Meet Liz Vap, the It Girl of the Brand-Marketing scene.

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photographed by JEANEEN LUND

hair AISHA KOSWARA

makeup ALEXANDRA KWIATKOWSKI

location ENE SALON

special thanks NELSON BARRETO & DANA BRADFORD

If you’ve been to a mind-blowing party and shared the dance floor with, say, an artist, a chef, an actor, a model and a rock star lately, chances are — you were in the company of Liz Vap. Undeniably a queen of the downtown scene, Liz has made waves in the industry since she started working with legendary rock photog Mick Rock at the age of 14. She’s blazed trails in the worlds of marketing, management, branding and more with her company, FeralCat Productions, marrying the impossibly cool with world-dominating business savvy… And, of course, a pretty amazing rolodex. — COURTNEY ISEMAN

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I always wanted to be in New York. I thought New York was the promised land… Meanwhile, I found out it’s the land of misfit children.

SHK: YOU STARTED WORKING WITH MICK ROCK AT 14. PRETTY CRAZY! HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?

LIZ VAP: My older brothers Ioannis and George. I come from a pretty strict Greek family who probably thought I’d be in less danger going anywhere with my big brothers — little did they know. They did watch over me, they were protective, but they also opened my eyes to a lot of things kids my age didn’t know about. I knew the Ramones when I was in kindergarten. My brother is an artist who has done lots of album covers — he just worked on a book about Led Zeppelin, called Get the Led Out, and also the book Fade to Black: Hard Rock Cover Art of the Vinyl Age. At the time, he was trying to get his work out there and was meeting with management companies, and I was this punky-geeky girl, obsessed with music. And I think he felt for me, and brought me along — I always wanted to be in New York, I thought New York was the promised land… Meanwhile I found out it’s the land of misfit children. I wanted to go to places like Bleecker Bob’s and Rebel — Rebel to get all the vinyls you couldn’t get in Connecticut (where I was from). And places like CBGB, when I could get in. He took me in to New York City one day and I was sitting outside this office waiting for him to come out, and Mick Rock came out and started talking to me. You know, I looked pretty wild back then… Crazy hair and makeup. And he asked if I was a makeup artist, and I, well, lied. [Laughs]

DID HE KNOW YOU WERE ONLY 14?

No. He probably thought I was like 20, 21… I looked older then. I’ve always carried myself older. I was always around older people. So he asked me if I wanted a job and I said yes. I mean, it sounded better than working at the mall or local record store. And my brother came out and I said I got a job, and he thought some crazy rocker was making advances or something. But I showed him his card, he was like, “Do you know who this is?” He started telling me about Mick’s work with David Bowie and the Ramones, my favorite band at the time. I asked him if he could drive me in and he said, “Do you know how to do makeup?” I said, “How hard could it be? I read Vogue.” So he drove me in and stayed in the corner during the whole shoot like my bodyguard — I don’t think Mick really understood that part. But apparently I did a good job and he kept hiring me back. It was evenings and weekends, I was Catholic schoolgirl by day…

TOTAL DOUBLE LIFE.

Total double life. And you know, I had a hard time relating to kids my own age. Now I know it’s all about living in the moment and not being so focused on time, but then I was in such a rush to grow up. I wanted to be on my older brothers’ level, and be treated like them. But I think you also have this fearlessness when you’re young. You don’t think about repercussions. I always kind of wonder, would I have gotten this far if I started later? When you’re younger you just propel forward, you just go after everything and let things happen. It’s the fear that overrides you, when people say they can’t do something. You know… I just went in [that first day with Mick Rock], I’d done my homework and read my Vogue… And back then, makeup was more like therapy. I listened to this girl’s boyfriend problems, meanwhile I hadn’t even had my first kiss. But I made it, it went well, and word started to spread, and I started working for other photographers and making my way through the industry.

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“The problem is… I think some of the mystique is gone a little bit. There’s no time to discover anything, everything is up on the internet immediately. So I think people are trying to find a new outlet, new creative ways to keep the mystique going.”

