Delphie LaForest Pradet, Architect
“I’ve always been very sensitive to places,” Delphi LaForest Pradet tells me in a thick, syrupy French accent. “I remember places I’ve been when I was a child and I still have pictures in my head of the space.” But instead of names and geography, she remembers the doors, the arches, the volutes. “I can remember the door, but I can’t remember the name or its location,” she says. This natural voyeurism and vulnerability to structure led LaForest Pradet to architecture, a discipline where her sensitivity to form was truly realised. She sees both the beauty and the utility, and more importantly, the beauty of utility.
A kind of perfect alchemy, both sides of her personality come together in the practise, a discipline that fosters both her creativity and her tendency to plan. “My favourite part is always planning. At the moment I’m working on an apartment plan and it’s creative because you have to think and it’s very mathematical because you have to make the space work.”
It’s here, in this perfect paradox of imagination and fact, planning and intuition, that LaForest Pradet feels most comfortable. Thrives, in fact. “Architecture really balances my two sides,” she says smiling, a grin so big it occupies half her face.
They say people are either right-brained or left-brained – but rarely both. It’s a theory from the 1960s which has largely been debunked, but its hypothesis remains profound and for many, ostensibly accurate. There’s the right-brainers – the creatives, the lateral thinkers, those that go forth with gut and glory. Then the left-brainers – the logic-led, linear thinkers who favour sequencing and science. But you’ll seldom find someone who is proficient in both. LaForest Pradet is, crediting her mathematician father for her fortitude for analysis, and her school teacher mother for her creative spirit. She has distilled the polar sides of her parents into her career, and indeed her life. “I have always liked maths and logics, resolving problems. And then I always took dance class and piano class, and architecture is a good balance between the artistic side and the logical side.”
But it wasn’t always buildings that blew her mind. A lover of cinema, she first studied film before realising she was “missing a part of myself”. Digressing into a study which lent itself to her cerebral dichotomy, she found the missing piece in architecture. “As soon as I tried architecture I knew it was my place,” she expounds. “In cinema, you’re missing a bit more of that logical, mathematical element. It’s more creative.”
Growing up amongst the maples and mountains, it’s often here that she returns to in her work, albeit unknowingly. “I love working with woods, in any project – in furniture, or joinery, or anywhere.” Seeing a pattern emerge for the first time, the link between her passion and her upbringing becomes clear: this love of wood first kindled “in the middle of nowhere” in Quebec, Canada, where her family still lives. “Thinking about it, our dad built our house and a small house in the trees. And then he has a wood workshop,” she ponders. “I feel like without noticing it, this has been something that has always been around me. When I started architecture, we built wood models together for my school projects. The more I think about it I find links and it all makes sense.”
When it comes to her personal style, she skews to the left: methodical, constant and routine. “I always wear black,” she tells me defiantly. “It’s definitely a characteristic of architecture.” Her black “uniform” features a lot of basics: classic polo t-shirts – “I remember all my life always having one in my wardrobe” – and beautiful leather jackets and boots. It’s simple and refined, and despite her best efforts to court colour, she always retreats to the safety of her favourite shade. “When I go shopping, I try colour; I try pink, red, I try all the colours – but I always leave with black!” Except for one bright green, long-line jacket because she just fell in love with it. Perhaps this is where her creativity peeps in, even if it’s just for a moment.
Tkay Maidza, Rapper and Singer
Tkay Maidza first started writing music at 15. A few months later, her debut studio single “Brontosaurus” was blaring through car radios and AirPlay across Australia on Triple J. Not bad for a girl who hadn’t even heard of the radio station. “I had no idea what was going on, I was completely new to the whole thing, I didn’t really understand what Triple J was either, because I didn’t really listen to it,” she admits, her voice soft. After falling out of love with sport and in love with rap, the then 15-year-old Maidza walked into her local music centre where she learnt the basics. “I loved listening to music and writing and remixing my own. I started writing poems and decided to go into the local music centre where I learnt how to record and put songs together. I made a track and it was picked up by Triple J.”
But a life in music didn’t just land in her lap. “I definitely had to chase it, I loved what I did,” she says. Enamoured by both the process and the challenge of pitching songs to producers, Maidza says she was first drawn to hip-hop because it was so incongruous with the Australian music landscape. “I was living in Australia and rapping was so unconventional. It was so new to me, as well.” Now 23, the Zimbabwean-born, Adelaide-raised rapper, singer and songwriter is one of Australia’s most prodigious hip-hop exports, her infectious beats and hearty vocals certifying her as Australian rap royalty.
