Nsimba Valene

Nsimba Valene

























































































Nsimba Valene

Valene is a creative non-conformist who can’t be pinned down to a single role. While fashion is her main focus, her projects range from designing for her own brand, Libaya, to trend-forecasting, creative direction and writing. Her end goal, however, always remains unwavering – to create change and bring her vision of a new world into reality.

04 Jun 2024

Karolina Wereszczynska

Hey Nsimba, you’re a woman of seemingly ever-evolving talents and professions. Is there a particular word or role that best describes who you are and what you do currently?

If I could describe myself, it’s just that I’m a creative. I’m not really a fan of job titles. I feel like I only use them because the world needs to understand me and companies need to know what I’m capable of. Every season comes with different creative vehicles to realise a certain vision and I allow myself to change because it’s human. Fashion is one of my first passions, so it’s one of the tools that I use the most. I like to be ahead of the times and I really want to inspire people to create better worlds in so many different ways. I use all the different tools of trend forecasting, creative direction, consultancy and my brand to realise that.


Born to Dutch-Congolese heritage, Nsimba Valene Lontanga is a dynamic Amsterdam-based creative consultant renowned for her expertise in trend forecasting, creative direction, and concept development. Her work is marked by a deep commitment to female empowerment and social change, with a global reach that spans continents.

You describe your work as shaping “visionary new worlds”. I’d love to know more about what your vision entails.

For me it’s about creating something that opens people’s eyes and minds. That’s always the base of what I do. It’s a need to create something that changes something in some way. It doesn’t always need to be big - the smallest change can become something big.

What does a dream new world look like to you?

One where there’s room for perspectives that are completely different from the male, Eurocentric perspectives that have shaped the norm for so long. That’s why my slogan is “The Future is Female and African”. I really believe that it’s time for not only for women to be more in charge but also for African people and people from the Global South in general. People who are typically ignored and not seen as valuable or visionary. So that’s my dream world I would say – one where we can share more of our stories, our space and our power.

You also run your fashion brand Libaya - what pushed you to start the brand alongside all your other projects?

I’ve always been inspired by fashion but I didn’t think that I would start my own brand. What really pushed me was when I started travelling a lot to West Africa for work and I became so inspired by the women there. I started getting things made by local female tailors and friends would ask me who’d made them, if they could get them too or even if they came from certain high street stores. I found it very interesting that people were directly connecting these types of styles to western fashion because, to me, they were really tied to the way I’ve seen my mum, my aunties and the tailors dressing. It made me realise that people had forgotten that these women have always been part of the global book of style. So, I decided to remind them about it.

Can you expand on how these women’s style influences your designs?

One interesting example is that when we think about basics from a Eurocentric perspective, we think about jeans or a t-shirt. But from a Congolese perspective, I think about a wrapper, an off-the-shoulder top, puffy arms, ruffles or a wide A-line dress that you can wear around the market. I was inspired to redefine the way people feel about a basic. The name “Libaya” is also connected to the whole idea of Congolese basics because it means a traditionally tailored top. It’s really just a staple item.

You particularly love an off-the-shoulder style for your designs. Why do you think it’s such a key part of Congolese fashion?

I would say that it’s a reflection of a kind of carefree way of living. People do things slowly and things don’t have to be perfect. It’s just a woman who decides to put something on and then just lets it hang in a totally relaxed way, you know.

Do you have a particular process for how you find inspiration and then interpret it into a final collection?

It always just comes from looking at African women, pictures of my mum and vintage inspiration. Especially from around the 70s/80s after independence when a lot of African women felt entirely free to express themselves. I just take elements and I create when I feel like creating.

What does the future hold for the brand?

I want to grow, but slowly, and I want to find different ways of expressing that female and African future that I believe in. I’d love to do collaborations, especially with brands that create something totally different from myself. I want to inject my world of sun, rumba, love from the motherland and all these women that came before me into their world.

I’ve also been rethinking a lot recently. I used to make collections and now I’m focusing more on making pieces. I don’t want to produce a lot of unnecessary things. I want to create things that I feel women need, that really last and that can be worn in different seasons of your life. Especially as women, if your body or your life changes, you should be able to wear that top or that dress that you bought from Libaya. I also want to make things that women can share with friends or their grandma or their mum, you know. I personally feel that I need more of that in my life.

Your book, “More Than Fashion Girls” (Meer dan modemeisjes), comes out at the end of 2024. What’s it about?

I started writing it in a moment where I felt so seen by the fashion industry and had lots of opportunities coming my way. But my gut was telling me that something just wasn’t matching. I realised I was becoming part of this big industry that I’d always wanted to challenge. I still do that with my brand and through my consultancy, of course, but I just felt that I needed to speak the truth. Even if I’m part of the problem, even if I’m not able to change the entire reality of fashion, I still need to be honest. My upbringing taught me to always go through life with my eyes very open, question things and not conform. So, when I first started working in the industry, I always felt that I was more than just a fashion girl. Because it has never been about just the clothes. It has always been about showing people a new way to look to the world. So that’s what I’m doing with my book.

Can you tell us more about how?

It has a lot of stories that celebrate people from the Global South and the women that inspired me in my life – my mum, aunties, African women in general. The fashion element is just a tool. It’s a book about a new world. I’m not pretending to know all the answers or as if this book is the answer. It’s really a journey and a search for myself. I’ve confronted myself on a lot of levels during the writing process. In the end, I feel like the book is very uncomfortable, very critical and therefore very beautiful and hopeful. It reflects my belief that our role as women in fashion is to change the world and will help other people to confront themselves, too.

What have you learned about yourself during the process?

You just get to know yourself. You’re putting so many of your own personal thoughts and visions of the future on paper, then accepting that it will be printed and that a lot of people will read it and have opinions on it. It’s also made me realise that you can be so many things. I mean, I’m a writer now. I feel now that if you have a good story, then you’re a writer. And I think many of us have one.

OLAF is all about living Our Life As Friends. The way you involve and give back to your community through your work, in my eyes, makes you a true friend to your community. Does that resonate with you?

To me, without community you have nothing. It’s the essence of so many things that we do. I think we create things to become part of one and to connect with each other. My brand has always been about creating a community that can relate to each other, that wants to move forward together. Not just on paper but in reality. When I think about my community, I think mostly about the tailors. I really consider them as friends and family. Being a friend of your community is about being aware that everything is connected and everything you do affects someone else. I think that’s what the fashion industry also forgot for a while – being friends with everyone we create with.

To end on a word of wisdom – what’s one thing you think everyone could do to be a better friend to their own communities?

Just really listen to each other and invite people that are different from you to be part of what you’re doing. Value everyone who’s different. And the beautiful thing about doing that is that you’ll most likely realise that you’re actually more connected than you thought.


After a decade of running a bookstore and making books, Uwambaga is moving his focus to a new type of storytelling. Here, he tells us all about friendship, fatherhood and creating work that serves his wider community.

20 Mar 2024

Lodia Sebit

Hi Gunifort, you've been friends with our founder Olaf Hussein for a long time, how did that come about?

Fifteen years ago, I was working for a denim brand called Blue Blood, in their store in my hometown. One day this very stylish guy walked into the store and purchased a couple of items. We had some good banter and that was it. Then I saw him a second time at a Pharrell Williams concert here in Amsterdam, where he actually went on stage because he used to wear a lot of Pharrell’s clothing brands back in the day. I recognised him and loved that he was so connected to what was happening internationally in fashion and culture. We became friends on Twitter and then when I came to Amsterdam to study, we properly linked up again and found ourselves in this friend group of like-minded guys with similar backgrounds.

