16 Jul 2020
“Feels great, haha. I work full time at Spotify and for a year or two, I’ve been doing more projects independently. At Spotify, I work on all the different brands that fall under the umbrella. From artist initiatives to brand work and everything in between."
“I enjoy the combination. Spotify is a huge brand with big budgets and a big influence, so the work I do there is very global and can be seen by millions. But because it’s such a huge company, it can also be more of a challenge. It’s a Swedish company, and there is a lot of corporate stuff you have to go through before you can get things done sometimes. In that sense, I prefer to work on my own, or with a small team. Nothing against Spotify, but at the end of the day it’s just more rewarding when you do it on your own. But I like the balance in my work life right now.”
“To be honest, most of the time I don’t even hear the music that I’m making the artwork for. Sometimes it’s a couple of tracks or snippets as a preview, but I never hear the full project. It’s less about music and more about bringing a concept to life. With Bon Iver for example, it wasn’t really the story in the music itself, but more about talking to the artists and hearing what this project is about for them. They have the music, then they have the artwork, and then the website—those are three separate things. The whole Bon Iver project was all about collaboration. i,i stands for a collaborative spirit. So I tried to recreate that idea of togetherness and connectivity on the website."
“The Bon Iver product was made with data, so that was cool. But music is something human. It’s so visceral and emotional. I try to look at those qualities rather than numbers when I make something. In the end, I hope my work just enhances the experience a little.”
“I worked together with Spike Jordan, and we talked about Gunna’s alter-ego WUNNA (which is the name of the album). Gunna is a Gemini, so the idea was to create a doll version of his alter-ego and have it float into space in front of his actual astrological chart that we had an astrologist made for him.”
“I didn’t know that haha. I think that’s a good sign though. A lot of brand campaigns are just skipped past because they feel impersonal or because people just don’t care. People are more invested in artists than in brands, and when you make artwork as we made for WUNNA, those reactions come with the work. It doesn’t really bother me. It’s actually a great reaction for me. It might be weird to them, but that’s kind of the point. You always want to make something that catches people off guard a little bit.”
“Absolutely. I’m very aware of not being boxed in. I don’t want to be just the Atlanta hip-hop guy. If I was just doing cover artworks or photography there would be more pressure to have a certain look. But for me, in terms of style, it’s more about ideas and the creative process of combining multiple things you haven’t seen before. I love trying different things.”
“As a white man, there is definitely an added responsibility that I’ve always felt, but now even more so. I’ve always tried to be on the right side of things. People of our generation grew up inspired by Black culture: music, fashion, art. The least I can do from my position, with my skill and energy, is to give back to a community that inspired me so much. One way that I hope to do so is through mentorship and investing in talent. Creating opportunities for young designers that may not have benefited from the chances and privilege that I’ve had. Having gone to one of the best art schools in the US and studying design from some of the greats was definitely a privilege. But we need to break that system and think about who’s getting the opportunities both in education and in the industry. You also don’t need to go to the best art school to do what I do.”
“It’s very important for me to engage. I’m not an activist, but I try to influence the people and brands around me to hopefully change something. I have so many white people around me who don’t have black friends and they still don’t understand. And all these brands that are “for the culture” should do better as well. Nike can make a nice commercial about this, but their whole board is white. It’s not just a police thing, it’s everywhere.”
“I think that COVID-19 will forever change how we live. But this, more importantly, will change how we as a society treat each other.”
“I read this book called Sensemaking, by Christian Madsbjerg. I finished it right when COVID-19 started, so it might not be super relevant now, but I still think it’s interesting. He divides data into thick data and thin data. Thin data is: “young people brush their teeth for 10 mins.” With thick data, you attach historical, socio-economic, or cultural connotations to that. Companies now are using big data without understanding histories or cultures. That’s how you get products or services that forget a little about humanity.”
04 Jan 2021
“Yeah, honestly. When I was young my biggest dream was to make people feel and look beautiful. That’s what I always wanted. Growing up, I started to dress myself and realised clothing is something that I really like. So I started my clothing store. But at the end of the day, I thought clothing is not going to help people, they will just feel beautiful for a short period of time. They’re not going to be happy forever. So, based on my catwalk coaching and scouting skills, I decided to create a modeling agency. Now, I can give people a chance and help them achieve careers in fashion."
“I think 80 or 90 in total. Some of the models I find are really young, age 10 to 11. I have some that I discovered at 12 and now they are 18. I’ve been with them at birthdays, we’ve celebrated together, we’ve cried together, we’ve seen big shows together. I’m there for everything because I have been running the two companies by myself, no assistants, nothing. It’s quite intense."
