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Mikel

08 Jul 2020

Text by Mikel

ØLÅF Citizens: Karl Cyprien

08 Jul 2020

If everything in your life is orange, you wear the coolest sunglasses, travel the world, and dig the grooviest mid-century interior pieces, you might come close to living life “à la KC”. Karl Cyprien is the Managing Director at Daniel Arsham Studio and one of the people behind sunglasses brand Port Tanger. Based in New York, Karl has experience as a creative strategist for some of the world’s biggest brands (among which Uniqlo, Pat McGrath, and Shiseido). Under normal circumstances, Karl would be traveling between China and New York to manage the marketing, sales strategy, and production for Daniel Arsham. Now Karl is living à la KC in his hometown of Brooklyn, NY.”


Hi Karl, please tell me, what is life “à la KC”?

“Kind of measured,. I’d say that I’m a routined person. I pray and I read to start the day. But there is also a lot of flexibility. Connecting with people, connecting with art. Putting my body and mind first. “A La” is French for “in the manner of,” so it’s really about a strong emphasis on what I love and being true to myself."

 

That involves a lot of Orange, where does the fascination for that color come from?

“It’s really just my happy color. It’s a color that pops, adds something to every situation or outfit. I had a natural gravitation towards it since five years ago, now it’s almost like a branding tool in the sense that people might think about me when they see orange.”

PORT TANGER, lookbook.
It’s funny that you have such an obsession with color, and work with a guy like Daniel Arsham (whose art is mostly white because of his color blindness).

“Very, haha. Typically, I wear a lot of muted colors. But orange is the pop in my life. I like to think it’s my influence that he’s also starting to wear orange."

 

Karl Cyprien.

 

You should visit Amsterdam during Kingsday.

“I really would love to go to Amsterdam during Kingsday! I’ve been to Amsterdam once before, but I was only there for 8 hours because I was passing through from Paris. Amsterdam is great though, it really did something for me. I have a lot of Dutch friends, among whom Olaf Hussein and Hussein from Daily Paper.”

 

Where does that connection between Amsterdam and New York come from, you think?

“Both cities are very creative, and a lot of people from Amsterdam come to New York. Brands like Olaf Hussein, Daily Paper, Patta, MENDO, those are internationally respected brands that reach far beyond the Dutch borders. The community is just amazing.”

 

 

Both cities are very international, and you seem to fit seamlessly in that international identity. How did you end up in New York?

“I was born in Brooklyn, but my family is from Haiti. Haitians are very resilient people. It was the first Black republic to gain independence in 1804. If you come across a Haitian, you’ll find someone who's very positive and resilient. People that have been through a lot historically, but are always able to persevere and appreciate the simple joys of life.”

 

That matches that “New York tough” they always talk about.

“Exactly! I have lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and I don’t really see myself anywhere else. I think I thrive off the madness. Everywhere else is too slow for me. New York brings that friction in your day-to-day. It’s a fast-paced environment, and there’s always a challenge.”

 

What are the challenges you had to face?

“Well, if you look at recent news, I think it’s kind of evident. I’m a strategist by trade, I went to business school and studied finance. Those are environments that have not been very open to black people. Through that path, I fell to consulting and strategy in different industries, and even the coolest brands in New York are not that diverse at senior levels. These industries have been closed off to other minds. And bringing in new perspectives, specifically from the black community, is needed.”

 

UNIQLO X KAWS. UNIQLO X JWA.

 

How do you think we could change that?

“Breaking the barrier of how you find these people. Devaluate formal education and look at interesting life paths. These are the people who should be getting the jobs. In America, people look at credentials made at high valued universities that are only available to the rich, while the majority of the consumers are not from that background. We should be breaking down the criteria. That’s how things will change. The pool of talent should be more colorful, in whatever way you want to interpret that.”

 

That’s what’s interesting about that Amsterdam-New York connection. These are people with a variety of backgrounds and life stories.

“Yes, that’s true. It goes from Africa to Asia, to Europe to Haiti. That’s the beauty of living in today’s world.”

 

The sunglasses brand you work for, Port Tanger, is also based on those different life stories. How do you combine that work with being a Managing Director at Daniel Arsham?

“It comes down to having a good team. In the beginning, I was very involved with Port Tanger. My partner Bilal Fellah is really the driving force, and I pretty much came on board to formalize the idea that he had. I did my part to bring on some talented people, but the team now is so strong that I don’t need to be super involved. The balance is pretty smooth. At Daniel Arsham, I’m formally listed as the Managing Director for his editions practices. But I also oversee collaborations and future growth in China. The last year I’ve been mostly working on exploring and catering to the Chinese market.”

Enfants Riches Deprimes.
Are the two comparable?

“It’s about telling stories. Many things lately have been so surface leveled. I think people are eager to dig a bit deeper. Extract something culturally interesting. That’s what we do with Daniel’s artworks, and with Port Tanger.”

 

We always close these interviews with a question about what has inspired you lately.

“I’ve been in quarantine for over 12 weeks, so I’ve had the time to watch some movies. I recently saw that documentary about Miles Davis; Birth of the Cool (2019). I’m a big jazz fan, so it was an inspiring watch. The way he was able to evolve throughout his career and all the phases he’s been through was incredibly inspiring to see. He also really embraced the youth. Many jazz legends we know today were discovered by him. One part in particular that I liked about the movie was about his score for Ascenseur Pour L'échafaud (1958). He composed that score on the spot, reading off the emotion of the protagonist in the film, and translating that into music. I watched that right after I saw the documentary on Netflix. So if you have the chance, make it a double-feature.”

