The singer-songwriter discusses incorporating her style into her debut album, "Heaven & Hell" and uplifting fans through fashion.
We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a deeply personal one; at times, it can be impulsive and entertaining, at others, purpose-driven, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you decide what you need, how much to spend and what's "you"? These are some of the questions we're putting to prominent figures in our column "How I Shop."
Dance pop singer-songwriter Ava Max is full of contradictions and "dualities," as she says: her accidental but now famous asymmetrical hair-cut (which earned a name of its own, "The Max Cut"), her aversion of expected fashion (especially on the red carpet) but also affinity for celebrated labels and her debut studio album aptly-named, "Heaven & Hell."
"The vibe goes from light to dark and it takes you through a journey of all the emotions of when you're in a relationship and you feel like you're in heaven and hell," explains Max, over the phone from Los Angeles.
"I feel like we've all been in a relationship that feels like heaven and hell. I definitely really wanted to make it relatable," she continues. "It's all about just the obstacles we go through. The dualities and challenges we face every day which do feel lighter, but also heavier and moody." (She also works with the music industry's hottest stylist, Samantha Burkhart, who also styles Billie Eilish and Katy Perry.)
The 26-year-old artist — who's been compared to early, "Let's Dance"-era Lady Gaga — also channels her mood contrasts and balances into the visuals for her album, via the 12-page booklet that accompanies the CD. "The orange hair is more hell and blonde hair is more heaven," says Max, who also chose the thematic palette of orange and blue. "You'll get to see a glimpse of fashion, but also a different world inside booklet. Like heaven is space and hell is earth." (Sounds about right.)
Max's international experiences may also influence her experimental and adventurous style. Born to Albanian musical artist parents in Milwaukee, she moved around the U.S. before settling in Los Angeles at age 17 to pursue her career. After landing a record deal in 2016, Max consistently topped the charts internationally in 20+ countries, from the U.K. to Sweden to New Zealand, with her 2018 single, "Sweet, But Psycho;" her fifth single, "Kings & Queens" also hit #1 on the European charts, followed by her most recent single, "Who's Laughing Now," leading up to the full album drop on September 18.
Fittingly, we catch up with Max as she moved into a new home and prepared for a closet purge. "I'm gonna get rid of big coats. I have this big yellow coat that I really love that I wore a couple times last year," she says. "It's so cute and faux fur. I got it at Opening Ceremony, here in L.A. I love it, but am I really going to wear it again? That's always the question." (If the answer is "no," the items are donated, whether to a charity, her cousins or a very lucky 17-year-old niece.)
But before Max went full Konmari Method, she took the time to share with Fashionista which of those buzzy, high fashion brands keep her excited and inspired, why her "Max Cut" is here to stay and how she attempted the '90s skinny eyebrow trend.
"It's hard because sometimes I feel awkward posting about myself and fashion on Instagram during a time that's so hard for a lot of people. But also, social media is a great platform to uplift people and I try to uplift people with my fashion. I try to make it quirky and funky, but also I love my brand names — like, I love Louis Vuitton, I love Off-White, I love Marine Serre, I really like By Far. Supporting designers is a big thing in this day and age as well.
"I bought a really bright blue Off-White sweatshirt that literally I can't take off. I have so many leather jackets. I love, love leather. I also love a Levi's jean jacket. I can always pop on a trench coat. I have custom trench coats from last year that I got for performances; some I haven't worn, so I ended up with these trench coats from Freak City and my stylist, Samantha Burkhart.
"My personal style these days really depends on my mood. Basically, if I'm really colorful, I really feel cheerful that day. But then, if I'm wearing an all-black outfit, I don't want to talk to anyone. I'll wear black sunglasses and a hat. I like mixing high fashion with something not high fashion — maybe a pair of sweats that are just whatever and are very comfy and a Louis Vuitton shirt that's like a pajama top. I wore that recently and I was very comfy, but also fashion.
"It's tough now because in the vain age of Instagram, it's hard to wear things twice. It's funny, when I wear something twice, my fans go, 'Oh, she's wearing things twice.' I'm documented every second. I feel like if I can wear it once or twice as outfits, it's good to rent them. Or I rent from my stylist. I like to buy jackets, sweatshirt and jeans because I can rewear them. And shoes. I love platforms. I don't like being as short as I am, so I like to make myself taller. Ooh, I love Simon Miller — those shoes are very '90s.
"As for fashion icons, oooh, I love Gwen Stefani because she plays around and is funky with it, like it's not so serious. Fashion should be fun. Ooh, I also love Cindy Crawford back in the '90s. So good. '90s looks are everything.
"Oh my god. I love all the '90s makeup. It was funny, I played around with really thin eyebrows the other day. I didn't wax my brows, but I drew them and I hid the rest. I used this KVD makeup for tattoo coverage, so it covered up my eyebrows. It didn't look right on me, but I was definitely trying to pull it off. I might post it on Instagram.
"Actually, I'm getting a haircut tomorrow. This is my first haircut [since lockdown]. I think the Max hair is going to stay for awhile. It's so funny. My fans call it 'The Max Cut.' [My hairstyle sends the message], really, to not to give a fuck. To do something wild and do something weird and feel it out and not really care what anyone thinks.
"I remember getting weird looks at the grocery store and people were just looking at me [thinking] why I cut my hair like this. Then in my head, I thought I honestly don't care what people think — and, honestly, everyone should be like that. All I can wish for is that my haircut and my music helps someone else be themselves."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.