Vanessa ‘Van’ Koo Influencer and Brand Ambassador
Vanessa, ‘Van’ Koo, influencer and brand ambassador for Black Milk clothing. Vanessa is known on social media as @supernovangirl and has upwards of fifteen thousand followers on Instagram. She began her journey at Harvard University as a neurobiology and film studies major. I was very intrigued hearing her story of how she got her start in this business. Vanessa is a true inspiration and success story that I am proud to feature here on The Window Shop.
Brianna: How did you get started in the influencer and brand ambassador career, how did you pursue it?
Vanessa: I actually never intended on becoming an influencer or brand ambassador -- it happened completely by accident. I’ve always loved expressing myself through my style, but I had never considered sharing my outfits on social media. Then a few years ago, I was going through some health issues and feeling kind of down on myself, I was looking for a creative outlet to help me process it all. My boyfriend is incredibly supportive and encouraged me to explore a new kind of self-expression by taking pictures of my outfits and posting them on Instagram.
Brianna: Fascinating, so you never saw your career going this way. You took a not-so-great situation and made into into something positive and exciting. I love when you can find out more about yourself through exploring new things. I think it’s great that you went into it head first, it sounds like you were ready for anything. Now, I know that you attended Harvard, one of the top colleges in the nation, do you feel that your experiences and what you learned there shaped you for this career?
Vanessa: I feel very, very lucky to have attended Harvard, and my experience there far exceeded my expectations. I knew going into school that I would be surrounded by super smart and accomplished people, but I don’t think I was prepared for how interesting, diverse, creative, caring, and fun they would be. I don’t think many people would see an immediate connection between what I spent my time doing at school and where my career has taken me now, but perhaps that speaks to how my experience shaped me. I was originally pre-med, majored in neurobiology and film studies, and heavily involved in theatre and performance on campus. These days, I work on everything from digital communications and eCommerce to experiential marketing and web design. In other words, I don’t quite ‘do’ anything directly related to what I studied. However, I think an important thing Harvard allowed me to explore was this idea that you don’t necessarily have to compartmentalize yourself just to seem ‘marketable’ for one job or another. I feel fortunate to be able to pursue projects and work that I’m really passionate about, and that makes me think and smile.
Brianna: I want to highlight one of the things you said, you mentioned that you don’t need to compartmentalize yourself into just one thing to seem marketable for a certain job. I love that. I don’t think that enough people realize that, all of the time I hear people saying just pick one thing you’re good at. I don’t think that’s the key to success at all, it’s all about finding many things you’re good at and seeing how they fit into a career. You did just that and look at how successful you are now. I know you are a very active figure on Instagram, I was looking though your feed, which is so stunning, and saw that you have upwards of 15k followers. That is huge! Can you talk about what it was like growing your followers and what goes into the upkeep of maintaining that large of a following?
Vanessa: Hopefully this doesn’t disappoint you, but I actually don’t think too hard about the following or keeping it up. It still surprises me that anyone would be interested in following me, especially because I’m not a real content creator like a blogger or vlogger, and these days it seems I barely have time to post. It will sound cheesy, but I think the growth resulted from nothing more than wanting to share my real passions and interests. I post about things that I love, and it turns out that, somewhere out there, somebody else loves the same thing, and then we connect because of it. One thing that is important to me, though, is doing my part to engender a positive and supportive digital community. I think it’s critical that we try to encourage and lift one another up, and minimize unnecessary judgment and criticism by striving to be kinder and treating others with compassion.
Brianna: That’s great that you’re so passionate about what you do. I think it’s very admirable how seriously you take your career and how you are proud of what you do. I love all of your pictures on your page, the ones of you in the Black Milk dress is stunning. I also picked upon your flawless and consistent color scheme, you have a beautiful aesthetic going on your feed. Can you talk about how you put it together and make sure all the photos match so seamlessly?
