Hijacking boutique dressing rooms and posing in outrageously priced attire, Muliarchyk's self-described 'guerrilla photography' makes fantasy a momentary reality for the Belarus-born beauty, writes Indigo Clarke.
Smuggling a camera, tripod – and on occasion a giant soft-toy panda, King Kong paw and bag of muddy Central Park autumn leaves – into the dressing rooms of high-end boutiques around the world, 21 year old photographer and fashion model, Elle Muliarchyk, risks awkwardness and arrests to revel in a sartorial wonderland of her own design.
"Change rooms are a very public space, but at the same time, once inside it's like entering another world," says Muliarchyk with childlike delight. "Growing up I fantasised about having my own room, somewhere I could put posters of Brad Pitt on my wall. Because my father was a diplomat, we were constantly moving so I never really had a 'home'. These dressing rooms become a personal space where I'm the only judge, I can delete photos that aren't pretty, I have the power to look the way I always wanted."
Having shot inside hundreds of dressing rooms in cities including New York, London, Paris and even Hawaii, Muliarchyk has learnt to be as inconspicuous as possible to staff (despite lugging around huge props), who do not find her escapades amusing. "For me a high-end boutique is a fun, glittering wonderland. But the staff just take it so seriously – they have absolutely no sense of humour. Best case, they kick me out if they discover what I’m doing – worst case the police come and take me away, which is a bit embarrassing."
Born in Belarus, "Europe’s last dictatorship – a country with no civil rights and no civilization," Muliarchyk lived in numerous countries through the years before settling in California as a teen. She immediately set her sights on becoming a "supermodel", and at 16 was serendipitously scouted in a Manhattan café by legendary fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier.
"Fashion is like an appetiser for art. I'm so happy I became a model, because without fashion I would never have experienced art," Muliarchyk explains. "I fell in love with photography immediately. When I got my first digital camera it was like a magic wand, I felt I suddenly had magical powers. As a model I always wanted to be a photographer so I could be in control of my own image and identity. Now I'm my own stylist, make-up artist and art director."
A collaboration with Bella Freud behind her, and a project investigating American girls in modeling schools on the go, she may be diversifying but Guerilla photography has her hooked. "It's my greatest passion – it’s all about the challenge and extreme pressure, not knowing if sales staff will burst through the door and arrest me at any moment. It’s a genuine way to convey a message, and easy for people to connect with because you are showing absolute truth, it’s very honest and powerful.”