FashionDecode introduces the seventh installment of “The Faces of Modern Beauty” by writer Johnny Cassanova. The Faces of Modern Beauty aims to spotlight individuals who are influencing or transcending the many facets of beauty. In the act of spotlighting these individuals, FashionDecode hopes to showcase and promote the various forms of beauty.
Johnny Cassanova chats with Jillian Mercado, fashion personality and creative director of WeTheUrban Magazine, about standing up for yourself, beauty trends that should have never happened, and the perceptions of those with disabilities and their relationship to beauty.
Johnny: How would you describe “true beauty”?
Jill: Beauty is being genuinely comfortable with who you are. It is not how you’re perceived or who other people want you to be. If you can wake up looking like a disaster and still feel beautiful then you’re genuinely comfortable. In contrast, it’s also when you put effort into your appearance and say to yourself, ‘Damn, I’d date myself’ [laughs]. It’s self-acceptance and that part of you that says “I don’t give a shit what anyone says.”
Johnny: Who or what is your beauty inspiration?
Jill: Architecture is one of my biggest inspirations. Although I appreciate modern architecture, there is something especially beautiful about older buildings – like the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on West 112th street. That building has inspired me since I was little. I grew up looking at the beautiful architecture of New York.
Johnny: Many artists are leaving New York for the California hills, what keeps you here?
Jill: New York keeps me here. It sounds odd, but what I mean by that is the collection of people, the environment, and my memories keep me here. I hate New York, but I love it. I remember that people would die to be here.
Johnny: How did you begin to develop your own visual aesthetic?
Jill: I think I’m still building my visual aesthetic – I think I always will be. It started in college when I could choose that I wanted to participate in fashion as a career choice. I realized I had options and an opinion; people were okay with it and accepted it. It’s where I built my self-confidence and the image I wanted to create.
Johnny: What would you consider your visual stamp? For example, mine is my hair. How about yourself?
Jill: I wanted a signature hairstyle but it doesn’t seem to stay any single way. I think my signature won’t be a physical reflection, but rather a permanent display of always looking good. I want to tell the universe that being in a wheelchair doesn’t inhibit you from looking amazing.
Johnny: Do you believe there is too much focus on a person’s disability rather than who they are?
Jill: Yes, of course. It’s almost the first focus every time, which can be maddening. When I meet someone, my focus is on the individual, but it’s generally not mutual. They’re often focused on the fact that I’m in a wheelchair.
Johnny: Do you ever feel that you’re expected to showcase yourself in a different way for the sake of others?
Jill: That’s funny because while growing up, I used to be a video-blogger for this website called Buzznet. I used to set up the camera in a way that my chair wouldn’t show. So no one knew online that I was in a wheel chair. The viewers didn’t know until I started taking photos of myself in my chair because of that notion: people want you to tone it down for their sake.
Johnny: What is your skincare regimen?
Jill: I used to not have one until last winter during the apocalypse. [laughs] What was it called?
Johnny: The rapture?
Jill: No, it was a winter storm. Regardless, it was very cold last winter. My skin could not handle it. I started using a hand moisturizer by Skinfood as a facial moisturizer at night and their rose oil moisturizer during the day. And I know this sounds stupid… but people need to wash their face. Every morning and every night: wash your face. Whether you decide to use a cleanser or not, wash your face!
Johnny: What’s your big beauty no-no?
Jill: Lip Liner…some girls just can’t do it [laughs]. Also, ombré eyebrows. When I saw them, I became afraid for humanity. Whoever created that is responsible for bad eyebrows.
Johnny: The month of April is about tiny luxuries in life. What is your tiny luxury?
Jill: Perfumes. I adore perfume. The luxury of a beautiful scent is worth it to me.
Johnny: Was there ever a time you struggled with self-acceptance and expression? How did you begin to find clarity and self-acceptance
Jill: Yeah, I was really shy up until College. If someone said a rude remark or something I was uncomfortable with, I’d swallow it. Whether their comments were about me being in a wheelchair or my hair, I’d just take it all in and accept it. It was the worst thing I could have done. During those times, I would go home and cry terribly. I was being bullied, but I thought it was normal. There was this girl and she was very ballsy – she stood up for herself. I thought she was a bitch at the time, but now I realize she was standing up for herself and demanding respect. However, when I got to college, I came out of the closet…not in that way, but I started to stand up for myself.
Johnny: If you could say anything to yourself then as the person you are now, what would you say?
Jill: As cliché as it sounds, I would say it gets better. During that time, I didn’t believe there was any point in enduring life anymore. Although I never got to the extent of self-harm, I wasn’t sure I could handle what I was going through.
However, if I were able to repeat life again, I would never change what I went through because it made me who I am. No one wants to hear it when they’re going through it, but it does get better.
Johnny: I want to talk about your work as a blogger on Manufactured1987.com – how did that begin?
Jill: The story behind the start of my blog started when I worked at Allure and would visit my friend on my lunch break at Sephora. She exclaimed that I always looked really good and needed to start blogging about it. I didn’t really believe anyone would care about me; I dressed for myself and I wasn’t sure how the world on a larger scale would perceive me. But my friend insisted, so, I went home, built my site, and posted two or three posts. I received a lot of feedback but I didn’t implement myself on the site until the same friend urged me to post about myself. Once I posted a photo of myself, the blog went viral. From that point on, I just continued to stick with it.
Johnny: From your experience as a blogger, how did you ultimately end up working for WeTheUrban?
Jill: I was working for Patrick McMullan for roughly three years. After some time, I felt I wasn’t being utilized creatively and needed a new outlet. When I met Willie, founder of WeTheUrban, we instantly hit it off. Golden Girls style. Willie exclaimed to me that he didn’t want to create editorials and he needed someone to do it. I offered my services and soon I began as a creative assistant and eventually became the Creative Director.
Johnny: Do you have any boundaries regarding the work you create?
Jill: Since we’ve built a larger audience for WeTheUrban, I don’t accept any work that I don’t believe is strong. I’ll sometimes receive submissions that would have worked two years ago, but not now. This can be challenging when you have creative friends who are constantly looking to put their work out – you have to separate yourself from your relationship.
Johnny: As you are a prevalent force in the fashion community, how would you describe today’s fashion in one word? What and why?
Jill: Moving….Glacially. I feel that I’m not inspired at all by what I see in the fashion world. Everything seems to be moving slowly in fear of failure.
Johnny: Do you believe it’s hard to be an original in a time where we are overexposed to media?
Jill: Yes, of course. You’d believe that people would move faster with the times because of technology, but instead it’s bringing us back to the past. No one wants to move forward.
Johnny: In a time of major beauty movements – including the natural look, androgyny, and the embracing of all figures – what are your views on the direction that beauty is headed?
Jill: Honestly, I don’t know if we can go to the next movement. We need to focus on where we are. I think people believe acceptance is a fad of sorts or that I’m a trend. I’ve been doing this for six years and I don’t plan on going anywhere.
Johnny: How do you hope to change the perception of beauty that we see today?
Jill: I think I just want everyone to be much more accepting. I believe if I continue to display love and reflect a sense of unity, people will follow. As long as I continue to be myself, I think I can continue to create an impact.
by Johnny Casanova