What Does It Mean To Still Take a Chance on Kanye West?

Sierra Kiss-model-fashion
Portrait of Sierra Kiss and her children. All photography by Maya Fuhr and courtesy of Sierra Kiss.

This past April, Sierra Kiss was one of hundreds of fresh faces who responded to a mysterious casting call. The brand was Yeezy—the streetwear brainchild of Kanye West—and the call was for bald-headed models, with the vague suggestion that those selected would be featured in the brand’s Season 10 showcase. Hopefuls returned day after day, unsure if they’d end up in a lookbook or on a runway. For Kiss—a 25-year-old artist, model, and single mother who has appeared in campaigns for art-adjacent breakthrough labels like Hardeman and Rabôt, and who counts as close friends tastemakers like stylist Bunny Lampert and photographer Maya Fuhr—there was a lot at stake. While Yeezy and its ambassador Ye have been increasingly clouded by a storm of questionable decision-making, controversy has also meant eyeballs and exposure. And it’s impossible to ignore the brand’s track record for unearthing electrifying talents like Slick Woods, bringing these new faces into the limelight in life-changing ways. 

Kiss brought her twin toddlers along for the ride over six days of callbacks and events when friends couldn’t pitch in to babysit, with car seats and toys in tow. The whirlwind week involved a stripped-down showcase in a candle-lit Los Angeles warehouse, titled “YZY FREE” and a campy, cultish film screening of the 1922 silent horror film Nosferatu, with the bald-headed models in attendance all bearing a slight, humorous resemblance to the movie’s titular vampire. “It’s this whole influencer mindset that if I’m in the right room at the right time, a big opportunity could come from that. I don’t have a dime to my name, but here I am taking a picture with someone with a million followers,” explains Kiss. “It’s a really big risk and I have a lot riding on it with the twins, but when it does end up paying off, it’s an incredible story.” It’s hard to ignore the possibility that a Yeezy nod could be any young talent’s big break, and maybe it’ll end up being Kiss’s too. Here, she reflects on motherhood, sacrifice, and taking that leap of faith.

Whitney Mallett: How are you? You texted that the kids got you up at 5am this morning. 

Sierra Kiss: It’s a reality check when you become a mom, just the level of sacrifice. It’s so unpredictable, and there’s no off button for any of it. They call the shots. A big factor in why I wanted to become a mom is growing up my family was really broken. A lot of the time I lived with my grandmother or this person or that person. Deciding to have kids, I guess I was a bit naive. No regrets, it’s just, like, a lot. 

Mallett: And you’re also juggling being an artist and model. 

Kiss: Before I had the twins, I had made some music and after I still wanted to do something creative. A few friends suggested modeling. I’ve been doing shoots here and there, but this was the first real casting I’d ever gone to. 

Mallett: You saw this Yeezy open call on Instagram? 

Kiss: Yeah, specifically for bald-headed models. I submitted online but didn’t get an email back. The next day, I got a call from my friend Bunny. And she was like, "I have the address to the casting, but you have to go right now." I was like, “I’m totally not prepared. My head isn’t shaved. I’m here alone with the kids. I barely have an all-black outfit to put together.” But she was really just pushing me, like, “Just get there.” I have a neighbor who’s a fashion designer. I just decided to ask him at the last minute, “Hey, would you be willing to come with me to this?” Because I needed someone to help me with the kids.  

Mallett: What was it like when you got there?  

Kiss: We get out of the Uber, and I’m carrying the twins’ car seats down the street. We can’t find the address, and then on the sidewalk, we run into Ye. I was just like, “Hey we’re looking for the casting,” and he was like, “I’m looking for it too.” I think he was intrigued by me with these car seats. He said to one of the guys on his team, “I’m so glad we posted this in some different places because it brought a new crowd, look how cool she looks.” Hearing that was a really good feeling. Especially because my kids’ father had told me, “You’re not a real model. You’re never going to do anything big.” But then it’s like, if Kanye West thinks I have a cool look, maybe I’m not as worthless as my ex had made me feel. When I submitted to the casting I was just praying, like, Please God, I need something big. 

Mallett: It’s validating, and especially because Ye is someone you’ve been influenced by. When did you start making music?

Kiss: When I was 4 or 5 I started writing raps. I called myself Lil SiSi. There was this store in Baltimore called Athletic Warehouse. I was shopping with my dad there, and they had rap music on over the intercom. I put one of the store’s hats on and just started reciting the song. Everyone in the store started crowding around to see this little white kid rapping. I was always doing little concerts like that. 

Mallett: What was it like having the twins at the casting? 

Kiss: I was honestly worried how people were going to react to bringing the kids, but I think it actually helped me overall. Ye seemed to be intrigued by the three of us. He had me walk with the twins. The whole thing was surreal. There were all these influencer girls there who I’ve followed for years. 

Mallett: So what ended up happening? 

Kiss: They called me back the next two days. Then there was this model showcase at the store on Melrose. I was freaking out because I thought I’d gotten cut, but it turns out one of the casting agents had gotten fired, so when I followed up, they were like, “Come right now.” It was 9:30 at night. I raced over, but then they were looking for a shirt for me to wear the whole time, so I was just standing around waiting. I was upset about that because I wanted an opportunity to be seen in the pictures. Then the day after there was a private event they invited me to. 

Mallett: Is that when you all watched Nosferatu

Kiss: Yeah and because the theme of the movie is this guy who gets his energy stolen, people had these theories that it was like an energy harvest. We’d all been coming back day after day without any clear outcome. The set-up looked a lot like a ritual. They had all this food laid out on the floor and a table, there were no utensils, and all the drinks were red. 

Mallett: How did you feel about the whole experience? 

Kiss: I felt it was worth the sacrifice. Some friends were offended on my behalf, thinking it wasn’t right to come back multiple days in a row without any confirmation of a job. But I’m sitting here with big models who are way more successful than I am, thinking, What better thing do I have going on right now? I talked to Ye at the private event. He asked if I was gonna hang around. And I was like, “Do you want us to hang around?” I was trying to gauge if I was going to miss something if I went home. He said, “Some people seem more willing than others to come to our events and become a big family with us.”

Talking to him, I wasn’t sure how much to get into how I’m struggling right now, but I kind of hinted at it. I said, “Being here really shows that whatever circumstances you have in life, you can really do anything.” He said, “You know, maybe at some point, you can come work for us in a more permanent position.” I tried to play it cool, but in my head I was freaking out. I know, it’s probably not smart, but I just got my heart set on working for Ye. It’s kind of dangerous, but it also gives me some hope.