – more determined.

KP: Absolutely.

OM: It gives you vision. So sometimes I feel like it’s necessary.

KP: I agree with that fully. You were born in the Dominican Republic, and you moved to New York when you were young. So, as a New Yorker myself, this city shapes and molds people in ways that not many other cities in the world do. Whether for better or for worse. [Laughs]. It can go either way.

OM: Yeah.

KP: Did you feel influenced by New York in any way, upon being here?

OM: Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s because New York is so busy. And they are just so many cultures. There’s so many people from different places. I look back, when I was in school, growing up in Queens, and in my classroom there were Pakistanis, there were Indians, Koreans, Columbians, Mexicans, Brazilians, many Latin Americans… it was just alive. New York is like that… that intensity, and then you just learn. It does mold you; it makes you stronger. You learn so much… it’s a cultural place. I don’t know, it feeds you, you know what I’m saying?

KP: Absolutely.

OM: New York is just so intense. It’s the city of the world, it really is. But with intensity, and a lot more fight, because everybody has to work hard. Everybody has dreams… American dreams, you know what I’m saying? I feel grateful that I was able to grow up like that. And be around all these people, all of this information. It’s part of me. Like, I am all of these little countries as well. If you grew up in New York, then you know – it’s magical.

KP: Incredibly so.

OM: Magical.

KP: One of my earliest memories of seeing you was in Jay-Z’s music video for “Change Clothes” multiple times a day on VH1 as a kid… it played probably thirty times a day. [Laughs].

OM: [Laughs]. Yeah.

KP: I remember at the time being so far removed from that world and just wondering what it would be like. So, what was shooting such an iconic video like? And are there any interesting bits about it that we may not know?

OM: For me, I was modeling a lot already, but I didn’t really step into that world – music and films – and stuff like that yet, right? So the guy booked me, and I have to say that Jay-Z and everybody there, they were really, really professional. Really professional, I’m talking about, like, to the T. It was like when you’re a little kid, and you go to L.A. and then you have Batman dressed up outside, and then as a kid you’re like, “Oh, hey! That’s Batman.” You wanna give him a hug, you wanna take a picture, you’re like, “Oh my God.” It’s an experience right there. For me, working with these people was great. Mary J. Blige was there, I was like… I was crying.

KP: [Laughs].

OM: But it was just great. There were all of these girls that were really cool. Jade [Cole] was doing the show, and I had a lot of friends there too. And, you know, for me, every time I see it, it’s just a memory of something amazing that happened in my life. And we’re a chain of friends also, you know what I’m saying?

KP: Yeah, it’s such a good video.

OM: [Laughs]. Yeah.

KP: Your career has been filled with incredible, truly iconoclastic moments. What was one of the most memorable shoots or shows that you took part in, and why?

OM: Oh my God. Um, I’m gonna say… of course, there’s many, because…

KP: I’m sure there’s a ton.

OM: Yeah, they’re so out of control and they’re so over the top. You go in and you’re really feeling the experience in every detail, you know? I mentioned this the other day… it was the Alexander McQueen show, with the carousel… I think this was 2001… with all of these outfits, and all of this makeup, I swear to you I was like, “Whoa.” I feel like something else woke up in me. Tom Ford too, or working with [Jean Paul] Gaultier, as well. He’s so amazing and he’s so good. He’s amazing at what he does. And for me, you know, just being there, being backstage, looking at his clothes… it was an art, it was just a fucking art show.

KP: Absolutely.

OM: And there’s this one time, I did this short film with a best friend of mine, but he passed a couple of years ago. His name is Leo Velasquez Evident Future. We did a short film… I could not say exactly all of the details, but now I’m just gonna tell you. We did this short film, and I think that we could’ve died, I don’t know how many times. That’s how dangerous that shit was. We were breaking into places, we were in areas and at heights that we were not allowed to be at. Whoever was in that shoot, they know what I’m talking about.

KP: [Laughs].

OM: And the thing with these kids is that when they do short films or whatever, they go nuts… it’s dangerous, it’s always dangerous. You’re always doing something crazy; you don’t know if you’re gonna survive. So there was a short film that I did with him that I loved. And it was very memorable to me because that shit was scary. With these crazy kids, all these kids from Queens. It’s like, you guys are nuts man.