You both work in creative fields too, how has the friendship shaped your work life?

I think Olaf and I have the most similar backgrounds in our friend group, to a certain degree. When he finished university, he worked in the corporate world for a big consulting firm and then made the transition into fashion basically from the ground up. I also have a very academic background in Finance and Information & Knowledge management. Olaf was one of my inspirations to make a similar move from corporate to creative. We’ve always been very close to each other not only on a personal level but also on a professional level.

I recently found these photos from 2013-2016 of some of the first trips he made to Portugal to start production. I was going with him as a friend, a fitting model and as somebody to spar with. It’s been beautiful to see his development.


Born in Rwanda, Gunifort Uwambaga is an Amsterdam-based creative entrepreneur who is passionate about stories, history, art and books. He was previously a co-owner of the renowned bookstore MENDO and is currently working at What’s Culture, a digital platform focused on history-driven stories about music, art, photography, and entertainment.

You touched on your trajectory from corporate to creative – tell us more about your work and what you’re up to at the moment.

For over a decade, I have worked in and co-owned a bookstore and publishing company called MENDO. At the beginning of 2023, I felt quite ill for the first time in my life. I realised then that I’d spent 12, almost 13 years doing this one project and my profile had become “the book guy”. I love books but it’s a singular, somewhat limiting medium. It’s very capital and time intensive endeavour and not an extremely dynamic process.

One of the biggest drivers for continuing with that business was a responsibility that I felt for my community, being able to offer a beautiful space with beautiful books to everybody from students to retired creatives. I also realised that by getting sick and now also being a dad that I should be a little bit more egotistical. It was actually a big burden to keep the business afloat with all the other ambitions that I still have for my life. I love books, but I’m equally as curious about other mediums. Eight years ago, I was writing a thesis on blockchain technology for my masters, and I just wanted to explore that again – the world of digital, other mediums. I found that the red thread of what inspires me is storytelling.

During this time, I was speaking with a good friend of mine, Jamal, who founded What’s Culture as an Instagram page that puts culture in context, covering all different creative fields from music and entertainment to sports and fashion. We identified an opportunity for me to add value and help grow that platform, building a brand around it and a business model underneath it. I saw how it could still serve as a very valuable contribution to my community and help me tell our stories, but this time not limited to Amsterdam - we’re global.

So, What’s Culture is the major focus right now. How is it developing to be more than the Instagram page?

What you see of What’s Culture at the moment is just the very early stage of everything we have in mind. We’re flipping the traditional business practice by working on our social media, following and community first, building the brand by working from this very strong, very organic foundation. Then we’ll deploy the proper platforms and the physical manifestation of what this will fully be. Of course I loved my store and retail, so we’ll have a physical space again in the future.

We’ve started doing events as we have a good community and following here in Amsterdam, but that’s not what our company will ultimately end up doing. It’s not even a soft launch, this is just connecting with our future customers, a building process. We’re also exploring the business case at the moment, which is another reason why we’ve chosen this strategy. We’re very open, not conventional or conservative. We’re talking with people in educational spaces, AI, community building in different parts of the world, in Africa, in travel, in food. We’re talking with individual artists. All of this to figure out what our culture needs and where the company should grow into. So, yea, right now you can only see a tiny percentage of what we’re building.

That’s extremely intriguing! Sounds like you’ve got big dreams and big plans. You’re involved in More Than Goals, too – what’s that all about?

More Than Goals is the sports platform that’s part of the What’s Culture world. It’s something that I’m very passionate about because it’s a very recent revelation of mine after being sick last year. Before that, I never played sports. I’ve just spent my life reading! But I realised that you need to find a balance between the cerebral and the physical. I believe you need both to have a happy and healthy life.

We truly believe that sport unites and inspires. It’s one of the best motors to connect this world and can solve a lot of issues, from health to racism. But, as in the creative scene, there are still a lot of issues and a lot of untold stories. With More Than Goals we shine a light on these heroes from our culture.

Then there’s also The Other Side which is a magazine, right?

I love print and will always table in printed matters. More Than Goals & What’s Culture published a magazine last year. On one side, it was 'What’s Culture' and on the other side it was 'The Other Side'. It stems from this feeling that me, my friends, our community and other marginalised people have always felt that we’re on the other side of things. It highlights fine art, fine photography and other international, high-end practices from creators of the other side. We’ll also be developing the magazine and incorporating it a bit further in the future. But for now it is not our main focus.

How has becoming a father changed your outlook on life and the way you work?

From a work perspective, it’s taught me to be brave enough to start over and continue growing and learning. Outlook-wise, becoming a father is the most beautiful and profound thing that has happened to me. As a thinker, you tend to have this almost dissociative, observer point of view towards life. But with the birth of my son, this lightning bolt hit me and gave me a more “in the now” perspective. It made me a little less philosophical and agnostic about life. The “now” becomes the most important thing, while building for the “future”. It was also the first time that the way I deployed my life energy went from myself to another human, which was almost like this beautiful ego reset. Now his wants, needs and dreams come before mine. He’s just been the most honest and the wisest teacher I’ve had in my 30 somewhat years of being on this planet. Plus, he’s funny, he’s kind and he loves animals!

To tie the two themes together, how have your friendships played a role in your fatherhood?

It’s been beautiful to see our friend group developing from young bachelors, to starting relationships, some have gotten married and now having kids or becoming uncles, as I say. It’s grown very organically. The conversations shift. We’ve found a lot of solace in each other in fatherhood. It’s been fun having more friends with kids. Some friends don’t want kids or it’s not their time right now, but that’s also amazing. I think both perspectives are worthwhile.

We all have one thing in common though - a migrant or refugee background. We’re all this first generation, which means that we don’t have the traditional family structure around us. So, besides our businesses or careers, one of the things I’m very proud of and think is super important is that we’re building our own. I think it’s extremely valuable for the next generation. My son now has a bunch of uncles and aunties. I love that, at 5 years old, he can walk around Amsterdam and say, “oh that’s Uncle Olaf’s store, that’s Uncle Hussein’s. Jefferson’s & Adberahmanne's store, look that’s Uncle Guillaume’s store, that’s daddy’s library”. He can really have a sense of belonging growing up and of actually owning some of the reality that he sees around him. We’re able to give our next generation a different experience, context and framework to what we had.

Finally, what’s the most important value in your friendships?

Loyalty. We’ve been through ups and downs, successes and failures, good and bad times and the most important thing that’s always been there is loyalty. It’s a very nice feeling to know that you have people who have your back regardless.


Founder of Areté - A progressive product creation studio that sits at the intersection of research, design, engineering, production, and brand. From working as a footwear engineer at Nike to founding Areté in 2019, Myles' entrepreneurial journey is a testament and representation of the diverse cities and cultures he has experienced.

27 Feb 2024

Lodia Sebit

Hi Myles, where are you today? Can you set the scene of your creative space for our readers?

I’m in our studio in Amsterdam. It’s quite minimal, not too much colour. My team always teases me about that! Lots of steel, grey, black and concrete. Quite industrial design studio vibes. And it’s split over 2 floors. The downstairs area is a bit more relaxed and a bit cleaner. People work from here sometimes and friends come to hang out and have lunch.

Then upstairs is the design space where all the samples and reference pieces are. It’s a bit messier - you’ve got the wall with all the work that’s going on so that’s really our creative space. We’re south facing and are blessed that it’s got a floor-to-ceiling glass front with so much natural light coming in. It’s really a beautiful place to be.

You started Areté after working at Nike as a way to build your own happiness. What does happiness look like to you?

