Kali Uchis looks like her music sounds.
All pout, heavy eyeliner and thrifted outfits, her Bridgette Bardot blonde betrays a love of sixties and seventies soul and the open-minded culture embroiled within it. Her pretty-but-tough look is echoed in her raspy vocals, equal parts Amy Winehouse and Astrud Gilberto, effortlessly switching from sugary gloss to Latino sass.
Take, for example, the video for the ascendant Columbian-born, LA-based artist’s track Ride. The video’s dreamy haze encapsulates her creative vision: a soft focus daydream with a warm, vintage soundtrack. Inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s seventies-style exploitation flick Deathproof, it’s an ode to the freedom found on the open road, a mirage of pastel tones, the sprawling LA highway and, crucially, lowrider cars.
Enchanted by its impulsive, uninhibited nature, she consistently references the lowrider subculture of 70s California. “In Colombia, everyone has old school cars because it’s the third world, and every once in a while when I saw a beautiful lowrider it was like spotting a unicorn,” Uchis tells us. “I couldn’t wait to be the girl inside of one.“
Kali’s saccharine sound blends decades and styles, gaining notoriety – and support from the likes of Snoop Dogg and Rick Rubin – after navigating vintage samples on her 2013 debut Drunken Babble. Her voice has recently found a home on the Por Vida EP, a nine-track rush of modern soul produced by the likes of Tyler, The Creator and Kaytranada.
Citing the likes of Edie Sedgwick as influences, her penchant for pastel pink, Playboy and retro clothing constructs a style that can only be described as iconic. Although seventies vixen may not have always been her signature look, Uchis has long been unconventional when it comes to fashion. Preceding the fashion industry’s current love for seventies bohemia, it’s the evolution of her staunchly individual approach to style.
“I detest trends or brand names,” she declares. “I prefer to make my own clothes and use style as another creative outlet rather than buy expensive clothes that everyone else wants.” This DIY sensibility sees Kali remain firmly in the driver’s seat; directing videos, designing artwork and producing her own line of merchandise that includes her own pin-up posters, framed reading vintage Playboy or lounged luxuriously over the hood of a vintage Cadillac.
Kali’s allusion to lowrider cool isn’t the only theme permeating her creative concepts. Her visuals are a near utopian vision of unity, freedom and female empowerment, creating worlds where the sugar crushed fantasy of her music can live. “Being raised between Colombia and the U.S has made me see the world in a different light,” she explains. “I was very aware that my present circumstances were always malleable and that there’s a whole other world out there, no matter if you feel stuck. You can live so many different lives just inside this one.”
Photographer: Charlotte Rutherford
Styling: Charlotte James
Make Up: Jess Taylor
Hair: Shiori Takahashi
Stylist Assistant: Susan Daniel
Location: Poodle & Blonde House
Models: Jamie Jarvis, Jennifer Lo, Yasmin Ogbu
Words: Anna Tehabsim