KVanity: Goth Boy Supervillain

Written by Emma Riva & T.K. Mills

KVanity, who describes himself in his Instagram bio as a “goth boy supervillain,” grew up bumping No Doubt in the leather seats of his mom’s 1996 Toyota. “I skated in my town, all that stereotypical shit,” he said. “I’ll be an emo kid ‘til the day I die.” KVanity’s debut show in his nascent rock career is coming up, but his roots in music go back to his parents, punk rockers that settled in suburban California. He came of age during the MySpace era, and emo inspired black eyeliner, fishnets, and chain bracelets speak to the aesthetics of the era.

But he doesn’t just draw from scene, emo, and punk. His stage name, using the word “vanity,” feels a bit more baroque. One of his most prominent tattoos is Charles Allen Gibson’s “All is Vanity,” a haunting black-and-white sketch that shows a flamboyant woman staring into a large, round mirror. Her profile and reflection make the shapes of two eye sockets of a human skull, giving the painting its iconic reputation as a symbol for the evils of decadence. “It resonates with me living in LA because everyone has their countless skincare routines and wakes up in the morning trying to be perfect,” he said on the tattoo. “A lot of the art on my body is stuff that resonates with me.”

His first tattoo was at age fourteen, and was met with fury from his mom, despite the fact she had many tattoos herself. “I was a very rebellious kid, like ‘Fuck you, I’m going to do that,’” he recalled. “I guess I still am.” KVanity’s rebellious streak and tendency to think outside the box led him to modeling. “I was modeling very young, and it was really just to get back at my agency for saying ‘You can’t do this,’” he said. His ambition outmatches his age, having already exploring life as a teenage skater, model, or rising musician all in his youth of twenty-two—“I want to play big shows, like the Hollywood Bowl,” he said. “I’d watch my favorite bands and get chills thinking of myself on stage like that.”

“I was a very rebellious kid, like ‘Fuck you, I’m going to do that,’” he recalled. “I guess I still am.”

The K in his name comes from his own first name, which has an unusual spelling, accompanied by inaccurate imitations on Starbucks cups. The letter “K” became an easier way to tell people what his name was. The experience of having a difficult to spell name showed KVanity the differences between the outward perception of who you are and a performer’s inner truth. The “vanity” came from the same place his tattoo did: His observations of vanity, hedonism, and debauchery in Los Angeles and New York. Rather than just pick one city, KVanity has performed, modeled, and lived in both, and it’s become clear to him that both have the same class of vain, upper-echelon beautiful people who use the urban streets as their playgrounds.

As contentious as the LA vs. NYC debate can get, he’s found positives in both. The differences between the two cities were thrown into sharp relief to him as a bicoastal model and performer. “I ended up on this long staycation in New York,” he said. But the time he spent there, particularly in local nightclubs, ended up inspiring some of the California native’s music. “I have a song coming out about all these kids smoking cigarettes in New York,” he said. “That’s a big thing in the clubs, just this whole cigarette crowd.”

“I’ll be an emo kid ‘til the day I die.”

KVanity’s work conjures up strobe lights waltzing across whisps of midnight mist toward something more mysterious, something that shimmers in front of your eyes the drunker you get and the faster you dance. “The modeling industry really showed me the glamour of everything, but it also showed me the darkness,” he said. “I got to see how greedy people get, and how that happens with fame. Not that I was famous then or anything,” he added, sheepishly. But that kind of all-consuming fame doesn’t seem off the table for KVanity, given his charismatic image and industry savvy.

Though modeling, skateboarding, and music require three incredibly different skillsets, KVanity’s experiences in all three have given him a balanced artistic perspective and a strong sense of self. In the seventies and eighties, an era he draws inspiration from, music, street art, skating, and underground celebrity culture all meshed together in a way rarely seen today. Part of KVanity’s affinity for the seventies is that he incorporates androgyny into his image, which David Bowie and Iggy Pop inspired him to try. “Painting my nails, doing makeup, whatever. I love that stuff,” he said, describing the black nail polish, smoky eyeliner, and jewelry he often sports. “I love playing around and making people think. I think clothing doesn’t need a gender barrier. It’s just a piece of cloth, right?” He added.

“I love playing around and making people think. I think clothing doesn’t need a gender barrier. It’s just a piece of cloth, right?”

He also happens to share a birthday with Jean-Michel Basquiat, contemporary of Iggy Pop and Bowie. Though he is not a visual artist himself, it’s not hard to imagine him one day branching into other mediums. His Instagram shows a clear eye for visual marketing, and the music video for his debut single, “Chanel,” was a collaborative multimedia effort with graffiti artist Yakov Kesten, director Mauricio Cimino Campodonico, and Ritchie Love of High Fidelity BP, who serves as KVanity’s manager. The video, which dropped just a week ago, features a psychedelic display of blues, reds, and pinks that uses graffiti on walls as a backdrop for its narrative about the intersections between sex, addiction, pain, and consumerism.

“Chanel” is now available on to stream Spotify and Apple Music, or for purchase on iTunes. KVanity’s release party for “Chanel” and his debut show will be on 11/12 with doors opening at 8pm at High Fidelity BP, 7225 Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.

T.K. Mills is the editor-in-chief of UP. He is an art journalist based in New York City. After receiving a Master’s Degree in Global Affairs, he discovered a love for graffiti while backpacking through Cuba. T.K. has written for several art publications including SOLD, Global Street Art, and Arte Fuse. Additionally, he manages the street art blog, Well Pleased We Dream. Beyond art, T.K. loves reading and traveling.

Instagram: @t.k.m85

Email: tkmills85@gmail.com

Website: tkmills.com

Emma Riva is a novelist and art journalist. She is the author of Night Shift in Tamaqua, an illustrated novel. As an art writer, she is particularly interested in working with international artists and exploring how visual art can both transcend cultural boundaries and highlight the complexities of individual identity. Emma is a graduate of The New School and a Wilbur and Niso Smith Author of Tomorrow. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Insta: @EmmawithGlasses

Website: emmawithglasses.com