When Cliff Vmir was growing up in Delaware, he developed an interest in playing with the fringe on his mother's clothes. It wasn't until his teenage years that he understood his curiosity was a premature fascination with hair. After his father left home, a move prompted by Vmir's desire to attend cosmetology school, Vmir got busy styling hair on his friends, using public transportation to get around before establishing his own at-home salon experience for a growing client base.
Fast forward a few years, Vmir now has an engaged following over 700k, and counts celebrities like Cardi B, Trina, Spice, and Love and Hip Hop's Joseline Hernandez as satisfied customers. Vmir also has his own digital series on BET called Wig Out, which premiered this week (and can be streamed below). Over the course of the series' eight episodes, Vmir will unveil both his journey toward styling music's biggest stars and transition into an independent rap career.
Vmir is nothing if not completely self-made: his Wig Out show asserts that, at 21 years old, he is already a millionaire, having also added a successful product line for smoothing edges, and luxury hair line, Hym Hair, to his expansive A-List client book.
As an openly gay, young icon who wears wigs and boasts a high-femme aesthetic, Vmir is also a beacon of a gender-free future. "People should live their truth and do what works for them," he tells PAPER. "But I think people need to understand that when you want to be feminine, whatever that means to you, and you still want to be a boy, that's also a way to live."
PAPER caught up with Vmir before the series premiere of Wig Out at, what appears to be, the cusp of still more explosive success. The Atlanta-based artist speaks candidly about his upbringing, including dealing with bullies, running a business, and his mission to bring big gay energy to mainstream hip-hop.
How did you get your start in styling hair?
I've always had an interest in hair. I was about three years old when I kind of started getting the itch for it. My mom used to have little things with fringes hanging from her closet. I started going in the closet and playing with them. The older I got the stronger my urge was for hair. I remember being nine and 10 years old, and my father was my football coach. I played football, basketball, soccer, baseball, track. My heart was into none of that.
My dad made me do that too.
It was even worse when my dad was my coach. He was real hard on me, but the older I got, the more stronger my urge was. I remember, as long as I kept my room clean, my mom would give me an allowance every week which was 30 dollars. I mean it ain't a lot...
But at the time you felt rich, right?
Yes, but I would use the money on supplies for doing hair. I would go to Amazon, and every week I would buy a new mannequin [head]. I probably had like 13 of them, so I started practicing by doing hair on them. When I finally told my dad, "I want to go to a cosmetology vocational school," he left, and he was like, "I'm not doing it." When he left, my mom just had a knee replacement, so I had to go out and hustle and start doing hair to make money for her. It wasn't a lot. I was charging 40 dollars for a sew-in, but that's kind of how I... I'm not going to say [I was] forced into it, but...
It was by survival?
Yes, definitely. [I started out doing hair] on friends in school, then it would be their moms, then it would be their aunts. I would literally be catching public transportation all over. By then I was 14 catching the bus to do simple stuff like flat-iron, wash and dry, and curl, I was doing glue-ins, but once I finally got stationed inside of my home, I was probably 15.
What was it like for you as a young Black queer person coming into beauty? Did you come from a particularly religious family, or was your upbringing more centered on your dad's efforts to shape you?
He's like, in the streets and stuff. And then my grandfather on my mother's side was a minister. So my mom was kind of religious, but not really. She's not super holy, but you know how sometimes [in Black families] it's like, your dad's side is the gang side, your mom's side is like nurses and doctors. So that's kind of how it is for me. My mom is a phlebotomist instructor, my dad was a drug dealer.
Since you have successfully built your own client base in hair and beauty, what are things that you would tell yourself then that you know now?
I should have saved my money back then, because I was young and I was getting it and I would just take my money and go buy sneakers and clothes. But I worked very hard, so if there was something I wanted, I got it because I worked hard.
How did styling friends evolve into the world of celebrity hair?
Instagram. Insta-gram. And then word of mouth, as well. So it went from friends to friends' family members to people in school to regular clients to Instagram people and then celebrities. It just kept going up.
"It takes a lot for a grown ass man to wear a wig."
And then Cardi B was like, "Hey girl!"
Yeah, I was doing Cardi's hair when I was 18. So I did her hair for a couple months [when she was still releasing mixtapes].
How do you know when a wig is good or bad?
Really it depends on who does it, and where you get the hair from. You know good hair when you see it. You get mesmerized when you see the hair. You should feel it, it should look like good hair. And as far as where you get the wig made, especially being a guy, you gotta slay. You can't just wear a mediocre wig, you have to go to the best of the best, so that's tea. Because, you know a lot of women, they'll be like, "Oh you do hair? Can you do mine?" No, you've got to go to the best of the best.
What's something you wish people knew about hair care or wig care that they just don't?
I wish people took care of their hair back like they did in the '90s. I remember my mom used to go get her hair done and she used to wrap her hair every night, or she used to get it curled. They don't do that nowadays and I feel like it's so easy to become a stylist. You could know nothing about hair and become a stylist. As far as knowing about hair in the '90s, we didn't have people whose edges were going missing. Nowadays people definitely need to learn hair care for edges or using the correct product for promoting growth. I find it's these new stylists who feel like they can just slap a wig on your head any type of way.
When did you start styling yourself and wearing wigs?
Two years ago.
"I feel like we're starting to be in a society that it's starting to be OK to be yourself, so I'm hoping less people have to fight to be respected."
