Flex Mami: Reclaiming Style & Making It Your Currency Without Becoming A “Walking Meme”
Lilian Ahenkan AKA Flex Mami might be Sydney’s ultimate ‘slashie,’ with titles like DJ, writer and content creator amongst others in her wide repertoire of skills, but she’s perhaps best recognised on the street and in your social feed by her unforgettable sense of style.
However, Flex didn’t just emerge from a chrysalis and into the Sydney club scene like the well-dressed, multi-talented butterfly she is today. There were plenty of awkward phases – one of which stemmed from being a “floater” in high school.
“The pop punk kids, the emo thots – that I understood. They all listened to the same music, dressed similarly, and there was a nice community vibe,” she said.
“I went pretty hard. I had the scene hair, I wore all tartan and I hung out with skaters – I committed the whole way through”
“Then there was the Harmony Day debacle,” Flex laughed, referring to a day during high school which is traditionally focused on acceptance where she felt more separated than ever before.
“A teacher of mine asked me what I was going to wear. I said I’ve got these amazing boots, and this amazing choker, and these disco pants. And she said, no, you’ve got to wear clothes from where you’re really from…”
“So, I wore some cultural clothes – clothes you’d wear at a wedding, or a christening. They were clothes I liked, they looked good, but when I went to school the next day there was this massive separation.”
“Wearing cultural clothes separated me completely because now I was ‘Lil the other person’."
“That’s really disassociating for a 16-year-old who is trying to figure stuff out. I didn’t want to have to deal with my friends not liking me anymore because I lied about my identity.”
This was a turning point for Flex, who from that moment forward, began to over compensate to try and convince her peers she wasn’t different.
“I didn’t just like Vegemite. I LOVED it.”
This was a mentality Flex found hard to shake as the years went on. Punk was dead, but being taken seriously was more important than ever. “I started wearing tailored trousers and heels and a full face of makeup every day, just so people knew I was a ‘serious girl’”
“I just didn’t want to be seen as other, but now I was ‘othering’ myself with all these grandiose ways of dressing.”
After learning to accept that she was “always going to be seen as different,” Flex decided to focus her attention on how her sense of style affected the way she was perceived.
“Looking like I gave a shit was important to me. Looking like I was creative, and outgoing, and positive. So, if my outfit said that, then my personality just became the cherry on top and I didn’t have to over compensate.”
It was at this point that Flex began DJing after helping her friends run a local club night.
“People described it as an Internet party. We’d dress like we were from Tumblr and adopt all these subgenres and niches – those were my club kid days.
“It’s tricky in the music industry because everyone is so performative. You need to look like you’re doing more than you actually do. It was the opposite of being ‘other’ but it was very juvenile. I was still concerned with the perceptions of me, because I was essentially wearing a costume every day”
“So, I wanted to find the next, best way to dress so I could still let people know I was still involved in club internet music culture, but not become a walking meme.”
…And then there was Flex’s Health Goth phase, a 2015 trend that sit somewhere in between normcore, cyberpunk, goth, and sportswear chic.
“It was all sports brands, Adidas on Adidas, Nike on Nike, visors, puffer jackets, sneakers, the lot…and I don’t even exercise!?”
“It was perception vs. reality. It was so much effort to appear a certain way that I didn’t even align myself with.”
Despite wading her way through a mixed bag of trends, Flex felt as though each stage had unlocked a new level of clarity. “I felt like I was getting further and further away from what was ‘expected’ of me. I didn’t want to perpetuate a stereotype. I wanted to get away from stereotypes – it’s what started this whole thing.”
Fast forward to today and outfit choices for Flex are a business decision. “Since DJing I’ve become aware of the word ‘brand’. It’s like dressing for the job you want.”
“I’m perpetuating the vibe that gets me the things that I want. Of course, I could wake up and wear all-black and be done with it, but that’s not ‘the brand.’
Flex’s bold, bright and totally OTT signature look began after she started getting press. “I started reading a lot of articles, they were calling me an “optimist” and a “hyper extrovert” and “loud, bubbly, life of the party,” and I can be all of those things, but I don’t want the pressure of being them.”
“So, my outfits do those things for me.”
“I don’t think I could’ve done the things I’ve done without having the clothes that communicate the brand. I don’t think there is a Flex Mami without these bright colours, and these garish outfits, and these crazy nails and the wild phone case and furry bag. There’s a Lilian, but nobody is buying into Flex Mami who wears neutrals and dresses for comfort.”
As for her biggest style lesson?
“Style is currency. You could go about your day wearing what you wanted and not giving a hoot about what certain clothes mean to certain people, but what you look like and how it’s perceived is so far out of your control, if it results in something good, you deserve that.”
Flex Mami's nail art was courtesy of Get Nailed in Sydney.
22 Embarrassing 00s Beauty Trends We Were ALL Guilty Of
22 Embarrassing 00s Beauty Trends We Were ALL Guilty Of