Raised in Copenhagen by Polish parents, Los Angeles-based stylist Veneda Carter—a former teen model—would face years of brutal rejection for not being ‘thin enough’ until an Instagram DM she thought was spam would propel her into Kanye West’s innermost creative circle; a community that’s included Louis Vuitton men’s artistic director Virgil Abloh, Miu Miu stylist Lotta Volkova and Yeezy/Gap design director Mowalola Ogunlesi among its epoch-making talents.
In Calabasas, the Danish style star also caught the eye of Kim Kardashian, who was likewise enamoured by her gift for translating music movements into fashion looks light years before they became a global trend.
© Courtesy of Veneda Carter
For Kardashian, Carter is “the coolest girl in the world”; a trusted go-to for all things style-related —shorthand for one of the planet’s most influential celebrity stylists. You probably saw the custom Schiaparelli gown Kardashian wore to celebrate Christmas 2020 (a painstaking feat of craftsmanship featuring a moulded leather six-pack ‘Marvel hero’ bodice). How about the sumptuous clay-brown Acne co-ords?
Here’s how the stylist—whose mind is a living database of the 1990s/2000s fashion movements led by Kelis, André 3000 and seminal girl group Total (“For the Nautica technical jackets”) and nostalgic runway references (“Iceberg’s AW99 men’s show is one of my all-time favourites”)—got her break.
Styling Instagram’s most famous woman
“It’s still kind of surreal. I cried the first time I saw her in one of my looks,” says Carter, sweeping her ash-blonde hair behind the elegantly plump shoulders of her vintage Eddie Bauer fleece (an eBay find). “She is so down to try different things and experiment. We’re a good match,” she adds, her Danish accent all but overruled by a gutsy east-meets-west-coast twang. “I want to be 100 per cent authentic to who she is.”
Still just 28 years old, Carter has worked as a stylist at Yeezy since 2016—a fact that remained a secret from her loyal social media following until relatively recently. “I was very quiet about my position for a long time because I didn’t want to ruin anything,” she says with quintessential Scandinavian frankness. “I was never good in school and that [role] was the first time people had recognised me for my brain.”
Mentored by Kanye West
Inside the Yeezy studio, she honed her eye for the forensically researched oversized proportions that would become her métier, dedicating herself to the point of total absorption. “I just wanted to work and I was unstoppable,” she adds. “With Kanye, I’m always thinking, ‘Damn, you really are a mentor to me.’”
Today, the stylist’s time is spent largely with Kardashian, who she started working with intensively in 2019. “If Kim needs something, you know, I’ve gotta be there,” she smiles. (I can confirm that pinning Carter down for a Zoom interview is no mean feat.) There’s a definite sense the two share a sisterly bond. Currently four months pregnant with her first child, Carter looks up to Kardashian as an inspiration for balancing motherhood with the demands of a round-the-clock work schedule.
“She’s a career woman who is also a mother of four, she really knows,” the stylist tells Vogue, adjusting her cross-legged position on the floor of her tranquil, light-filled Hollywood living room. “Kim is very dedicated to her kids, she is the perfect example.”
At this point, you’d be forgiven for imagining that Carter’s life has always been this glossy. But, she’ll be the first to tell you that things aren’t always as they seem. Rewind eight years when, as a 20-year-old model based out of New York, she was emotionally broken by endless industry rejection. “I had fallen into a really bad depression and developed anxiety to the point that I couldn’t leave my house for days,” she says of those darkest moments.
Carter pulled the plug and went to live in Berlin. “All the years I was working on back-to-back commercial jobs, which helped me to support my family financially, I was hoping for the big fashion job that never came. At the end of my time in New York, I was destroyed. I just gave up.”
Scouted aged 13 on a bus in Copenhagen, she had graduated into a modelling world where she never felt ‘enough’. “Today, the industry is all about models being themselves and expressing who they are. Back then, it was more about just being a product. I never booked any high-fashion jobs because I wasn’t ‘skinny enough’. Instead, I did sports. I wasn’t prepared to starve myself.”
