“There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful, than a woman being unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection. To me that is the true essence of beauty.” – Steve Maraboli
“Do you want coffee?”
She glides around her kitchen, and a thick European accent is exposed as she asks this question. I look around.
Her house is crisp, predominantly white. Everything within, the furniture, the décor, appears well thought out.
I see a few issues of vogue neatly stacked on a clear coffee table, a poetry book, an ashtray with ¾ used cigarette buds.
It’s immediately clear this woman has an eye for design. And five minutes into pre shoot prep, I know we already have a great connection.I met 35 year old Mirela, the owner of Mirela Kraljevic Photography, during a photoshoot when I dabbled in modelling. a year later, hours of bonding through conversation over Domino’s pizzas, ridiculous amounts of coffee and litres of lime flavored ice-cream consumed later, we have become the closest of friends.
She embodies the entirety of the modern female essence. A #girlboss as Sophia Amaruso herself would coin it.
Passionate, hardworking, strong with bucket loads of personality, a hint of vulnerability. Spend a day with her and you will understand her magnetic appeal.
Her English is ok, for her second language. She is the first to admit it isn’t the best and have a laugh about it. Jokes aside, it truly is a marker of her persistence, of the lengths she has gone to in order to make her dreams manifest, her dedication and warrior mentality.
Mirela is Croatian. Growing up in the rich fashion saturated and obsessed continent of Europe, she always dreamt of being a designer. She simply loved to create.
‘I grew up in a small town called Osijek. Growing up as a toddler, my mum bought me watercolours. It’s funny cos we had an all white apartment but she just knew that I would love that. Since that age, I have always been drawing, and always drawing women in nice clothes.’
‘Osijek was too small. There was nothing new or dynamic. At 14, I went to high school for fashion design. I did fashion shows at school. I lived there till I was 18 when I then moved to Zagreb, the capital city. It helped me to explore, meet new people, be in a place where things were happening. I moved to expand my creativity’
Her move at such a young age highlights her ambitious, go getter and slightly rebellious streak, and it’s clear that this move to the city was a catalyst for her creativity, opening up a whole new world of inspiration for her.
‘I had more sources for inspiration around me. When I went to galleries, I was inspired by the images, and inspired to do my own, to start painting. People inspired me, people who were more spiritual than people I met before. I found a different part of art, on a different level or plane. I met people who were more open minded.’
It was then she began to recognize and develop her style and taste. With an eye for simplicity and the monochrome palette, her obsession with black, grey and white was borne.
‘I was not a fan of colours. Black, grey and white. That’s what I like. The absence of colours makes me relax. I don’t know why but it does.’
This is evident when you meet her. Everything she owns is one of these three colours.
‘I love textures. I think that good design can be achieved with interesting shape and texture, it doesn’t need to have colour necessarily.’
Nonetheless, as all artists, Mirela’s love for monochrome, amongst other signature things about herself, her photography and her design preferences, developed from both her own blueprint, as well those she allowed herself to be inspired by. She freely divulges into her influences growing up and now.
‘My biggest influence in my childhood was my professor who was a painting/drawing professor. I wanted to be like him and emulate him and go to art academy. But then I changed my mind obviously!’
‘But in my childhood, he was my role model.’
Today however, her biggest muse is none other than high end fashion designer Tom Ford. Her love and admiration for him is undying, obsessed with the entirety of his fashion empire.
‘He is an artist but he is also a control freak, like me, and he also puts a lot of spirituality into his work.’
For someone self-confessed as ‘brutally honest’ and ‘too open’, it’s clear Mirela values authenticity.
‘When I watch his interviews, he is so open, he says ‘money and success cannot buy you happiness’. He is showing people that they need to have more than just money, and need to build and work on themselves.’
I love him for his film ‘a single man’’ ’, a film directed by Ford featuring big guns Colin firth and Julianne Moore. Thematically, it focuses on the inner struggles of a man in a materialistic world.
‘Tom shows that money cannot buy you the peace within. To me, it is so amazing to put yourself out there to be vulnerable to the public’’.
I pick up the book on her coffee table and ask her what it is. It’s written in another language. Fanning through the book’s pages I make it out to be poetry.
‘You haven’t heard of Pablo Neruda? Oh my gosh I love him’. She shoves another book from another table into my hands.
‘I am heavily inspired by Pablo Neruda. I love him for the same reason. He is so raw. He doesn’t use nice words. He doesn’t use rhyme. But he is so raw, when he is explaining his love for a woman, he compares her to fire and bread, things we cannot live without. It’s interesting to see a poet write this way. It’s not ‘roses and flowers’. It is very real. I know all his poems by heart. I’ve read them so many times, and I am always so moved that I have tears in my eyes.’
