April 23, 2020 at 11:31PM
I first met Sylke Golding (pronounced zil-kuh), our 53-year-old model turned architectural-firm manager turned model once again, and our 20-year-old model and musician Tomy Grein at the fitting for this shoot back in late February. While any presumptions I had about this pair should have vanished as soon as they each, in turn, tucked their identical haircuts behind their ears while saying hello, I was sure these two would differ in terms of their style personalities (and actual personalities). Spoiler: I was wildly incorrect on both fronts.
I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t expect Golding, who walked in wearing very on-trend lug-sole boots and a belted puffer jacket, to gravitate as quickly as Grein did toward a backless sequin bodysuit that hung among the range of spring Gucci ready-to-wear we’d prepared on a rack. But that was just the beginning of their shared senses. It quickly became clear that these two seemingly very different women were unexpected kindred spirits in more ways than I could have expected.
Like so many models, both Golding and Grein now call New York City home, each having found their way to the center of the fashion world somewhere around the age of 20. Grein, born one of 10 children in Ethiopia, actually spent the majority of her childhood and teenage years growing up in the South. In New Orleans, she lived in the same neighborhood as Lil Wayne, which influenced everything from the music to the fashion that surrounded her. “It was very Soulja Boy: baggy jeans and rapper streetwear.”
Golding was raised in East Berlin when it was the capital of the German Democratic Republic and The Wall was still up, and she, too, references sartorial memories when describing those years. “Everything was government-owned, so the clothing was all very gray, very drab. We knew about jeans, but we couldn’t buy jeans.” She also mentions that anything that was made in America was highly sought after and only attainable if a West Berliner smuggled it over The Wall.
For both Grein and Golding, ideas about what life would be like once in the U.S. were largely based on what they saw on screen, and both were unexpectedly disenchanted when they arrived in the Big Apple. “I still remember my first day coming to New York,” Golding tells me. “I was in a taxi and looked up at the Manhattan skyline, and I was honestly disappointed. I was like, ‘This is it?’” Grein’s expectations were set entirely on her favorite American TV show she watched as a young kid in Ethiopia: The Simple Life. Was she let down to discover everyone doesn’t walk around in miniskirts saying, “That’s hot”? Yes. (Does she still list Paris Hilton as one of her biggest female inspirations? Also yes.)
When it comes to similarities, both women are at least a 23 on a scale of one to 10 measuring a passion for music. Golding, who had limited exposure to music and arts as a child, fell in love with Bob Marley the very first time she stumbled upon his cassette at a friend’s apartment in Paris. “I exclusively listen to reggae and dancehall music now. I even married a reggae musician from Jamaica,” she definitively shared. Grein mirrors this level of enthusiasm, having been surrounded by music her entire life. Her father worked in the industry, and yes, he did make a fair attempt at starting a family band with her nine other siblings. While that venture didn’t exactly work out, the ex-ballerina has been making all kinds of music since she was 15, and those beats run through her veins as truly (and unexpectedly) as reggae runs through Golding’s.
Golding and Grein are equally excited about social media and how they can use it for experimenting with their personal style and self-expression. Grein tells me, “I feel like, do what the fuck you want and what makes you happy. It isn’t anyone’s place to tell anyone what to wear.” Golding chimes in with the wisdom of a woman who’s lived five decades of life on her own terms. “You couldn’t pay me to be in my 20s again,” she laughs. “Nothing ever really stops just because you are ‘old:’ You can wear high-end fashion; you can dress up any which way you want.”
What’s certainly the most heartwarming to me is that Grein and Golding are equally as in love with New York, despite their initial disillusionment with the city and varying lengths of time they’ve lived there. As someone who moved here only a year ago myself, it reinforces my theory that NY is one of those things—much like spicy food and rollercoasters—that unites people who love it in a way everyone else who doesn’t live here can’t begin to understand. For Grein, New York represents her new playground, where she gets to make art, whether that’s modeling, music, or her latest venture, graffiti. Golding has been here for 30 years now but still gets inspired every day by the energy and sense of belonging the city generates. “What I love about New York is that everyone is a foreigner, and therefore no one is really a foreigner. There’s a togetherness and unification. We are all from different places, but we are all the same,” she tells me.