In 2022, women can be many things – and look however they damn want doing it. Whether you’re in the C-Suite or the nightclub- or in some cases, both – how one looks and acts as a woman is entirely her own choice – just ask the ladies of VIPER. Celeste Durve and Kelsi Kitchener – who founded an entirely female owned and operated elite hospitality agency VIP Event Relations – are continuously pushing the boundaries as women in power, so it’s no surprise that Playboy was the perfect home for them to tell their story.
Durve and Kitchener – who met while working the doors behind some of Los Angeles’ hottest nightlife venues – know that building a business from scratch in their industry, and commanding respect, is not the easiest of tasks. And now, the dynamic duo, who host an engaging podcast Smart Is Sexy which supports their fundamental values as female bosses, truly practice what they preach.
“For the first few years of building VIPER, Kelsi and I would dress in turtlenecks or pants even at nightclubs. We were not getting drunk or showing a more playful side of us. We made this sacrifice to be taken seriously so that we could later on start opening up our sexier side and show people you can have both,” Celeste explains. “We wanted to create a world in which women did not have to hide their multidimensionality to be taken seriously.”
And they’re done just that.
You are the hosts of a podcast called Smart Is Sexy. What makes you feel the most smart and sexy?
C: I’m obsessed with learning new things so I love to read, research, or listen to podcasts. I like learning about psychology, spirituality, brand development, etc so when I’m in that “smart” element I feel most like myself. But I definitely have another side of me that lives in that sexy space– I like girls nights out, body oils, candle lit nights, hot yoga, lace underwear. Those are some of my favorite forms of making ‘smart and sexy’ tangible.
K: I LOVE to read. I’m a huge fan of a good romcom, so not exactly making me the next Albert Einstein but I encourage reading no matter the genre. Also, I recently discovered that I’m a huge fan of documentaries about nature and animals! It makes me feel smart knowing different things that may not be common knowledge. I feel the sexiest when I am in a tight black turtleneck, black pants and heels. It’s different for every woman but I feel sexier when I’m more covered up.
Women can and should be both smart and sexy. How do you blend the two through VIPER and practice what you preach?
C: Our entire team truly embodies what it means to be both smart and sexy. We have an in depth hiring process where we get to know applicants in a personal way. We find out about their character and emotional IQ and on their first shift we watch how they carry themselves. The girls that make the Viper cut are a high-level paradigm of being both beautiful and intelligent and that is what gives us such a special niche in the industry. In the past, we’ve seen women in corporate spaces be forced out of their sedxually due to societal norms but we plan to have a hand in eradicating that.
K: We have hired a team of women who are passionate, smart and sexy and we encourage them to show up as such. VIPER has given women a platform for to hold a place of power and I feel that when given the chance to feel like themselves and secure they feel smart and sexy.
How has podcasting provided a new/cutting-edge and perhaps preferable way for you to connect with your audience, clients and community?
Both: We love podcasting because it cuts out the middleman. This allows us to engage with our friends, family, and fans directly and consistently. We built Smart Is Sexy to share our daily conversations with the public and we honor the integrity of that by being very transparent. We share our highs AND our lows. You will hear us celebrate but also break down, and we felt that this was so important as founders. This is a small way we contribute to those who want to build their dream life by sharing our raw stories and putting our challenges on display as well as how we overcame them.
What is your best business advice to young female entrepreneurs, and first-time founders?
C: My best business advice is to know when to listen to feedback and when to ignore everyone and follow your gut and inner guidance. We live in a digital age that is overloaded with information and it’s so easy to get lost in what everyone else is doing. But remember you are not everyone else and what’s most important is your own voice and angle.
K: The best advice I could give would be to take advice lightly. People have loved to give their opinion on the way we are doing things and the best thing we have done is take the advice that fits and throw away the rest. Business is not a one size fits all and everyone’s journey is different.
You’ve been vocal about feeling support and empowerment from the men in your life and not icing them out of the conversation, even though you’re a female-centric, owned and operated company. Can you talk to us a little about that?
C: In my experience, Ive come into contact with a ton of really great men who have hired my company, helped us grow, connected us to their peers and taught me a lot. This is not to say I havent had bad experiences with men in the work space. But I will say- I’ve actually had problematic situations with both men and women, predominantly in the corporate space. I think there is also a conversation that needs to be had about the way women treat younger women at work because the reality is not always as friendly as people like to portray. And yes, I have also dealt with men being inappropriate with me at times or ostensibly using work as an excuse for their ulterior motives and that is never okay. But I don’t believe in cutting either gender out of the conversation. I think there is room for all of us to be better and work together more effectively.