When she stands in the spotlight, Maidza’s effect is luminous. A playful, earnest, authentic expression zinging with optimism and energy. Off stage, she is mellow and mild but emanates a quiet confidence, her marble-round eyes hold your gaze gently yet emphatically. “You are your energy,” she tells me firmly. “I’m pretty reserved, but if you get to know me, I can be quite childish; noisy and playful and pretty carefree.” It’s here, in this moment of blissful, youthful naivety, her rap rises. “When I’m in my best head space, I don’t really overthink things – and that’s when my music is very high energy,” she explains. “It’s just about letting go and embracing your authentic self. Being unapologetic within me.”
While the collusions of love, gender and community battle it out beautifully, her lyrics and poetry are woven with introspective references to her own life. Her 2019 single, “Awake”, for example, is a melodic ode to her bouts of maintenance insomnia and “sleep-texts” with friends. While her earlier work was rooted heavily in dance, her recent music is richer, treacly and full of soul. “I still like dance music but now it’s more soulful,” she says. “It’s more high energy and experimental and not so much waiting for a drop to happen,” the musical apogee of any dance anthem.
Her music, too, informs her personal style and vice versa. “There’s definitely a connection. The music I’m making can sometimes dictate what I’m wearing. It just depends what mood I’m making.” When the sound is down-tempo and romantic, you will likely see Maidza “dress more feminine”. “If I’m in an anything-and-everything kind of heavy back track, I will dress like a boy for most of that time, so it goes two-and-two.” But at the end of the day, it all comes down to a feeling, and if it doesn’t feel good, she won’t do it or wear it. “How I feel dictates everything,” she says. “I spent a couple of months in Adelaide and tried to dress ‘normal’ but it honestly just didn’t really work for me. It’s important to stay true to yourself.”
Rechelle Mansour, Dancer and Singer
Rechelle Mansour is not afraid to say yes. A renaissance woman with millennial sensibilities, the creative polymath sings, dances, choreographs, acts – even roller-skates, something she says came to fruition only because she always says “yes”. “I never say no to jobs,” she declares proudly. “People always ask how do I stay working all the time. Honestly, I think it’s because I’m always open to doing things.” In the context of performance, she’s basically done it all – and is hellbent on doing it all.
“I’ve done backing vocals for artists, choreography, assisted creatives, I’ve even been in circus shows,” she says. “I just love to do a little bit of anything and everything in my category and try and expand myself to do as much as I can. I try to be really broad with my talent and level it up, as well.”
Mansour doesn’t limit her practise, either. She dances and sings in a multiplicity of styles which has even seen her join a circus troupe. “I am trained in all types of dancing, but I most commonly work as a commercial dancer,” she says, tapping her feet rhythmically as if about to take the stage and this is her pre-show warm-up. “However, in the last three years I’ve been travelling with a cabaret and circus show, and I get to do more stuff. I even did a tap number which is so nice because I don’t get to do that in normal commercial jobs.”
“More” is something Mansour thrives on, and has since a young age. “My mum said I could dance before I could walk and they just needed something to put me in so I would stop,” she illuminates.
Her love for music was born from faith and family. “My grandfather was a priest and that got me singing in church,” she explains. “And my dad is very musical – he’s a DJ – and mum loves music, too. They both love singing.” Mansour grew up listening to the smooth beats of soul – “my dad always played old school music to me, and that’s what I love most” – and now loves to sing the emotive-style of music, along with funk, RnB and pop. Considering her pious upbringing, it makes sense: the soul genre deeply rooted in African-American gospel music, the tie between music and religion is palpable in her own existence, too.
While she has a strong sense of fashionability, Mansour is not limited to the confines of trend-based or societal style norms, but boundless in her approach of fashion. This is, in part, because of an unerring restlessness. “I get so bored so easily and I don’t think I wear the same outfit twice,” she confesses. “That’s why I change my makeup and my nails so often. I don’t really have things that I constantly wear – I change it up every day.”
The almond skin, the wiry curls, the walnut eyes – her beauty needs no embellishment. But given her artistic verve, experimenting with beauty and fashion is just another form of creative expression for Mansour, who maintains she is deeply exploratory when it comes to her style. “I love colour, it’s a big thing for me. And lots of different fabrics and textures. And I love showing skin.”
Her sense of style is assured, confident and experimental; a potent eclectic mix of radiating colour, outré texture and curious cut-outs. She is proud to show off her body, something she says derives from her profession. “I think all dancers are not afraid to show skin,” she tells me laughing. “Sometimes I forget that I’m stepping out in public in a latex corset and ripped jeans up to my waistline!”
