Words: Amir Shaw
Photographer: DeWayne Rogers
Makeup: Jazzmene Ellison
Hair: Darico Jackson
Wardrobe Styling: Olori Swank
Today, Karrueche Tran is happy. On a recent afternoon at a plush mansion in Beverly Hills, she is dressed in all black and channeling the vintage look of her idol, Yoko Ono. She’s shooting her very first magazine cover. Between photos, Tran playfully sticks out her tongue at the camera, laughs while participating in wild poses with her crew, and jokes about her petite frame.
It’s a celebration and Tran doesn’t mind being the life of the party. There’s a lot for her to smile about — being around good friends, preparing for the launch of her clothing line (The-Kill), and looking forward to new beginnings.
Moments like this are truly appreciated.
But when it comes to discussing the issues surrounding the ongoing saga involving herself, Rihanna and Chris Brown, she is noticeably reticent. How can you blame her?
The last 18 months have been a whirlwind for Tran. Falling in love and building a relationship is never easy for anyone. Imagine doing it as the world watches.
Somewhere in between falling in love with Chris Brown and pursuing a modeling career in California, Tran noticed her world had changed.
“I first realized there was a change [when] more people would talk about me in blogs and such,” Tran said later during her exclusive interview with rolling out. ”And the paparazzi would take pictures and follow me when I wasn’t around Chris [Brown]. I was like ‘Chris is not here, why are you following me?’ But I was constantly seeing myself on blogs and websites. It was kind of weird.”
There are challenges to dating a superstar. Particularly when your boyfriend hasn’t quite extricated himself from his previous relationship with a woman who is also a superstar. Suddenly, Tran found herself in the middle of a love triangle. It was a turbulent ride that seemed to build momentum with every move or statement made by the parties involved.
Cryptic tweets and Instagram posts were the first shots fired by the ”other” woman in the social media war. Rihanna’s lyrics on “Birthday Cake” (“Sweeter than a rice cake”) were interpreted by some as a direct insult to Tran. Indeed, the proverbial roller coaster was going 1,000 miles per hour and there were no brakes to stop the madness.
“It was very hard,” says Tran. “I try my best to just ignore the negativity. Which is hard for me because it’s a lot to deal with. But I try to keep a positive mind and stay strong and not put energy into it.”
Through it all, Tran’s silence spoke volumes.
But regardless of whether she desired to stay above the fray, it was nearly impossible with her life being amplified by pop culture media. Everyone had something to say and certain aspects were misconstrued.
“The most challenging part about the attention was the negativity and the misconception from some people,” Tran says. “People only see you in blogs and they think they know everything about your life. There are things that go public and everything that comes out is not the truth.”
While the media and overzealous fans were busy sharing their feelings on the situation, Tran discovered her own truth.
Being in love and dealing with it from a dysfunctional place will cause many to take a step back and re-evaluate themselves.
Tran viewed the erratic nature of the relationship as a time for self-discovery.
“I’ve learned to find happiness within myself,” she says. “I’ve also built a strong core. The past year was a big growing up process for me. I’m not saying I was immature before, but the past year, my eyes were opened to a lot of things.”
One part of Tran’s personal growth is stepping out and cultivating her own brand. In 2013, she will debut her clothing line, The-Kill.
“Chris [Brown] started his fashion line and wanted to start his women’s line,” she says. “He asked me to be the head of the line. I brought along Ugo Mozie and MiMi Gazelle as my creative team.”
The clothing line was inspired in part by La Roux’s 2009 hit, “In for the Kill.” While listening to the song on repeat, it eventually stuck in Tran’s head and she came up with the name, The-Kill.
Tran believes it will allow her to express her creativity and open doors for other worthwhile opportunities.
“I think the name itself will stand out,” she says of the clothing line. “Once people see the collection, they will understand our vision. It’s a unisex line and it’s only black and white. We aren’t copying any other lines or brands. We are just combining our thoughts and creativity and putting it all into this line.”
Tran is poised to not let her life be defined by her topsy-turvy relationship with Brown, unrelenting gossip, or the negativity that plagued her in 2012. This is a new year and new opportunity to build on her notoriety and turn it into a positive.
“Honestly, all I want is happiness,” Tran admits. “There was a lot of dysfunction and negativity. I just want to be happy. I have so much fun and I’m a better person when I’m happy. That’s all I want in 2013. Everything else will fall in place.”
Some will hate on Tran simply because they are fans of Rihanna. Others will denigrate her because they believe she didn’t earn her popularity by cultivating a specific talent. But regardless of your opinion of her, you can relate to her journey in some way. We’ve all touched love and experienced it in its most magnificent form. On the flip side, we’ve been hurt by it and clueless about how to deal with the pain. Despite what occurred, Tran never lost her cool and always continued to smile. There’s a lesson in Tran’s grace under fire that people can apply to their own lives.
“I hope people can learn from my story,” Tran says. “I want to be remembered as someone who remained positive through such a negative situation. Regardless of what you’re put through or what is going on in your life, keep a positive spirit. That will help you get through it.”
Check out some exclusive photos from Karrueche’s Rolling Out shoot with photographer DeWayne Rogers