the new york it girl

‘It’ Girls in Conversation: Imani Randolph & Friends

Photo: Sabrina Santiago

On the occasion of the magazine’s “Yesteryear” issue devoted to the New York “It” girl, we gathered together a handful of present-day women who we think have “It” — Imani Randolph and her friends — for a group chat come to life.

Randolph thinks it’s pretty conceited to consider herself an “It” girl, but she knows she has taste. Her friends — Diana Veras, Minami Gessel, Jade Gordon, and Gina Lin — think she’s too humble. “You are absolutely an ‘It’ girl,” they say simultaneously.

The entire group consists of “It” girls in their own right. They’re all models, with the exception of Lin, who is a perfumer. And Veras has actually been the “It” blueprint for Randolph since 2013, an entire decade ago. Randolph remembers living upstate and wanting to make a life for herself in New York City and work in fashion. She had no idea what that looked like for her, but it was on the internet, specifically Tumblr, where she saw Veras. “I was like, Wait — there’s something happening, and there’s space now where I never really could have seen myself having space. She knows she set a lot of standards for a lot of girls and opened a lot of fucking doors,” Randolph says.

While the group has been the blueprint for “It” girls online in some way, they all agree that having “It” isn’t about upholding a curated persona; it’s a “what you see is what you get” kind of thing, Veras says. You can’t fake authenticity or fake being a good person because it’s an aura — it’s a vibe. Every good thing that Imani has, and all her friendships and everything, is what she deserves because she gives it back to everybody,” Gessel adds. Another necessity for them? Not being catty or gatekeepers, qualities that they believe “It” girls get a bad rap for.

The friends gathered together on a Thursday night (the new Friday, according to them) at Sel Rrose oyster bar on the Lower East Side, an area they hang out in often. With a tiny disco ball twirling above them for hours, they chatted over drinks — half the table with cocktails in hand and the other half with mocktails they snapped photos of for Instagram. Randolph’s friends rolled in one by one in outfits that were up for discussion the second everyone sat down. The main characters of the night? Veras’s furry 2004 Chanel bag she recently scored from the RealReal and Randolph and Lin’s matching T-shirts.

On being “It” girls:

Do you think you’re an “It” girl?
Imani Randolph: I feel like I cannot in good conscience say “yes” because I just sound so conceited. But I can see that I have an “It”-girl quality. I think my taste and personal style — that’s a big one. It’s having an eye and sticking to it. It’s also knowing people. But for me, it’s not just having surface-level relationships; I really like to get at the root of who people are and find a genuine way to connect with people. It’s obviously having a big network, but it’s not just acquaintances — I try to have genuine friendships.

Do you all feel like you are “It” girls, too?
I.R.: Yes! Why is everyone quiet? You are “It” girls.

Minami Gessel: I’m “It” girls’ plus-one.

Diana Veras: No, you’re not. You’re an “It” girl!!

On being online:

D.V.: I feel like Tumblr was the only place where we could go and create our own lane because it was just us for ourselves. It wasn’t anyone monitoring us, or it wasn’t even publications; it was just us creating our own shit. Using the internet as a tool — that was it.

I.R.: The internet has definitely helped me. Having that visibility is so important, and being able to connect with people in such an unfiltered way is so essential for working in fashion right now, especially on the modeling end of things. Obviously, agents always have the best intentions, but I think that side of the industry where you’re going to castings, where you’re going and taking digitals at your agency and everything like that — it’s rigid in certain ways. There’s certain rules and protocols that you have to follow. Having an opportunity to be unfiltered, to share from your own mouth and your own eyes what you want to put out into the world, has helped me in insane ways.

Obviously, there’s the undeniable fact that social media is a very dangerous thing when it comes to your mind and your feelings. I have to recognize as well that it’s not always easy or fun to think about that part of yourself or that part of your identity. I think it can be really challenging.

D.V.: Executives are going to look at your Instagram. I use Instagram as a résumé; it’s more curated and community-based, as opposed to TikTok. It’s like I know who’s going to see my post. That’s scary.

Gina Lin: TikTok comments are crazy. I love to read them.

Jade Gordon: They’re real ruthless.

D.V.: I made one TikTok that went viral, and I made my TikTok private. I was like, No, no, no. It’s a lot. On Instagram, I just feel safe there. I don’t know — maybe I’m older now. What is it for me?

J.G.: Instagram has a lot to do with your image. It’s only one way they view you as a person, whereas TikTok and things like that, you’re actually showing your personality and also giving more details of yourself. So it just feels a little bit more vulnerable.

D.V.: There’s some things that we should keep for ourselves. TikTok doesn’t allow for that when you are popular influencers on there or models or whatever. They’re sharing so much. Maybe as I get older, I’m like, Stop posting everything about your family on there, especially because it’s just younger kids.

G.L.: It’s just a newer generation.

D.V.: I’m proud of how free they’re being, though, in a sense. But it’s kind of scary. For me, I’m just like, How will their brain work? Instagram has altered so much for us. Imagine what TikTok is going to do for younger people. It’s going to fuck with their minds too. It’s unavoidable — I don’t know. And the possibility of going viral at that age is way bigger than us.