That’s a big one isn’t it! There are so many different ways you could answer that question. Within your career, I think happiness is really driven by how far you’re into your passion. Finding something that you’re excited about getting up for every morning gives you real purpose and fulfilment. That obviously makes you happy. Then getting better in that passion and seeing yourself develop and improve really adds to it.

In your personal life, I think stability and being surrounded by loved ones obviously really makes you happy. I think if you have really good friends and really good family, you can get through any challenge in life.


Founder of product design and engineering studio Areté. Born in Birmingham and now based in Amsterdam by way of a three-year stint in Vietnam, O’Meally is a true global citizen who channels his experiences into a rich creative life.

Sticking with the personal life aspect, how do you disconnect from work?

Sport, fully sport. I was raised as an athlete first and foremost and I used to play tennis to a high level. The creative stuff and the design engineering came second. Playing, watching, working out - that’s the way I disconnect massively. I do a lot of football and padel tennis as that’s easy with friends just to mess about.

Then being with family and friends from back home in Birmingham is also nice as well, you know.

Is that sporting background what led to Areté’s sneaker focus?

The sneaker focus comes from my background at Nike combined with where the industry trends were when I started the studio. But we’re setting the theme. We can create almost whatever the client wants. For Raf Simons we did a number of different boots. We were even working on a woman’s heel towards the end and for A-COLD-WALL* we did loafers.

So, you’re not necessarily a sneakerhead then?

I’m not a sneakerhead! In the traditional sense at least. When I was younger there were, of course, particular models that I loved and had. Supreme just brought back a shoe called the Courtposite with their latest Nike collab. It’s a tennis shoe and I had it when I was like 15. I thought I was the sickest kid in these shoes. But I didn’t study footwear design at school. It was more the making of products, the engineering and the industrial design process that I liked, then I fell into footwear because my first job was Nike.

It feels like you can’t talk about creative industries right now without mentioning AI. How do you feel it might impact the future of shoe design?

I’m actually really fascinated by it as part of the concepting phase. When you do your research into your topic, you’ll of course have your own concept ideas that come out of that research. But feeding that into AI and seeing what that spins out will support your own thinking. For me, AI will never replace the top-level creatives because they’ll just learn how to use that to make their own ideas even more developed and advanced. Because if you feed in rubbish, it spits out rubbish. But if you feed in the right stuff, the right concepts, the right references, the right text, what it feeds out can be very interesting. How you then take that to design your piece is then back to the talent of the individual creative.

We’ve used it for a retail project we’re working on right now as part of the early phase of ideation and it was really interesting. It was really fun to use actually.

The tech is useful but the people are still essential! Can you talk us through a human element of shoemaking that really stands out to you?

My eyes were really opened up to the level of skill in factories in the three years I worked for Nike in Vietnam. Of course, you’ve got amazing developers and designers that are sat in Nike’s headquarters. But the unknown, quieter side of things, which is less spoken about, is the amount of skill and experience that exists in the factories. It’s insane. I became big team factory over those three years. Obviously design and the engineering pre-hand over to the factory will have a big impact on the end product, but the biggest impact comes from the quality of the factory you’re working with and the quality of its team.

Any insights into what the future holds for Areté?

Right now, we’re in the process of evolving from footwear studio to product design engineering studio. Footwear will still remain a core part of what we do but we’ll be expanding into new areas such as spatial design, installations, accessory design and apparel. We’re working with the artist Skepta designing his full collection for Puma for example. So we already have a few projects that we’ve started at the beginning of this year which feed into that evolution, so next year you’ll start to see a broader range of projects coming from the studio.

I’ve also started an area in the studio called Future Scope. It’s a small space for us when we have the time to explore ideas that we wouldn’t normally be able to with our client-based projects. It’s more research and innovation focussed. It’s more slow burn and there are no deadlines to hit. So, if we get a topic that we like the sound of or an opportunity to work with a partner on something that we can go deeper into through the lens of innovation, sustainable design or circular engineering, we can put it under Future Scope.

Touching on sustainable design, how easy is it to do within the footwear world?

It’s really difficult. We do the bits that we can – we work with organic cottons and recycled or upcycled materials. But there are still commercial objectives for a lot of our projects and that makes it difficult to go as clean as you could do. We’re working on a project right now within Future Scope that explores this topic with a company in Portland, America, so hopefully we create something that’s ready to share next year.

OLAF stands for Our Life As Friends, which encompasses how we thrive on making connections with countries, cultures and citizens around the globe. How has a life of meeting friends from the different cultures you’ve lived in around the world influenced your life?

I think that it balances you and makes you more of a complete individual because you’ve got so many references to pick from, learn from and absorb. I take bits that I really respect and value and then try to incorporate them into my character. In some ways it helps elevate your thinking just to be exposed to so much. You see the right and wrongs in things. You see how people might approach a certain problem or task in different cultures. I’ve learnt from people of different religions, too. A lot of my friends here in Amsterdam are Muslim and I’ve learnt so much from them about Islam. I just enjoy being a citizen of the world.


Co-founder of TEN – a networking community for entrepreneurial women that started in Amsterdam and is now going global. From working in a start-up, to starting her own, her journey is one that shows how connection, creativity and community can lead to great things.

24 Oct 2023

Olaf Hussein

Hi Nathalie. What were you doing pre-TEN? How did that lead to starting the community?

I first worked at fashion brand Daily Paper after I studied at Academie Artemis where I specialized in Strategy & Creative Concepting for fashion, interior and media. What was nice was that I got the option to work with a business coach there. I really enjoyed that also because I wasn’t really being taught about the organisational part. I think for myself as a person I am quite organised and I love organising projects so it is something I like to do but it’s not something I studied, especially business wise. It’s a whole different game. So that was really nice to have someone. She is a really inspiring woman who really had more of an experienced big sister type of role. She was able to lead the way a bit more for me. She was also the one who told me to get out there and go network, which was something that I really wanted to do but I really didn’t know where. Three years ago in Amsterdam there were many events in the creative industry but they were more focused on PR and brand type of events. I really felt like there wasn’t a place that was about the people in it and the type of connection. I felt really disconnected when I went to several events. That’s when the pandemic came and I decided to set up my own network.

I had the mission to bring women together because I thought it was interesting to see how we could support each other in that way. I think it’s just a really beautiful thing to have women come together in one space as well. I wanted to have deep connections, meaningful conversations, to support each other, inspire each other, and also share knowledge. I started a closed Instagram account, invited my own network and asked everybody to invite ten other women to the group. I think it worked because a lot of women liked the idea that they were also part of it. A lot of women were really eager to invite other people as well. It grew quite fast right from the beginning. Then I also met my business partner through the network which was really nice.


Founder of TEN Women and ambitious entrepreneur with a creative background and proven track record in managing projects from concept to completion. Developing business models, (marketing) strategies and coaching individuals effectively. Known for being a realistic optimist with an open-minded growth mindset.

It was through you inviting people that you ended up meeting her?

Exactly yeah. She was in that closed account. She reached out to me and we decided to organise events together. We clicked so well that I really felt like it was just way more fun to do it together than just by myself. We share the same vision and I think it’s really unique to find someone in that way.

A perfect example of the power of networking!

It’s super funny - we’re the living example of what you can get out of TEN. We didn’t even realise it in the beginning. We organised many different events from that moment on and we grew into TEN later on.

TEN tells women that “it’s time to step into your power”. What does that mean to you? When do you feel at your most powerful?