Vanessa: That’s such a nice compliment. Honestly, the thing I love more than taking photos is editing them. I’m weirdly addicted to adjusting levels and lighting and tones to create some kind of vibe or visceral reaction. Before filters were a thing, I used to create my own filters for all of my Facebook photos because I loved editing so much. Judging by my feed, I think it’s safe to say I’m a fan of bright colors, heavy saturation, and strong contrast.
Brianna: I think something that is so awesome about having an Instagram feed with bright colors is that it really attracts a viewers eye. I happen to love editing, but your pictures take on a whole new category—they’re out out-of-this-world. One of the things I noticed looking through your feed was that every one of your outfits is eye-catching and different, can you describe your personal style for us, how do you go about putting together your outfits? Is there a certain theme or aesthetic you aim for?
Vanessa: I’m a bit sloppy with my personal style in the sense that there’s no real rhyme or reason to any of it, I just wear what I love and what makes me feel happy. It can get weird at times—for example one of my most treasured necklaces consists of a Marc Jacobs razor blade, a vial full of Swarovski crystals, and three of my dog’s baby teeth. One of my favorite dresses is a map of Westeros; another is the Marauder’s Map. I own not one but two robes featuring David Bowie’s face. I have a weakness for full-length sequined gowns. I also have a purse that is literally Darth Vader’s helmet, and it might surprise you to know it’s actually quite practical. I try to think less about how I look and more about how I feel. I definitely have fun with my style because I’m not into taking myself too seriously.
Brianna: Wow, that sounds like an amazing wardrobe. I would love to see the purse that is Darth Vader’s Helmet, it just sounds cool. One thing that I love about fashion is that there is no right or wrong choices, it is completely up to you. I think the crazier and more out-there an outfit is, the better. I would imagine that being a brand ambassador for Black Milk you get a chance to see every piece of clothing in a new light. Can you share what goes into working with a brand, such as Black Milk, and being brand ambassador for them?
Vanessa: It’s funny, I don’t think of it as work at all because I genuinely live in and love their clothes! They make some truly unique and thoughtfully designed pieces that you just can’t get anywhere else. It’s pretty remarkable because whenever I’m wearing Black Milk, at least two strangers will ask me where they can get my outfit.
Brianna: Amazing. So, you grew up in New York which is a fashion hub and is home to some of the greatest department stores known world-wide. I can imagine that being in that environment you developed an eye for fashion young, do you have a favorite brand or designer?
Vanessa: It’s too hard to name just one! I think I’ve loved Marc Jacobs the longest. Growing up in New York, I did love the department stores like Bloomingdales, Bergdorfs, Bendels—Barneys is probably my favorite because their selection is usually edgier and less conventional. I very much admire what Alessandro Michele has done with Gucci recently. And of course, I’m a huge fan of Black Milk Clothing, and especially fond of their licensed collections for brands like Star Wars, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and Disney.
Brianna: I love all of the major department stores. I agree that Barneys offers the largest selection when it comes to edgy and high-fashion clothes. Helmut Lang and Derek Lam are favorites of mine so I totally understand what you mean. Tell me, did you always have an interest in fashion or did it evolve over time?
Vanessa: I’ve definitely always loved fashion, although I think my appreciation of it has evolved over time. When I was younger, I definitely felt more pressure to conform to trends, especially because I was raised in a pretty homogenous community. I’m much happier now that I feel freer to ignore societal expectations and dress however I please.
Brianna: Wow, I love what you said there. I think that is so true, fashion and personal style can set you free. I just have one final question for you, If you weren’t doing what you are now, what would you pursue?
Vanessa: If I weren’t doing what I do now, I would absolutely, positively, definitely be a veterinarian. I love animals large and small, everyday and exotic. My boyfriend and I spend a lot of time watching all the vet shows like The Incredible Dr. Pol, Dr. K’s Exotic Animal Hospital, and Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet. We’re both pretty obsessed with the animal kingdom and our own two pups in particular.
Brianna: That is wonderful that you are so passionate about animals, I love that. I wish you tremendous success in your career and hope that everything comes your way. Thank you so much for being with us today.