Jazzelle Zanaughtti — known to her 508k Instagram followers as @uglyworldwide — has become one of the most sought-after models in the world, with an incomparable style, gall, and attitude. Just in time for Halloween, New York-based artist and brotherly influence Jack Collier offers vignettes into the grotesque origin story of a monster on an ugly, worldwide reign of terror.
It feels weird calling her Jazzelle Zanaughtti. In the years I've known her, she's been called by many names. I've called her a ton of obnoxious things myself: Little Girl, Doodie, Ashleigh (note the "gh"), Dunce, Thug Miss. I call her Dooden, Oh Her Yeah My Mom Made Me Bring Her or I Couldn't Come, Christy Carlson-Romano, a brat, Patience, the last hope of sniffing out Natalie Holloway (where is she??).
When we hosted club shit in Chicago, people called her Jazzeppi Zanaughtti or called her by her old IG handle, @poshsplice. Once, a relative called Jazzelle a "nigger" so Jazzelle flew down the stairs to call her nothing, just to punch her in the face. Her mom calls her Djinji when they're cool, calls her a host of other things when they're not, and even though you might call her Ugly, as in Worldwide, Jazzelle Zanaughtti might actually be called one of the most beautiful people in the world no matter what we call her...
Just don't tell her she was called that by me.
I met Jazzelle when she was 17 in 2012 CE. I was 20 and dating a photographer who had her over to the studio where he and I lived with a bunch of other artists, just outside of Boystown in Chicago. He used his lens like an extension of his dick, so I would stalk jealously those concrete floors like a rabid alley cat, batting and hissing at the so-called "subjects" he had over to "shoot."
But Jazzelle and I... the word "congealed" comes to mind; we congealed real thick and when Mateo and I eventually broke up, I was devastated, homeless, and invited to help Jazzelle with rent. She was then signed to Ford Models (from whom she was dropped for being "too weird" according to Jazzelle) and working her ass off to keep her Boystown studio apartment. So I moved in and slept in a bed with her for the first couple weeks until I got a futon for myself and a rolling rack for my clothes.
The glitter. The hair clumps, the thin sheet of whatever amalgamated powders girls use (??) which blanketed everything in a thin layer. How about the wayward false eyelash stuck to a Hot Cheeto staining a Walgreens receipt for Amsterdam vodka and a 7/11-brand bottle of cranberry juice ($11.84). We were as thick as thieves — actual thieves when we had to be — and we named our wifi ShirtlessGuyInFedora, after the alcoholic who lived beneath us and bitched about our loud music and our stomping around in heavy shoes at all hours. By the end of our time there, ShirtlessGuyInFedora had resorted to ambling down to the basement and just fucking cutting off our power. We were scared of the basement cause it looked like a boiler room from the Titanic, haunted as HELL.
I keep Jazzelle on edge all the time. That's where I like her. She'll do something annoying like use the bathroom and I'll quickly turn off all the lights, close the blinds, open all the cabinets and drawers. I'll wait around an unexpected corner for however long it takes to pop out at her. She gets really mad, but the footage is worth it.
Full Look: Zimmerman
Jazzelle made us pork chops all the time cause they were cheap and she'd salt and garlic the shit out of 'em. One time, I made gravy out of pork grease, beer, and flour cause I'm a hick but Jazzelle, bold-as-you-please, sauntered right up the stove and ate the beer gravy out of the pan with a spoon like an upright hog in platform shoes. Ramen was our specialty though, with mushrooms burnt on the edges — a luxury at a whopping 85 cents from the Walgreens at the corner. We'd pool together our coins before I'd go out and come back to fry 'em. Jazzelle and I spent so much time together, we would "forget that we were separate people," our dialogue devolving into shades of "no," "stop it," and a few grunting noises.
We had a mutual, child-like inclination to play dress-up whenever we went out anywhere — out to host, or even just out to get more ramen, on the CTA, in front of God and everyone. And the habit started to turn into something. We didn't plan on creating a scene with our friends that would galvanize queers to come and show out or any gay shit like that, but nothing in Chicago had ever looked like us or acted like us or could yawn and refuse to apologize the way we did.
Inadvertently, the group of us bottled a moment in time and space that could only have come bursting out of Midwestern springs — a plain, flat landscape that breeds a hunger with two times the earnest and a quarter of the self-consciousness that creators who grew up in LA or NYC feel. The first person to bottle and hawk that thing we had will be the last vampire to survive any of us un-staked, especially Jazzelle.
"I'm just livin' in my own fuckin' world and people are here to capture it."
