Very few people have the ability to enter a room and leave a lasting impression on every single person inside of it. Model and Creator Iyanna James-Stephenson possesses this ability. Some may call it confidence, others may call it beauty, but in reality it is so much more than that. It is vulnerability, it is honesty, it is authenticity that she wears on her sleeve. As a multifaceted creative, she does not grab inspiration from the outside world, instead she looks within in order to express herself; she hopes to inspire other Creators to do the same. Read the full interview below and explore the mind of a truly fearless creative.
1. What is the earliest memory you have of yourself doing something creative?
My mother has always been a lover of the arts. And although she does not create herself, she made sure my sisters and I had the access and the ability to do so since childhood. While growing up, in order to foster our creativity, she enrolled us into various programs and organizations. One of my earliest memories of doing something creative was when I participated in an all children’s play during my summer at a theatre camp in Miami Shores. It was the first time I used all of my talents, all at once. I was also made the lead of the play, which made me fall in love with the stage. At the Playground Theater for Young Audiences, I took part in producing, singing, acting, dancing, collectively writing, and choreographing. I was only seven years old.
2. What kind of creative work do you do?
My creative range is very wide spread. My main platform, and what most people know me for is modeling. I am known as iyanna the model but my creative work does not stop there. I am a Creative Director, Dancer, Writer, Panel and Motivational Speaker, Facilitator, Producer, and Artivist.
3. Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I am a Philadelphia born, Miami raised, South Florida native to American and Jamaican parents. I moved to Miami at the age of 3, but decided to move away from Miami at the age of 18. I grew up moving almost every year for 10 years straight and had grown accustomed to never fully settling in one place. At 18, an urge hit me and I wanted to experience something different and get as far away from Miami as possible. So after I graduated Miami Senior High School, I moved to South Hadley, Massachusetts for four years. In 2015, I graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a Bachelor’s of the Arts in Philosophy and a Law, Public policy, and Human Rights NEXUS minor with a focus on African Americans and Women. My entire high school and college career, I had been following a legal studies track and my plan was to become a Civil Rights Litigator. So naturally, after college, I was supposed to go to law school. But the way the first year of law school is set up, you have to be ready for them to drag you through the mud and I personally couldn’t handle. Especially after four steady years of studying in college. When I decided that I did not want to seek further academic education, I no longer had a plan.
Many people transitioned into being teachers after graduation. But that fate only partially aligned for me. I had no desire to work as an educator, fresh out of college, for an underprivileged school in an impoverished North American education system. So after applying and getting rejected by Teach for America, I decided to apply for an opportunity overseas. A few months before college graduation, I was hired by ACLIPSE, an Asian teaching placement organization that recruited for companies in either China or South Korea. By the grace of the universe, I was paired with a company in South Korea and moved to the other side of the world for 13 months. This is where I officially began modeling.
I booked my first professional photo shoots in Busan and Seoul, and used those photos as the foundation for my modeling career. After I left South Korea, August of 2016, I travelled for four months, and then made a spiritual decision to settle back into the only place that has ever truly been home for me: Miami, FL.
4. How would you describe your specific style? What makes you unique?
If I had to describe my style, I would call it Regal Afrocentric Kink. I don’t believe there are any other set of words that depict me better. My philosophies of life, my ability to psychoanalyze, my fearlessness, and unwavering self confidence is what makes me unique. When it comes to my aesthetic, the inspiration for what I wear and how I put clothes together also comes from internal innovation. I take pride in the fact that I don’t seek outside sources in order to show others who I am. I like to be the only one that people have ever seen to do what I do, wear what I wear, and look how I look. I have come to the point where I intentionally do things differently, simply because I see the masses all moving in the same direction.
5. What has been some of the biggest influences and sources of inspiration in your work?
Some of the biggest inspiration in my work has been concepts that I have loved and wanted to recreate. I love the idea of archetypes and general subjects that can be portrayed in various different ways. Like the idea of a queen, a fairy, a vampire, or a cosmic deity. I am inspired greatly by fantasy and ethereal characters.
When thinking about actual women, I have been inspired by popular Black models like Ajak Deng, Ebonee Davis, Slick Woods, Jazzelle Zanughtii, Giannina Otelo, and Aweng Chuol, who, among all things, have pushed a very strong authentic identity about who they are unto the world. And they have also exhibited exceptional poise, posture, and style through their work with major designers and in major campaigns.
