BlackBook Interview + Exclusive Photo Shoot: Caroline Vreeland Talks Leather Bustiers, Russian Lit + Singing the Blues
HAT: Vintage 1960’s Yves Saint Laurent from LIDOW ARCHIVE
GLOVES: Wing & Weft from LIDOW ARCHIVE
EARRINGS: Tana Chung
DIAMOND NECKLACE: Renato Cipullo
We first encounter Caroline Vreeland walking down the stairs on our way to pick up some snacks for the studio crew in Brooklyn’s gritty-but-gentrifying Bushwick. We are there with photographer Jess Farran for an exclusive BlackBook shoot, and Vreeland arrives wearing a cropped, oversized denim jacket, vintage high-waisted Levis, classic Chelsea boots, and dark sunglasses—which makes her seem like she’s just escaped from ’80s pop video.
She has just landed from Canada, where she sojourned with a new love interest between scheduled appearances. Although she comes from a storied fashion pedigree, and is an accomplished model and singer-songwriter in her own right, Vreeland cheerfully accompanies us to a modest local bodega to pick up the necessary comestibles.
As we walked a few blocks together before the start of the shoot, we began to catch up on her life. Caroline has a very soft, approachable way about her that is immediately disarming. It stands in contrast to her glamorous, compelling public persona which, combined with Marilyn Monroe good looks and alluring Audrey Hepburn mannerisms, radiates a certain star power, amplified by her growing social media and magazine cover presence.
Throughout the shoot, and over a bottle of 2018 Mon Cher Gamay, a wine—light, sweet and tart—that seems a fitting metaphor for the dynamic yet accessible Caroline. Before the camera started snapping, we engaged her on a wide range of topics…but most notably, her new album Notes on Sex and Wine (released this past Monday, March 2).
Your album is a bit autobiographical; how does it feel to put so much of yourself out there?
It’s the only way to do it. I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me, because Instagram is such a great platform for building my fanbase. But it’s almost cookie cutter—the images on there are generally what the world wants to see, and it can be boring. So with this album, I put out what I want the world to see and hear. The real shit. And I was going through a really bad breakup—I know, ‘whoa is me,’ we have all had bad breakups—and I have since recovered. But I was going through a dark time.
How did you deal with it?
I wanted to show that I wasn’t getting intimacy, and I took to drinking. I was so lonely when I moved to Miami, that’s why the album is called Notes on Sex and Wine. It was the lacking of one thing, while I was drowning in the other thing. In order for me to get passionate about my work, it has to have everything in it. It took about two years to produce this album.
Is it better to love, or be loved?
That’s a great question, no one has ever asked me that before. It’s usually easier to be loved. If you love and it isn’t reciprocated, then you feel stupid and hurt. I want to be loved…adored, actually, by everyone. I do have a lot of love to give, though. But at the end of the day, to be loved is better. It sounds selfish, but it’s the truth. When I was in Miami, I was giving all the love and I wasn’t getting it back.
Images 1 & 4: DRESS: Troy Dylan Allen from LIDOW ARCHIVE
EARRINGS, RINGS: Renato Cipullo
NECKLACES: Tana Chung
Image 3: DRESS (WITH GLOVES): Vintage Moschino Couture from LIDOW ARCHIVE
HAT: Vintage from LIDOW ARCHIVE
EARRINGS, RINGS: Renato Cipullo
Images 2 & 5: BLAZER: Vintage Moschino Couture from LIDOW ARCHIVE
PANTIES: LIDOW ARCHIVE
SHOES: Vintage Ralph Lauren from LIDOW ARCHIVE
GLOVES: Wing & Weft from LIDOW ARCHIVE
EARRINGS, NECKLACE: Tana Chung
You’ve become a celebrity through your modeling, music and social media. But what is it that people still don’t know about you?
I think I try to be this badass, crazy bitch in my public image; but my closer friends remind me that, in reality, I’m the girl that just drinks red wine and goes home early. People might be surprised to learn that I am very into sci-fi podcasts, for example—all the ones that are on the Welcome to Night Vale channel…anything that has some sort of conspiracy theory in the mix. I love those. I am an avid reader and enjoy Russian literature—Dostoevsky, Nabokov, Chekhov, really big on it.
Which is definitely different from your public image.
I come across as sexually aggressive, but when I am with someone I am comfortable with, I am much more subdued. I am really extroverted most of the time; but now that I am in my thirties, I am starting to really treasure my alone time. I’m living in Brooklyn now, so I am really just discovering my neighborhood and I have a couple of spots…I really love Bar Tabac [a Parisian-style bistro in Boerum Hill].
Your music has a lot of soul in it. Who are your biggest influences?
I started learning music when I was 8-years-old, and I played the wind at a school play, just making blowing sounds into the microphone; I had determined at that moment, I wanted to perform. I remember liking Fiona Apple and also starting to like performing in front of people. So I started taking vocal lessons. In my youth I was listening to Al Green, Etta Jones, Nina Simone—that blues sound is in my album is now. And then I went through some growing pains and tried pretty much every genre. At first I thought I wanted to be like Christina Aguilera or Beyoncé—that sort of loud, belting pop, so I did a project like that.
‘Drinking For Two,’ Paste Magazine Studio Session, January 3, 2020
But there was more to you?
Yes, next I did a project where the sound was more like that of the Black Keys; then I tried something that was more orchestral, like being the female singer of Muse. So I have done all this shit only to come back, and the blues are the thing that roots me now. It took more than twenty years to come to that. What I am channeling on this album is definitely Amy Winehouse, in the sense that I like to write about things that are darker in content; which means that the production has to be kind of down. But what Amy always did was find ways to incorporate movement in her work, even when the subject matter was so dark. Patsy Klein and Nancy Sinatra are also big influences sonically. When working with my producers, we would pull up sounds and moods that we would like and try to emulate them in my own version.
You recently performed before an adoring crowd here in New York, at the Standard East Hotel—and you’re also doing a few more live dates in the area. Do you enjoy it?
Yes. I have this crazy, bitchy, demanding French stylist, and he told me that I have to have a different, unique outfit for every single venue. Which is interesting because, while I am performing in large venues, they are still kind of divey in look and feel; and yet, I will be dressed to the nines in very thoughtfully chosen, customized outfits. I have a strong affection for fashion, but I also want to be some combination of myself—a person—and an image. So even though I like to be very candid and open in my interactions with the audience—I talk about my day, and how I am feeling—I still want to put on a bit of an image and a show.
People have come to expect that of you.
I will wear a custom tailored outfit, and then make it more dramatic with a cape, for instance; or maybe by wearing a leather bustier. Different outfits allow my performances to take on different shapes. I just want each show to be distinctive and have its own life.
Any surprises we can expect?
I’m using a drummer in my show for the first time…and I will be singing a cover song that no one has ever heard me do before.