I think for everybody stepping into your power can have a different meaning. I think it’s letting go of the things that are holding you back. It’s tapping into the knowledge that is already around you by surrounding yourself with the right people who have the knowledge that you are attracted to and who also want to share that knowledge with you. People who are on the same path in wanting to grow into the best version of themselves. There’s a Harvard study that says that you become like the 5 people that you surround yourself with. I think it’s interesting because I feel that it doesn’t matter what type of studies you’ve done, it really depends on a certain mindset and who you surround yourself with. And I guess that’s also the answer I have for myself – when I surround myself with inspiring people, inspiring women, it definitely gives me a feeling of power and wealth.

Your membership is open to anyone who “believes in the power of feminine energy”. Tell us more.

We’ve always had a focus on women and we often get asked who the platform is available to. We said feminine energy because we actually don’t want to limit it to a gender, but also have the focus on the fact that being in your feminine energy is really powerful as well. You can draw a lot of strength from being in your feminine energy. It depends on your industry but there is a big stigma around being vulnerable, for instance. It’s seen as weak, while I can see that it’s really your power. That’s what we really mean by “in your feminine energy”. We really believe in that and we also want to attract people in our community who stand behind that.

TEN is open to entrepreneurial women from all creative backgrounds. Can you talk about the mix of profiles of your members?

It started out in the creative industry because that’s mostly where my own network was. We narrowed it down and made it into a niche for us. But the longer we were working on TEN, the more we realised that we didn’t want to be limited to only the creative industry. You have so many women with the same spirit who also want to be connected to each other and also feel like they can share their knowledge. It’s actually really nice to have someone talk about finance or generational wealth, which is a totally different topic to what the creative industry is used to or ever has a connection with. We believe it’s super nice to bring these two worlds together. It’s important to learn from that side as well even if maybe it’s not your first interest. We believe in the cross over of different industries. That’s what we realised later on and that’s why we opened it up a bit more. We focus on women with an entrepreneurial spirit, so it could be that you’re working somewhere and want to start a side hustle or eventually work for yourself. Or if you’re in a leading position, that also really fits within our community. The industries are quite broad.

Can you give an example of how you foster human connections through creativity at your events?

Human connection is what we focus most on at our events. The creative thing is something that we sometimes implement but you don’t need to be creative in that sense. For instance, we’ve sometimes hosted ceramics workshops and shared with people that it’s just to get their inner child out and be playful. Not to focus on making something super professional. We added a twist that they had to create a ceramic for someone else – like the person sitting in front of them. Which is fun because they’re then trying to get to know another person and what they like.

Do you have any personal creative practices? Either that feed into your professional work or maybe allow you an escape?

I used to always really love to draw but it’s something I don’t do often anymore. I think in general being creative and working with your hands is something that a lot of people really enjoy but forget to do because you get caught up in all the other things you have to do. That’s what led us to do creative workshops at our events -sometimes you just need to plan that moment. I don’t think a lot of people would easily say, “OK, tonight after dinner I’m going to sit and draw.” I try to sometimes but it’s really easy to get caught up in other things or maybe watch a movie, which is also nice, but it’s not really feeding into your creativity. I think it’s really healthy to do it also.

Maybe you’ll be inspired to do a bit more drawing now! Moving from creativity to culture – TEN has done a few international events now. How does the different cultural setting feed into the experience? Do you feel like each country creates a different vibe for the meet ups?

It’s something that we find super important and that’s why we work with local women when we go to other countries. We really believe it’s a synergy. We bring our concept of finding connection with one another, which is kind of universal – you don’t need language to find a connection with someone. But, of course, there are many different cultural ways of interacting. For instance, in New York people are really outspoken, whereas in Holland, people are more introverted. Our local teams are very valuable to us as they understand what works best.

So, events are tailored to your location?

Yep, and I think this is also something that we want to explore more in the future, to see how we can more specifically tap into the different cultures that we enter.

Do you have a story from an event that stands out as encapsulating what TEN is all about?

It’s difficult to describe only one! I think for Luca and I, any event is really rewarding to us. We both feel really grateful for the gratitude we get from the women who join us because they have felt a connection with someone. We’ve researched that and it’s a basic human need to have these connections. A lot of us don’t even realise how disconnected we all are.

Finally, what are your hopes for the future of TEN?

We want to build our network internationally but also outside the western world because we really want to see how we can connect women globally!


Pieter Kool is the founder of strategic spatial design agency, CARBON STUDIO. He has worked with names such as Pharrell Williams, Marc Newson, Rem Koolhaas as well as the Prouvé family. In this edition of Citizens, Pieter talks to us about what inspires him, his approach to design, and his latest project.

09 Jun 2023

Tiffany Chung

Hey Pieter, you’ve created spaces for brands such as G-Star, Ace&Tate, Precinct 5, and most recently, OLAF’s new HQ and flagship store. Tell us about the design.

Olaf had a lot of confidence in me and gave me a lot of freedom. The brief was very loose which I really enjoyed. I think that’s also very typical about Olaf and the people that work at the company, there’s a lot of trust. To start the design, there were two main factors I looked at: one is the brand and the second is the context of the space. In my conversations with Olaf about the brand, there was a lot of talk of streetwear, but OLAF is a bit more high-end so that's what is reflected in the store. We came up with this idea of a minimalist display to really let the clothing speak, but at the same time it‘s not the hard, cold minimalism that you see in many stores. That just didn’t fit the character of the brand. So, we came up with this ‘friendly minimalist’ concept. Second, was looking at the retail space. It’s two adjacent ground floor spaces of two separate buildings that have been connected through a small passage. The idea was to create this sort of gallery with a continuous horseshoe wall connecting the two spaces. We placed clothing on the inside and outside of the horseshoe and in three places the wall is punctured by two displays or vitrines, and the third puncture connects the horseshoe with the courtyard so light comes in from the back. The courtyard is another really nice feature of this space because it helped create a very logical area for fitting rooms – it’s a little bit back in the store, so you feel secure, but there's beautiful daylight. Then, the question was ‘How do we build it?’ The materialization philosophy for the brand that we developed is for both the retail space and the headquarters. They are developed as one concept. The idea was to design something that is not fixed but basically designed for change. Just like the way people grow and change, brands like OLAF do too. So, I view the office and the store as platforms and we design the rules for those platforms that allow change to happen very easily.


Pieter Kool is the founder of strategic spatial design agency, Carbon Studio. He has worked with names such as Pharrell Williams, Marc Newson, Rem Koolhaas as well as the Prouvé family. In this edition of Citizens, Pieter talks to us about what inspires him, his approach to design, and his latest project.

Is that how you would describe ‘future-proof design’?

Yes, but you cannot design for every possible change. A good design considers which things will or might change and which things are stable or permanent. For OLAF’s office space, the variables are bigger than the retail space. After only half a year, we’re already working on the first big overhaul. That’s how the idea of the cardboard tubes came out. They are flexible building blocks: one tube is one unit and by combining units you can create walls, supports for tables, and those kinds of things. What I also like about the cardboard tube is that it really fits the ‘friendly minimalist’ concept for OLAF. It's round and very soft to the touch which really works for the brand. Secondly, and more importantly, cardboard is one of the most circular building materials you can find. It's local, it’s always so cheap, and if you throw it away it's not downcycled into something of less value, you can basically just make it wet and make new cardboard to reuse again. That’s why cardboard became such a theme in the design. The flexibility and sustainability combined with the aesthetics of being round and soft fit well with the brand.

Do you try to be sustainable in all your projects?

Definitely. I find that many times clients are not ready or asking for it. So, for every project, I find some way to be sustainable, but every project is completely different. For instance, for Ace&Tate, I used corrugated steel which is extremely lightweight but extremely strong. It‘s painted with natural paints and can easily be recycled. In other projects, I also use steel to create building blocks that can be combined like LEGOS. This makes the steel an investment energy-wise because things can be reconfigured and reused, and the material lasts a very long time. I always make sure things are easily recyclable and not downcycled.