“Honestly, really just the fact that I can make someone happy. I can make people feel worth it. I like when someone can look at themselves and say ‘I am somebody’. When you see it in someone’s eyes, that feeling is priceless. I will always aim for that, no matter what, that’s the goal."
“I know the faces that some clients want. That’s part of doing the job very well. But, I select the models that I have based on feeling. My heart has to say, ‘yes’. For me, it doesn’t matter if they’re handicapped, if they're trans, I don’t care what they look like. I have to feel something special. If they make me really emotional and have a big story, I know which clients and brands they can get. That's how I start to pick the models, when I speak to them and get a feeling, that’s when I know I can give them a career. If I don’t feel like I can be myself with them, if I get a bad vibe. I don’t pick them."
Ismael with Ilja van Vuuren.
30 years of ELLE.
“Yeah, if I can be myself around someone, or they can make me really happy, or their stories make me cry, I just know they’ll be a good model. That’s also why the name of the company is Known. I just know when I have someone in front of me. It’s not a coincidence. Every season I always deliver strong faces because I believe in them and I don’t give up. My models are special. I love my job, I love everyone I represent, and I think they know it."
“There are so many I could tell, we could talk all day. A nice story from last season is about this model I have, Delta. When he came to the agency for the first time, I saw him and said, ‘You're beautiful but you need to work on your body. You really need to listen and focus. I want you to put work in.’ Three times he came to the agency and I said, ‘No, come back when you’re ready. You didn’t practice enough.’ Then he called me and said, ‘I got scouted and they really want to work with me.’ I said, ‘Go ahead sign with them. That’s fine. You know what you’re going to get with me.’ He said, ‘Yes, that's why I want to work with you and I’m convinced that you’re the only one who can give me the career that I want.’ The last time he came in, he really worked on his body, he was in good shape, and he showed me that he learned. So I signed him. Then I brought him to Milan for fashion week. All the models I brought did well, except him. But I didn’t give up, I knew he was a star. So, I decided to go to the castings with him. Before each casting, I practiced the walk with him, talked to him, and told him that I believed in him. We went in and the client loved him and booked him. He did the last show in Milan. Then, the models and I went to Paris. I worked and practiced more with Delta. Built up his confidence and this time he got everything. All the big shows."
Delta @ L'officiel Hommes Italia.
Delta @ Maison Margiela.
“Yes, I travel with the models. If we stay in a cheap hotel, we all stay in a cheap hotel, even me. If we have to get there by bus, I'm going by bus. If we go out, we all go out together. If we go home, we go home together."
“Just me. I really like to prove to myself that I can do my job well. So far, I’ve been successful at it. I have both women and men doing the big shows which is rare. There aren’t a lot of agents that are good at managing both men and women. But I’m a bit stronger in men. I think girls always want to be pretty, because they’ve always been told they have to be. But I don't like that stigma. I always tell the girls, you can be a tom boy girl, you can be a lesbian girl, you can be anything, as long as you are you at my company."
“You know, a chef never reveals his secret. But right now, I don’t have time to scout. I believe God will give you what you deserve. I don't like to go scouting because I don't like to chase money. Sometimes, I'll look online because I don’t have what I need for a client. But I like to think everything that happens is luck and faith. I never like to go on the hunt. I am always waiting for the right time. If someone sees something special in you, they will find you."
“Diversity is very important. It's not just about the face, it's about the personality. I think everyone has something to bring to the table. I think different ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds are very good to have. You can feel inspired by everyone's stories. I feel so educated and I learned so much from different people and their different backgrounds. I learned to have a bigger heart than I had before just by having all the different people in my life."
“Sleep is for sheep."
Shooting new content.
On the way to Milan.
“I don't know. I could go from super chic to super street. I like to be me. There’s no persona. I think I would just describe it as fashionable because I always want to look nice. These days, it's comfortable but elegant, because I really want to feel like I can breathe. When I’m working, doing a photoshoot, walking, I don't want to feel stuck."
“For my life I want to be happy, healthy, and I want to be loved by the people I love. Especially my family. I just don’t want to let people down. I want to be remembered as a loved person who gave people chances. That would make me so happy. For my businesses, I would like to have more freedom. I don’t want to have to be at the shop all the time. I want to hire one or two people who can continue to do the work when I'm not there. I always want to work, but now that I’m getting older, I’m recognizing that it's nice to have a little bit of rest and a little bit of time for yourself at the beginning of the day."
“For me, I’m inspired by this time of reflection that we have during COVID. This is the time to understand who you are and find peace with yourself. Not thinking about luxury. It's about being a human. Being happy with the things we have and our surroundings. Being there for others and not always putting yourself first."