Soft Leather was an event hosted every other weekend or so at different venues. It was sketchy and sexy and diverse and gloriously offensive, populated by fresh talent and our heaving following. It had Jpeg Papi, one of the funniest people I've ever met whose talent has only itself to transcend. Claudia (née de Chalon) aka L.A. Olympics, is the bombshell who started as a host and ended up as a DJ whose bpm today is synced to a savvy and manic pulse she exclusively can tap into. We cavorted with Lexi Kingery, who's gone from corn-colored, midwestern winds to LA breezes as recently as last week, chasing the success of her online shop, Blue Dream, and her diaphanous lil-angel-on-the-prairie vibe. Soft Leather was a dust devil of provocative hosts, a few good DJs, photographers that got some good photos plus the founder and his lackeys. It was a creative outlet that provided all the ass I could want to take home and all the soul-splintering hangovers I didn't. I woke up with both anyway, each time without fail.
The devil wears Prada now but she used to wear Michael's. We'd mop the one in Lakeview and Jazzelle is a beast with a glue gun (think Sasquatch with rhinestones). We did "joint looks" every once a while, where we'd match. We spun through Michaels and secured to our bodies most of the clearance section Christmas stuff that was white, cutting up white flower petals for eyelashes one time. Once I had to go in a store and discreetly open a plastic pack of adult diapers to steal them, because they only came in packs of like 48 for 20-something dollars and I only needed two for a baby look Jazzelle and I were doing on a budget of like 10. It was a particularly trying night when Jazzelle and I got our paws on a pair of leather pieces that attached at the neck with a lock and chain. We wore masks out of nylon stockings, red contacts, and skimpy black undergarments and had to pee with each other each time. She would barrel forward without me and I would stop in my tracks to yank her back.
Gown: Marchesa, Makeup: Mimi Choi
Jazzelle, the other hosts and I spent a long time in Chicago creating without compensation, even when it was promised, even as we threw our last dimes for food and soap and heat into constructing looks to host in. Jazzelle's boyfriend at the time, the organizer behind Soft Leather, showed up at our door once with brass knuckles, shaking awkwardly and fuming at us for whatever cockeyed reason, and this was among the more mild ways he tried to compensate for his shortcomings.
Still, we would rather have done things than not done things, preferring free work for someone else's benefit over none at all. One thing about not getting paid, though: it meant we had no censors. People grossed out or offended or turned on by what we did could only fuel our fire.
We were poor, and we were free.
"I'm just livin' in my own fuckin' world and people are here to capture it," Jazzelle has brayed at me.
Today, Jazzelle is a top fashion model who's posed for many of the brands, photographers, and publications you can name off the top of your head, and she's done it all in one meteoric streak barely two years long. She's an Instagram It-girl and a blossoming artist who has the rare privilege of being able to turn down major opportunities because she doesn't want to do them.
I'm meeting her at Popular Jewelry where she and her boyfriend, "the love of her life," Sadiq, are shopping and getting rings resized. It's in the middle of Chinatown and you have to be buzzed to get in and out of the overheated shop. Inside, pictures of the owner with various rappers who patronized the store crowd the walls. Among them is Travis Scott, with whom Jazzelle appeared on SNL last week, riding on a mechanical carousel pony to medley of "Skeletons" and "Astrothunder."
Related | Travis Scott Is Hip-Hop's New Rock Star
As I walk in, she is signing a receipt for almost $2,000. "Jesus, Jazzelle."
She blinks at me, raising the skin where a person's eyebrows would be. Jazzelle, who can't count past, I don't know, maybe four without using her fingers, says to me, "I make six figures now, bitch..."
Sadiq greets me with the usual hug, this one over his skin-tight, semi-opaque top that hits him right above his bellyy butttonnnnnffhhff nnnwaqsgjq.
Jazzelle always got stopped in public, but now it's by people who might recognize her. It always was extreme, from genuine compliments and predatory inquiries to transparent jealousy and even violence.
After an M.I.A. show once in Chicago, we went with our friends to a club, all fired up and fucked up, and some guy pushed Jazzelle or something like that. I think she stepped outside by the time I threw a bottle at him, which got me punched in the face and gushing blood. The situation listed into a full on bar riot when Jazzelle found out. I have this image burnt into my head of Jazzelle and I swinging in slow motion as the battle spills out onto Halsted in Boystown. We are valiant, glowing, our Hindu diety-inspired looks still perfect, while a crystalline female voice coos from the heavens behind us.
In reality, we probably looked like boxing toy nuns but flimsier, with way less clothing and way more blood and gayer, grunting. But we won.
At lunch, Jazzelle eats the first like eight bites of my curry before I can stop her, and I've told her to stop touching me thrice at this point. It's too obvious to say our relationship is brother-sister so I won't. I shaved her head first, you know. In shock afterward we went and saw a movie and got drunk. When I tried to touch it up, I fucked it up.
"I cried for like two days," she reflects.
Jazzelle moved from Chicago to live in New York about a month or so before I came here on tour. I had two shows that bookended a week and a shoot or whatever between. In that time, cool shit fell into my lap and Jazzelle was eager to show off her new playground. She'd already shot with Nick Knight and every agency said "yes" — she got to pick which one to sign to, and did so on her own terms. She signed with New York Models.