My work is inspired by the lack of visual representation for tasteful, creative, alternative art, especially on a mainstream basis. I am inspired by the lessons of life that I follow. And my biggest inspiration is the want and need to show my honesty, transparency, and authenticity; something I believe every impactful public figure must do.
6. Do you have any rituals to help you get the creative juices flowing?
I do not have any repeated rituals I practice that helps get my creative juices flowing, however I am inspired to create by almost everything I come in contact with. I am a dreamy Pisces Sun and I am constantly finding beauty in the rain, in music, in laughter, in dance, in babies, in expressions of love, and in conversations about life and truth.
7. What have been some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on? Any current projects you’d like to mention?
I take joy in everything that I do. But if I had to mention some of my most favorite projects, I would mention the one I shot in Atlanta. Upon my return to the U.S. from South Korea, I shot in Cabbagetown with a local photographer named Vek Neal. He and I went to an international foods market and purchased a real octopus to shoot with. I had it all over my face, hands, and back. To date, it was one of the most interesting and unique photo shoots I have ever done.
I also loved the three projects I shot in Miami as a member of the Goddess Collective. Collectively, we created: The Goddess Series, Crowns & Glory, and This Could Be You. In these three projects, I was apart of the styling, modeling, and creative directing. The passion, innovation, and energy that was put into each of these works made them some of my favorites. It also gave the Goddess Collective international exposure, and gave us global recognition as notable, serious, talented artists.
The last favorite project was Santa Negra, a black and gold aesthetic series photographed by the Brazilian creative and fashion photographer Luis Moreira. He and I shot for fun, on a whim one day, and we never expected what would happen next. The portraits from that series was featured in the San Paul Gallery in Wynwood. It was also in one of the official tents for Miami Art Fair: Context Art Miami during Art Basel 2019. For the shoot we featured jewelry from Bfyne, an African art swimwear brand that I have been following for over a year. To my surprise, I also had the opportunity of having five of my portraits featured in the Bfyne retail store, also located in Wynwood Miami.
It has always been my dream to touch every medium of expression and expand my vision to every field of the arts. With that being said, I am actually working on a movie as my current project! I am producing, directing, choreographing, and starring in a short film about my sexuality. The film is entitled, Sacred Energy Exchange: A personal story on polyamory, fetish, and masturbation. I am filming the entire thing at HGAB Studios and plan to host a movie premiere party next month on Valentine’s Day. Stay tuned for the final product!
8. What are some of the best lessons you’ve learned while developing your craft? What valuable advice could you offer to other Creators like you?
Some of the best lessons I have learned from developing my craft was: Be patient. Many times we find ourselves obsessing over other people’s success, which only distracts us and creates a mindset of impatience.
Do not compare yourself to others. This aligns with the first lesson. In addition to abiding by your own success clock, be mindful to look at people only long enough for them to inspire you. If you begin to ask yourself why them and not me, you are setting yourself up for failure and clearly spending more time fantasizing, instead of putting effort and energy into your craft.
Be consistent. The key to success is not only creating a great product, it is creating a great product, and pushing that great work… forever. Never ever stop. That’s literally the secret. Some people share a fear of “never making it.” I don’t have that fear. In my mind, if I die going after my dreams, I would have lived an entire live of passion and happiness, and I’d say that’s a hell of a way to go.
The advice I would offer other creators like myself is to build great relationships with people and maintain them in a supportive way. We don’t get anywhere by ourselves, it takes a village to raise a child. Even if your village is unpronounced, it is equally important. The opportunities you get, the references you will receive, and the people who will ride for you, will only do so if they love you and/or if they absolutely love what you do. It’s impossible to connect with everyone, but make sure that when you do connect, you connect on a deep and authentic level.
9. Where can we find more of your work and follow your journey?
You can find more of my work on Instagram, YouTube, and my personal website. I recommend following me on Instagram because it is the site I am most present on and give the most frequent updates to. My instagram handle is @iyannathemodel and this is the name for every outlet I use: wwww.iyannathemodel.com & YouTube: iyanna the model