Welcome back to You Did That!. In this episode, we are joined by CoolReve, secretly named Hawa. She is an Afghan artist that focuses on graphic design and is the owner of a streetwear brand. Her journey is a wellspring of inspiration, from navigating collaborations to staying true to oneself. Discover the value of personal connections, celebrating success, and blocking out negativity. Join us for an uplifting exploration of CoolReve’s artistry and the invaluable lessons she’s gained along the way.
- Why you need to be discreet when sharing personal information
- How to have your own back if it feels like no one else does
- Pursuing your art when people expect something else from you
- How experimenting and adapting will save your life
Could you tell us a bit about your artistic journey and how the creation of CoolReve came about?
CoolReve: I was born in New York after my parents immigrated from Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion. When I was a child, I shared a unique bond with my maternal grandfather, Shawwali Wali, a singer and composer in Afghanistan. Our home was a constant hub of parties with his live concerts, and I’d watch people dance and celebrate until the early morning hours.
This early exposure to the power of art and its emotional impact on people inspired me. Over the years, I explored various artistic paths, including attending art college (though I dropped out) and working on music video production, particularly in rap. Eventually, I found my niche in graphic design, giving me more creative control.
Branding my work as “Cool Reve,” derived from the French word for “dream,” I created my Instagram and my first website. Today, I’m thrilled to be on a fascinating artistic journey and have recently ventured into the world of clothing design. I’m content with where I am today.
How do you decide what feels right for you when it comes to choosing the right direction for your work, especially when it’s so personal, as it is for artists?
CoolReve: As an artist, building a community with other artists is a natural desire. I’ve dedicated a significant part of my life to this, but I’ve learned that forging connections with others doesn’t always lead to the right outcomes. When projects take a wrong turn, it can feel like a form of self-betrayal, which has been a challenging experience. This led me to step back from intense collaboration and focus more on my individual journey.
In the past, I heavily engaged in collaborative work, lifting others up with their art. However, this could sometimes lead to me hiding behind their projects and not fully exposing my own creative identity. Now, I’ve shifted my perspective, always betting on myself. If someone approaches me for collaboration, it’s because they appreciate what I do. Together, we create something entirely unique, emphasizing true collaboration rather than simply following others’ directives.
When did it truly feel real or official to you?
CoolReve: It’s quite amusing, but the moment when it truly felt real for me was rather special. My mom is an incredibly passionate interior decorator, while my dad, a strict Afghan man, values my technical thinking skills more than my creativity. So, one day, I came home to a remarkable surprise. Both my mom and dad had replaced all the art in our house with canvases I had painted. This experience still brings out deep emotions in me.
It was an incredible way for two people who mean the world to me to validate my work. I thought, “This is your house,” and it was a surreal realization to see my art where I had grown up surrounded by so many other pieces. That’s when it became profoundly real to me. I realized that I didn’t care whether others liked my work or not; my mom and dad’s appreciation was more than enough.
What did other people think when they either heard about what you were doing or saw what you were doing, and how was that received?
CoolReve: Initially, when I first started, it seemed like many people believed I didn’t have a clear direction. They thought I was constantly changing my focus – one day a director, the next a photographer – and assumed these shifts were due to failures. This perception prevailed, and it was also influenced by cultural expectations, especially from a family perspective. In our culture, there’s often pressure to pursue traditional paths like education and office jobs. I’ve tried those jobs, but after a year, I’d feel like my soul was withering away because it wasn’t aligned with my true purpose, so I’d always return to art.
Certainly, my family thought I was unstable because of these shifts. However, over the years, the perspective has evolved. People now understand that I refuse to confine myself to a single role. When you love something, you explore it deeply, and that’s precisely how I approach art – as a multifaceted, layered pursuit.
The perspective has shifted, and people recognize that if I have a passion for something, I’ll pursue it relentlessly. I’ll keep pivoting and adapting as needed because why would I stop? It just doesn’t make sense to limit oneself in that way.
What has surprised you the most about all of this?
CoolReve: One thing that continues to surprise me, and I suspect it will for the rest of my life, is how many people wear my creations. It’s astounding. About two years ago, during the withdrawal from Afghanistan, a highly sensitive time, I was amazed to see so many people in my community – even those who aren’t Afghan – wearing my designs. Words can’t quite capture the feeling. I’d scroll through the Explore page and spot someone wearing one of my sweaters or see random Instagram users sharing photos in my clothing.
There was this unforgettable moment with a friend of mine, a rapper named Propaganda. He performed at a music festival and posted a picture of himself chatting with Common, a legendary artist we’ve all listened to while growing up. In that photo, Prop was wearing my “Blood on Your Hands” tee. It felt incredibly special to be a part of that moment, and it’s the kind of thing that keeps me motivated to continue with my work, without a doubt.
What advice would you have for young, creative individuals who may not be sure about the direction they want their career to go in?
CoolReve: My advice for young, creative individuals who may be uncertain about their career direction is to stay true to yourself. Even when others tell you that what you’re doing isn’t the right path, remember that you are actually on the right track. Another vital lesson I’ve learned is that progress, both in art and life, won’t happen until you take inventory of who is in your life.
Naturally, you’ll want to celebrate your successes with others, but not everyone has your best interests at heart. Many people haven’t granted themselves permission to be who they truly want to be, and their advice often stems from fear. So, it’s crucial to surround yourself with people who genuinely support your journey, even if that means being your own biggest supporter.
Even if you have no one else to share your successes with, that’s perfectly okay. While it may not feel like a significant achievement now, down the road, celebrating your accomplishments with yourself will become a source of pride. A connection that went sour doesn’t have to taint the success or ideas you had in the past. I’ve experienced this many times, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to pursue my creative endeavors independently because I know I’ll always be there for myself.
Taking inventory of your life and creating space for personal growth is essential. It’s a layered process where you continually explore different versions of yourself, and each phase of your journey will produce unique art.
What would your younger self think if they saw you now?
CoolReve: I believe my younger self, CoolReve, would be proud of who I’ve become today. She would be genuinely surprised, thinking, “Wow, you’ve achieved so much more in life than I ever expected.” The idea of my current self is far grander than what I could have imagined back then. During my younger years, I didn’t have the space to conceive such a significant image of who I would become. Nevertheless, if she saw me now, I’m confident she’d see me as someone to admire up to a 100%.
What’s next for your brand and your work?
CoolReve: I’ve been diving into Afghan-focused work lately, which I adore because it’s a part of my identity. However, I also want to allow myself the space to explore different creative avenues. While the recent projects haven’t been exclusively Afghan-themed, there’s a deeper meaning behind them, which I’ll reveal in due time. I’ve labeled this theme “unveiling identities.” So, people can expect to see designs that are quite distinct from what I’ve previously released.
Learn more about CoolReve:
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