Elliott Brakebill a.k.a “Dove Mother” is a striking beauty that walks the streets of downtown New York City with her own stupendous 80s style. Elliott’s look nonchalantly radiates as if she walked off an early 80s European runway. Her signature tousled bleach blond coiffure reminds us of why (as curious young teenagers) we sat glued for hours and hours on end watching early MTV videos. Yeah, there was some cool music. But part of it was for glimpses of the wild underground fashion/style, which seemed worlds away from our suburban dwellings. This girl, however, is more than just a visually stunning creature. In conversation Elliott is a well-read, intellectual thinking gal. With Southern roots and an extremely pleasant demeanor, we were so excited to shoot this stunner and interview her as well. Photography Alexander Thompson. https://www.instagram.com/dovemother/?hl=en
PONYBOY: Elliott, we fell in love with your photos on instagram the first time we saw them. Tell us about your background. You told us that you moved from Tennessee. Correct?
ELLIOTT BRAKEBILL: I’m glad to hear my Instagram photos were enough! I’m a big fan of your photos as well. It’s very interesting how well you can feel like you know somebody these days without ever shaking hands. Yes, I moved from Chattanooga, TN a month after my high school graduation. I made the pilgrimage to New York with my savings from a job at a vintage shop and drove up in an RV with my family. I never wanted to be anywhere else.
PONYBOY: What was life like for you being raised in the South? You mentioned your father owns a restaurant?
ELLIOTT BRAKEBILL: I look at kids on the street who grew up in the city and have a reverence for them. I appreciate where I came from, and I like it more and more as the days pass where I’m not there. Nostalgia and all that. Chattanooga is a really sweet town in-between two mountains where the music scene is getting better and the people are happy where they are. Of course, I hated it growing up, but I’ve learned to like it with time. My father lives on a wooden boat on the Tennessee river and has a few restaurants in the city, as well as a pancake mix. Aretha Frankensteins is his CBGB’s-esq bar and breakfast joint, and his pancake mix goes by the same name. There’s a medical skeleton doing a kick-flip with my old black Converse on as the Chandelier, a whole wall dedicated to framed pictures of vintage cereal boxes, and a vintage cocktail arcade machine that acts as one of the tables. The restaurant burned down in 2006 and reopened in 2008 (my hypothesis: a cigarette dropped anonymously on a fabric chair in the middle of the night). Almost all my hometown friends worked there at some point. He also opened a burger joint called Sofa King Juicy Burger, and they make their milkshakes with liquid nitrogen. Y’know, why not go big?
My father was a drummer back in the day, and still is. He’s the hardest working person I’ve ever known. That man is the apex of cool in my book, and always will be. There exists a picture of him in the 80’s when he was in the band donning the exact same hair I have today. Same face too. My mother is a hairdresser with an elegantly eclectic sense of style – hence my penchant for thrift stores and how I was able to achieve this peroxided mess early on.
PONYBOY: What inspired you to leave home and move to New York City?
ELLIOTT BRAKEBILL: It’s New York! I knew throughout high school and well before that New York was the only place I wanted to be. I grew up on music my father spoon fed (and sometimes force fed) me that was completely New York City centric – Lou Reed, Television, Patti Smith, Richard Hell, Blondie. The regular folks. I was enamored by that world and the electricity I knew flowed through the streets. The history, the music, the poetry, the attitude, the fashion, and the drive. People were in New York who knew what the hell was going on and how to articulate it, and I was aching for a taste of that. Instead of a taste I got a gulp, and I was not disappointed. I wake up with a skip in my step and a twinkle in my eye every single day. I’m absolutely a New York romantic.
PONYBOY: Did you have friends living here?
ELLIOTT BRAKEBILL: An old friend was in need of a roommate around the same time I was planning on moving, which was as soon as physically possible upon graduating high school. The only “friends” I had here were people I “knew” through the internet. All in all, I came in totally blind, but that’s what I wanted and what I expected. I ached to start completely fresh and carve out a place for myself without influence.
PONYBOY: You’re a model. How did you fall into that profession?
ELLIOTT BRAKEBILL: The short version of the story is that I had been taking pictures of myself and making them public on the internet since I was a young teenager. I could create characters, test things out, and get a response. I learned a lot about the “public” that way, and I also learned how to look good in a picture. I had worked with some local photographers in Tennessee, but they were few and far between. Luckily, many of the NYC photographers whom I had chatted with through the web when I was young wanted to shoot with me once I arrived in the city. I never had any direct intentions to become a model, which may have been why it worked out.
PONYBOY: Do you enjoy modeling? What’s the best and worst shoot that you’ve experienced so far?
ELLIOTT BRAKEBILL: I love being a model when the photographer wants to shoot me. I loathe being made into a mannequin, but those are often the only jobs that pay. In my time, the industry has changed significantly in a positive way. The rise of social media has created a demand for characters rather than hangers. People want to see someone in a campaign who has a story to tell beyond their bone structure, which I heartily appreciate. We are now in the age where every person has the ability to share a public piece of themselves online. Whether that is good or bad in the long term, at least models feel more humanized.
The best experience I’ve had modeling so far was being shot by Inez and Vinoodh for Valentino. Though I didn’t make the final cut (bastards), it was an unforgettable experience and such an honor. Another set of modeling gigs I adored was traveling for hair shows with TIGI. Few people know about the hair show world, but it’s quite a trip! Choreographed runway shows in sequins and heels with screaming hairdressers. The hair folk sure know how to party. I walked the stage to New Order’s Blue Monday every show and was a retrospective example for Debbie Harry, Madonna, Siouxsie Sioux, or Rod Stewart depending on the crowd.