But despite this outwardly display, she shines new light on the word “sexy”. Like a breath of fresh air in world riddled with insecurity and self-doubt, Mansour’s confidence is not untoward or showy, rather a welcome reprise, pure in its expression. Perhaps it’s her disarming chat, or eternal grin, or that she’s perpetually bouncy – as we talk, she can’t sit still – that makes her confidence so appealing. It feels infectious, you can’t help but want to catch a case of it. “I’m just so confident and I love experimenting and wearing all different things,” she declares proudly. “I never apologise for what I wear; I always want to push it and wear weird and cool things.”
Today, she is drawn to a tartan flip skirt, a bright orange Big Pony Polo top and thigh-high black boots in a latex-like leather which hug her strong “dancer” legs. Between the skirt’s abbreviated hemline and the boot’s opening – a flash of skin, one last reminder that Rechelle Mansour is confident, comfortable and not afraid to show her true colours.
Gabrielle Penfold, Artist
Gabrielle Penfold doesn’t wear black. Much like her art, she lives, breathes and dresses in colour – in pistachio greens, praline, pink and mustard. Call it the ultimate case of life imitating art, the multidisciplinary artist doesn’t “suit” the sombre shade. “Colour is just so expressive, it brings me so much joy,” she muses.
After studying at COFA (now known as UNSW Art & Design), Penfold experienced the existential crisis every budding creative has at some point in their life: stability or creativity. “I actually studied design and thought, I may as well do something that will get me a job,” she reflects. “Then the further I got towards the end of my degree, I decided I actually just like painting and doing ceramics.”
Dabbling in (and quickly ducking from) fashion, Penfold picked up a paintbrush and began leveraging her art the way any modern artist does – via Instagram. “About 90% of my commissions come from Instagram,” she says, an element of surprise in her voice. One scroll of her feed and it makes sense. It presents as a kind of digital, interactive gallery rich in resplendent colour, broad strokes and reflective of that surrealist, painterly Zeitgeist of today. You want her pieces to adorn your home, her swishes of red and ochre and putty suspended from your wall. She uses “lots of different mediums, but at the moment it’s more so oil painting and ceramics”, even indulging jewellery-making in the past (an affair which ended on good terms and will hopefully be rekindled in the future).
But it’s her two great loves – travel and food – that stand as Penfold’s creative pillars. Travel animates both the girl and her art – every year she decamps to Europe for three months to coincide with the European summer. It’s here, in Menorca or Pantelleria or Hydra, that she is happiest, life’s quotidian pleasures proving perfect muses. The white tablecloth of a taverna. A wobbly bunch of anemones. Shards of sunlight. Red lobster legs. She sees beauty in the mundane and articulates it via sunny still-life and lovely portraiture. But along with seraphic sirens and nudists lolloping on the rocks, her work also explores the human condition and our planet, both its fragility and its beauty.
As much as “exploration” fuels her, retreating to her studio in Sydney’s West is a pleasure she cherishes. “I do also love hiding away in my studio, going through all my books,” she says. When it comes to process, the artist’s work life is not linear, rather a gloriously wobbly line that veers towards the beach (when hot) and towards food (a lot). She doesn’t believe in coercing creativity and plays on impulse, meaning she often leaves work largely unfinished, only to return some days, weeks, even months later with a swoop of colour here, a brushstroke there. “I always work between several paintings,” she explains. “I don’t think I have ever done a painting in one sitting. I love looking at something with fresh eyes. I love the time away from a piece, to meditate over it. It’s in that time I get my brainwaves.”
When she’s not covered in paint, Penfold favours vintage – “because there’s nothing better than finding that one-off gem” – and terry towelling, a fabric she’s so fond of she has it fashioned in bucket hats, twinsets and a colour-blocked Polo Ralph Lauren shirt from the ‘70s that she “lives in”. On set she is drawn to a houndstooth midi dress conflated with another print, a chequered slip-on in black and white, both interesting and nostalgic. Her curious juxtaposition circles back to her artistic sensibility and personal style; a little off-kilter yet considered. An advocate of circular fashion, she buys to keep. “I try to be very thoughtful when purchasing anything new, making sure that it’s something I will wear in years to come. I’m such a dag, I’m still wearing things from when I was 16!”
With wide eyes the colour of hot espresso and olive skin so glowy it almost detracts from her shiny dimples, Penfold feels full of hope. Perhaps it’s her love of life’s untethered moments – and the way they pour onto a page – that makes her such a joy to be around.
Photography Diego Lorenzo Jose
Fashion Direction Aileen Marr
Hair Kyye Reed
Makeup Desiree Wise
Fashion Assistant Patrick Zaczkiewicz
Words Chrisanthi Kaliviotis
Talent Delphie Laforest Pradet, Tkay Maidza, Rechelle Mansour & Gabrielle Penfold