K: I don’t think it’s about male or female but rather the support you get from an individual. VIPER strives to give women a place of power but that doesn’t take men out of the equation. We have had so many men support and encourage us. Its about having the right people in your corner, not just men and not just women.
Your brand is composed of gorgeous women who are powerful and command respect. Have you ever struggled in being taken seriously because of this?
C: YES. For the first few years of building VIPER, Kelsi and I would dress in turtlenecks or pants even at nightclubs. We were not getting drunk or showing a more playful side of us. We made this sacrifice to be taken seriously so that we could later on start opening up our sexier side and show people you can have both. We wanted to create a world in which women did not have to hide their multidimensionality to be taken seriously. When we first began building, we were very young and building out a concept that had never been done before – so no one took us seriously and we had to change that. I live by the mantra, “be so good they can’t ignore you” for this reason.
K: Yes! Especially in the beginning. I felt that we had to work twice as hard to get a fraction of the respect men were getting. Starting VIPER in the nightlife space was challenging because of the nature of the space. Nightlife is where all industries intersect and to have fun, but Celeste and I made sure that it was business first. We wanted to be taken seriously and that meant holding ourselves to a higher standard.
Tell us about the casting division and how you’re finding ways to further employ the beautiful women of VIPER through these opportunities?
Both: We are so obsessed with VIPER Casting!!! It offers amazing solutions to both brands and talent. With this new launch, our clients can cast our talent for their photoshoots, video shoots, or live audience needs. Thanks to our incredible content team, we can also shoot content on behalf of clients and just send back deliverables– making this process a lot easier on them. It also solves problems for talent, since the modeling industry is in dire need of renovation thanks to social media. This allows them to book more work without needing to be exclusively contractually bound; and their work is not limited by their agency’s competitiveness with younger talent.
You’re truly the industry’s best-kept secret, but what can you share about the nuances and most enticing parts of what makes VIPER all that it is, and your experiences running the company?
Both: VIPER is so much more than just pretty girls at the doors of events. Not only did we turn our team into a family, we really evolved the parameters of the industry and what was previously possible. Its so exciting getting to work with A List Celebrities and the biggest brands of our generation. Its always crazy to see moments on E News and be like “hey my team did that door!” As a company, we pay our team very well and that’s one of my most rewarding experiences as a founder. In addition to getting to meet and work with extremely talented creatives as our clients. I get such an adrenaline rush off exciting moments in pop culture that we are a part of or even just really good meetings and brainstorms. We’ve already done such amazing things but I still focus on pushing the boundaries and seeing how cleverly we can evolve and where we can take the brand next.
When you aren’t feeling as confident or are having lower moments, how do you motivate yourself to feel back to normal?
C: I always need to pull back to recharge in these moments. If I’m not feeling like myself, it doesn’t matter how hard I try to work through it because the energy won’t be there. I’m extremely spiritual so I focus on aligning my energy and intentions and then everything moves way faster. Some things that help me are nature walks, yin yoga, reading fiction, going out with my girlfriends or spending time with my mom.
K: I think it’s really important to slow down and take time to fill yourself back up. I am a huge fan of the Calm App for guided meditations. Living in Los Angeles can be so fast paced that you forget to slow down and remember what’s important in life. Meditation and being outside help me to recognize what I love and what makes me feel whole.
May is mental-health awareness month – what does this mean to you both personally, and professionally as business owners?
C: I take my mental health very seriously. It’s imperative for me to begin each day with my morning routine where I meditate, listen to Indian spiritual music, and set my affirmations + intentions for the day. I also do yoga a couple times a week and see a therapist. At VIPER, we have “Mindful Mondays’ where we encourage our team to begin the week with a mindful activity as opposed to emails. Our main priority is our team’s wellbeing. Everything is pointless if we are not happy. So that’s my prime concern.
K: I think it’s extremely important to always put our mental health first. It starts at the top, so if we aren’t happy and healthy as founders then it will affect our team and that affects our business. It’s extremely important that we continue the conversation about mental health so people feel more open to discussing how they feel openly and without any shame.
Talent: Kelsi Kitchener / @kelsi.kitchener and Celeste Durve / @celestedurve of VIPER / @viperbykch
Photographer: Sean Behr / @tornblackjeans
Makeup: Landyn Alexa / @landynalexa
Hair: Rachel Lita / @rachellitahair
Set Asst: Kayla Taheri / @kaylataheri
BTS Videographer: Soben Phy / @bennybankskid
PR: Emily Blair Media @emilyblairmedia
Custom chains by Kimberly Dooley, owner of Roses Metals / @rosesmetals
Jewelry by Sahar Manley / @rollsroycesahar, owner of CAMILLA SERETTI / @camillaseretti
Tattoos on Celeste Durve by @liqfromthewood