I.R.: And creating an intense desire for that to happen. It’s not even just like, Oh, there’s a possibility. It’s, like, you look at statistics now — it’s insane numbers in terms … I feel like it’s doubled in the past ten years in terms of the number of people who want to be famous now. That’s what you want as your job.

M.G.: I know this one girl — I met her on a shoot, and she was a social-media intern at this one brand. She was going to school, and she’s supposed to graduate. And I was like, “Oh, so what did you major in?” And she said, “Social media. Being a content creator.”

D.V.: Major? That’s a major?

M.G.: A major, similar to PR, but she’s like, “I went to school.” They helped her create a media kit; they’re teaching them how to do that now. They’re teaching these skills for when they want to go into social media and become an influencer, creating a brand for themselves. College now will give you the tools to help you do it. It’s just learning a different type of marketing.

D.V.: So how could we not be “It” girls? They’re teaching it in school.

Sabrina Santiago Sabrina Santiago
Sabrina Santiago Sabrina Santiago

On “It” girls they look up to:

I.R.: I have to pay respect to Paloma Elsesser. Yeah, she paved the way in so many ways. Precious Lee also.

D.V.: You know who I always think of? Dani Phae. Like, how is she? She was that girl. Her hair would be so brushed out. She did a Supreme campaign years ago, and I was just like, This is attainable? How? I always think of her when I think of an OG “It” girl.

M.G.: I don’t know if she’s controversial now. Actually, I do know, but Kim Johansson — do you remember her? But when she was thick and then she was doing her little Nicki covers and on Tumblr, I think she was, for me, one of my first inspirations and then she lost weight and it’s like, Fine, you can do whatever you want. Whatever. But I remember seeing her and being like, Oh my gosh, she’s so bad. She was curvy — it was everything. And I was like, Oh my God.

D.V.: She was signed to Wilhelmina. I don’t know what happened. But when you think of an internet blueprint, absolutely her.

On dating:

I.R.: It’s pretty rare that I end up going on dates with people I already follow; at that point, we both know too much about each other, in a way. I also don’t really go sliding into people’s DMs, either. I really feel like it’s either in person or on the apps. I would never hesitate to show someone my Instagram because if you can’t handle that, then clearly it’s not going to work.

M.G.: For social media, it doesn’t matter if you have a following or not. So dating and following social media, or whoever you’re talking to, it creates … I don’t know — sometimes I feel like I go crazy, where I’m like, Oh, he liked my Story! Or He said this and I texted him and he didn’t text me back. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Yes, or I texted him and he put a Story up.

M.G.: And he put a Story up! Then all of this stuff comes up and it’s like, Oh, wait — actually, none of that shit really matters if I don’t follow you anyway. I wouldn’t really know. We would have a real connection and a real relationship.

I.R.: It adds a layer of delusion to it.

M.G.: Exactly. Or it’s the pressure of them posting you and you posting them.

G.L.: Yeah, like, “Why’d you delete that picture of me? I posted you, but you’re not posting me.” I’ve had so many arguments about that. “Are you embarrassed of me?”

I.R.: I hate when a guy likes your photo and then he’ll send it to you to say something about it.

D.V.: Oh, you don’t want anyone to see?

Say it with your chest!

D.V.: I don’t trust socials and dating. I’m just against it. I don’t want anyone to follow me. If you see me outside, that’s great. But I feel like they perceive you as a fantasy. I’m a real person. Yes, you see these gorgeous photos or whatever and you’re thinking that I’m not a flawed person. But I can talk about things on social media and I’m strong and I’m this and that, but when I’m actually mentally ill in real life, they’re like, Oh my God, you are not joking. You actually are depressed. I feel like they want the image, but they don’t want the person. It’s hard. Bring me a finance bro. No more fashion guys.

I.R.: You don’t want a finance bro. Look at this: One of his prompts says, “You actually have personal style.” That’s one of his turn-ons. He says, “I’m funny too,” implying that he has personal style and he’s funny.

D.V.: Sperrys and mint-green socks. Come on now.

I.R.: The fact that he has the audacity to be like, Yup, that applies to me. I have personal style. Come on now. You don’t want this. You don’t want this.

D.V.: Hinge is humbling. I have to question my self-worth every single time I go on there.

Do you guys use dating apps frequently?
I.R.: I have to. I go through phases. I’ll be like, Oh, I’m on it. And then I’ll go on, like, three dates and I hate everyone and then I’m like, All right, I’m off it, for, like, five months. And then I’m on it for, like, one month. I’m not going to be walking up to men in public. I’m not doing that. Let’s be real: That was their job. God, the men that you put on this earth to build houses and fight wars …

D.V.: They want to be influencers! There was this meme the other day saying that they’re trying to be soft girls. Respectfully, I understand. I’m not trying to stop them from tuning in to more feminine energy, but be a man. I feel like the bar is just really on the floor. So many “It”-girl celebrities we grew up on are single too — except for Beyoncé. I feel like it took Rihanna so long to finally have a home. Mary J. Blige is an “It” girl; Mary don’t have a man. A lot of older women, like Taraji, don’t have a boyfriend — women that I look up to.