Unsurprisingly, in lieu of her Ford fandom, when asked about her favorite photograph, she is reflex level quick to respond: ‘‘Forever love’ by Tom Ford.”
The image depicts a couple who are elderly wearing nice jewelry and clothes. They’re kissing.
‘Have you seen it?’ she asks.
‘ It’s a really erotic photo and shows that even when people get old, they need to be loved and to love and to be beautiful. We age but we stay young inside . Their bodies are changing, ageing, but their mind wants what the 20 year old self seeks. Beauty, jewelry, sex, love. The image makes me stop and think.’
In 6 months since starting her self titled photography business, Mirela has grown her unique following on social media, collaborated with various models including Valentina Gagic (above) & social media popular Katrina Ramuni, local designers and make up artists. Most recently, her first editorial piece was published in Lita Magazine released last month, with upcoming editorial work and a showcase with RAW Artists to come.
For someone self-taught and with no home ground advantage, her achievements are nothing short of amazing.
‘I went to school for photography called CATC design school in Sydney. I went there, but where I learnt the most was on website called creative live online for free. I learnt the most from that page actually. And by practicing and having real shoots of course.’
Perhaps even more admirable is the willingness with which she will help others seeking to create or establish themselves in modelling or photography, without a hint of competitiveness or insecurity tainting her actions. She recently also donated 20 photoshoots to raise funds for the White Ribbon Foundation in Australia for women suffering from domestic violence. I asked her what the key to establishing and running a successful business was. Her advice is concise and simple:
‘The key? The key is self worth. The key is knowing how much you are worth, believing in yourself, and having a good marketing plan even before you start your business. You can be a great artist, but if you don’t know how to put yourself out there, you’ll just exist and not be seen.
It’s no surprise these are the big tickets for success, with many creatives experiencing bouts of uncertainty. Mirela confirms that this can be the most difficult part of her job.
‘There is a lot of self-doubt in the process of creating’, she says. ‘I have a lot of friends who are artists and we all go through it’
‘but if you value yourself and what you do, others will too.’
It’s a nice sentiment, and this philosophy of self belief is evidently her personal mantra. ‘You are your best friend and your worst enemy, love yourself!’.
But does this ‘self-love’ extend to her photography, and can she admit if she has she ever taken the perfect photo? Her response is swift and firm.
‘I’m too self-critical. And I think that you should always strive for more. You see after, the things you could have done better.’
She alludes to graphic designer James Victoria who she follows, referencing his ‘perfection is a myth’ belief. You see, perfection assumes knowing and being certain. And creativity is about being open.
‘When I heard him say that, I related so well to it. And I think what he says is true.’
Despite her taste for gray, her images are far from being described as such. Going through her portfolio, her subjects are predominantly women. They all have something in common. They appear strong, incredibly beautiful, powerful.
‘I don’t like to make it look ethereal, I like strong poses, sharp images’.
‘Why do you like shooting women so much?’ I ask as we click through her portfolio.
‘Because I think women criticize themselves too much and don’t see their own beauty. I just want to see her.’
‘ I don’t see my beauty often and it makes me sad because I don’t but other people do. I want to show women that they can be and are beautiful, when I see them through my lenses, I see them differently to how they see themselves, all that they have within themselves but cannot see on an everyday basis. Their beauty, strength.’
It’s interesting she references the insecurity so universally experienced by women worldwide and scrutiny they subject themselves to, in an industry so heavily focused on beauty and the superficial. I ask her how people in the fashion industry separate themselves from being associated with narcissism or labelled as such.
‘Tom Ford says: Just because we are spiritual doesn’t mean no one likes cashmere. We live in the material world. We still experience these things.’
She explains that a narcissist is someone obsessed with their looks. And in contrast, women have every right to look and feel beautiful.
‘She is not a narcissist if she buys clothes and gives her best to look and feel beautiful. How we present ourselves speaks volumes about how we perceive and value ourselves. ‘
And it’s true, that’s the first thing we see when we meet a person. It is inevitable.
‘Of course there are other important things in life, but if you feel good in expensive clothes, it doesn’t automatically make you a narcissist, it shows you’re giving your best to look and feel good.’
It’s not narcissistic as long as you invest the same amount or more energy in a spiritual way and into being a better person and human. If this is fulfilled then there is nothing wrong with also investing your energy into your appearance.
We finish the interview with a round of quick fire questions.
Beauty is…essential in our life.
If I were to describe myself in 3 words…control freak, optimist, honest.
My photography can be described as…a reflection of my thoughts, my feelings.
The most important thing a woman should possess is…self esteem.
My favourite artist (artist/poet/singer/model/photographer) is…Tom Ford.
I am inspired by…people. I knows its cliché but that’s the thing that inspires me the most.
I am addicted to…morning coffee and morning cigarette.
The best advice you were ever given…it is ok to say no.
You can contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0413 613 491.