I see myself being a new-age Black Panther, doing things that are really important. I see myself changing the world,’ Slick Woods tells me, with no discernible hint of hyperbole. ‘I see myself as the reincarnation of Tupac.’ I must look slightly confused by this second declaration, as she proceeds to explain: ‘1996, baby.’ The year the iconic rapper was shot dead and the year she was born.
Confidence, clearly, is not something Woods was dealt in short supply. But if she sounds brazen and immodest, who, really, could blame her? In an industry renowned for impenetrable elitism and unattainable standards of beauty, the 21-year-old model is gleefully subverting the system. Shaven-headed, gap-toothed and heavily tattooed, the rebel with a potty mouth and a serious penchant for weed is the hottest property in fashion right now.
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She is the face of Fenty, Rihanna’s collection with Puma, is beloved by Jeremy Scott — creative director at Moschino, for which she fronts the current campaign — and will be walking this season for labels including Marc Jacobs and Miu Miu. She has been shot for the 2017 Pirelli calendar alongside Naomi Campbell and Lupita Nyong’o, and for Italian, Japanese and American Vogue.
All of which is even more impressive when you consider that, two years ago, she was living in a ‘traphouse’ (a property where drugs are sold) in Los Angeles, addicted to opioids and scratching a living through credit-card crime. ‘It’s been a really eventful year for me,’ she grins, giving me a good, long look at that trademark gap-toothed smile. ‘I turned 21 this summer, at 12am on the dot of my picture wrap.’ She celebrated in suitably debauched, cognac-fuelled style, at her favourite strip club.
She’s already branching out beyond the catwalk; she shot her first feature film last month, playing the title character in Goldie, a gritty indie drama directed by Sam de Jong and funded by Vice. ‘My acting ability surprised the f*** out of me,’ she admits. ‘It was like forced therapy, being able to bring the things that I have gone through to the table.
‘But next time, I want to play someone who is not like me,’ she says, deadly serious. ‘Like a Clueless girl or something.’
We’re in the back garden of a bar in Manhattan, across the street from the studio where Woods has spent the day shooting for our story. She’s changed into her own clothes now — customised Raf Simons Ozweego trainers and a hooded Fenty jumpsuit: biker shorts on the bottom and a top unzipped so low that I am treated to an eyeful of my braless interviewee’s left breast, complete with nipple piercing, before she realises and adjusts herself.
Even without the tattoos, gold jewellery or the almost-bald head, which is shaved religiously every three days, her look is an arresting one — enormous doe eyes, huge pillowy lips and a lithe, athletic body, which she claims to do absolutely nothing to maintain. ‘The closest thing I do to working out is lifting a blunt [joint] to my face,’ she has said. ‘I was never the pretty girl at school, I was the ugly kid. Am I the beauty norm now?’ she asks rhetorically. ‘When Rihanna’s like, “This is my brand, you’re the face of it, and this is what I think beauty is…”’ She shrugs. ‘I’m trying to accept the whole thing.’
As to exactly why she is having a moment, Woods thinks it’s simple. ‘I’ve figured out the algorithm. I’m not trying to make people like me. And I feel like that’s refreshing — they’re like, “Yo, she really doesn’t give a f***.”’
Real name Simone Thompson, Slick Woods was a moniker given by friends in recognition of her superior skill in rolling joints (aka a ‘backwoods blunt’). She has, she admits, lost money because of her habit, which she openly flaunts on Instagram, one of the platforms that assisted in her rapid rise to fame. ‘I’ve lost $125,000 in a day from being myself,’ she nods, referring to work lost because of her association with weed.
She also seems conflicted about the industry that has fast-tracked her through its hallowed ranks. ‘For Urban Outfitters, I would sell the ugly sweaters because I looked cool. I don’t want to make other s*** cool,’ she says, vehemently. ‘People wrap me up in ugly-ass clothes, saying: “You can make anything look good.” I feel like people use this s*** to dim your light.’
The initial stages of sudden fame were bewildering. ‘It drew me into a dark hole, because it wasn’t tangible. Everyone loved me but I didn’t have stuff.
‘I had fame before I had bread [money],’ she tells me, earnestly, as she orders six Bluepoint oysters and a double shot of Hennessy.
I’ll freely admit that, before meeting Woods, I was more than a little intimidated by her fierce social media persona. In the flesh, however, her energy is more mischievous than aggressive. She tells me that she’s often mistaken for a boy. ‘Then I’ll act really feminine and start tapping my nails.’ She brandishes them on the table — long, grey, dagger-like talons that could do serious damage on the end of the wrong hands. ‘I love f***ing with people,’ she giggles.
She is also an enormous flirt, singing to me and, uninvited, running her fingers through my hair. So powerful is her sexual charisma that I imagine it would be hard to refuse her, whatever you believe your orientation to be.