© Courtesy of Veneda Carter
Discovering a new means of self-expression
Around the same time, she downloaded a new photo-sharing app, which had been rapidly spreading by word of mouth, and sought solace in creating a virtual moodboard. It didn’t take long for her Instagram grid to start gaining traction. “I would not only post photos of myself but photos of a building or cars. It was very random shit, right?” she laughs. The signature baggy style of the thrifted looks she’d worn since her teens in a bid to emulate her hip-hop-obsessed older brother were likewise getting noticed.
“Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money,” Carter explains. She originally learned her secondhand sourcing skills in the Red Cross store where her mother worked a second job, using her brother’s 1990s rap idols as her style guide. “He is the reason behind the aesthetic I have today, which of course is very elevated now, but that’s where it all started for me — where everything started.”
In 2016, Carter agreed to one last attempt at modelling in New York, accompanied by her older brother for moral support. Facing off what would be her final modelling rejection, a familiar feeling of despair descended. Back at her hotel that evening, she routinely checked her Instagram DMs.
© Courtesy of Veneda Carter
“There was a direct message saying something like, ‘Hey, I’m reaching out from Kanye’s team, we really want to meet you.’” Her first thought? “What the fuck… this is spam.” The Yeezy team persisted. “They messaged me again and this time I answered and agreed to fly out to LA the next morning. The following day, when my friend drove me out to Calabasas for the 10am meeting, I remember arriving at the building when it was still under construction and thinking, ‘Is this a set-up?’”
Carter’s eyes go wide recalling the moment as if she’s seeing the facade for the first time all over again. That initial meeting with the Yeezy team was electric. A five-day trip to California turned into a two-week stay, at which point West asked if she would relocate permanently to work there full-time. “I’ve never felt so appreciated in my whole life as I did when I stepped into that room. I had always wanted people to recognise me for my creativity. In the end, it was one of the biggest artists in the world who saw it.”
This is what’s on Veneda Carter’s moodboard in 2021.
New designers to follow now
“I’ve always been inspired by technical wear. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the Polish suburbs where my parents were raised. This was a place where tracksuits were about identity. Today, even when I dress up, I always make sure the look is underpinned by the same energy.
“When modern labels make technical clothes for women, it’s often corny and inauthentic. [UK-based brand] Paria Farzaneh is the opposite—she makes outerwear that’s genuinely elegant. Her roomy yet feminine silhouettes often channel Iranian influences, pairing long nylon skirts with functional hooded zip-ups and rewriting notions of sports suiting. Her clothes have a purpose, the proportions are amazing and the colours are great. When first I saw her Instagram, I thought, ‘Damn, there’s someone who has figured it out!’”
“For anyone like me, who’s a sneaker obsessive, [Romania-born, London-based designer] Ancuta Sarca’s shoes are really special. Her heels are totally original and incredibly sexy, but they’re also fun. I love that they give off that signal the moment you walk into a room.”
Galilee (aka @Galilee_By_Sea)
“This is my friend Marq Rise’s label, based in London. The tailoring is exceptional—it’s utilitarian but extremely elevated. Marq’s brand is destined to become something great.”
2021 wardrobe staple: authentic hiking boots
“I’m very into Timberland boots right now, they are my go-to shoes. I have so many pairs that I have researched and sourced on eBay. You know the Manolo Blahnik boots that riffed off Timberlands? These were my ultimate online find. I have so many pairs of regular Timbs, but I’m always trying to find the rare colourways from the early 2000s. The modern Timberland hiking boots are also among my favourites. I’ve bought matching pairs for myself and the baby.”
© Courtesy of Veneda Carter
What you should be watching right now: director Hype Williams’ filmography
“I’ve been going back to a lot of the music videos that director Hype Williams made for OutKast, Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliott, as well as his 1998 feature film Belly. The way Williams shot these films—plus the styling and the stories—is incredibly inspiring.”