We are a Dedicated Bunch

Layna Isle Vancauteren is worried. She doesn’t really want to cut her hair. She’s had it long for a while and is quite happy with it. Her bangs are finally starting to grow out and it’s back to its natural color. But somehow she agreed to take the train to Paris tomorrow and model for a hair client. “They’re cutting it short and dying it,” she groans while longingly tousling her brown locks in the mirror. “I’m always really excited about experiments like that, but I end up regretting it the next day…” Maybe it’s the idea of the extra income that enticed her to bite the bullet – she’s saving for a car and just started a new business – or the thought of spending some time in Paris again – she used to come often in her full-time modeling days – but still, she admits: “It’s a big deal for me.”

We sit in the showroom of her vintage web shop, KimAndLayna. The Belgian sky outside the big window is grey and flat but it’s still warm enough to wear T-shirts. The space occupies two rooms above a store front across the street from city hall in Ghent. Layna literally only moved in a few months ago but it’s becoming a cushy hang-out, especially after she uncorks the champagne that’s been chilling for the afternoon. The Kim in KimandLayna no longer plays an active part in the business. When the modeling jobs started to come in again, Kim Peers, post-kids and in-shape, decided to give her career another chance. In the meantime Layna has been developing the concept: “We sell mainly vintage & Belgian designers in consignment. The idea is that I style the pieces according to my taste and hope to give people an idea on how they could combine certain pieces. We also feature an editorial every month with all new pieces from the shop.”

Layna was born in Minnesota but moved to Brussels when she was three. She doesn’t have any real discernible accent, even though mom is American and she sometimes uses English phrases to make a point. She studied photography, interior design and architecture but didn’t go to university. “I ended up modelling and just didn’t feel like I could spend more days in a classroom,” she explains. “I do feel like my short-lived education has helped me. I’ve remembered so many little odd things, like names of artists or architects that still inspire me today.” After high school she moved to Antwerp and lived there up until two years ago. That’s when she fell in love…

The apartment is tiny, “a cozy, little cave” as she calls it and located a quick fifteen-minute walk throughout the city center. “We met through a mutual friend,” she smiles when we walk up the stairs. “I jokingly happened to ask him one night if he knew someone nice and he blurted out: Gabriel! I laughed, not really thinking he was my type but we ended up going on a double date a few days later and BOOM!” The man in question is Gabriel Rios, a 36-year old Puerto Rican-Belgian musician who spends his time between Ghent and Brooklyn. Today he’s sticking his head out the living room door when she turns the key. “He’s incredibly smart, hilarious, beautiful and he speaks American!” she cheers, jumping next to him in the sofa. “It’s such a comforting feeling to be able to speak your native tongue with your lover… Flemish just doesn’t have the same feeling to it… I find it harder to express certain emotions.”

If her early Facebook sales are any indication, Layna’s new web shop will be a success. She has generous friends to supply the clothes, the national press to back her up, and a unique style that’s inherently un-Belgian and tries to push the envelope. “Belgians are funny to me because usually they are so true to one brand. They buy the same brand for twenty-five years! You see these Ann Demeulemeester women walking around in Antwerp dressed in head-to-toe black, usually kind of greasy hair and pale skin. Or the Dries [Van Noten] types, with wide pants, floral printed blazers and colorful glasses! It’s hilarious but also amazing. We are a dedicated bunch.”

Which brings me back to the infamous hair job… Surely that takes dedication. I ask her a couple of weeks later if she cried. “I didn’t realise how emotional I would get about it…” she says softly. “And honestly I feel ashamed to say this but I did have a little panic attack at the shoot! I secretly hid so nobody could see, but ended up going back and doing it. It wasn’t so much the changing of the hair but more the attitude of the people at the job. Nobody really communicates with you when you are the model… Anyway, the hair turned out AWESOME in the end and being in Paris is always great. No regrets!!”

 

October 28, 2014

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