"Like wildflowers, allow yourself to grow in places people never thought you would.”


It’s 9/11 today, and I’m sitting on the beach in Wildwood, New Jersey. I got a little emotional seeing all the memorial posts earlier, so I’m going to avoid social media for the rest of the day and focus on spending the day in gratitude. Being on the beach surrounded by nature has always been my favorite place to reflect on life and how precious it is, and how important it is to be grateful for it. Gratitude is one of the best feelings in the world.

One of the things I’m feeling grateful for right now is to have Joan Smalls as our cover model for the launch issue of DOCUMENTBEAUTY, and the whole creative process of bringing this magazine into the world. I’m so happy about that and grateful for how loyal and supportive Joan has been of me and my career. She came into my life at a time where I was going through the heartache of leaving my dream agency. It feels like the universe knew I was feeling low and sent me a gift to balance me out and help me see that everything is still great.

Just thinking about Joan brightens my day. She’s so hilarious, authentic and confident, and knows exactly who she is. She doesn’t alter or change herself in a certain setting to fit in or blend in. She’s just such a unique person and her personality speaks volumes. When she walks in the room she has this amazing energy. It’s like the party is instantly turned on! She radiates with electricity and her humor gets everyone laughing right away. She’s just fun, fun, fun.


The first time I met Joan it was brief—backstage when I was assisting Guido Palau during NYFW. Backstage at fashion week is always so chaotic that it wasn’t much of an introduction—I wasn’t trying to start a conversation with anyone, even the girls I know really well. It’s that crazy back there.

Not long after that show, I had the amazing opportunity to style Joan’s hair for American Vogue and spend more time with her. We did a look that was very similar to how she naturally wears her hair most of the time, which is more of straight flat iron look. She learned that day that I could do her hair really well.

Since then, I’ve done Joan’s hair for countless editorials and red carpet events. One of my favorites was the cover image for Vogue Brazil shot by Zee Nunes. I had the opportunity to give Joan really big hair and people always like to see supermodels transformed into a character outside of their normal look. We got pretty exciting attention from that cover.

Through it all she’s been such a fun client and muse. I always get to do interesting things with her hair and she’s almost never asked for the same thing twice. It’s always an unexpected, brand-new look.

She dares to try new things, she’s not afraid to wear wigs or try a new hair color, which keeps it really fun. She has no limits to what she’s willing to explore. And on a personal note, I absolutely adore the way she says my name. She has a sexy Puerto Rican accent and when she says my name she says “Kyla” instead of Kayla. It’s really cute and I hope it never changes.

For this first DOCUMENTBEAUTY editorial, I wanted to capture Joan in a fine art manner, something beautiful and innocent, and not portray the nudity as overtly sexy. She’s already naturally very sexy as it is!

The original concept for the shoot started with my desire to do a hair story with exaggerated natural lengths and volumes that evoked a 1970s vibe. I find that when I have room for creative control, I always gravitate towards a 1970s or 1960s look with beauty, whether it’s hair or makeup. I just feel like they were the best decades for beauty, from the long hair of Cher to the big afros on Soul Train, to Farrah Fawcett’s iconic look and Twiggy eyeliner and mascara! It was such an inspiring time. Between those influences and all the classic rock my parents listened to when I was young, I really feel like I was born in the wrong decade! Seeing Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin live in the 70s would definitely be a time travel goal.


Once we had the era set, I went with BIG, long hair, very 70s, so it was fun to curate, style, and creative direct everything, including props, around that look, starting with the hair. Typically on editorial shoots, hair and makeup are designed around the clothing, so it was an incredibly liberating departure to start the other way around and see how we could make it look as refined as possible.

We then started to think about a wildflower or flower power or flower child theme, which seemed perfect for the era and for Joan, because I really see her as a wildflower. She’s so unique and free in who she is, like a flower growing from a city street.

More than anything, the concept of flowers evoked a beautiful dream for me – exactly what we want DOCUMENTBEAUTY to do for our readers with images that might be considered unexpected in the modern beauty industry. Every time I see an element of nature in fashion or a beauty campaign, I get obsessed! I think it’s because I grew up with nature and flowers.

My mom was a florist so I spent a lot of time in her flower shop, surrounded by so much beauty and even working with her to design arrangements.  It was lovely to bring that aspect of my childhood into this first shoot for DOCUMENTBEAUTY. And lately I’ve been feeling deprived of nature, having lived in New York City for the last 9 years, so flowers/wildflower it is!


I knew that I didn’t want to do anything standard with the flower concept, so that’s where the idea of the sheer pantyhose with fresh flowers inside them came in. Like beautiful flowers pressed in a book but still fresh and vibrant and adorning her body in an unexpected way. My heart was set on it from the second I pictured it.

At one point on set, my assistant Sonny took a beautiful candid polaroid of Joan with the afro and flowers that Joan later posted on Instagram. When I did her hair for Harper’s Bazaar Icons party a few days ago, she told me it had the most reposts that she’s ever had, which is so exciting. It really makes me feel like this career direction into editorial creative direction is my true path and my destiny… which is funny because when I enrolled at the Philadelphia Art Institute to study fashion design before moving to NY, they told me I should be a creative director after hearing about my interests and passions. And here we are!


One of the reasons we are even starting this magazine is to creative direct. Hair and makeup artists just don’t have much of a say in the final images selected for any given story, and how your work is shared with the world. That power is with photographers and fashion editors. Not even the models typically get the chance to choose. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a model after we’ve done a shoot together and we’ll both wonder why they picked a certain image for the cover.

That happens every day in this industry and it’s so gratifying to be part of changing that. After 13 years of wanting control of how your work and your artistry is seen and not having it, now we do. That’s another reason why DOCUMENTBEAUTY is different. We’re going to ask the models what images they like and invite them to be part of the selection process. It’s so important to us that they have a voice, too, because we know how it feels to not have one.

Through the process of this shoot I learned that there’s a sense of freedom and power that comes with working as the creative director. It’s just such a different feeling than only doing hair. I look at people like Luigi Murenu who have been such influences for me. You can tell that he had a huge influence on what the final images were and that’s why the hair was always absolutely amazing.

“Like wildflowers, allow yourself to grow in places you people never thought you would.”

Funny enough, that quote was written underneath an artist drawing inspired by the Polaroid teaser that we posted on Instagram of Joan with the afro and stockings stuffed with flowers. It was just mind-blowing to me and Christine (my co-Editor-in-Chief and beautiful work wife!), because after days of talking about what we wanted to call the story publicly, we had decided to go with “Wildflower” or “Joan Smalls as Wildflower.”

The fact that the first artist interpretation of a DOCUMENTBEAUTY image that we’re aware of would reference a title we hadn’t shared yet was mesmerizing for us… and the idea of growing in places you didn’t think you would perfectly captures this moment that Christine and I are in, of starting a new chapter of our careers together. I feel like I’m the luckiest person in the world to be on this journey with her, where we get to create such magical imagery, explore amazing concepts of beauty and art, and inspire each other every day.