HOW DID YOU TRANSITION FROM DOING MAKEUP AND WORKING ON SHOOTS TO MANAGEMENT?

I did makeup until I was seventeen, eighteen. And then I started assisting my brother doing album covers, and packaging and merch. Then I moved to New York City and I think I kind of took a break from it. I needed a break, so I went to art school. But I fell back into it as a side job, instead of bartending or something I did makeup while I figured out what I wanted to do. And at that time, I knew something was happening, something was bubbling with the Internet, things were changing… I wasn’t sure how I wanted to be involved, so I was trying all these different outlets. I thought I knew what I wanted to do when I was young, and then I realized all these different things were going on. So I tried all different things — I tried catering, publicity, working at software start up… Everything I did ended up teaching me something I’d use in what I ended up doing, like how to work with people. I was cultivating different skills trying these different things — I even worked retail. I think that was the best job for learning how to deal with people and demanding customers. Truth be told, school really wasn’t working for me. I was going to Pratt, which is an amazing school, but there was this major transition going on. I was going for art direction and graphic design…I was doing it already outside of school, and trying to tell them we’re past cut and paste graphics, and they were insisting, “No, you’re still going to need this.” So there was a lot of that going on in the world. In general — I mean, I remember in the music industry, people were saying, “No. People are never just going to download music, they want something tangible.” There is a resurgence of vinyl now, but I think it’s sort of a specialty. Back then, people were so set in their ways, but technology was moving at such a fast pace. And I don’t even think we’re 100% there yet, all these industries keep moving forward, like the television industry, with the original programming on YouTube and Netflix, and the publishing industry — look at what SHK is doing.

WHAT WAS THE SCENE LIKE WHEN YOU FIRST GOT INVOLVED IN MUSIC?

It was a lot freer back then, and a lot more like a community. There was that community vibe fostered by people like musician Jesse Malin and venue owner Johnny T, with their hangouts like Niagara and BLACK & WHITE. It was an amazing time — there were traveling clubs like this place Green Door and there were places like Squeezebox that Hedwig came out of. I actually ended up working with John Cameron Mitchell on Hedwig. He’s a great friend and a great talent. He came out of that scene. I remember going in there and seeing Marc Jacobs, and Alexander McQueen running around. Marc was a little more established back then, but Alexander was so fresh and new and now you go see his show at the Met. There was a lot of creativity that came out of that period. I still think there are pockets of it now, but the problem is… I think some of the mystique is gone a little bit. There’s no time to discover anything, everything is up on the internet immediately. So I think people are trying to find a new outlet, new creative ways to keep the mystique going.

ARE YOU AS INTERESTED IN FASHION AS YOU ARE IN MUSIC?

Absolutely. They go hand-in-hand, to be honest. I mean, it all starts with music. So many designers are influenced so much, if not by the music, then by what they were wearing at the time. None of the fashion designers I admire are not somehow really inspired by some kind of music.

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“I mean, reputation is everything in this industry and I’m really aware of that. I make sure to be respectful to everyone I work with from the interns to busboys… At the end of the day, this is a job. You have people who fantasize about this, who might do a nine-to-five, but it’s a job, too. There are positives and negatives.”

DO YOU THINK THAT’S BECAUSE IT’S EASIER TO GET THINGS, OR RATHER, “FASTER” IN FASHION, BEFORE IT’S ALL OVER THE INTERNET?

I think fashion embraces originality a little more than music does right now. You know, you hear one song and then 10,000 songs sound like it. In fashion, everyone’s doing something different. I mean, maybe everyone does polka dots one season, but they all do it their own way, it never looks exactly the same. I’m much more excited about what’s going on in fashion than in music — not to say I don’t think there’s anyone coming up in music, I think Lorde is amazing and unique.

HOW DID FERALCAT COME INTO PLAY? HOW DID YOU START YOUR OWN COMPANY?

