Backed by Nicola Formichetti’s Diesel Power, Brooke Candy Shoots for Stardom
“I own everything, baby!” sang the oft foul-mouthed stripper-turned-rapper Brooke Candy before wrapping up a phone interview last week. She wasn’t referencing any kind of newfound wealth—after signing with RCA Records in February, the formerly homeless L.A.-based artist is just finding her footing in the pop music biz. Rather, her proclamation was a line from her new song and music video, “Opulence,” which dropped at a Diesel-sponsored party in New York last night.
The flick is lensed by Steven Klein and styled by Nicola Formichetti, who, after discovering Candy online in Grimes’ “Genesis” video, has taken the starlet under his wing. In October, he cast her as the face of his Diesel accessories campaign and flew her to Tokyo, where, flanked by gyrating exotic dancers, she performed at a bondage-themed sex party to fete the collection. “I wasn’t really looking for anybody. I wanted to just focus on Diesel,” admitted Formichetti, Diesel’s artistic director and former stylist to Lady Gaga. “But when I saw her, I couldn’t resist.”
Before teaming with Formichetti, Candy, 25, already had a sufficiently severe look, one that involved braids down to her calves, velvet bikinis, platform sneakers, and more bare skin than Miley—a deliberate and independent choice, according to Candy, that she believes expresses feminist power. “I have an agenda, and I’m not selling anything,” she said of her penchant for nudity and raunchy dance moves, adding that not all pop stars fall into the same category. “I don’t want to say any names, but there’s a difference between being knowledgeable about what you’re doing, and doing it because someone is behind you, telling you to do it. You don’t have to be the most genius fucking person in the world to tell when a woman taking her clothes off is authentic, and when it’s sad.”
“I see her as a blank canvas, and I just want to elevate her,” said Formichetti. “I love who she is. She’s very involved, and I don’t want her to suddenly become a new person.” Indeed, Candy has maintained her raw, sometimes shocking appearance. But these days, the braids have been traded for finger waves, the teeny bikinis for custom Olima Atelier bustiers.
“She’s queen of the freaks!” laughed Formichetti, when asked about the video wardrobe, which includes upwards of twenty-five ensembles, among them a Gareth Pugh trenchcoat, bespoke Alexis Bittar jeweled masks, and leather Diesel duds covered in plastic gems that the stylist found in Chinatown.
The “freak” element, as well as the overall concept of the film—which traces Candy’s evolution from a skinhead exacting revenge on a man who’s just robbed her, to a glammed-out queen of the night who becomes a gluttonous, glitter-covered monster—both stem from Candy’s primary inspiration, Paris Is Burning, the cult documentary about gay voguers in the 1980s. “That movie changed my perspective on everything,” raved Candy. “And I really related to this one moment when they’re describing opulence. Basically, the idea is that you show off so much confidence and poise that you create the impression that you’re the wealthiest, most intelligent, powerful person on the planet, and you own everything. And when those people were performing at the balls in their costumes, they were safe,” said the singer, noting that she feels most at home in underground gay clubs. In fact, the video’s theme was conceived with Formichetti at a drag bar in Tokyo, and was shot in a Bushwick warehouse filled with Candy’s friends, namely a transgender woman, a gaggle of drag queens, and her loyal posse of gay men. “We’re all freaks and outcasts, and this was meant to empower them.”
Though she asserts she “can’t predict the future,” Candy doesn’t foresee herself turning into the materialistic creature depicted in the video—mainly, she says, because she hasn’t forgotten where she came from. “I literally lived on the street and was wearing outfits made of paper because that’s all I could afford,” said Candy. (Side note: She actually grew up in the L.A. suburbs but fell on hard times after her mother and father—the CEO of Hustler Casinos—didn’t quite understand her artistic pursuits.) With that in mind, she and Formichetti aimed to champion other outré up-and-coming talents, like Nasir Mazhar, Charlie Le Mindu, and Natasha Morgan, by incorporating their designs in the film.
Even so, Candy has undergone quite the transformation—aesthetic and otherwise—since she set out to become a star. Best known for songs like “I Wanna Fuck Right Now,” the artist has toned down her lyrics in “Opulence,” the first single she’s released under RCA. “I worked with Sia and she felt the vibration I was putting out, but she said to me, ‘You have two paths you can follow. You can keep doing what you’re doing, or you can tone it down and go that much further.’ I don’t really let anything cloud my head, but I thought, If that’s going to help me speak to a broader audience, that’s fine. I’ll just ramp up my imagery.” And ramp it up she did—in one scene, Candy rolls around on the screen covered in blood, touching herself, while wearing lingerie, three crowns, and a fur coat gifted to her by Formichetti.
So did she sell out? “No. The lyrics were my decision. It’s a smarter way to go. And it’s just a different vehicle.” It’s a vehicle that Formichetti supports. “I like that I can sing along with it now,” he said. “And we need more freaky people in the mainstream.” No doubt, Candy is pushing her way into pop culture—she has another Diesel campaign in the works, and she’ll be starting a small tour this May. Naturally, Formichetti will be making the costumes. But is pop culture ready for Candy? “I think so,” said Formichetti. “I hope so. She’s in between edgy and crazy and pop, and that is where the magic happens.”—Katharine K. Zarrella