KP: [Laughs]. Yeah. I was born in Brooklyn, so I understand.

OM: Ah yeah, you know, you feel it. [Laughs].

KP: I know, I know. So, most recently, you’ve shifted your focus to the fine arts, and you participated in Art Basel in Miami. Have you always painted, and what led you to become immersed creatively in such a different medium?

OM: My mom is an artist, my sister too. She’s the reason I finish really, just like, “Fuck it, I’m just gonna go in.” But I grew up in this environment, in my house. My grandma is a designer, my mom is a painter, and my dad is also a painter, so I was so exposed to this all the time. I feel like it’s the only thing that is mine, that I own. It’s like my little baby, you know what I mean?

KP: Absolutely.

OM: It’s a way of me expressing myself, where no one can say anything. Only what I say goes. I really just mostly enjoy it – it’s one of my passions. I’m always gonna do it. I’m just taking it out now because I have a group of friends that are also artists.

KP: You’ve also spoken about creating a center for the arts in the Dominican Republic, where kids can both learn and create. I think the work that you’re doing for your country is so incredible and inspiring. Giving children a place to grow in creativity always pays back tenfold. What led you to be so driven about that project?

OM: It started with my sister, Patricia Mota. It always comes back to her, you know. She wants to do this because she’s just always been involved. I felt identified with it and I felt like we were understanding each other. I want kids to learn about this, because it’s a really great way to express themselves. It’s really, really, really great. I am hoping that I can be able to do it, and… this is all coming out of our pockets, I mean, nobody’s helping us do this thing.

KP: Oh, really?

OM: Yeah, nobody’s helping us do this. We’re just gonna fucking do it however we can, and hopefully we have some friends that are down to teach. Hopefully, this year, hopefully, it’ll be done. Hopefully. And also in DR, there’s political shit going on, so that’s obviously slowing all the processes. But we’re gonna do it no matter what. No matter what, we’re gonna do it.

KP: That’s incredible. And you also have a clothing line now, right?

OM: Yeah. Anger is a clothing line that Christian Anger and I started in 2017; we did our first fashion show last year. We had punk bands, body suspension artists, taxidermy exhibits, sword swallowers… anything that we love and admire, we had! We wanted people to feel. We wanted the audience to change how they looked at anger, especially our anger, and see what beauty it had spun out in the process. It was a dream come true! Our next collection drops this fall and we can’t wait for the world to see it!

KP: You’re also a mother now, which is amazing. What lessons or qualities have you tried to impart upon your children?

OM: We teach our children like our mom teaches us, and our grandmother teaches us. I’m trying to teach them the human side of it all, you know what I mean? To serve without expecting anything back – teaching them how to be frugal with things, you know what I’m saying? Showing them that you have to work hard, that things don’t just come out of nowhere. Teaching them just mainly how to love and forgive. That’s where I want them to focus the most, because I feel like if you teach them that, they’ll always, out of that, flourish in other things, other good things. Your job is to really just teach them as much as you can. I just teach them how to be humane more than anything else. Because all of this other stuff, they’re gonna learn it.

KP: That’s a great way of approaching it. I love that. And, last question: you seem so full of confidence, unapologetically yourself, and incredibly self-possessed, which are some of the reasons that I adore you so much. Were you always this way? What advice would you lend to women who are hesitant to fully embrace themselves?

“Women are strong. It's in our nature to be strong… physically, mentally, and spiritually. We're fucking strong. It's already in us. We just have to really believe that it's there, and keep on persisting.”

OM: I’ve always been like this. I think it’s because I’m a middle child. Women are very united, you know, also me and my family. So, yeah, I think I’ve just always been like that. It’s just my attitude, I guess. And so, for women, it’s hard… I just feel like you really have to love yourself as a woman, because there’s a lot about us. We’re really, really, really amazing in this world. We really bring a lot as women, you know what I’m saying? I feel like they should give us more freedom. But basically, I can say, just embrace yourself, believe in your dreams, fight for what you love. Always, always, serve without expecting anything back. Women are strong. It’s in our nature to be strong… physically, mentally, and spiritually. We’re fucking strong.

KP: Yeah.

OM: It’s already in us. We just have to really believe that it’s there, and keep on persisting.