"And then to Storm," she adds. "And then signed in Milan, and then Paris."
I didn't even know that. "Milan, Paris, and New York... you have agencies in each?"
"And London," she says flatly, a stray crumb of falafel stuck to her lip.
I remind her, "you're a fucking cunt."
Dress: Bibhu Mohapatra, Hat: J.R. Malpere, Cuff: Alexis Bittar, Shoes: Sophia Webster
Dress: Bibhu Mohapatra, Hat: J.R. Malpere, Cuff: Alexis Bittar, Shoes: Sophia Webster
"Yeah," she agrees. "I never thought I would have been here, being signed all over the country [she means world], still looking like a weirdo and not compromising my shit for anybody ever. I'm being respected for that instead of shunned."
On the day my tour was over and I was supposed to leave New York, she cried in the Uber taking us back to the apartment to get my luggage for my flight.
"I don't want you to go," she sobbed. She never doesn't remind me of a little girl, and Little Girl was the first nickname I ever called her. But with her bottom lip out and her face pink, Little Girl had never seemed more like a little girl to me than then, and it was sweet and sad enough for me to lock in a decision I was already making. I told the driver to floor it and I pushed that bitch out of the car with my feet. No, I said "fuck it" and moved to New York with one suitcase and 50 dollars to my name.
Jazzelle's career propelled impossibly upward in that time, catapulting her into a part of the stratosphere where a wild amount of ambition is required for the take-off alone. She's always been hungrier than me in that way. Jazzelle is goal-oriented and hates the feeling of owing anyone anything. Actually smart, really funny, she is, in her heart and in her craft, very, very good. She's also stubborn as a mule in good and bad ways and she can't be diverted from a locked-on focus. But that can make her myopic, her own unwavering devotion to her journey blurring the periphery on this breakneck trajectory forward.
Standing at this point on her timeline, I ask her to tell me what she'd want to say to a few people, and to imagine reading these things in this article a few years from now or at age 50.
About me, she says: "You were one of the only people who supported my shit, who always pushed me to go further, and you are also someone who's consistently said 'fuck you' to everyone in the world and just did what you want. You don't conform by any means and I always found that to be a big inspiration for me cause I didn't know any people like that. I had it deep in my heart but I didn't know anyone could actually be that way."
To her mother: "It's been tough. It's been fucking tough. At the end of the day, she's a hard worker. She's been through the most tragic shit I've ever heard of in my life and she was able to make it through. I respect her for that and understand why she is the way she is sometimes. Through some abusive, loving method, she's made me one of the strongest people I know."
To herself as she is now: "Bitch, you really did that. Bitch, you really did that. Bitch, I'm doing it!"
And to little Jazzelle, when she was saddest: "Oh."
There is a long pause. Plates are shuffled away, shoppers and diners shuffle past the windows, Fate looks on and shuffles her cards. Cards being dealt to a little mixed girl who grew up poor and weird on the outskirts of Detroit.
"You know, even though it doesn't seem like things are gonna look up and..." another long pause. New York City lapses from summer to fall, and the sky is at once pink, blue, and orange.
"And you know, despite things that you're going through, you know, on and off medications, dealing with family, and really, truly just not like being loved at all and just not thinking that love exists and is just in movies and for other people to have and that I'm not meant to have it," she says, pushing through her faltering voice while tears fall from her eyes and, fine, mine.
"Not having anybody to believe in me, telling me I'd be pregnant at 16, I'm gonna be in the same fucking town for the rest of my life, I'm not going anywhere, you think you're an artist and you're not... I don't know what it was in me that clicked but like, this intense feeling to run away. And that was the right decision. That was the right decision. To go. To chase your shit. Because you don't know what you're talking about but... neither do they. So."
As I write this for you, my mind is in our last Chicago apartment together on the day we moved out. Our landlord was the your loser ex's most loyal minion, who, to set the scene, left just an hour before we were done moving out to dole out idle threats about our social security numbers with his scarecrow lookin-ass.
We put on obnoxiously colored lipstick, left vulgar things on the mirror and kisses all over the white walls. We left laughing, the reverberation of our voices suddenly alien in the now-empty rooms. You pissed in a corner.
We stepped out for the last time, into the first golden tendrils of summer, which reached out over Chicago and beckoned us toward a future we've always dreamt about and can never predict.
Call me and I'll always go with you.
Photographer: Shaya Scott
Photography Assistants: Kyle Thompson & Iain Gomez
Stylist: Jahulie Elizalde
Stylist Assistants: Kingsley Osuji, Suthee Ritthaworn
Hair: Isaac Davidson (The Industry Mgmt)
Makeup: Anastasia Durasova (The Wall Group)
Special FX Makeup: Mimi Choi
Set Design: Taylor Horne (MHS Artists)
Set Design Assistant: Cameron Williams
Produced by: Hannah Lifshutz