On fashion:

Let’s talk about clothes. Where do you guys shop?
[To Randolph] G.L.: C’mon, Ms. Put it on.

I.R.: Where do I shop?

D.V.: You don’t really gatekeep.

I.R.: I don’t. I really don’t. I’m always tagging everything. Because I don’t feel like getting the message of “Where you get this?” I shop a lot of vintage — Procell, which is right here. Lara Koleji on the Lower East Side I really love a lot too. I’ll do the Beacon’s Closet moment. Online: eBay, obviously; the RealReal. But then — this is actually one that will surprise people — ThredUp. That’s where I got this jacket. I don’t even know the brand; it’s probably some mall brand from 12 years ago, but I got it for, like, 20 bucks. And they have a good algorithm. If you find one piece that you like, then it recommends 100 other pieces that are similar, similar color, then you can refine it by size. It’s really smart, and it’s cheap.

On an ideal night out:

What is an ideal Friday night for you? I know, earlier, you guys were saying Thursday is the new Friday.
D.V.: Yeah, it’s so true. Especially in the summer because everyone has stuff going on.

I.R.: If you have work or something, get off work, get with a group of people, get good drinks, a little food, and then I feel like bouncing around. Maybe going to listen to a DJ where your friends are having a party. Sometimes it’ll end in karaoke.

G.L.: Karaoke is so fun.

D.V.: I’ve been going bowling a lot.

I.R.: Yeah, the Gutter?

D.V.: Yeah, everyone’s always there.

I.R.: That’s cute. I feel like I’m always in this area, though. It’s either Lower East Side, Dimes Square, which is so corny to say. It’s also nice in the summer, obviously, when it’s warmer out, because everyone’s outside. You can just stumble into plans or you’re inevitably going to run into five people that you know. Ideally, you start with dinner or something, or a party where you can get free drinks. I’m never against popping into a corny little party, getting three free cocktails, and then going on my merry way. That’s fine with me.

Sabrina Santiago Sabrina Santiago
Sabrina Santiago Sabrina Santiago

On “It”-girl perks:

What are the best “It”-girl perks?
I.R.: Free stuff. That sounds so bad, but I’m like, If I don’t have to spend my money … I think it’s “It”-girl behavior to save your money when you can. Free meals, free drinks, free clothing items. It has to feel like it’s in line with what your existing taste is. It’s like — don’t just take anything. Don’t be wasteful. You don’t need to accept every gift that comes your way. It has to fit into your personal style and your closet and everything. Or don’t go to a restaurant that you know is going to be shitty. I don’t know — you know what I mean. You can be refined in your way that you take in the free things. You don’t have to do everything. You don’t have to be about everything.

On being an “It” girl today:

J.G.: The difference today is being compassionate.

I.R.: The main way being an “It” girl has evolved is not being catty. I think there’s a mind-set of not having a scarcity mind-set. There is room for everyone — or there’s room for a lot of people. You don’t have to be selfish. You don’t have to be greedy. Remember to treat people like people. Going out, going to events and being very in the scene or whatever, a lot of people forget that we’re all human beings at the end of the day. Have some patience; have some decorum. There’s been so many times where I’m waiting for someone to come get me, or waiting for my turn to talk to the bouncer or whatever, and people are shoving me, pushing past me.

D.V.: It’s never that deep.

I.R.: You can feel like you’re on top one day and then it’s like one too many bad impressions and, babe, you’re done. It’s about having integrity as a person and really caring about the way you treat people.

On their group chat:

J.G.: We don’t have anything crazy. We’ll send TikToks or plans for dinner. Just be funny.

I.R.: We’re always being goofy, cracking a lot of jokes. If we’re insulting things, it’s also in the goofiest way. The biggest insult is to be like, “I hope this person gets explosive diarrhea.” That’s the kind of shit that we’re saying.

D.V.: Yeah, or like, “I hope she loses her favorite purse.” Dumb stuff like that. We talk about work stuff, too. There’s a safe space among all my friends, which is the best.

I.R.: No, that’s very real, being like, “Why did they do my hair like this?” or “What does this beauty look like? What are you going for right now?”

J.G.: The worst is when you get on set and the photographer’s like, “I hate your hair.” I’ve had that happen to me. This is a real thing.

D.V.: How are you going to be hired to do someone’s hair and not be able to do all types? They already don’t think we’re beautiful, so when they do things that don’t necessarily flatter us, it’s not even … whatever. They just don’t even gauge what beauty for us would look like. Like, when somebody styles you in a wack-ass outfit that doesn’t suit your body, it’s not that those aren’t flattering for you; you just don’t know how to style me. This is what’s in the group chat, actually.

I.R.: Yeah, just because they needed someone for representation.

D.V.: And it’s like, For what? Like, what are we selling here? I’m in my most vulnerable state for what? Everyone else is like a fantasy, and I have to be real.

‘It’ Girls in Conversation: Imani Randolph & Friends