Tiffany Chung

03 Oct 2021

Text by Tiffany Chung

CiTIZENS: Cynthia Cervantes

03 Oct 2021

From working in educational reform and becoming COO of a high school, to cofounding a creative studio dedicated to celebrating stories of black, indigenous, and communities of color, Cynthia Cervantes has spent much of her career focusing on building a better future for the people around her. In this edition of Citizens, Cynthia tells us about her new city, life as a working parent, and Maroon World, the studio she launched with her husband, Travis Gumbs.

 

Hi Cynthia, tell us how Maroon.World got started.

“It grew out of frustration of having very veiled conversations with clients who wanted a specific look – at that time, everyone was calling it ‘urban content’– but they didn‘t have the language and were not in a position to say what they wanted to say. We wished we could do work that spoke to our own communities in a way that was authentic - made by US for US, so we decided to just do it ourselves. Everything we worked to put out in the world was made specifically for people of color, made by people of color. That’s where it was born from."

 

Do you have any advice for clients on how to have those conversations?

“If you’re a brand, it starts with having a diverse team. Not just bringing in people to fill periphery positions. When we’re at a table and speaking to a creative team, VP, or whoever is in charge of making decisions, those people need to be people of colour. You have to have people representing the audience you’re trying to connect to."

Photography by Travis Gumbs.

Art direction BY Cynthia Cervantes.

 

What are your goals for Maroon.World in the future?

“As time has gone on, we’re trying to diversify the kind of work that we’re doing and spread into other areas. It‘s not just about creating content, we're really thinking about how our ethics and our intentions manifest themselves through our work and day to day lives."

 

What key elements are needed when telling someone’s story visually?

“It starts with intention. What is the intention of what we're trying to relay? What is the intention of the story? In storytelling or stories we were told as children, they always end with ‘the moral of the story is…’ and that’s what we’re looking for. Second, is really understanding who or what it is we’re working with. Then you get a sense of what the imagery is. It’s about becoming inspired by that person's story and finding the nuances that are a part of that."

 

Photograph By Shaniqwa Jarvis.

 

How do you overcome any challenges you face in your work?

“I try not pressure myself to create anything or be creative at all. I just focus on the present and do something that makes me happy like meditate, cook, or spend time with my son. He likes drawing, so we draw together. It helps me get to a place where it feels good to create again."

 

Name a project or accomplishment from your career that you’re most proud of.

“Now that our lives are so different because we have a child and our energy is divided into many different arenas of life, I think differently about my past accomplishments. I am thankful for them, and for the path that has led me to this place in my life, but more than looking backwards at the past, I am more so inspired to think about what my future accomplishments will look like."

Photography by Travis Gumbs.

Art direction BY Cynthia Cervantes.

 

 

Can you share news on any upcoming projects?

“I am very excited about a project my husband has been working on for almost two years now. It‘s an extension of the work we’ve done together, specifically in regards to honouring our cultures and ancestral knowledge. It’s called Medicinal Plant Index. It’s an herbal supplement line and resource guide for medicinal plants. It’s going to launch at the end of the year. We’re currently working on building out the resource guide, which explores traditional uses of herbs, documents the people that have been working to cultivate medicinal plants , and provides an understanding of how herbs can be incorporated into our daily lives."

 

You work with your husband a lot. Has parenthood affected the way you work together creatively?

“Parenthood has exposed very specific parts of our partnership that are very strong and that we rely on daily in order to make it through the day. We often talk about the fact that because we’ve known each other for so long and have worked under extremely difficult circumstances professionally, our transition to parenthood has been really interesting and fun. I think it has also made us reevaluate where is it that we really feel is important that we show up for each other."

 

 

Okay, let's play a ‘this or that’ game. New York or Mexico City, which do you prefer for food?

“Mexico City. Hands down. We don’t eat gluten and we eat a mostly plant-based diet, so the food in Mexico City is next level - you can just spend every single day eating your way through the city."

 

What about a night out?

“New York! A lot of my friends are in nightlife so it’s always just a cute vibe. Also, there's such an incredible mix of people and cultures."

 

Which city do you prefer for art?

“That‘s really hard. I‘m going to say a tie. New York and Mexico City are so inspiring in such different ways. Both places really push you to want to make work, but I think the vibe is so different in each place. I think Mexico City is much more experimental."

 

Last one, New York or Mexico City for style?

“That’s so hard. They're so different! For me, in Mexico City, the best style is found on people you pass on the street, who aren’t necessarily in the fashion or art world. In New York, the looks I find most incredible or inspiring are usually on people who are in the scene."

 

In Mexico City with fam.

 

Can you describe how your own personal style has evolved?

“It’s been a journey! I definitely had my ‘fashion girl’ moment - a mushroom haircut with shaved sides and COMME des GARÇONS silhouettes. Now, I'm definitely giving off 'on-duty' mom vibes hahaha. It’s more about being comfortable because I am so active. Can I sit on the floor and play? Can I run to the store and grab something? It's pushing towards more classic, I think. I'm heading into like a more simple phase for sure."

 

Name a person, place, and thing that inspires you.

“I am forever inspired by my grandmother, Ofelia Alvarez. I have her picture hanging by my desk and whenever I feel anxious or depleted I look to her for inspiration and for encouragement to push through. She was such an incredible human being, and she would always make sure I knew how proud of me she was and how much she loved me. Everything about her inspires me – her fierce and profound love for her family, her tireless work ethic, her style – everything!"

 

“A place that inspires me is Mexico City. I love being here. I love walking around the streets. I love hearing music. I love hearing Spanish all day. I love hearing parents talk to their children. I love everything about being here. There's nothing like it."

 

“The other truly inspiring driving force in my life is my son, Tenoch. He inspires me every day to be a good person and to live the kind of life that I hope he will emulate and take to the next level. I just want to create a life experience for him that is so full, rich, and undeniably full of love."