A Look At the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Vogue Ball

V caught up with Jazzelle Zanaughtti (@uglyworldwide) in Oslo.

Describing Jazzelle Zanaughtti is not an easy task. Plus, easy is often boring. With more looks up their sleeve than any given stylist, Zanaughtti never fails to keep us captivated. Their ever-changing style is exploratory, boundary-pushing and fearless – portraying, embracing and highlighting every side of her. The Detroit-born model is most commonly known for their Instagram account @uglyworldwide, and with 542k followers, they has created a public sphere for their practice of renegotiating traditional standards of ‘feminine’ beauty through their look. “When it comes to my look, I’m always trying something new. For me, it’s about realizing that it’s ok to have different parts of you”, Zanaughtti tells V Magazine. “Finding different styles is about accepting every part of yourself, it’s a way to express yourself fully”.

With an interactive press-event in Oslo, Jazzelle Zanaughtti opened the first page of Mercedes-Benz’s latest ‘How To Fashion’ story. The campaign’s leading theme being ‘electric self-expression.’ With the power of self-evolvement at its heart, the intriguing and daring Zanaughtti couldn’t be a better kick-starter. ‘How To Fashion’ is an initiative that aims to extract innovative ideas by gathering arising fashion talent from a variety of creative fields. Each creative is challenged to learn a new skill in 24 hours with the help of an expert.

When Mercedes-Benz asked the question on what skill they wanted to learn, they replied, “how to Vogue.” It was something they’d dreamt about doing since their teenage years. “I’ve always been in that culture and been surrounded by it but never really felt comfortable trying it”. Yet with the help of Vogue-expert Jay Jay Revlon they tried – and succeeded.

As a seventeen-year-old growing up constantly feeling misplaced, describing themself as “always the odd one out,” Zanaughtti left their hometown and moved to Chicago, which they quickly realized felt like home. they found her place in Chicago’s LGBTQ+ club circuit, going to Vogue Balls and living in the Vogue Ball community. “I always thought that the community of Vogueing was so beautiful. I never had a community of friends like that before. And I’ve never felt accepted in that way to do whatever the fuck I want.” They narrate the story of how they finally found home, describing how they could show up in “absolutely psychotic looks” that they made from random scraps they picked up and/or stole from the dollar store, being appreciated and not disapproved of. “It did a lot for me, so I’ve always really looked up to everybody in the Vogue/Ball scene. That’s family for me.”

Vogueing and Ball culture have, during the last decade, caught the mainstream society’s eye, introduced to the public by popular-culture via tv-shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race (2009 – ) and numerous popstars. Now being more popular than ever, it’s important to be aware of its origins. “When you hear “Vogue,” a lot of people won’t think about the black drag queens and the trans people who created this space. This safe space for marginalized people to live and breathe in and to find their family and their community,” Jazzelle says heartily. Ball-culture refers to the underground LGBTQ+ subculture created as a space to live freely in, originating in Harlem more than 50 years ago. During events known as Balls, participants can serve as audience/support, Vogue and/or walk in the drag categories formed to mimic other genders and social classes.

On the question of what happens to a subculture when it gets sucked into the mainstream culture, Zanaughtti answers thoroughly. “If you want to embrace somebody else’s culture, you have to include the people who created it; you can’t take a bunch of other people who have nothing to do with it and call it yours. That’s when it becomes problematic”, pointing out the difference between engaging in it and stealing from it. “If you think about it, literally any subculture has been mainstreamed in some way by everybody from pop stars, designers, stylists, etc. Because people think that it’s interesting.” Zanaughtti’s viewpoint isn’t that mainstreaming affects the subculture core – that’s untouchable. “It’s always going to be a subculture. There are always going to be Balls and Ballrooms, regardless of when every pop star in the world starts giving their Vogue. It’s still not going to be the same or so original, ever. That’s just their cookie-cutter version of what they want to try and sell. You’re never gonna feel that sense of community if you go to see Madonna sing “Vogue”. Vogueing and Ballroom culture, it’s much more about the feeling and the community.”

One word Zanaughtti mentions multiple times throughout our conversation in Oslo is freedom, and the “How To Fashion” campaign’s words “electric-self expression” is often repeated. Making it very clear that for them, they intertwine. “It’s about taking that voice in the back of your head that’s telling you, “You should do this, you should fucking go for it,’ and going for it. Letting that spark inside you set on fire, burning all of your insecurities and fears down. Living your truth, being who you want to be and doing what you want to do. It’s freedom.”

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