‘I’m so in between wanting to respect the woman and wanting to f*** these bitches,’ she says of dating. ‘But everyone’s broken. And everyone’s so insecure. I feel like, sometimes, I’m on this higher plane, this self-aware plane, just by myself.’ She’s currently single; fellow model Ebonee Davis ‘broke my heart’, she confesses. ‘I sent her 16 bouquets of purple roses to say I miss you. She’s the one that got away, man.’
Born in Minneapolis (‘one of the cities you don’t go to’) in the Midwestern state of Minnesota, Woods was raised by her mother, Leah. ‘She was a street hustler, a gang-banger, the most respected woman I’ve ever been around.’ She never knew her father. ‘She always put me first, though. I’ve never met anyone as selfless as my mother. My mother gave her life for me.’
Woods is smart, no doubt, but speaks in the grand, drama-filled soundbites of the autodidact, and, occasionally, makes claims that cannot possibly be true. ‘My mom used to read books to me all night long, to the point where I had a 12th-grade [18 years old] reading level at four years old,’ she tells me.
But if Woods has embellished those early years, even to herself, it’s perfectly understandable. When she was four, she says her mother was sent to prison for manslaughter. She declines to go into detail, saying her mother is due to be released next year, after 18 years inside, and will be ‘parolling’ [ie living] with her.
‘My mom spent her whole 20s in prison; that’s a lot of years,’ she says.
I do some quick mental arithmetic. How old was she when she had Slick/Simone? ‘Um, 13 or 14.’ They speak on the phone, but she hasn’t seen her mother for more than three years. ‘I can’t go visit her,’ she admits, a little sheepishly. ‘I f***ed up and got in trouble with the law, too.
‘It’s not something I’m proud of,’ she continues. ‘And when everyone in the world is telling you that you’re going to be just like your mother, and then you’re behind bars…’ She fiddles with the enormous plump oyster on the end of her fork.
Her own criminal activity was ‘bank scams, credit card scams, blank cheques, s*** like that’. At 18, she says, she went to jail for ‘two, three months’.
‘I was in a place where I didn’t believe in anything, so I was so susceptible to evil energy. I’m so easily turned,’ she says.
Being unable to visit her mother, she feels ‘like a slave’, she laments. From the age of four, Woods was raised by her grandmother in Los Angeles, but shortly after her mother was sentenced, her grandmother’s marriage collapsed, she lost her house and they were forced to move into a motel. The pair spent years bouncing between motels in LA and Minnesota, where they would stay with family. Neither sounds like a healthy childhood environment. ‘Hella things went on that shouldn’t have went on. I was living an adult life at a very young age,’ says Woods. ‘I had a job, I had to do things I didn’t want to do, I saw a lot of s*** I shouldn’t have seen.’ Woods had no permanent home for 12 years.
By 19, she was living in a traphouse in the LA district of Westwood, heavily dependent on prescription drugs. ‘I was strongly addicted to Xanax and Lean,’ (the slang term for a highly potent drink made from opioid-based cough syrup plus soda). She was spotted on the street in West Hollywood by the British male model Ash Stymest, who ‘ran out of a random house and was like, “Oi!” I’d never seen him a day in my life.’
The pair hit it off immediately. ‘We’re both Leos, we’re both hella emotional, he doesn’t want to admit it but we’re hella the same,’ she enthuses. Stymest introduced Woods to the photographer David Mushegain, who took some shots that led to her being cast in the look book for Kanye West’s label, Yeezy.
‘Kanye was the first person that told me I was going to blow up who I actually believed,’ she says of the musician-turned-designer. Compliments were more forthcoming than cash, however. ‘Kanye did not pay me,’ she reveals. ‘I didn’t see my money until the next Yeezy job I did. He couldn’t book me again without having paid me for the first time.’
Once the money began rolling in, however, Woods had no idea how to handle it. ‘I went from being homeless to spending $20,000 [£15,300] a week. I was making up for lost time, buying my friends s***, going to $400 dinners. I’ve always been like, “What if I die tomorrow?” I can’t sit on this bread.’
These days, she has people keeping an eye on her most profligate tendencies. ‘We just got a stripper pole put in the crib,’ she says, excitedly. ‘Jiggy [her friend/driver/housemate, with whom she lives in New York’s trendy Bushwick in Brooklyn] got it so I wouldn’t spend so much money at the strip club no more.’ She breaks off to make another declaration: the oysters are making her horny. She orders six more.
Reckless spending and newly expensive tastes included, Woods appears to be adjusting to the fashion world and its accompanying fame with remarkable ease. ‘I like to be in the spotlight, I like attention,’ she agrees. ‘But I want to feel really limitless. I want my homies to be able to make money off me when I’m dead. Like Marilyn Monroe. I want to be immortal.’