THE STANDARD: You identify as an "Illustrator. Model. Coach. Door Bitch." Does the order matter?
CONNIE FLEMING: The order is perfect.
You forgot to mention you’ve been a New York It Girl. What does that mean to you?
To me, it meant hard work, perseverance, belief in one’s dreams and the luck of stars aligning are just the beginning of one’s journey. You must also find your tribe a community that believes in you, and for you, to reach for the stars.
You’ve also not labeled yourself as an "artist," even as you just opened an exhibition in NYC. Why is that?
All the avenues I inhabit culminate into making me an artist. Also, I’ve been working for a while now trying to build a career as an illustrator. So to now actually call myself an artist is quite daunting.
Let’s talk about your exhibition, "The Alphas." Most of the pieces turn letters and words into striking, logo-like visual statements. How did you land on this dynamic form of expression?
It started one spring day in the late 90s at the “House Of Field” showroom, Patricia Field’s clothing brand. Pat’s creative director David Dalrymple and I were working on the Fall/Winter collection. David wanted a fresh, sexy, innovative T-shirt and logo design. The feeling that season: “Vegas Showgirl, 80s Crazy Horse, and the Mud-Flap Trucker Girl." That evening, I went home to toil away on my sketch pad, on nothingness, zilch, but luckily I glanced over at my fashion library: three stacks of French and Italian Vogue magazines, and two stacks of art books with The Fashion Book on top of stack two, a loved resource that listed everyone and everything fashion. As I reached for it a name popped into my head, Erté and his Alphabet Suite. That morning, I arrived at the studio with the first Alpha-Girls in hand.
You’ve crafted these vibrant pieces that seem to pulse with life and story. Can you tell us about one where you felt you really nailed conveying someone’s or something’s essence through this visual language?
The Leigh Bowery. In 2012 I received a copy of the Hilton Als' book, Leigh Bowery, Leigh Bowery. While going through the pages I felt a mix of sadness and joy. Leigh was such a force, a catalyst, an innovator, and friend. Overwhelmed with gratitude I wanted, needed to honor this incredible contribution. I started at the beginning with Leigh & Trojan’s "P*kis from Outerspace," waltzing through the years ending with PVC-U Later (one of Leigh’s dressed-to-thrill looks). It was a small drop in a sea of looks that Leigh’s incredibly prolific life of creative magnificence and beauty gave unto the world. My piece is a humble homage to his greatness.
One of the pieces is about Honey Dijon, who is close to your heart, she interviewed you in Interview Magazine in 2020. Honey has transformed into a global icon in the last few years, dazzling the realms of music and fashion and sexuality, notably by co-producing songs on Beyoncé's Renaissance album. What are your thoughts on her meteoric rise?I am over the moon with enormous pride. This summer, the summer that will go down in Herstory as the Renaissance Tour Summer. For months I’d scroll through Insta-Ham or Bitter (now known as X) and would have to fight back tears of joy. "COZY" and "ALIEN SUPERSTAR" [two of Beyonce's songs co-produced by Honey Dijon] contain in every phrase and note, the hope, joy, and elation of the Black and Brown queer community that created the genres of Disco and House Music. Her unflinching dedication to ensuring their legacy is intact, and that the millions lost to us in the AIDS crisis will not be lessened nor forgotten or reduced to a familiar momentary sample on a colonized track. Honey's success stands as a testament to not only her tremendous talent but the legacy she is a part of and represents. She stands tall in her Transness not being minimized speaking truth unto power.
You've interacted with a myriad of defining personalities in music, fashion, and nightlife since the early 80’s! Could you share your top 3, your trinity of influences, that have shaped your journey the most?
1. Grace Jones / 2. International Crysis / 3. Mounia Orosemane. All these incredible women have influenced and inspired me, empowered, and reflected back to me a life without shame or invisibility of who you are.
I'm curious, what are your favorite songs by Grace Jones?
Art is life. How you choose to show up in and of itself is an expression, a creative exercise of your heart and mind, your wants and desires. Crafting, honing, and rendering is art. You are coloring in and outside of the lines of your life.
We might all wish we could call our life as a work of art. However, life is real, raw; it's serious and tough—seemingly more so than any form of art. Do you agree?
Yes. Life has to be lived; it doesn't hang on a wall or sit on a shelf. You have to take all that comes at you good or bad and deal with it. The path can be chosen for you, put upon you, or taken up by you. It's up to you to try and make the path wider, softer, and hopefully joyful without injury to self or others.
Do you think a 16-year-old Connie in 2023 in NYC would find her way as you did, in a scene that’s more inclusive but also more commercial? Would today's challenges and opportunities shape a different journey for someone diving into the NYC nightlife ecosystem now?
It would definitely be different. One's online presence is a currency to be used, a cachet enabling one to gain ground in commercial and creative spaces. This is the way of the world now, and I do see this generation tooling it for themselves, branding, and commoditizing their lives. So for a 16-year-old Connie who grew up in this world, this framework wouldn't be foreign, it would still take working your ass off to be seen.
Which advice would you give to that teenager Connie?
Don't be so hard on yourself. Make space in your soul for a pat on the back. There is time and room for the healing of one's wounds without picking at the old wounds that need healing.