Online personas are easily misinterpreted, and Palma Wright’s is among those often criminally clocked. Part photographer, part makeup artist and one-half of buzzing LA-based brand Mamadoux, Wright delivers far more nose to the grindstone substance than her social media presence may lead followers to believe.
“I haven’t drank in four years,” the 25-year-old tastemaker admits. “People all think, ‘Oh, I’m going to turn up with Palma,’ but I always keep my head on straight because I’m constantly thinking about who I want to work with in the future. It’s easy to get distracted by partying here, but at the end of the day, people don’t respect that.”
Refreshingly focused, Wright channels her spunk toward helping Mamadoux Creative Director Elliott Beach realize his vision, splattering rainbow paint on models’ bodies during shoots and acting as an around-the-clock brand ambassador. “If there was no Elliott, there’d definitely be no Mamadoux,” she says. “If I hadn’t met him, I’d be a completely different person today.”
We caught up with the rising talent to talk about escaping basic bitches at FIDM, first launching Mamadoux and doing business in social media-obsessed LA.
You grew up in Washington; how did you end up living in LA?
“I ended up coming to LA around 2011 when I started fashion school at FIDM, which I thought was going to be a great place with other artists and creative people; I didn’t think it was really going to be like The Hills with Lauren Conrad types—all these girls who look at fashion magazines and want to be a buyer for Dillard’s. I was like, ‘What the fuck is this?’ This is not what I envisioned when I wanted to be in fashion. They actually all discouraged me from continuing in fashion; they were like, ‘You should be a cartoonist,’ or some shit. Basically FIDM was a horrible place for me.”
How did you meet Elliott Beach?
“Right around the time I was feeling really lost at FIDM, I met Elliott and he was designing for this super underground label. He was living this almost Andy Warhol-style Factory life, where you’d go in a room and there’d be some person playing a movie of grass growing—really weird shit, and I’d never experienced that before. Meeting him and coming into his world was the first time I’d ever seen underground living, art and fashion. At that point, I still hadn’t embraced my individuality; I was trying to be something I’m not—still trying to be blonde, blue-eyed and Hollywood. When I met Elliott, I was like, ‘Fuck whatever I’m doing at FIDM, this is what I’m supposed to be doing.’”
How did you two launch Mamadoux together?
“I basically weaseled my way into the brand that Elliott was first designing for. I started interning and by interning I mean, I’d get high and help him dye stuff. It was a very minimal amount of work and more of an opportunity to get closer to Elliott, which wasn’t good for the guy who owned the brand because I realized Elliott was doing everything—he was the talent and creative, but wasn’t getting paid. He was homeless at the time, so I was like, ‘Something’s not adding up.’ I didn’t know shit about fashion, but I believed in his talent more than I believed in anyone else’s ever before. I was like, ‘I think you’re the next huge designer of our time. It would be awesome if you wanted to take me under your wing; I know I don’t know anything about fashion, but I’ll be fair to you if we start something together.’”
You’ve become a photographer, stylist and makeup artist. Did Mamadoux help you discover and develop these interests?
“At the beginning, I was more of a facilitator and organizer and I didn’t have any part in the creative. I remember with Elliott’s old brand, I’d watch him art direct, style and make all the clothes; this made me realize what I wanted to do, that I wanted to be a part of this creativity. For the first couple shoots we did together, I just did makeup. After the first six months of our brand getting started, we realized that we needed a consistent in-house photographer. Since I’ve always wanted to shoot, it was a natural thing for me to pick up and develop. Everything’s grown since then, but it took me a long time in the beginning to be confident and understand my own approach to photography. ”
What informs the Mamadoux aesthetic?
“Most brands seem to make what the general public wants to consume; we care more about our own perception of beauty and Elliott’s artistic individuality, producing one-of-a-kind pieces for a niche market. His aesthetic is more ‘of the moment,’ and whatever he’s interested in at the time, which evolves as we grow and develop. We’re both focused on pushing the envelope in terms of beauty and the way people perceive themselves. Archetypical perceptions of beauty are used to sell garments in the commercial market, but we are more interested in evoking a strong sense of the individual.”
What’s it like doing business in LA?
“Things here are super laid-back and social media-based—Internet hype-based. It’s so much of that mentality, which I don’t care for. It shouldn’t be about booking a girl because she has a million followers, even though she’s ‘plain jane’ boring, but that’s what LA’s about. I get it; I do social media, but it causes a lot of bullshit and I wonder, ‘Why can’t the art industry pull through all that bullshit?’ It forces me in LA to play a game that I don’t always want to play. In NY, it doesn’t seem like you can talk some big shit and get somewhere. It seems like you have to actually have the talent, and it seems people do more substantial work there. People don’t always acknowledge Elliott’s talent; he doesn’t have 100,000 followers and he doesn’t post pictures of himself. I’ve taken on the heavy task of social media for the brand, which I enjoy, but it’s definitely a big part of LA business, and worldwide actually.”
I see the Mamadoux look everywhere. Do you think fashion is a trickle-up industry, pulling ideas from the underground?
“Obviously for a big brand like Nasty Gal or Urban Outfitters, it’s super easy to take something like we do and throw it into manufacturing. In fact, there’s plenty of people who do just that for a living. Elliott was doing the cut-out swimsuits years ago and I see them at H&M, now; no one was doing that when Elliott did, not since the early ’90s at least. He’s had ideas literally taken from him; he did these multi-tone shorts that American Apparel copied, along with numerous swimsuits and other aesthetic ideas. We make such an impact when we do something. We don’t just do a little glitter, like no, I’m painting the whole girl’s body. We don’t pussy foot around it. If I’m going to paint a bitch, she has to be ready to eat paint. People see our authenticity and they want it. We visually take it further than a lot of other brands and no one else in LA does color.”
You’ve worked a lot behind-the-scenes. Have you ever considered being a serious model?
“I’ve always been behind-the-scenes taking pictures of the ‘LA it girls’ and models, and I’ve slowly started letting myself be shot as well. At first I was very uncomfortable with it, but now I’m so comfortable. I’d be down to be a male model because I don’t really like to play into my sexiness. I don’t feel like my body is my strong point, it’s more about my personality and my face. I don’t want to be the girl in the lingerie; I want to market myself more as having swag and spunk rather than being ‘sexy.’ I’ll pull out the sexiness every now and then because people literally forget that I’m a girl.”
Palma Wright recently photographed model Chloe Norgaard for, “In Love With Color,” featuring clothes by Mamadoux. See the full ‘Bullett’ editorial, here.