Fashion


Slick Woods is the new face of Mercedes-Benz, which is kind of perfect when you discover that five years ago, she was an underage chauffer getting paid to drive one. “I was sixteen and didn’t have a license,” says the model. “Actually, I didn’t have much of anything—I was homeless. I met this Russian mafia guy on Sunset Boulevard, and this man was drunk. He begged me to drive him home in his giant Mercedes-Benz red truck. Anyone else would have been creeped out,” Woods shrugs, “But I’m intuitive about people, and he wasn’t scary. I knew I’d be fine. I didn’t know how to drive a car,” she laughs, “But it’s not like that stopped me from doing it.”

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Five seconds with Slick Woods—born 21 years ago as Simone Thompson—and you get the sense that not much stops her from anything. She’s modeled for the holy trinity of Miu Miu, Moschino, and Marc Jacobs; she’s become Rihanna’s official muse for Fenty; and hours before heading backstage at Coachella, she’s hosting a panel for Mercedes-Benz in honor of their hybrid Concept EQ car, which boasts a hashtag manifesto called #WeWonder. And because she’s backstage at fashion shows for hours at a time, Woods has lots of time to wonder.

“I wonder how self-driving cars will change the future,” she says. “I wonder how youth can push innovation in the world, but I also wonder if youth gets in the way of innovation sometimes. I wonder a lot what the future will be like. But then I have to remind myself: what’s important is now.

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Read on for more insights with the in-demand model, actress, designer, smoke shop connoisseur, and—we confess—major ELLE.com obsession.

Mercedes-Benz

You learned how to drive on a Mercedes-Benz. How’d your first full trip go?

Even just pulling out of the parking lot, I ran into another car… I used to wear those thick Mary Jane Doc Marten’s, and you can imagine that thick sole on the very responsive, very sensitive Mercedes-Benz pedals. Plus, I’m in West Hollywood going up and down the [Hollywood] Hills, which will make anyone a crazy driver. We went thump! for about five minutes before I got the hang of it. It was one of the longest nights of my life, but the guy ended up becoming my friend, and paying me to be his chauffer for a year and a half. It was from my sophomore year of high school all the way through my junior year. He made me dress up like a chauffer. I had a chauffer’s uniform, but I had no driving license.

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Do you still talk to that guy?

No, we lost touch a long time ago. I’m that person who gets a new phone, and that’s it. I don’t save anybody’s number. But I’ve had the same phone number since fifth grade, so if you need me, you can always get me.

You’ve had a cell phone since fifth grade?

I used to sell Hot Cheetos out of my backpack at school. That’s how I got enough money together to buy a phone. It was like an AT&T Singular phone, one of those old ones—but I owe it all to Hot Cheetos!

No, that’s because of Rihanna. You know, when Rihanna travels, she has a wall of Hot Cheetos wherever she’s staying. It’s all her. She’s the inspiration for literally everything.

Slick Woods

Getty Images

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Besides working with Rihanna, you’ve also been a Yeezy model—that was your first job, right? How did you show up on a Kanye West photo shoot and just kill it, even with no experience?

Ha! Have you seen a Yeezy photograph? This is what I did. [She gets up and stands still, staring straight ahead.] I did nothing. I tried to put my hand on my hip; they’re like, “Can you just stay there with your arms down and do nothing?” But it fucked me up in modeling, actually, because the next time I went to a job, they’re like, “What the hell are you doing? Why are you just standing there?” Kanye is the reason I have Instagram, though. When we first met, I step on his set and he’s like, “How do you not have Instagram? No wonder you’re not a model yet. Get Instagram. Put it on your phone now.” It was dope.

So he taught you about Instagram, but not about actual modeling…

Kanye has tunnel vision when it comes to his projects and his vision. He’s the type of person—designer, I’ve never worked with him in music—but when it comes to fashion, he’s so focused on his vision that he can completely forget that a person is in his clothes. You know? He’ll deprive models of water and make them stand outside in the sun forever, and it’s honestly not intentional. He’s just so focused on his vision, everything else falls away. And imagine being an artist with so many people in your ear, on your [social media], going, “This person is crazy.” So he’s always trying to prove he’s great because of those voices, but also, it’s like, he’s Kanye. Of course he’s great.

Do people expect you to be like Kanye or Rihanna?

Actually, I’ve had like six people on photo shoots tell me that I remind them of—well, you should guess. Who’s the whitest actress you can possibly think of?

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Reese Witherspoon.

WHAT?! How did you know that? I thought you were gonna say, like, Cameron Diaz. But yeah, people in the industry say I remind them of Reese Witherspoon. I don’t know what she was like in her past, but I guess she had a bit of a secret life.

