Mexican food, horoscopes, and Halloween costumes: Steven Yatsko describes one day IRL with @spicyladybug.
Her friends call her room ‘the swamp,’ referring to the piles of clothes you need to wade through if you want to get to the other side. Tonight it’s even messier than usual, a languorous spill of dormant sweaters, socks, and dresses excused by the fact that I had asked Raluca, over text, to prepare outfits for tomorrow. On top of that, it’s 9pm on the night before Halloween in Providence, a college town in Rhode Island, and Raluca is still deliberating over her costume. It’s between a bush and another idea. On her phone, she shows Charlotte and I the green dress-thing that has bush outfit potential.
I’m here to photograph her, just not yet. I drove up from Manhattan a day early to get us all acquainted and to reserve the whole next day for shooting. Charlotte came with me as good company, Raluca is going to be styling herself in her own clothes. I knew next to nothing about Raluca before meeting her in person except that she seemed terrific and I thought it’d be fun to elicit the answer to an ongoing, distant hunch. With a loose outfit thrown over her small frame and her hair—very long—draped to the small of her back (maybe lower?) she reminds me of Jaroslava Schallerová, a Czech actress popular in the ’70s, even though Raluca is Romanian by birth, born in Bucharest. After immigrating with her parents to the United States at just one year old, she was raised in the suburbs of Seattle with her Texas-born sister. Now 21 and studying painting at The Rhode Island School of Design, she spends much of her free time selling her twee heirloom tchotchke style on Depop, under the handle Spicyladybug.
In ‘the swamp,’ Raluca is barefoot and crouching on the floor, addressing, piece by piece, the heaps of clothes she wants to pack. Half-emptied, her closet somehow still looks stuffed full. A plate of food her friends brought her is getting cold on the desk. It reminds me that I have to eat and that, so late at night, we are definitely intruding on Raluca’s evening plans. She assures me otherwise.
I poke around her room and take note of: Grey Gardens, a poster above her bed; The Garden of Earthly Delights, a poster above her desk; Rolie Polie Olie, on VHS; textile scraps, thumbtacked to the wall; a paper palette, coated with dried paint; clothes in a little dresser; clothes on a rack; clothes on the floor; clothes in the closet; clothes on Ralu; a found Labrador dog kite with green trimming; a dented, rubber lamb mask.
The next morning I pick up Raluca in this borrowed, white car I have and, together, we lug the multiple bags of clothes she’s packed down and into the trunk. Charlotte waits back at the house having the coffee I made. We arrive back. Steep stairs. We discover a ladybug near a window sill. We lose 20 minutes playing with it, but determine it might actually be what’s called a ‘multicolored Asian lady beetle.’ Raluca remains the only (spicy) ladybug in the room.
We dump the clothes into one room that is the furthest in the back. A routine forms. Ralu runs away into the room for 10 minutes and emerges (ta-da!) dressed anew. Sometimes, if it’s longer, like, 15 or 20 minutes, she’s probably pacing, being more discerning, trying on and then taking off, unhappy and incomplete, until she feels it’s perfect or just good enough. It reminds me of this clip of Little Edie.
We play this back-and-forth game of photography unhurriedly from 10am until 9pm, stopping only for a very late lunch of Mexican food. After that we relocate to one of the RISD buildings to visit the painting studio she works out of. A little nook in this large room is hers. Instead of speaking about her work she tells us she is a Capricorn, a Virgo rising, and her moon is a Pisces. She is a self-described horse girl, but “really, really” is. Having already traded formalities earlier in the day, the space between everyone has become an estuary for revelations like those.
By dark we are all yawning but return back to the house to take more pictures anyway. It feels easy, the camera often just gets in the way. I still have to drive Raluca back to Westminster Street and help bring armfuls of bags through those glass doors. Finally we drop dead. Raluca goes as “reverse cowgirl” for Halloween.