Is that your own traditional philosophy in approaching architecture or is this something you experienced with past companies or studios that you've worked in?

It is more what I, as a studio, think is important. It's my job to design a good interior and translation of the brand, so of course it's important that the store has a sustainable impact. When I sit down with many of my clients and we discuss sustainability, I always recommend that they invest a lot of money in things like the most energy-efficient air conditioning system. It’s really boring but the interior, the tables, the floor, are neglectable compared to the energy use of air conditioning. This is just reality. Sustainability is not sexy. It's just about making an investment in good installations. Considering the environment, it’s much more effective than putting hemp wallpaper on the wall.

What has been the most challenging project that you've worked on so far?

A project comes to mind. I was the Global Creative Director for G-Star RAW for years and I had to develop a global concept that had to fit in many different locations: from Helsinki to Abu Dhabi. Sometimes you're in very clean shopping malls and sometimes you're in a 600-year-old building in Brussels or Marseille and it all has to feel like the same brand. To execute a global-sized project like this right takes a lot of time, a lot of trial and error, and a lot of intelligence to come up with a good solution.

Do you have any interior design pet peeves?

Many. But something that I feel is always obsolete is interactive screens. People already have their phones and digital content is a personal experience. What you have on your phone is yours and it's yours only. In my experience, everybody hates going to a screen and interacting with it while everyone can look at you and see what you’re doing. Nobody does it. I have yet to see the first proper application of it, so for me, that's definitely a no. Another reason is that you can do so much online that when you actually decide to venture into the physical world, you're looking for a social and very physical experience where you can meet people and touch stuff.

Is there a space (that you didn’t design) that has left an impression on you recently?

I was in Barcelona last month and I went to the Joan Miró Foundation. He made these beautiful wool tapestries. The wool is really thick but, in some parts, it just comes out like half a meter, it's a landscape that he made. And in the same museum, there is a mercury fountain by Alexander Calder. I just stood there for one hour looking at it. Mercury is a metal but it's liquid and you expect it to behave like water but it's so different. It’s so cool.

Speaking of impressive spaces, tell us about your houseboat.

Yeah, I’m an Amsterdam guy and I live on the water on a newly built houseboat. I, together with an architect, designed the exterior, the whole interior, the flooring levels, staircases, and stuff like that. The materialization, I designed myself. So, it's really a custom-made design and it won the ‘Houseboat of the Year’ award. I can give a day-long lecture on the concept of the house, but the idea is that it really plays with your expectations of space. For some spaces, the ceiling is very low and some spaces the ceiling is really high, and this really changes your experience when you walk through it. I really like this concept that I call ‘non-space’ where if you have something like a corridor but make it twice as wide so it becomes a space where different activities can happen. By playing around with the dimensions of spaces and how they are connected, you can create a lot of moments where it's not clear what the function of the space is but if it's designed well people can come up with many things to actually do there. For instance, in our house, there's a split level and one floor is about a meter higher than the adjacent floor. This is a really nice place to sit because you can look out over the water. The cat always hangs out there because when we pass by it's right at petting height. But when we have people over for dinner, this floor becomes the buffet. At parties, people always sit there because you're sort of in the middle of things and when you sit there, you're still at eye level with the people that stand. It has a million functions that were not specifically assigned to it creating a certain context that encourages play.

What are some of your trend predictions for the future design?

Personally, I don't bother with trends very much. But of course, the big thing right now is AI. Everybody is on experimenting with writing copy and generating images. AI is not able to design interiors for you yet, but it's an extremely handy tool to come up with solutions.

So, are you interested in AI?

Definitely. We have these ongoing research projects that we do at the studio. With ChatGPT and DALL-E, I've been doing small experiments but I wish we were a big brand like Nike so we can get dedicated teams working with AI because there's so much to learn.

Since OLAF celebrates citizens, countries, and cultures, we like to wrap up each interview with the same question: Can you name a person, place, and thing that inspires you?

The mercury fountain is the thing that inspires me because something as simple as a bare material can just sort of really shake your foundation of how you look at it.

A place that inspires me is basically any artisan's workshop, like a specialist that's super good at working with only aluminum or just weaving wool. I love that there's so much to learn, to see, and to experience in a space where you don't understand 5% of what the person who runs it understands. Or like a surgeon who only operates on ankles all day. To us, it’s just one part of the body, but to them, the ankle joint is a universe in itself where every angle is different, and they could talk about it in detail for hours with a sort of love and fascination. I'm always a sucker for these kinds of people.

A person that inspires me is the designer, Jean Prouvé, who is passed away now. He was a modernist designer, but I think he was more of a hardcore one. His aesthetics are much more difficult to like. His stuff was a bit weird but, in a way, I think he was truer to the modernist principles than all the other designers at that time. He just didn't care about public opinion. What I also like about him is that a lot of his clients were just factories, they would come to him and say we need some furniture for the office, and he would he just produce the most amazing stuff. He over-delivered on every aspect of the brief and was completely true to his own ideals. That’s why I always see him as a great designer.


CONNIE LIM is a talented ARTIST and DESIGNER who has collaborated with luxury brands and been featured in top PUBLICATIONS. In this edition of CITIZENS, she shares her creative journey and upcoming projects.

19 Apr 2023

Tiffany Chung

Hey Connie, tell us about your path into the world of fashion illustration.

I started my art when I went to Art Center in LA. Originally, I wanted to design video game characters, but we had to mandatorily take a fashion illustration class and I just fell in love with it. I was really interested in the clothes and my tutor said I had a good expression of fashion. But at the time, I wasn't very confident in myself as an illustrator, so I decided to go into fashion design and moved to London to study at Central Saint Martins. While studying in the program, I realized I didn't want to make clothes, I just wanted to draw. I wasn't passionate about fabrics, but I could illustrate things really well. I'm glad I came to London because of all the connections I made and the creativity in the city. Being in the center of it is quite nice. Now, I'm kind of rebranding at the moment as a live events illustrator. I draw backstage at fashion shows and for brands. I really like drawing live people.

Why the change to event illustration?

I discovered that it’s the thing I love doing the most and I'm probably better at that than anything else. I've recently finished a job with Alexander McQueen at their store in December. I think it has helped me be part of the community because you meet people who actually buy the garments, and you build better connections with brands. So, it's my goal this year to fully transition.

What do you feel was your ‘big break’ project?

When I graduated, for one of my final projects, I produced playing cards and they were produced by the company that does all the Las Vegas cards. That was quite a big moment for me as a personal project. When you have something produced, you feel a little bit more validated as an artist.


Artist, illustrator, designer, and educator, Connie Lim, has worked with brands such as GUERLAIN, BULGARI, and LOUBOUTIN. Her work has been featured in books including MARTIN DAWBER's Great Big Book of Fashion Illustration, and Beautiful by GESTALTEN and the latest by TASCHEN, The Illustrator - 100 Best From Around the World.  In this edition of Citizens, she talks to us about her inspirations, how she got her start in fashion, and her next evolution as an illustrator.

3 must-have things while you work.

All my pencils because my starting point is always with line drawings. I need my speakers and I need my coffee, then I'm good and I can just do my thing.

Describe your artistic process.

I always start with a line drawing and an idea. Right now, I'm dabbling in different materials. I'm doing oil pastels because I'm getting bored. I'm kind of mingling with different materials and just trying to find my new identity.

AI image creation tools are predicted to change many different industries. How do you think it’ll affect yours?