For many Black queer people who are femme-presenting, there are two types of coming out experiences: One is "I'm gay" or "I'm queer," and another is "here's what I'm serving." Was it like that for you?
I've always been really popular in school. Starting from middle school all the way up to high school, I've always been pressured: "Are you gay, are you this, are you that?" I would go to my friend's house and the little sister would be like, "You talk like a girl."
I can't even tell you how many times I've heard that.
Of course, back then I used to go, "No, I'm not." But once we have to deal with so much, you learn how to build a foundation and you know how to stand on it. I wasn't always makeup, hair, nails, and stuff, it was a transition. It was like, here's a little brow. Then, concealer. Then it's foundation, highlight, and contour. Then it was, let me paint my nails.
Did you ever have to deal with bullying?
I know a lot of young gay guys that are getting bullied, but that was never the case with me. You know why? I would fight. I would fight. Anytime I'd see people going after a gay guy, doing all the crazy, I was just like that can't be me. No. I don't like disrespect. So I fought a few times, and I never lost, not once. You know, gay boys go crazy.
Yes, because rage!
Everybody has a limit. I remember in middle school there was a school bully who used to mess with everybody, and everybody was scared of him. I remember he just kept messing with me, and I was like, Look. You want to meet me after school? I'm tired of this. And ever since then, I've been whooping ass. I'm not having nobody's mess, seriously. But I always keep it respectful. And I pick my battles. That's important. I feel like we're starting to be in a society that it's starting to be OK to be yourself, so I'm hoping less people have to fight to be respected. I want a lot of people to know who are transitioning or wearing the wigs and stuff: hold your head up high and stand tall. If people see you acting wimpy, they're going to take advantage of you.
What's it like to have people supporting you in a full expression of yourself?
If you have a lot of people behind you, rooting for you, it's like, OK bitch, I'm just gonna keep going, shit. You know, there was times when I was like, Maybe this —the hair, the makeup, the clothes — is a little too much. But then, it's what makes you. This is what people live for. If I was to go back to wearing a mohawk and just being a regular boy? You think people would live for that? No.
"We don't have that gay breakout mainstream rapper just yet. So any way that I can kick a barrier down, I will."
Your presentation also challenges the binaried expectation often put on people who present as femme to say, "Oh, well I'm transitioning, or I'm using she/her pronouns." You use he/him pronouns.
Really, I feel like it's a marketing tool, and this is why. I remember, I was talking to my friend and she was like, "You should get a wig." At first I didn't like it, but then I thought, Bitch, that would fuck the Internet up. And I did it, and it fucked the Internet up. Everybody was going crazy. So to me, it's become a signature. People should live their truth and do what works for them. But I think people need to understand that when you want to be feminine, whatever that means to you, and you still want to be a boy, that's also a way to live. I like talking to gay boys. I don't know... it's kind of weird talking about it.
I hear you. You're saying gender doesn't have to look a certain way.
Even with me rapping... we have Frank Ocean, but right now, he's real mellow. We don't have that gay breakout mainstream rapper just yet. So any way that I can kick a barrier down, I will. I feel like a lot of guys have been inspired off of me just stepping out and not being afraid to be myself — not being afraid to wear a wig. It takes a lot for a grown ass man to wear a wig.
When did you realize you wanted to do music?
When I was about nine years old I used to rap things, and I can't sing anymore. I think puberty happened. I used to be able to hit a note and hold it, but I can't do that no more, I don't know what the hell happened. I feel like I'm an entertainer — I'm very entertaining. When people meet me or see me online, it's hypnotizing to them. I noticed that in myself when I started teaching classes, making them laugh, getting them mesmerized. So I was like, "Shit, I need to do something." Acting is not for me, I'm going to tell you. I can't lie and act, you know. Rapping is for me because I know music. I know music very well.
Who are your rap heroes?
I look up to Nicki Minaj, of course. Cardi, Rico Nasty, Asian Doll, Kash Doll — all the dolls. But I also listen to a lot of old school people like Foxy Brown, Lil' Kim. Foxy Brown, I really, really love her.
Foxy Brown is very slept on.
Definitely, and I feel like nowadays we need that real rap back. Nicki Minaj is one of the only ones who is very versatile and can spit any type of way on any type of beat. She could spit on an Aretha Franklin beat and make that thing sound good. A lot of people can't do that. So I'm also here to help Nicki, and I'm going to bring that all back. I'm going to bring back real rap, honey.
Related | Break the Internet: Nicki MInaj
Do you have an album completed already?
I have a little something something. It's getting ready to come out in February. I have a single out now. "Get Money" and "Pink City." I also have something in February releasing with Lil' Mo called, "Calling." She's so underrated and so talented.
How has it been navigating the Atlanta scene as someone with notoriety and visibility?
When I graduated high school and moved out to Atlanta, I've always had some type of notoriety. Back then, it was 80,000 followers, 100,000. I used to be in high school going to the mall and these little girls used to come up to me crying, asking for pictures, screaming and stuff. I couldn't figure out why. I definitely feel like it's part of the scene, but I'm thankful for it. Sometimes I don't be in the mood, I'm going to be honest with you. One day I pulled up to McDonald's and I was hungry as hell, and this girl at the cash register pulled her phone up like, "Cliff!" She kept playing with me and I don't play when I'm hungry. I was like, "Give me my damn food!" And I was like, "Thank you, though." I'm appreciative of it, but don't play with my food.
Photography: Nathan Pearcy