Darlene is a young lady who is a pop star of sorts. As a portrait photographer, what I find most interesting about Darlene is Nick’s relationship to her.

When Nick and I discussed his fantasy character, he spoke of her as though they were the same person. I had just finished a yearlong project photographing trans men and was very excited to see how I would translate or render Darlene’s identity through my lens. The aim was to create a quasi-magazine spread for her – something similar to Vanity Fair or Rolling Stone – but I liked the idea of the pictures weaving a line between editorial and advertising, with a nod to popular imagery that we see in today’s media.

I wanted Darlene to look impeccable, strong, raw, and beautiful. I chose Calvin Klein underwear for wardrobe because it is one of the most recognizable sexy garments for a young generation. Calvin Klein chooses high profile models, actors, and singers to sell their brand, and I thought Darlene would portray this ideal perfectly.

As much as she's making a declaration in her Calvins, Darlene also deserves to be seen as an earnest lady. She has a story to tell, and I imagined that she would want to show us her chic side wearing fur and an up-do.

Watching Nick become Darlene was the highlight of this collaboration. Nick required little direction, and quickly understood what I wanted Darlene to exude – lips slightly parted, eyes a bit starstruck, an attitude of take me or leave me, but please want me. Within seconds he seamlessly transitioned into Darlene, and revealed the many facets of her personality – just the way she needed us to see them.

Melody Melamed

Initially I had no idea that having an alter ego would take me on a two-year photographic journey. My thesis project “xoxo, Darlene” began as an unspoken hought, and soon this imaginary friend developed into a full-fledged, realized identity.

Darlene became a part of me throughout my graduate studies, but it was this carefully focused photo shoot that allowed her inner star to shine bright. With Melody’s direction, a make-up artist carefully sculpting my face and a lighting crew, Darlene became the brave woman and heroine I wanted her to be. With the support of my peers, the mfa photo department, and a lot of trial and error with makeup and dance moves, I can finally say that I not only feel comfortable in #mycalvins, but also in my life.

Nick Alciati