En Garde | US Team Fencer Natalie Vie
"It feels like I've done this before," Natalie Vie explains of her initial experiences with fencing--one of her many, gut-driven, existential perspectives that defy the romantic reveries we've subconsciously nailed to this seductive art form. "This is not my first time."
On a chilly morning, a pale-orange sunrise begins to peak above the mountainscape as I walk into one of The California Institute of Earth Architecture (CalEarth)'s SuperAdobes--which looks like a mix between something you'd find on Pierre Cardin's Palais Bulles in the French Riviera and Mars--I sit down with Miss Vie, Team USA member and two-time US Champion, while hair and makeup begin to prep her for the shoot.
Splitting most of her time between the fast-paced metropolis’ of Los Angeles and Brooklyn, Vie shares she's returning to the serene environment at CalEarth this May, where she'll continue to learn how to build the institute’s definitive Eco-Domes and maintain a nomadic, forager lifestyle in the midst of her daily fencing practice.
Her dedication to the sport shines more than ever while living on the commune, as each day she ventures from the clouds, down the mountain and into her fencing gym. A few hours later, she begins her journey back up the road to her life under the stars. During each quest "I can truly feel my heart opening and expanding" with the forces of nature, she says.
Vie has been fencing for thirteen years, and although she was late in the game--discovering her passion at the age of eighteen after falling in love with the fencing scene in J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye--her background in dance and gymnastics gave her an advantage in the rhythm, timing and footwork sword-fighting requires. From day one, she has been an intuitive fencer and with her unusual and what some would call obsolete hand position, one may think she was taught by an 18th century Italian fencing master who once trained the Aristocracy.
BELSTAFF dress, PIERRE HARDY shoes, K. BRUNINI bracelet, DANIELA VILLEGAS quill ring, and MARIELLA PILATO agate ring.
When battling her opponents, Vie says she channels philosopher G.I. Gurdjieff, whose teachings suggest our personality hides who we really are and instead develops around our essence, our true spirit, has shaped her views on the world. When she's fencing, wearing a mask and an all-white uniform, there’s a sense of anonymity, and "that’s when my personality can drop away and my essence can radiate," she says. "There’s a lot that I’ve discovered from myself during those times. I would like to think that I’m fighting for something deeper; fighting for what's inside and tapping into something much bigger than myself."
After she takes a sip of water and is about to slip into her first look, I ask Vie if I could see her weapon. She unlatches a large black case and pulls out her prized épée, a shining sword that's actually much lighter than I would have imagined--just under two pounds. Vie combines sword parts from Italy, Germany and California and enjoys working on her own weapons, which isn't common as a fencer. Considering this passion, she hopes to expand her skillset and study one day under an armor in Italy.
Vie may be breaking norms when it come to the lifestyle of a professional fencing athlete, but to her, she couldn't imagine it any other way. "To get better at this sport, there are a lot of my own demons, fears and anxieties--things about my personality--that I have to confront and transcend, in order for me to keep moving and climbing to the next level. I think the Universe is telling me that I can work on this. I need to be consistent and not give up. Being an athlete is not an easy path. It takes a lot of persistence, but something kept telling me to keep going. Keep pushing forward."
Vie's career as a fencer keeps taking her to the next level. New doors keep opening. And with her focus, dedication and daily practice--of every moment, minute, even second--if the Japan 2020 Olympics were happening tomorrow, she would be heading overseas. Until then, she'll be traveling around the world competing, improving her fencing skills, and forging her path as a strong, female athlete in a male-dominant combat sport. The key will be managing her mindset and diving into her deeper self. Longing for something we once all knew, something different, that many of us have lost. Connecting.
Written by Jessica Rohr
Photographer & Film Director - Tamar Levine
Stylist - Soaree Cohen
Hair and Makeup by Veronica Chanel
Photo Asst. - Paige Wilson
Stylist Asst. - Caiti Hawkins
Film DP - William Carnahan
Film score by Zach Webb