I was doing a lot with Mick and I started getting offers for other projects and I just thought it was time to start my own thing, and come up with a name. I wanted to grow, and FeralCat seemed to fit. Someone I was talking to was living in this 1900’s cottage house behind a building on 14th street , and I asked if anyone even knew how to find them there, and he said, “Yeah, feral cats.” And it was like this Hip Hop kid, and I thought he was usin’ Hip Hop lingo, and I said, “Oh, like your friends?” And he replied, “You know…stray cats?” [Laughs] And I thought wow, that’s kind of a cool name for a band. And that’s where the name came from, because I work with wild people. They’re cool, too, but they’re wild. So people just started hiring FeralCat, and word spread. People would like an event I did and then say, “Oh, hire Liz.” I mean, reputation is everything in this industry and I’m really aware of that. I make sure to be respectful to everyone I work with from the interns to busboys… At the end of the day, this is a job. You have people who fantasize about this, who might do a nine-to-five, but it’s a job, too. There are positives and negatives.

I think it all kicked off when I did some parties with Mick that really put me on the map if you want to have a fun event. My goal with Mick was to make him into his own brand. There weren’t any photographers getting noticed on the red carpet, I mean, except maybe Helmut Newton. And then some others came out and did sort of the same thing, probably influenced by Mick, and that’s cool. We love that. And then people realized I could do that with brands, like Dr. Martens, and Hermès, and then Nars — all who I admire and wear. In the beginning I was doing events, but I was also managing talent. Mick is really the only person I’ve kept on managing, but I am in talks to maybe take on a few again. I realized I was more interested in marketing and consulting. To me, that’s more about being on the creative side.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE PROJECTS OR CLIENTS?

Well, obviously I love Mick. We’ve been working together for over 17 years now. We’re like family at this point, and there have been a lot of great projects that have come through working with him. We did a gallery opening in Hong Kong at the W Hotel, and one in Barcelona. So the travel that came out of it was really great. And there have been some great parties for the books, like one with Kate Moss and Deborah Harry. I did a MTV party in Miami with Johnny Knoxville, Spike Jonze, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Jimmy Fallon all on the dance floor — that was pretty fun.

I like bringing together all sorts of different people and putting them in one room. And I’ve done a bunch of charity stuff that I always really love working on. I’ve worked with the Art of Elysium, I worked on a great event that was fun with Riley Keough & Elijah Wood hosting and I really believe in what they do and all their work with the children’s hospitals. I just worked with the Lunchbox Fund with Liv Tyler,  Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mario Batali and Casey Affleck hosting —  that’s wild mix right there and a great group of people to work on the event with including my good friend Lisa Raden at Blank Canvas who I partner with on a lot of projects. That’s a perfect example of bringing together art and the cause — we auctioned off works by Chuck Close, Shepard Fairy and  of course Mick Rock – and it involved celebrity and charity… I love bringing together all these different elements. And all for a good cause.

DO YOU HAVE ANY EXTRA GREAT OR MEMORABLE MOMENTS AND MILESTONES THAT STAND OUT FROM YOUR CAREER SO FAR?

I don’t really look it at it that way. I just try to live in the moment and keep going forward, and sometimes I look back and think, “Wow. I really did a lot.” I’m always on to the next thing. I don’t believe in dwelling in the past a lot — I think I learned that from being around Mick so much, he never wants to dwell on the past. If you talk to, say, Bowie or Debbie, no one ever wants to talk about the past. They want to focus on what’s new and fresh. So, I guess I picked up on that. I mean, there have been such fun moments, and I’ve romanticized the periods, and the parties. I think when you start getting stuck in the past, you stop living, you know? I do of course, look back and remember Debbie Harry was on my wall, and now I’m on a first name basis and am friendly with her. Is that a milestone? I don’t know, but it’s kind of exciting. I had no idea I was ever going to work with these people, and I had no idea how…

“I just believed in myself. I think when you want something bad enough and in the right way, things come together. I really believe in things manifesting.”

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SEE:  These three brilliant documentaries recently: The Act Of Killing, A Band Called Death and Cutie and The Boxer.

HEAR: Someone who knows what I like and turns me on to new things all the time introduced me to Tweakbird and Royal Thunder, I’ve been listening to both those bands a lot lately. And The Bots, I’m obsessed with them.

KNOW:  “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” — Dr. Seuss

 

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