I checked it out and I’m signed up for Dall-E. It’s interesting but my own practice is special to me, and AI would never replace it. That's my feeling towards it, but of course the world is different, and you do have to be aware of those kinds of things. But I think people are always drawn to human touch and handmade things. That's why I love life drawing, you're in the moment, there’s no ego, there’s no influence, just you and the material and that's it. You can't hide, you can't copy, you have to be in the moment, it's very present. I feel like it's really honest. For me, that’s the most important thing.

Who is someone you are dying to collaborate with?

I would have loved to collaborate with McQueen when he was alive. I really admired his work and was actually my main inspiration going into the fashion route. His work has so much depth and meaning both personally and socially that resonated deeply with me. Since I am more of an illustrator, it would have been cool to do some prints for his collections and drawings backstage at his shows based on his inspirations.

How has working in fashion affected your personal style?

Growing up in LA, I always carry an element of the relaxed and hobo-like aesthetic. However, since being in London there has been a great addition of blacks into my wardrobe. I'm not sure what to call the mix.

What do you wear to live events?

It depends on the brand, but I generally do try to dress up a little bit more, like suit trousers or a blazer. I also wear my apron if I am using more of a messy medium such as paints/oil pastels.

Who's the most interesting person that you’ve illustrated?

Yen Zhao, her Insta handle is eagle_yen, she’s a stylist. I drew her at McQueen, I thought she was really interesting because she was wearing leather boots and didn’t fall into what we perceive a Chinese mom or auntie should be. As an Asian woman, there’s this idea that when we get old, we turn into dumplings or something, but she's this very stylish woman.

This or that, monochrome or colorful?

I used to be monochrome but now I think I'm colorful.

Eat to live or live to eat?

The one that enjoys food, live to eat.

Light packer or over packer?

Light packer.

Do you prefer being in publications or Exhibitions?

I would say exhibitions because I think it's different to see the artwork in person than in a photo.

Who has been your most meaningful mentor?

Nancy Reigleman. She was my tutor at Art Center. She sadly passed away a few years ago right when COVID happened. She changed my life. I was her assistant briefly, doing some odd jobs for her and she’s the one who told me to go to London.

And now you yourself are an educator. What do you like about it?

I like that I get to be around people. I'm an introvert and spend a lot of time in my studio alone. Teaching gives me a chance to really connect with other people and, it’s a bit cheesy, but I feel like I'm giving back in some way. When you see that your advice changes someone’s work for the better, it's a really good feeling, like maybe I'm making a difference to somebody.

To wrap things up, name a person, place, or thing that inspires you.

A place that inspires me is Spain. I love it, it's my favorite country. A thing that inspires me is this William Kentridge exhibition I recently saw. He is also the person that inspires me. I really admire his craftsmanship. I love old masters because they had no social media and they worked on their craft for years. I generally find people want instant gratification these days, but it takes so many years to get to that level. For me, that symbolizes a level of commitment to artistry, and I feel that is getting lost because people are just so distracted these days.


Gloria Landenberger is an Amsterdam-based designer, creative director, ceramicist, and the founder of the interior label 2222STUDIO. Firmly rooted in fashion and interior you’ll always find her shifting between both worlds. From leading the creative direction of a German fashion and interior brand to creating one-of-a-kind sculptural works in her studio, her projects all arise from the same creative drive and vision.

18 Apr 2023

Demi Meijer

How did you get into fashion?

“I studied industrial and fashion design in Berlin and Paris. Since then I’ve worked for over a decade as designer, design manager and creative director for a variety of European fashion brands. And since a couple of years as creative director for a brand in Berlin."

What motivated you to make the transition from fashion into ceramics?

“After working nonstop in the fashion industry, I was longing to take my creativity out from behind a corporate computer and create something with my own hands which led me to experiment with clay. It initially just started off as some sort of meditational practice and developed over time into my passion and second business."


Gloria Landenberger is an Amsterdam-based designer, creative director, ceramicist, and the founder of the interior label 2222STUDIO. Firmly rooted in fashion and interior you’ll always find her shifting between both worlds. From leading the creative direction of a German fashion and interior brand to creating one-of-a-kind sculptural works in her studio, her projects all arise from the same creative drive and vision.

Tell us about 22_22 studio.

“As I had only worked for other people's companies, I eventually felt the urge to create a brand that would represent my own aesthetics and values that would help enable me to share what inspired me personally. Therefore, I decided to merge this idea with my passion for crafts and interior and started my own brand 2222STUDIO under which I design, make and sell interior objects. 2222STUDIO was inspired by my lucky number and time 22:22. Since I was a teenager, I have been superstitious about it and believed that catching this time over and over was no coincidence. I always felt compelled to make wishes for a whole minute until this magic alignment of numbers passed. "

Advice you would give to someone who is interested in starting their own business.

“Just do it! I believe that it’s important to start somewhere with a vision and then figure things out along the way. Too much overthinking and doubting upfront will just block you. "

What do you feel is the best part of your job?

“That it's so versatile, creative, and that I am independent."

3 words that best describe your creative process.

“Intuitive, meditative and passionate."

Favorite song to listen to when you’re working in your studio?

"Okwukwe Na Nchekwube by Celestine Ukwu & his Philosophers"

Name a personal achievement you’re proud of.

“Following and building a career for myself that reflects what I am passionate about."

Name a mistake that taught you a lesson.

“Taking on an order that exceeded my capacity and really challenged my entire setup."

Your top 3 travel destinations. Dream vacation.

“Mexico, Japan, Venice."

Describe your personal style.

“Minimal and eclectic."

The one thing in your wardrobe you can’t live without.

"All my Jackets and coats."

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

"I really like the work of Alicja Kwade. But my brain just picks up on everything that I see around me. It could be super and abstract, light, textures, shapes."


With honesty, well-being, and respect for oneself and each other as the foundation of Danish shoe brand, Vinny’s shoes, Virgil Nicholas has founded a shoe company with real soul. In this edition of Citizens, we step into the creative director’s classic leather loafers and discover more about his work, style, and way of life.

23 May 2022

Paolo gattone

Hi Virgil, why loafers?

“Good question. I've always worn loafers and compared to all the other types of footwear in my wardrobe, they‘re the one pair of shoes that I wear to death. A couple of years ago, just before starting Vinny’s, I was looking at my rotation of the same four to five shoes I wore over and over and noticed I was missing that perfect loafer. I realized that's where I have a genuine heritage and story to tell, so it made sense that I bring that to the table myself."

How should one feel when wearing a pair of Vinny’s?

“I think the loafer, for me, is like when you put on a blazer jacket. It shapes you as a person, your back gets a little bit more upright and you carry yourself a bit more elegantly. Loafers do the same thing. I want both men and women to feel comfortable, relaxed, well-dressed, and feeling confident. I think when we feel our very best, we're better humans to ourselves and to our neighbors and next of kin. So, it's really about building self-respect."

Virgil Nicholas


Virgil Nicholas is the founder and creative director of Vinny's Shoes, a Danish shoe brand that embodies the values of honesty, well-being, and respect. His passion for footwear has led him to create a shoe company with a real soul, where quality and craftsmanship are at the forefront of every design.

Virgil Nicholas (Still from podcast)

Virgil Nicholas (Still from podcast)

Virgil Nicholas (Photo credits: Illum)

Virgil Nicholas (Photo credits: Illum)

Is that what makes you feel confident?

“A good pair of loafers, yeah. I think one of my confidence boosters is definitely always a good outfit."

Do you think good taste is something you’re born with, or can it be developed?

