Heaven by Marc Jacobs’ creative director Ava Nirui has a real knack for cultivating a community, unearthing emerging talent, and affecting – not just reacting to – trends. Not least because she masterminded Heaven.
More than just a fashion label, Heaven is a movement, remixing the past into the present and amassing a die-hard fanbase of nostalgia-loving kids along the way. Heaven’s previous collaborators range from capsule collections with Sandy Liang and Blumarine, to one-of-a-kind pieces by multimedia artists Eri Wakiyama, Claire Barrow and Bladee, reimagined stuffed toys by Bears Who Care, and airbrushed hair extensions by Japanese stylist Tomihiro Kono.
Most recently, Nirui enlisted fast-rising LA photographer Jester Bulnes to shoot Heaven’s newest collections as part of a physical zine, Heaven After Dusk, available in its London and LA shops: “Having been a part of the Heaven family since the very beginning, I am so honoured!” 21-year-old Jester says, describing the experience as a real full circle moment.
It was back in 2020 that Jester made it their absolute mission to get a job in the Heaven shop that was due to open on Fairfax Avenue. Having received – and immediately deleted – an email from the Marc Jacobs mailing list announcing the launch (“because I thought it was about something expensive”), it wasn’t until a second mailer mentioning Greg Araki arrived in their inbox that Jester took notice.
“I was like, ‘Holy shit, this is my all time favourite director!’” they recall. “His films truly changed my life. Marc Jacobs was my mother’s favourite designer, too – the only designer that she ever wore and bought.”
Jester scanned the email, did a deep dive on Heaven – a then newly launched diffusion line from Marc Jaobs – and immediately paid a visit to the now closed MJ store on Melrose Place to check out the clothes: “I remember there was this mini bedroom installation. I just knew I wanted to be a part of it.” Heaven wasn’t hiring at the time, but Jester stayed in touch and successfully interviewed for a position when its own flagship store opened. Settling in right away, Jester made a friend for life in fellow shop worker and photographer Elisa Sue Young Park: “We bonded over our love of photography – countless hours chatting each other’s heads off. The shop fosters this awesome community.”
Jester’s been interested in photography for as long as they can remember, going in hard after receiving a camera for Christmas as a teen. Los Angeles-born and raised (“in the suburbs, a little out of the city”), Jester cites the topography of the city as a driving influence in their work: “In LA we’re always in cars, driving around. I was staring out the window and thinking very visually from a young age and I feel like that’s heavily influenced the way I think about the world.”
Now in their senior year at UCLA studying interdisciplinary photography, it was in the run up to their 18th birthday that Jester self-funded their first art project: a mini-zine launched via a birthday-party-cum-art show that was “very punk and very fun”.
Self-titled, “or untitled per se”, it was all about self-portraiture and queerness: “I specifically choose to photograph people who are representative of my identity, within my community,” Jester explains. Next came Dentro, a second zine, sharing photos that honed in on both queerness and their Latin identity.
“I’m Mexican and El Salvadorian. My dad immigrated from El Salvador, I was born in LA, and my grandma was from Mexico. But because of this I’ve always felt like I never knew where I fit in and I think that’s such a common thing for second generation immigrants,” they explain.
“There were kids in LA that felt more Latin than me because they spoke Spanish, or maybe they were darker than me, so I felt out of place in that community. But I had the same with Americans – a lot of white people, you know, and I didn’t feel any relationship with that either.
So I wanted to explore this more. I was interested in taking iconography and these representations of culture and transforming them – almost queercoding and reimagining it.”
Jester’s latest zine Heaven After Dark is a personal take on the Marc Jacobs offshoot brand in all its glory; a diaristic deep dive exploring fear, intimacy and desire, in a book encased in laddered fabric. Inside, amongst Jester’s unvarnished photography, sits the work of other creatives cherry-picked from their network: ceramicist Diana Yesenia Alvarado, whose pieces are currently on show in LA’s Jeffery Deitch gallery; New York-based tattoo artist Keegan Dakkar Lomanto, who fittingly inked “a giant jester” onto Jester’s chest for their 18th birthday; airbrush artist Sob Story; multimedia artist Chris Lloyd; and Japanese artist and sculptor ancco.
The project feels like a natural extension of both Jester’s own journey with Heaven and the world that the LA store has created. “When Ava told me about this season in particular – the collaboration with my favourite movie Donnie Darko – I have all these knick-knacks and posters – the Barragán collection – I recently walked the show in Mexico City – and Kiko [Kostadinov] another of my favourite designers, it felt really natural.”
Jester cast many of their friends and a handful of models, prioritising trans and non-binary people: “Those who’ve inspired and excited me the most from LA’s art community.” It’s clear that community is paramount for Jester, as is their love for Heaven and all that it stands for.
“It really speaks to subcultures that people are actually part of,” they explain. “The way that I entered the brand as a sales associate and have truly become a collaborator, working on this zine, really speaks to the way that Ava has cultivated this community. It’s so exciting – these moments are really rare.”