VFILES: A Creative Community for the Digital Age
“Human beings are born solitary, but everywhere they are in chains – daisy chains – of interactivity.” The words of Andy Warhol remain true today, as increasing numbers of young people try to highlight those aspects of their character that set them apart. In many ways, Generation Z is defined by its desire to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities and embrace multi-hyphenated roles. “Individuality” has achieved a premium status, obscuring the role that community plays in a generation’s quest for self-fulfillment. Warhol provides an interesting counterexample to the prized notion of the individual: his highly original works were the result of the artist’s collaboration with the collection of creative individuals who occupied his New York City Factory space.
The self-described “creative-focused social networking platform” strives to empower a global youth community by providing aspiring artists, designers and influencers both digital and physical spaces to showcase their work.
(Screenshot of the “explore” feed on vfiles.com.)
Since its inception in 2012, the brand has garnered a community of over 250K members, 82% of which are under the age of 24. In the brand’s insistence upon the importance of collaboration in creation, the association of VFILES and Andy Warhol is particularly apt. The Factory lives on in a modernized form, with VFILES using digital platforms to allow creatives around the world to contribute their ideas. Just as the enigmatic pop artist brought together a collection of artistic types in his 47th street studio, so too does VFILES unite an eclectic mix of young visionaries. From the vast pool of content uploaded to their website (over 900K pieces of UGC to date), the VFILES team hand selects emerging talent to co-create live runway shows, pop-up shops and concerts.
(Image taken at a party in Andy Warhol’s 231 East 47th Street Factory, August 1965.)
(Image taken at VFILES LOUD! event at 1515 Broadway, February 2017.)
However, where Warhol often left his superstars to flounder (many blamed the artist for the premature death of his muse, Edie Sedgwick), VFILES actively fosters the work of its talent. The brand pairs young creatives with established influencers in their field who will guide them as they put together the work they will eventually display.
We caught up with VFILES founder and CEO, Julie Anne Quay. The Australia native is no stranger to the fashion world, having worked with the likes of Naomi Campbell, Steven Meisel and Marc Jacobs over the course of her extensive career. We asked her how VFILES is mediating this relationship between the individual self-formation and community.
“The message of our platform since we started [has been] connecting, discovering, and collaborating,” Quay explains. “The individual is not made in a vacuum and yet individuality is the cornerstone to all creativity: what we try to do is link up these individuals into a larger, new community and let them make the decisions.”
The VFILES mission doesn’t stop at connecting young talent with the broader creative class — it introduces an element of mentorship. And this mentorship isn’t contained or fixed to one particular lane. Case in point: Last year, hip hop artist Young Thug was tapped to act as guide to the young creatives participating in the VFILES runway show.
(The rapper Young Thug even got up in the middle of the event to fix the collar of a model walking the catwalk.)
This year, VFILES hosted their NYFW event at Viacom’s 1515 headquarters. The two-part staging began in the TRL Studio, and featured musical performances from VFILES alum: New York’s own Lion Babe swayed to neo-soul beats, Swede Zara Larsson showed off her immense vocal range in an acoustic rendition of her single “So Good,” and Playboi Carti surprised everyone by bringing in Lil Uzi Vert (fresh off his chart-topping single “Bad and Boujee) to accompany him on his set. Bronx born Cardi B brought the afternoon to a close, growling, “Don’t I look like Sh-money?” as she shimmied across the studio in a fur coat as impressive as her hard-edged lyrics. The runway show took place the same evening and featured three young designers discovered on the VFILES platform. Australian duo Strateas Carlucci, Dutch-native Danielle Cathari and New York raised Snow Xue Gao all came together under the VFILES umbrella to put on three distinct runway shows. The spectacle was bookended by music and dance performances, including acts from rappers Joey Purp and 21 Savage.
This aforementioned set-list only reinforces the VFILES ethos: the brand uses their live events to showcase upcoming artists with immense promise. Joey Purp’s track “Girls” featured Grammy-award winning artist Chance The Rapper, and was promoted by Highsnobiety, Billboard, GQ and Pitchfork. A jacket from Snow Xue Gao’s 2017 Spring collection was worn by Rihanna for her performance at The Global Citizen last September. Zara Larsson has yet to release an album; however, her single “Never Forget You” has been viewed over 300 million times on Youtube. Quay describes: “VFILES is surrounded by the kids who are making things happen in culture, who are culture themselves: neither sub-, counter or main-stream.”
21 Savage on stage at VFiles (via Instagram)
Cardi B streaming live in Time Square (via Instagram)
Check out our video recap of the VFILES Runway 8 below
What made this event unique was that the music was as much the focus as the clothes—it wasn’t a fashion show or a concert but something in between. Youth culture today is breaking down the boundaries that once divided the worlds of art, fashion, music and entertainment. As Quay observes, “Fashion and music are inextricably linked for us: one cannot exist without the other. We always go one step further and make sure that both are represented regardless of the event that we’re doing.”
Today’s young people are more involved in the creative sphere than ever before, and they are engaging multiple interests and skill sets to create new career trajectories. Quay readily acknowledges how increased connectivity allows young people more opportunities to create these new roles: “With the internet, the only requirement for someone to fill the role is the drive to do so. We hope that with the likes of our platform that we can open more doors and break down more barriers for any musician, artist, designer, or young creative who comes to us.” Where Warhol’s Factory provided a physical space where ideas could thrive, now VFILES provides a digital hub for creativity. Creative communities bridge the gap between the “Individual” and the collective—empowering creators to make something new with the support of those who have succeeded in the past.