“I think style and taste is definitely something that you can learn. It’s about what you're interested in, what you’re exposed to and influenced by. It's definitely something that you can adapt and grow into and out of. Personally, the influences from my mom and my dad and their post-colonial heritage, my African heritage, but also the urban references from when I was a kid, shaped my wardrobe. I always go to the same things. I have pieces in my wardrobe that go ten years back and it's the stuff that I love to wear the most. Then, occasionally you add new things."

Virgil Nicholas and Silas Oda Adler

Virgil Nicholas and Silas Oda Adler

What are your tips for someone who is developing their own style?

“It starts with knowing who you are. A fashionable look or outfit can sometimes become a way to dress yourself up or to hide who you are, whereas style is about what we actually like and what you can see yourself wearing over and over again that resembles you. Also, read about pieces, find out how the penny loafer came about, the history of the slip dress, or research style icons. What makes hairstyles iconic today? Why do we like 90s fashion so much right now? Why's airport style interesting? I know a lot of men that research trends and decades and fashion and it's really been a way of shaping who they are. I've done the same, more from a research and creative perspective but it definitely helps me to also keep my own style universe sharp."

Who's your style icon?

“My dad. He always inspired me a lot."

Virgil Nicholas and son

Virgil Nicholas and son

Vinny's by Virgil Nicholas

Vinny's by Virgil Nicholas

Do you hope to be a style icon for your son?

“He already dresses way better than me. I think he already passed me. I just want to be a good role model, that's the most important thing for me."

Has becoming a father changed the way you work?

"Only that I have to leave work a little bit early. I love to work, so that's why I hate having to leave work early. When he sleeps, I really love to work. Especially when I get to live out my dream. I'm so blessed and lucky that he loves coming into work with me. He's an open-minded kid and really at ease around my colleagues. I can bring him anywhere and that really makes my workflow a whole lot better."

Virgil Nicolas at parelstudios

Virgil Nicolas at parelstudios

Virgil Nicholas

Virgil Nicholas

What’s your favorite place to work?

“We got our office four months ago and we have a red couch that I love sitting on. The most amazing thing is that our office is an old apartment, so we wanted to create a homey feeling. It's always hard to leave the office which is a good sign of a good workplace, at least for myself."

Where do you like to relax?

“Benches in my city. I love just sitting there and people watching. Not having any plans or any distractions, just a good pair of sunglasses to watch people. If you see me on a bench, you know what I'm doing. It’s the most relaxing thing ever."

As a successful creative, you’ve had a lot of great ideas. Tell us about your worst idea.

“My worst idea? Ha, that’s a good one. I don’t know, I’ve had a few. There was this one project, it was right after I started my first label, I wanted to create something that was more urban. So, we started making baseball t-shirts and the execution was good, but the name was horrible – it was a combination of three French words. I speak French with my parents, so it’s a big part of me and almost everything I do creatively starts with French. We actually got a lot of traction in France, but no one understood what we were trying to say. It was just the most horrible thing I've done. We had to shut it down quite quickly for numerous reasons but mostly the name was just a killer."

Name one thing you hope to get better at.

“I'm always on the go, always thinking about the next step, the next collection, the next campaign, am I picking up my son? I think what I need to be better at is enjoying the present. Enjoying the moment with people that are really dear to me. The thing I really value the most in my life are my relationships. It’s easy to make up an excuse not to meet up or make time for family and friends, but if it matters, then you need to remember to prioritize them. Time flies so fast."

Virgil Nicholas

Virgil Nicholas

Tell us something you hate to do but have to.

"Every month, I have to go through all my expenses and find all my receipts. It’s a work thing that I hate to do. I try to be really good at it, but I hate it."

And something you love to do but rarely get to.

“I love to read and listen to audiobooks. I hate that I don't have or take the time to do it enough."

Do you have a favorite book?

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Love it. It was really a kickstarter for how I started to believe in myself and knowing that anything you set your mind to is possible."

What's one song you listen to on repeat?

“Gold by Prince. I saw him perform it live at a festival here in Denmark. It was a crazy experience."

A young Virgil Nicholas

A young Virgil Nicholas

Lastly, name a person, place, and thing that inspires you.

"One of the places that inspires me a lot is Marrakech. I like it because it's a place where I always calm down, but I also see so much culture and so much honesty and genuineness in the population. I think, in general, Africa is fun because it's very true to its roots.

For people, I've always been a huge fan of, it’s so cliché, but Denzel Washington. I love that guy mainly because he's really talented and he can wear a lot of hats, so to speak. His body of work combined with who he is as a person, from what he says, how he thinks, how he operates, and his composure is inspirational.

I'm really inspired by tech and how it creates communities. For example, who would have thought even just ten years ago that there would be a car service where you can drive awesome cars without taking anything but your mobile device, logging in, driving it, then leaving it to share with another human being? It’s stuff like that, the whole shared economy in tech, I think is fantastic. It's about being helpful to each other. If the shared economy in tech could be integrated with fashion in a mainstream way, not just in the niches where it is right now, it would definitely be game-changing for the whole world."


If dressing well is a form of good manners, then Daniel Meul is a true gentleman. In this edition of Citizens, the manager and buyer of Dutch fashion house, Pauw, shares his @suitwhisper expertise and tells us about how his simple interest in clothes became a well-tailored way of life.

30 Apr 2022

Paolo gattone

Hi Daniel, how did you become a buyer and what do you love about it?

“Actually, I never expected to be in fashion. I thought I was going to be a professional soccer player, but due to injuries at an early age I couldn’t pursue that profession anymore. I started helping out at a men’s fashion store on Thursdays and Saturdays and learned that I had a talent in sales, then it naturally progressed from there. Clothes were a hobby for me. They are still a hobby for me. You have to be interested in what you do. I don’t consider my job a job."

Tell me about @suitwhisper.

“The name was a joke. I was thinking about what a silly Instagram name would be and thought of the horse whisperer. When I was a teenager, suits from brands like Hugo Boss or Gucci were the main thing I really loved about fashion. It didn't matter if they were classical suits or very fashionable. I simply love to wear suits and that's more or less where I got triggered and got sucked into this crazy, always changing, evolving world of fashion."

Daniel Meul


Daniel Meul, the manager and buyer of Dutch fashion house Pauw, never expected to be in fashion. He discovered his talent in sales while helping out at a men's fashion store and progressed from there. Clothes were just a hobby for him, and his love for suits led him to create his Instagram account, @suitwhisper.

Do you have an all-time favorite suit?

“I would say two movie characters really stand out for me, Michael Douglas in his pinstripe suit with suspenders from Wall Street and Richard Gere in the American Gigolo because he was also very well dressed in that movie."

What are the most important qualities to look for in a suit?

“First of all, fit is everything. Every single body has a different measurement, so what would fit me well, wouldn't fit somebody else of a different height. For me, my number one tailor is Cesare Attolini in Naples because their suits are totally made by hand, and they have all my sizes. So, if I order a suit, a jacket, a pair of trousers, or a shirt, they make it especially for me. A good tailor is the best thing you could have. It also means you're spoiled for life because I don’t think I could wear something off the rack anymore."

Is there anything that you would never wear?

“That's difficult to say. Maybe I wouldn't easily wear something like a dress, but on the other hand, if you are in Indonesia, you might wear a sarong with a jacket and a nice shirt on top of it. That would look spectacular. So, it depends on the occasion, the surroundings, and what is appropriate to wear. If it fits and it looks great on me, I will definitely wear it."

How much should one invest in their first suit?

