Currently Rewilding in Oaxaca: Meet Acclaimed Artist & Fashion Stylist Kelly Framel
All photos and portraits taken by Kelly Framel
“I tell you it’s one of the things I’ve come to love about this place; it’s one of a few places in the Americas where there are still large indigenous populations. There are hundreds of different indigenous populations surviving here in Oaxaca alone, with their own languages and diversity of natural culture. The ecosystems are diverse here, too: desert, deciduous forest, and tropical jungles.”
Authenticity transmits its own special frequency. Consider it – how one person can embody light, shadow, and their own personal truth, even through a simple swipe of the phone screen, particularly someone unknown, living in stories, photos, and text solely. I admit, I have not wholly embraced social media or 21st century modes of connection, and yet, I am no Luddite. I use them every day. I urge myself to contemplate the gifts – not the grievances – our technological way of life affords us. Being touched by people unknown and known and connecting with organizations geared towards our needs and interests are the gifts I focus on.
Years ago, during the dawn of big-time fashion bloggers, I found the beautiful photos stirring. I felt a muscle twitch of envy here and a modicum of inspiration there. Yet, during this advent of fashion bloggers – people taking creation and fashion standards and business into their own hands – there was primarily one I paid a great deal of attention to: New York-based Kelly Framel, then “The Glamourai”. There was depth, soul, and this touch of an elder I gravitated toward in her, despite her young age at the time. Fashion blogging just seemed a natural outcropping of her very busy career as a stylist, artist, and creative director for various projects. She conquered styling – for her own personal brand and for many of the world’s largest fashion brands, interiors, and large-scale collaborations. She did so for years, while still creating jewelry and her own modern-day artifacts. She’s been called a “power stylist”; meanwhile, her personal style was the envy of many. Then, one day, I realized her social handles bore simply her name, and she had taken up residence in Oaxaca, Mexico, seemingly situating herself in a rural and naturalistic new life. Gone was the hustle and bustle of New York City in Kelly’s feed and in her life.
Kelly’s Instagram account currently reads, “U N A A R T I S T A R E W I L D I N G
I N O A X A C A . And I had the privilege of having a beautiful and stimulating conversation with this artista a few months ago.
When Kelly and I finally got our rickety technology working – almost a tin can and a wire situation by our time’s standards – I realized we had started our conversation about REWILDING and her chosen path perfectly. Kelly instantly acknowledged Mercury Retrograde thankfully coming to a close and told me she had lost her iPhone recently and was currently using a cheap burner phone. Perfect for a girl immersing herself in the present moment, focusing on a bit of a rebirth. She added she didn’t even necessarily need an iPhone right now. “My excuse for having it is maps, and that I’m living in a different country than I’m accustomed to. Truth is, I know how to read a proper paper map. I tend to be quite strong direction wise. That’s how I grew up, taking road trips navigated by a proper map.
I grew up in Austin, Texas – truly one of the greatest places to be a child, I think. It’s a creative oasis in the middle of Texas. There’s wonderful weirdos and creatives there. I think there is something in the water in Austin that causes one to think differently. I graduated high school early, both a rebellious and studious child. I couldn’t get out fast enough, and when I graduated early my parents were not having my plan of moving to New York immediately. Instead, I got my degree in Fashion Design at the University of Texas. I was 21 when I graduated, and THEN I moved to New York – to pursue the adventure I’d been planning for several years. 13 years later, I do consider myself a New Yorker, too. I think in terms of Austin as the foundation of my life though, my depth.
Presently, I really feel very connected to the place I’m in (Oaxaca); I have no idea what’s ahead, but this feels like home now. The first time I came to this place I felt that way. When I was growing up, I traveled around most of Mexico, and I have this deep recognition for this country. There is just a powerful energy source here. I tell you it’s one of the things I’ve come to love about this place; it’s one of a few places in the Americas where there are still large indigenous populations. There are hundreds of different indigenous populations surviving here in Oaxaca alone, with their own languages and diversity of natural culture. The ecosystems are diverse here, too: desert, deciduous forest, and tropical jungles.”
Can you tell me about your little pocket of Oaxaca – what you see each day where you are?
I currently live on a two-acre piece of land, in the valley of the Sierra Madre Sur (a large mountain range that stretches many Mexican states). It’s a beautiful property surrounded by farmland. It is quite remote and rural! The overwhelming majority of street traffic I encounter is from horses or donkeys pulling wooden carts. I live in a beautiful, earthen-walled, clay-roofed house that is totally harmonious with the natural world; moated by freshwater canals. It has a rainwater shower, compost toilet, and blue walls whose color comes from crushed lapis lazuli mixed with limestone and water. It’s absolutely magical. It’s also very isolated, abundant, and verdant, yet I have a city close enough to access resources when needed.
I’m curious – did you know anyone in Oaxaca prior to your move? What is your current support system like there?
No! But didn’t know anyone in New York either when I moved there, and I had to trust. I still don’t know that many people, but I have a growing community that feeds me spiritually. I recognize that I didn’t come here for the social life. I came here to dive deeper into myself and build that relationship and to explore natural and spirit world. That’s a different sense of community, I guess.
What did the process of beginning to ponder, and ultimately decide, to move to Mexico look and feel like?
