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Nikki Vassell for Cole Haan

Published:Monday | February 22, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Nikki Vassell, model turned curator.

Besides the red-hot artists she represents, former Pulse model turned gallery curator, Nicola Vassell, is one of the most exciting figures in the art world. Known for her impeccable taste both as a director at Deitch Projects, an art gallery on the forefront of the art universe, and her carefully curated wardrobe choices, the Jamaican native has long been a poster girl for downtown New York style. Now luxury brand Cole Haan has tapped her as one of its faces for the 'Inspired Life' ad campaign which features the coolest children, in New York.

After years spent working for Oscar de la Renta, Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan, Vassell hung up her modelling gloves for the glamorous grind of the art world. She pursued a degree in business and art history at New York University, a transition she didn't find at all surprising. "It was just an extension of my interest in all forms of cultural expressions, fashion being one, art being another," she says. The roster of artists whose careers she manages includes art world darling, painter Kehinde Wiley and up-and-coming artist Tauba Auerbach.

While she may have left modelling behind, Vassell's jet-setting lifestyle continues. Her position requires her to do a fair amount of travelling. "It might be to an art fair to meet a client, to go on studio visits or meet with book publishers. There's no such thing as a typical week for me," she says on her way to a Sunday meeting with a client.

Fashion fades, style is eternal

Like one of her favourite designers, Yves Saint Laurent, who famously declared that, "fashion fades, style is eternal", Vassell is a student of fashion that lasts through the seasons. You'd more likely find her at a local boutique shopping for up-and-coming designers than a trendy, big-box department store. "I tend to find inspiration in young unknown designers who have a particularly deft kind of ability to make clothing that looks like artwork," she says. She counts fellow Jamaican, Grace Jones' madcap style among her favourite inspirations. "She always dared to be different and she was always a moving piece of art. She was never afraid to make very radical statements through her image and her clothing. I respect that."