Singer LAYA On Her Colorful Identity That Transcends Music & Fashion
This feature is in our Summer "Music" Issue. Click here to subscribe.
80's Cher-themed shoot with silhouettes inspired by Claude Montana. PHOTO BY BRIAN ZIFF
It’s a treat to cross paths with artists who are remarkably in tune with themselves. Singer, songwriter and producer LAYA is grounded in her colorful identity, enabling her to bring her unique individuality into a shared society. The Staten Island native debuted her EP Um, Hello in 2022, exploding with originality and imaginative vision. They say, “If you want something done, do it yourself.”—taking that literally, LAYA has become widely known for her DIY mentality that transcends her involvement in music. From her signature bleached brows to her jet-black tresses, her personal brand is characterized by her ability to invent or be whatever her heart desires, a skill she sharpened from adolescence.
“I grew up around creative people. My parents were artists, both visually and on the stage. There was always a small shop’s worth of art supplies in my house and so I was able to create the things that I wanted. Almost always, I would use whatever I had at hand to transform myself into a larger-than-life character, and that never changed.” An artist in every sense of the word, LAYA brings life to the mental pictures she assembles. Her outfits were often custom-made by her own volition and affinity for the luxe look.
“Everything that I’ve created was essentially out of necessity. I started by making hats and headpieces to elevate my looks. I love avant-garde haute couture fashion but realistically couldn’t afford pieces like that so I just made my own. If I could imagine it, I could make it. If I didn’t know how, I would research whatever skill would help me and simply figure it out as I went along. My approach has pretty much been ‘No excuses!’”
For this look she wears Mara Paris jewelry (mara.paris); NILS jacket (nils.us); Gucci boots (gucci.com). PHOTO BY BRIAN ZIFF
Further emboldened by the success she’s experienced with this philosophy, LAYA staked claim to her own territory, fusing her approach to fashion and sound. By deftly weaving together her unique approach to both mediums to craft a rich and multifaceted representation of her personal narrative, she’s solidified her position as an artist that fearlessly blurs the boundaries between various forms of artistic expression.
“I think music and fashion are alike in that they embody a feeling, a mood, and they tell a story. My outfit will often dictate what playlist I put on when I go out, and my own music often dictates how I will dress for an extended period of time. When I released Um, Hello, the mood was all about getting people’s attention in a fun and campy way. I wore bold, bright colors and patterns and gravity-defying ’60s-inspired hairstyles for a whole year. My looks will always reflect the mood of my music and vice versa.” Refreshingly, she’s unashamed to give credit to underappreciated cultures that have shaped today’s standard of beauty, paying homage to the women in her life whose impact has been indelible and who have influenced her core. “There’s a bold fearlessness in the styles of the queens and the Black, Hispanic and Caribbean women that I grew up around. Long attention-grabbing nails with big gold accessories, hours in the hair salon to achieve out-of-this-world hairstyles. I love the art of transformation and making statements with your looks. Every time we step out, we have the opportunity to make it a moment, and the women that take the most advantage of this are my style icons.”
“I WILL OFTEN BASE AN OUTFIT AROUND A SHOE OR A STATEMENT PIECE. THE STATEMENT PIECE COULD BE A JACKET, HEADPIECE OR DRESS, SO IT’S NOT ALWAYS ONE THING IN PARTICULAR.” –LAYA
Pieces sourced from vintage dealer Paumé PHOTO BY BRIAN ZIFF
A part of me is eager to know how she maintains a harmonious blend, and the fashionista isn’t a gatekeeper as she spills to me: “Mood boards are essential! Along with my mood boards, I like to sketch out little doodles of how I want the look to be. I’ll draw out the fit with the accessories and the hairstyle. Sometimes I even make messy-looking collages on my phone using cutouts of certain garments and then I place them together. It’s like drawing the blueprint of a house before you build it.”
Her affection for self-expression through fashion is felt in her responses as she elaborates on how to accurately capture her mood. “I focus on a feeling. What does that feeling look like? What is the color, texture and aesthetic of that feeling? When or where is this taking place? Then I use my mind of film, art and fashion to guide me. Women are my muses. ... I’ll often refer to badass female characters that fit the criteria of the kind of board I’m creating.”
Not limiting outfit inspiration to color palettes and schemes, she instead unveils her ability to create a look around anything that catches her eye. “I will oft en base an outfit around a shoe or a statement piece. The statement piece could be a jacket, headpiece or dress, so it’s not always one thing in particular. I’ll focus on the piece that I like the most and build the look around that. I’ve even built a look around a nail design that I really loved.”
PHOTO BY BRIAN ZIFF
LAYA’s meticulous styling mirrors her strong work ethic, paving her path to success.
If “no days off” was a person, LAYA would be her effortlessly navigating through life with vivid colors amid a sea of monotony. Feeling your best begins with looking your best. “The daily mood is ‘on.’ I’m always on. Even my chill mode has a severe level of ‘on.’ I wear shades everywhere I go and find every excuse to wear a pair of gloves. My mother and my grandmother always made sure they were ‘on’ whenever they left the house. You would never catch them in the supermarket not looking their best, and I’m the same way.”