Slick Woods

Mercedes-Benz

You’ve said it’s hard being a model, because you don’t like being used to “make other people’s shit cool.” How do work past any bad vibes or feelings of resentment to do your job?

Honestly, I don’t have resentment because I don’t do anything I don’t want to do. Do I want to shine more than someone else’s work? No. But modeling used to be about women becoming blank canvases for someone else’s work. Nowadays, it’s more about the collaboration of what I can bring to the table and what they can. At the end of the day, I can’t answer to Karl Lagerfeld, that’s important to some people but everyone respects you more when you’re not licking toes. That’s the truth. And toes taste bad.

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You’re very open about your past [including being homeless, incarceration, drug addiction]. Does that make staying true to yourself—instead of chasing all that approval—easier?

I think so, absolutely. Going through everything I did is a domino effect. It made me appreciate everything more. I go to Paris and even the moldings [on the buildings] bring me to tears. Other girls are just sitting there on their phones. It’s damn near laughable. I mean, I hate my job. I’ll admit that. But I’m not doing anything I don’t want to do. I’m not going to say, “Oh my god, sitting in this room is so tiring!” It’s not. But I do hate the idea of my job, a lot. But as long as you’re being treated like a human, life is good.

How did you learn that?

I learned a lot from living my life in a way I didn’t want to for so long. It got exhausting. For example, I’m a very loyal friend. It took me a long time to understand loyalty to other people isn’t always loyalty to self, and I had to put myself above that. People say, “Don’t sink with the ship.” But your friend’s ship should never be sinking, because there’s like ten other people in that boat, and you shouldn’t be the only person trying to fix the hole and bail out the water. Bending over backwards for other people isn’t adulting. It’s a childish thing. I’m learning that’s the biggest step to moving forward.

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The theme of your Mercedes-Benz #WeWonder campaign is Youth. What do you want older people to understand about young Americans right now?

We need to stop telling youth that their potential is unlimited. Don’t tell me that I’m powerful when I can join the Army or pay my taxes, but I can’t smoke a cigarette or buy myself a drink because I’m stressed about those taxes. I have no freedom at all, so it’s a hard thing to swallow when people say, “Oh, youth of America, the world’s in your hand!”… Everything is a double-edged sword for youth, and that’s tiring. It’s getting old. Be honest about what youth is… I don’t want to get political, because I don’t fuck with politics. But when you say, “youth is the future,” it’s like, you don’t know what the future holds! It’s a scary subject. It’s a very broad, gray area. You put too much weight on young people’s shoulders, and weight keeps us from moving forward. But also, just because I’ve only been on this planet in this body for 21 years, that doesn’t mean I’m young, necessarily. I feel like I’m 186 years old.

You’ve said you’re the reincarnation of Tupac.

It’s true. I’m convinced. But the thing about Tupac is, I don’t see him as an icon I look up to. I see him as a very similar personality to me. He’s very well rounded in that, everything I like, he likes. Everything I would like to master, he was striving to master. I feel a real connection of continuing his work.

So for everyone who thinks Tupac is alive and hiding somewhere, like Elvis…

Definitely not! Tupac is dead. The man is dead. If you don’t believe it, you’re just bored. Let him rest in peace. Stop saying he’s alive; stop doing that to his Mama!

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You’re also a fan of Marilyn Monroe. But here’s what worries me—neither Tupac nor Marilyn are still alive. Do you feel like, because you’re an older soul, it doesn’t matter if you die young, because you’ll come back? Does longevity in this life matter to you?

Longevity necessarily doesn’t have to be in the physical sense. If I die today, I’ll still have longevity. Believe me, I’d rather not die today.

Me neither! But you’re sitting in front of me with a plate full of cigarettes…

I’m not planning on dying today! I promise! But if I do, I can’t worry about it. I only had my mother in my life for 4 years [before she went to prison], but in those 4 years, she taught me that you can’t live life with fear in your heart. If you’re gonna die, you’re gonna die—and then you’re dead, so what’s the point in being scared about it. Even if I’m dying, being scared fucks up my heart rate. It’ll just make me die faster. It’s a beautiful thing that was instilled in me young. It helps. I actually do live very purposefully, and I’m a very logical thinker—I’m a Leo, and that’s what we are.

How do you logically think about life and death as a young person, and a creative force?

Most people set goals that are very long-lived. My goal is short term: do everything I can this day. Be happy this day. If you can’t be present in the moment, what’s the point? Why would I want to live a long life if it’s just surviving, and not really living? Don’t get me wrong, I hope I live until I’m an old woman. I’d love to be like that Filipino woman up in the mountains with tons of tattoos—I want to be like that! But some of the oldest people in the world smoke blunts and drink Hennessy every single day, and they’re alive. We’ll see what God has in store for me.

Slick Woods

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