—story by Nina Clevinger

Renee Monaco is doing it all. 

She’s running around New York City, creating unique (and delicious looking!) accessories, shoes and handbags. She’s traveling between the Big Apple and Chicago, making the occasional pit stop in beloved cities all over the world. She’s only 22-years old and yet she knows exactly what she’s doing with her life, and how she’s going to keep doing it forever. 

Monaco is a part-time fashion designer, part-time model, and full-time badass. Each and every day she does exactly what she wants to do. Right now, the starlet-in-making is a student at The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, where she is in the process of attaining a degree in Accessories Design. 

The accessories Monaco creates are nothing short of attention grabbing. She brings still-art to life, fashioning together foods like grapes, strawberries and pears onto headbands and hair clips. This past summer at Lollapalooza, a man straight up bought a pear off of Monaco’s head—her first sale at the massively attended music and arts festival. 

“A man in his fifties bought [the hair clip] off of my head for fifty dollars as a gift for his girlfriend,” Monaco laughs. "I hope she liked it as much as he did... It was so exciting and funny to see a 50-year-old man so intrigued by a plastic pear.”

The plastic pear Monaco speaks of is just one of many fruit-based hair accessories she creates. She has tons, ranging through the produce section in a variety of styles and colors. They’re fun, they’re loud, and they are completely unique—three things that they share in common with their designer. 

While Monaco may be getting by just fine with her quirky hair pieces, she’s also seriously intrigued by the modeling industry, in which she also partakes in thanks to many a photographer friend. Her own personal beauty and creativity help out, too. 

In fact, Monaco is currently in the process of creating a self-portrait series, inspired by the vanity of Marie Antoinette. She hopes the will be featured in a gallery. The photos are taken in her dorm room, mostly in her bed, according to Monaco. They include the head pieces she makes. 

The pictures can be found on Monaco’s Instagram page, which doubles as a portfolio for the young creative. Monaco also has modeled for many friends in the industry, as well as brands such as LAS Jewelry and Shoshanna Lee. 

“I really want to continue modeling,” Monaco said. “It is such an amazing medium and creative outlook.”

Monaco used to work for LAS Jewelry and Shoshanna Lee, both places furthering her interest and skill set with creating cool concepts and bringing them to life with the help of fabrics, patterns and people. At Shoshanna Lee, her boss allowed her to help with design and photoshoots for the company. This made her realize fashion school was the next move she needed to make. 

Monaco just began training at FIT this past semester, moving from Chicago a little over a month ago. Since the big move, Monaco has been spending a large majority of her time making handbags and making friends. She adds that while she loves Chicago, the move to New York was definitely the right one - New York is a fashion capital, and the opportunities are endless. 

"Chicago is an inspiring place, but for some reason does not have the same fashion job opportunities that NYC does,” said Monaco. “Hopefully designers and companies will bring their headquarters to Chicago and change that. We shall see where life goes!”

The coolest part of Monaco’s designs is where she gets her inspiration. Big name fashion icons and glossy spreads are a heavy pull into  her creative process. What makes her unique, though, is her passion to pull ideas and concepts from the themes and aesthetic of different visuals and movies.

"I love designing shoes and other accessories while watching movies. It’s so thrilling to be inspired by a scene, a still, or just a prop in a movie, and translate that into a shoe design,” said Monaco. "Everything can be manipulated and transformed into [an accessory] so right now I am exploring that.”

Some of the movies Monaco relies on most are two that are full of incredible and awe-inducing art and music: Across the Universe and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. These movies are both completely unique and recognizable—an acquired taste. One must understand that art is not to be understood in order to love these movies, and for Monaco to take inspiration from them is impressive and incredible. 

As for the future, Monaco has many plans to keep her working, moving and satisfied. She plans on finishing fashion school, getting her Associate’s in design and using that knowledge and skill set to work alongside fashion heavy weights, whether it be through styling, modeling, designing or all of the above. She wants to pursue acting, and she wants to continue creating her own unique brand of accessories. 

“I work really hard at everything I do,” said Monaco. "I am hoping my hard work will get me there, but a little bit of luck and fairy dust never hurts.”

Follow Renee’s journey on Instagram @ReneeMonaco, and stay tuned for what’s to come.