Last month, Kristina Avakyan got fired from her New York bartending gig because, she admits, she was “constantly late” to work. With a lot more time on her hands, she made a TikTok account to show off her outfits.
@SubwaySessions immediately racked up an audience. One getup that wouldn’t look out of place on Greta Gerwig’s Depression Barbie – neon orange athletic shorts slung extra-low-rise and paired with a nude see-through leotard – has been viewed more than 1m times.
It’s difficult to describe Avakyan’s bricolage ensembles, but they might appear in a Gen Z remake of The Fifth Element. Sometimes, she goes pants-less, wearing nothing but a bikini bottom, stilettos, and a neon green hoodie. Or she’ll pair butt-crack-baring leather trousers with a strategically placed belt subbing in as a (tiny) shirt.
The looks are just as bonkers as …And Just Like That’s notoriously frenzied costume design. It’s absolutely manic dressing, the kind of clothes that make you wonder if Julia Fox is somehow involved in the styling.
Every one of Avakyan’s videos is posted while she waits for the 6 train, which takes her home from whatever she’s doing that day. (Avakyan, who lives in the Lower East Side, works as a stylist on the side.)
Some have come after the eyeball-demanding looks, which verge on the point of parodying the wackiness of It-girl dressing. “Newyork gotta be a fucking joke,” reads one tweet featuring a compilation of Avakyans’s most outrageous outfits. “Adam Sandler couture,” said another, referencing the comedian’s frumpy vibe.
But Derek Guy, who runs a men’s style website called Die, Workwear! and has become infamous on Twitter this year as “menswear guy”, defended Avakyan. “Everyone is dogging on this woman’s style, but mark my words, next year she will walk the runway at balenciaga and have a collab with SSENSE,” he tweeted. The fashion site Highsnobiety also celebrated her “unbothered” looks.
Avakyan spoke to the Guardian in a phone interview, during which she was regularly interrupted by people on the street complimenting her style. She does not want to reveal her age, because she “does not believe that matters”, but she will say that she’s lived in New York for 12 years.
“Fashion is everything that I’m about,” Avakyan said. “If I have a bad day, I make myself an outfit and put it out there.” Her muses include Rihanna; Zoë Kravitz; the Balenciaga creative director, Demna; and Alessandro Michele, former creative director of Gucci.
Getting ready in the tiny one-bedroom apartment that Avakyan shares with her cat, Santiago, is a bit of a free-for-all. “I never put an outfit together beforehand,” she said. “I find one piece that I’m interested in and I will somehow work around that piece. I see myself as a canvas, and my clothes are the brush. I am going to paint myself into whatever I feel that day.”
Avakyan’s TikTok bio reads that she puts her outfits into the world “for you to judge or praise”, and she doesn’t really care what people think. “I’ve learned how to be uncomfortable,” she said. “If no one is critiquing you, you’re doing something wrong. If fashion is pretty all of the time, then what are you doing?”
She mostly ignores the negative comments on TikTok. But there are also reactions in real life. Sometimes, Avakyan notices people secretly filming her on the train – so she takes out her camera and starts filming them, too.
Couples will sometimes stare at her when she wears more revealing clothes on the train. “Women will hold on to their men for dear life,” Avakyan said.
The “subway shirt”, a large, dowdy coverup that women wear to divert the male gaze while commuting, went viral this summer. But Avakyan has no problem showing skin – for the most part.
“If I’m in front of an old man, then I’ll feel shy, just out of respect,” she said. “But with everyone else, I have this body and it’s part of the artwork, so why not show it off? Fat, skinny, whatever you are, confidence is part of the outfit.”
What does Avakyan want to get out of her series? A front row seat at fashion week would be nice, but she has more humble goals, too: “I’m out here doing this freaky shit so that people can be like: ‘If she can do it, maybe I can try, too.’”