Cliff Vmir is used to people stopping him on the street. Since he was a teenager, the 21-year-old celebrity hairstylist who grew up in Wilmington and Philly has been Instagram famous.
His parents had pushed him to be a nurse technician. But Vmir became wealthy by selling hair extensions and products. He recalls wanting to be a hairstylist from childhood. By the time he reached eighth grade, he would take the allowance he got for keeping a clean room and buy prepaid debit cards so he could order practice mannequins from Amazon. The mannequins stayed hidden under his bed, out of view from his father, who deeply objected to his career dreams and didn't accept him for being gay.
Vmir (va-MEER) remembers calling the police when his father turned violent after discovering the mannequins. And he recalls the financial crisis that ensued after his dad left the family when Vmir was a high school freshman. That period, he said, is when his true hair hustle began.
Today, he's grown past his first viral client photos, and also past the goosebumps he used to walking into the homes of the celebrities who came calling. He's expanded the product line he launched at 16 and has more than 720,000 followers on Instagram. Every couple of months or so he still styles chart-topping rapper Cardi B, an early fan.
With his success in hair established, he's now reaching for rap stardom. His first single, "Pink City," was released in the fall. He's expecting barriers ahead for being a femme-presenting gay male in hip-hop, but he senses he's ready. Being himself, he said, has been a key to his success.
Vmir, who lives in Atlanta, visited the Inquirer and Daily News to discuss what he's learned in his career so far. The conversation has been edited.
How did you arrive at putting together a product and hair line after you first started going viral?
I [was] like, 'OK, what's next?' Because the followers are here; I'm getting clients, but how else can I maximize my income? I'm young — I should be making money in my sleep.
I was known for straightening hair very well. I was like, I'm going to come up with like a spray to help get the hair really, really straight. And literally I did some research. I reached out to a chemist. I had got an edge control [gel] and a spray. It did so good.
When did you start to see, "Not only am I good as I am, but I know that I can push my business further as myself"?
[Back] when I was doing hair and I still was wearing the makeup but I had a Mohawk, I feel like people liked me and stuff. But I feel like, now that I have the wig and I have this personality? I was like, 'This is the person people love. This is who they was waiting on. This is Vmir.'
That's when people like fell in love with who I was. And I fell in love with myself, because you can always talk that confident stuff, but the question is, are you very confident?
So, honey, that year ago, when I first put on that wig? I ain't turn back. And I been going.
So now you're at the stage in your career where you're branching out and you're looking at music. Why music?
I love being in the spotlight. I love all eyes on me. That's just how I am. And I feel like rapping right now. I feel like I have an easy open shot. Especially with me doing all of these people's hair in the industry and being a big celebrity hairstylist, people already know who I am. So now it's time to show them what I'm working with and push through.
Who are your favorite rappers?
Cardi B is the turn-up queen. She's like going to the club and you just dance and have a great time. Nicki Minaj, I love her … Of course, I love Lil' Kim. I love Eve, Missy Elliott. Honestly, I feel like all female rappers are really dope. I really do.
Music has definitely changed. I feel like it's not hip-hop no more. It's more like trap music, and that's fine. A lot of AutoTune, and that's fine if we're going to go with that sound, but I definitely felt like you can never go wrong with just spitting a raw nice rap.
What about your style, your approach to hair … is it really a Philly, Delaware, South Jersey thing?
Honestly, everything I do is like a Philly thing. When I'm in Atlanta and they're like, 'Oh, my God, how do you get it so flat and shiny and close to face?' and it's like, 'You wouldn't understand because it's a Philly thing.'
What is it like navigating all the different expectations that come with the different businesses you have?
No matter what I'm doing, I'm still the same Cliff. I still act the same exact way.
Even when I'm working with my celebrity clients, I've learned that when you act uptight and you act nervous, they start being mean to you. And they start feeling like, 'Well, why are you nervous? You should know what you're doing.'
How do you stay true to yourself?
My mom raised me very well. She taught me right from wrong. She told me, 'Don't let people get over on you.'
I pray all the time … When I'm true to myself and true to God, that's all that matters.
You got to remember, I'm wearing a whole wig and makeup and stuff. So if I wasn't true to myself, I would be like, 'I'm not gay. I'm not.' But I'm true to myself. I've been like that since I was 16. I put it on a table. Like, 'This is what it is, Dad. And I'm going to do hair. I know you don't like it, but you're going to have to get to like it.'
You fought your fight to be yourself before you were even famous on Instagram.
Mmm-hmmm. Even in high school and middle school, I felt like I always had to fight to prove to people: 'This is who I am.'