My worst modeling experience took place in my first few months of living in the city. At 18, I was down for whatever if it meant I could commute to Manhattan, so I did a new friend a solid and modeled for her production company not knowing what it was for. Obviously, it was unpaid, but at the time I didn’t know models were supposed to be paid. I was painted completely blue with a fellow model, and the plan was to paint an ad phrase across our faces in black as we pressed our cheeks together- forming the full blurb from a specific angle and pose. I was smelling the models breath and she was smelling mine. For hours. And the intricate words on our faces weren’t even done being painted. At a certain point the model got me off the hook by saying she had a casting (a fake one) to go to immediately. I wasn’t told until later that the pictures were supposed to be a pitch ad to Exxon! Thank god for white lies.
PONYBOY: What other creative pursuits do you have? We know you’ve dabbled in styling.
ELLIOTT BRAKEBILL: I dabbled in styling, but there was too much stuff to carry. I dabbled in casting, but no one likes to pay. I dabbled in creative directing, but everyone says they’re a creative director. I dabbled in photography, and I obviously still love that. Though few of my dabbles stuck, I loved every minute of them. I worked on two of our friend Foster James’s music videos, and it was an incredibly fun and fulfilling thing to do. I cherish aiding people that I believe and respect fulfill their creative vision. I enjoyed styling primarily because I love vintage clothing, and I have a pretty decent collection. Styling might have just been a means of showing it off. I don’t necessarily enjoy dressing anyone other than myself. I plan to sell vintage soon as well as test out some designs I’ve been playing with. We’ll see if any of that actually happens. I’m also secretly really into graphic design (Shhh…don’t tell anyone).
Truly, when it comes to creative pursuits, nothing scratches my itch like writing does. Writing is where my passion lies, and it has since I was a little girl. If you get word on how someone can make money scribbling poems, let me know.
PONYBOY: Your style is interesting and very reminiscent of the early 80s. Tell us who or what are some of your style inspirations?
ELLIOTT BRAKEBILL: I have accidentally on purpose become a New Wave caricature. My style icons are pretty obvious and universal. Debbie Harry, Richard Hell, Bowie, Adam Ant. A funky blazer and trouser pants is my uniform. The fried blonde hair makes whatever I put on seem referential, but really, I love a classic look. I wear the same jewelry everyday, I do my hair the exact same way every morning, and I carry the same vintage suede purse daily that used to hold my books throughout high school. I enjoy being cartoony, and it’s what I feel I’m exactly myself in. My dad instructed me when I was insecure, amorphous, and adolescent to only wear loafers, black socks, rolled light wash jeans, and a white button down everyday. “Effortlessly cool and classic.” A uniform that hid my changing body and nonexistent style from the world, and I think his was the most useful fashion advice I’ve ever received.
PONYBOY: What clothing designers do you favor? Where do you find the great stuff we see you wearing on your Instagram?
ELLIOTT BRAKEBILL: THIERRY MUGLER. Thierry Mugler. Thierry could construct a wasp waist blazer using human feces as fabric and cement in place of shoulder pads and I’d wear it to my wedding. No other designers really thrill me except one other who I would like to call a friend. Look up The Recluse Club and you’ll pick up what I’m putting down. Cassadee Chase is a gem among rocks.
PONYBOY: We have to ask about that fabulous hairstyle. Who does your hair?
ELLIOTT BRAKEBILL: For the longest time, I was a hair model at TIGI. Thomas Osborne and I “collaborated” on this haircut using Debbie Harry’s iconic “do” as direct inspiration, and Brian Adelman did my color. All of the hairdressers at TIGI saved me from myself in the hair department when for too long my mother was sending me bleach and developer from home and I was DIY-ing my cut and color. I still swear by a very specific cock-tailing of TIGI hair styling products to keep my mop looking like I just stuck a fork in an outlet socket. I can’t thank the hairdressers at TIGI enough, and I miss them all terribly.
Now I do my own color, which I’ve gotten pretty damn good at, and my beautiful neon-yellow-haired friend Mischa does my cut. In my humble (and universally shared) opinion, she’s one of the coolest people in this city.
PONYBOY: Your boyfriend, Dean Dempsey, is a well known downtown artist/filmmaker. How did you meet?
ELLIOTT BRAKEBILL: I’d like to lie and say we met at AA or a pumpkin patch, but really we just met through a mutual friend. And I’m tickled pink everyday that we did. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.
PONYBOY: You’re both very artistic individuals. As a couple, are there any plans to work on a creative project together?
ELLIOTT BRAKEBILL: Every day is a creative project with Dean Dempsey.
PONYBOY: With so many people fleeing New York City on a daily basis (due to the coronavirus), do you see yourself staying here? What draws you to life in the city?
ELLIOTT BRAKEBILL: I would rather be in NYC during a pandemic and a recession than Tennessee during the second coming any day of the week. If anything, the covid era has made me realize why I love New York so much all over again. As Jerry Seinfeld wrote in response to “some putz” claiming NYC had officially died, “This stupid virus will give up eventually. The same way you have. We’re going to keep going with New York City if that’s alright with you. And it will sure as hell be back… See you at the club.”
PONYBOY: Looking into our dismal future, what do you see for yourself?
ELLIOTT BRAKEBILL: An espresso, Little Italy bustling under my window, and work I am proud of on my desk.