It was many years in the making. There’s this idea of destiny, that destiny is an eternal irritant within us. A bit ago there was an irritant inside me that I didn’t have vocabulary for. It was this dissatisfaction somewhere inside of me, asking for more than I was giving it. The irritant and dissatisfaction were undeniable. What was next for me was something I began to think on for years. I thought, ‘what is the lesson here?’ At the tail-end of my experience before making my way here, I was living between Miami and NYC working on creative projects. I was thinking of maybe splitting time in LA and then going to Mexico. I had this notion that there was nothing left in New York that I needed to conquer; there was nothing left in the realm of destiny there. I had an immediate and deep connection once I was here in Oaxaca.
It really sounds as though no matter how challenging your journey through irritation and inquiry was you were really in the moment with it?
Yes, I had everything I ever dreamed of in NYC – a really beautiful life on all accounts, so it was confusing, lonely, and frustrating to feel dissatisfied. I really leaned into those feelings, and what I realized is there is a depth of soul that was missing, that no amount of success could cover. This itch you can’t scratch, and it’s driving you crazy.
Yes, isn’t it crazy sometimes what we run from is our purpose? That’s the way I have viewed my long route to a life of service and therapy in myriad forms.
Yes! I love that you’re studying Jungian psychology. There is so much medicine in archetypes. One of my callings in life is to bring that sense of archetypal wisdom into my every day and for those around me. I’ve been able to have a lot of love by understanding archetypally – like, how do I love this world that’s so broken, the evil of it at times? Working with mythology helps me accept and understand that in life, and in the world, we need to have heartbreak and danger, light and shadow. The universal irritant that mirrors the global irritant. And we are really there right now.
But it also provides so much hope – all it takes is one seed of corn to rebuild an entire farm that feeds an entire community. There will always be that one seed that infinity can spring from. I have no doubt of that, but you do have to work to see it. We’ve gotten so far from nature, and yet all of the answers are there, patiently waiting.
I naturally have been excited to ask: how do you define Rewilding?
That’s a good question, where to begin?! In one very real, physical sense, I’m now completely allergic to shoes, and my feet are cracked and broken and forming new surfaces where I can run around without shoes.
Mayan shaman Martin Prechtel (I believe it comes from his book “Secrets of the Talking Jaguar” and David Abram reference a near-similar concept I love that is summed up in Abrams’ “Becoming Animal” so beautifully. He says, ‘Try this when the mood strikes you: step out upon the solid earth without the intermediary of a rubber or leather sole – without another creature’s tanned hide coming between your flesh and that of the earth. Notice the way your feet pressing against the coarse ground are also met by that ground, as your skin is probed by the soil and the pliant, bristling blades. How easy it is to sense that the terrain underfoot is the palpable surface of a living presence, and to allow that depth to feel your steps as you walk upon it! … An old, ancestral affinity between the human foot and the solid ground is replenished by the simple act of stepping outside without shoes.’
A lot of our modern shoes are made of plastic or rubber, so now you’ve got rubber or plastic between you and earth. One of the many ways I’m Rewilding is realizing how little my feet have touched the earth in the last 13 years. So, this is the example I’ve chosen, but in a much bigger sense Rewilding is removing the distractions of well-meaning people asking us to define our lives. Rewilding is living in an isolated place where input and advice is my inner wisdom and soul. It’s how I really want to spend my days, and following my own inner star. The idea of Rewilding has reconnected me with my own map, my own north star, and it’s required disremembering a lot of what I was taught and deprogramming.
That’s a lot of shedding!
It’s very much like losing weight – you have to work very hard at it and every day. When I catch myself being strict about checking emails, I stop and pause and think, ‘is that really good for me?’, and then I reprogram. It’s a very intense journey and will go on for the rest of my life.
Did you feel connected to Mexican culture growing up in Austin?
Absolutely, the seed was planted there, especially in South Austin. I grew up exposed to it and with a mother who really loved it. She took us to Mexico a lot. My mom even started spending two weeks of every month in the summer doing language studies there. So, between growing up in Austin and my mom’s influence, I had a lot of seeds planted. Mexican culture is such a huge part of who I am and even my love of color. And Mexican food – I grew up eating that constantly. Definitely a comfort food and comfort place for me!
What does a day for you in Oaxaca look like?
I walk outside and put my feet in the grass. I’m not tired of this and never will be! Grounding into the earth is pure magic. I’ve created a scenario where I don’t have a lot of appointments and obligations. My day usually involves making stuff. What I want to make changes every day. Some projects I create in a day, and I’m really just listening to my own inspiration – I’m at once much freer AND more productive. In many ways more prolific. I’ve created a current life that says the ultimate medium of art is freedom, and certainly that is what I am after.
Do you speak Spanish fluently?
I did not speak any before I moved here a year ago. I feel like a one year old in my communications!
You can’t be proficient right away!
I’m not only a one year old in my Spanish speaking but also a one-year-old in my art making – even though I’ve made art most of my life. But I have to make choices of do I want to spend my day making art or working on my language. I trust it is all happening in its sacred timing.
That sounds like a very present-driven approach to life.
Yes, that lit something up for me. Not attaching outcome, and that’s one of the biggest deprograms. Like so many others, I was taught to have goals and work with those goals. And not to say that that’s bad, but to be able to live without attachment to the outcome is such a big lesson.
What are some of the philosophies you’re living by now?
I’ve had this mantra that served me really well for many many dark months – every obstacle pushes me deeper into the cosmic miracle. There is no such thing as things not working. I have enough perspective to see whatever I’m going through is pushing me towards something I can’t see yet. Things are working. That’s how that Jungian mindset really speaks to me – that each of us has our own journey and our own stuff to work with to find the treasure we’re seeking. It’s really beautiful. That journey is there for all of us.