“Ten years ago, people would spend more money on their first suits. In my generation, I could easily spend ¾ of my monthly salary on clothes and it didn’t worry me. That was just the thing you did in those days. But nowadays, young professionals are more interested in travelling and they don’t want to own a lot. They want to be free. So, even though I think the best place to start with your first suit is with us, today, if I was starting at a law firm or at a bank and I had a salary which would allow me to wear a certain price for a suit or jacket, I would go to Suit Supply. Quite frankly they copy all our big tailors, which we have in store at Pauw, but they really perfected it and go the extra mile in fabrics at a lower price.However, we do get a lot of fathers in our store who introduce their sons to their first suits after graduation."

You’ve spent the majority of your career at Pauw. What has motivated your long term commitment?

“Opportunity and the trust Madeleine Pauw and the family gave me in order to build PAUW into what it is now. We are going to open our fourth store and when I joined the company in 1993, it was just one store and a small men’s corner in another women’s store and that was it."

With the world becoming more digital, how do you think it will affect the industry?

“For suits on our price level, I expect customers will still prefer to purchase in store rather than online. If you are willing to spend a certain amount of money, you are also buying an experience. You are in the store choosing the fabric and garments and there is emotion and joy in it. Also, I think vintage clothing and online stores, like Vinted, where you can sell your old clothes easily are very interesting. It’s great because then we don't throw away or pollute anymore. I always find somebody who can make use of my old clothes. Among my staff there are a couple of guys who wear my size."

Sometimes parents‘ wardrobes evolve to become more functional. Has your style changed after becoming a father?

“I still dress the same way I did before. Yes, my suits have more stains than they used to every now and then, but I’ll just bring it to the cleaners. I think that’s the unconditional love a parent has for their child. I'm just happy to see him when I come home. I pick him up and I’m not thinking about what I’m wearing. Maybe the only thing that has changed is that I spend a little bit more money on him and less money on myself."

Name your favorite place to travel.

“Italy, for sure. I travel a lot to Milan for business. Also, my wife and I went to Sicily for our honeymoon. We love the tiny villages where you go to a simple coffee bar and have a nice espresso, or a cornetto, or a nice pasta and take in the nature and surroundings. Everything is simple and everything is pure. That’s what we love. Everywhere you go in Italy, it’s like walking through history and getting the opportunity to see how people lived thousands of years ago – what they did, how they think, and how they express themselves. It's quite exceptional."

Favorite meal?

“Fresh sea bass prepared in the oven with a little bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper."

What are your weekends like?

“Actually, I don't have a weekend because I work on Saturday. Sunday is family day for me. We’re always together. Then, Monday is my day off and I take care of my son. It’s the best day, just me and him."

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

"The place that personally inspires me: New York. I love the energy of the city. People that inspire me are two mentors who have substantial value in my life. First, my mother who is one of the strongest people I know. I come from a broken home and my father was never around. The second, Madeline, the owner of PAUW. I have been working for her for almost 30 years. She has always worked harder than anybody. She has so much room in her heart to give the people in the company the opportunity to grow and be successful.

A thing that inspires me is something I learned from Japan. It’s where people prefer to do one thing all their life, trying to reach perfection and finding joy in it. There are too many people who try to succeed in many different things. I think maybe we should try to be a little bit more modest and just be great at one or two things that bring happiness to another person who appreciates what you do well."


To travel is to live and Louis A. W. Sheridan has elevated travel into an aspirational lifestyle. Through photography, writing, and a keen creative eye, Sheridan has become an industry expert. In this edition of Citizens, he tells us about his journey from fashion writer to founder of Discover & Escape studio and creative director of Mr & Mrs Smith – the travel club for hotel lovers.

14 Feb 2022

Paolo gattone

Hey Louis, how did you get into photography and writing??

“I started taking photos when I was pretty young, like a teenager just carrying around a camera, taking pictures of friends skateboarding and street stuff, really trying to find my vision. Later on I studied photography which started to kill my love for it a bit. It made it a very formulaic process and removed some of the magic for me.

At the same time, I started to write more and found myself feeling like writing was where I could be creative and engaged without barriers. So professionally, I started out in fashion. I was a writer first and foremost, reviewing shows, writing stories for some niche magazines, and then interning for the bigger ones. Alongside this my photos started to become more fashion focused. I was shooting new faces for model agencies and the odd editorial, which felt refreshing."

How did you make the transition to travel?

“Through fashion, I found that travel was the most engaging element to anything I was doing. That was the part that was standing out above everything else. New people, new places. It was a natural segue into travel – I created an editorial platform, D&E (Discover & Escape) with my partner, and started trying to blend these two worlds. We were approaching people in fashion, film, and music but sneaking to them purely about travel. ‘Everything through a travel lens’. Everyone had so much to say about this wild world of travel, and it snowballed from there."

So, from that platform you created your studio.

“Yeah, it started off as an editorial platform and gradually transformed into a creative consultancy slash studio. We've got photographers, writers, designers, developers globally and are connecting the dots between businesses and creatives. There was luck involved in that we started at a time when Instagram was first taking off, so aesthetics became more important to businesses than ever before and we had the keys."

Any tips on starting your own studio or business?

“Honestly, some of my tips are probably outdated because so much happened organically and the landscape changes weekly. I guess if I were to do it now, I would say, it's worth having either an exit plan or a scaling plan from the very beginning. It’s not cool to talk about in the creative world but if you get to a certain point where you know you either want to move on to something else, or you want to bring other people in, but everything behind the scenes is really messy, it's going to be difficult. The other tip is that the personal relationship is always the most important part of the working relationship. Wherever you are in the world, you're probably not that far from an extremely talented writer, photographer, social media manager, designer, or whoever you need, and so you can afford to be picky and work with someone you identify with on a deeper level."

As creative director at Mr & Mrs Smith, tell us what kind of hotel makes the list..

“Hotels with genuine soul. Passion projects, dreams that have been realised, and places you’d actually want to live. They have a focus on design and style whilst still being authentic, and your overall experience there is a memory you play on repeat. We’re also looking for hotels that transcend travel, the places that consider their local impact and how they can weave sustainability into what they do. We have places like an isolated cabin in the wilds of Norway, and then there’s an old school New York hotel with bellboys and tasseled keys – the common thread between those places is they both care about what they're doing. There is an obvious love for what they do, and it’s infectious."

What are your 2022 travel trend predictions?

“The last few years we’ve all spoken about experiential travel a lot. But I think we’re moving beyond it, more the idea of fully immersing yourself in culture and embracing a lifestyle entirely, it's no longer enough to just pick from a list of experiences. Instead, it's a more engaged way of travel where you get to experience and gain insight into how other people really live. Like your own alternate reality is out there waiting for you."

How do you think the pandemic affected a traveler’s mindset?

“I think the pandemic almost forced people into looking at what it is they actually want to do when they have the choice, what drives them most, and every decision on how we spend our time is even more important than it was before. So, I think with travel, there's a lot more meaning and emphasis on each trip we take. We’re looking for those memories we can play on repeat in the future."

Name your top 5 must-have travel items.

“Camera, number one. A laptop or my phone. With a fully charged phone you can do anything. A USB for impromptu DJ sets. If there's a chance to get behind the decks, it's going to happen. A double-breasted blazer or sports jacket. You never know where you're going to end up, and sometimes “black tie” is like an access all areas pass. And then a pen, a sharpie specifically."

Do you dress for style or comfort on planes?

“Style. I blame the fashion background. But I can still wear stuff that looks cool and is functional. I like to travel as light as possible. I have this Jacquemus field jacket I always travel with. It's got like six pockets on the front that I can fill with batteries, passports, chargers, anything. That's always a good one."

Let’s play a ‘this or that’ game, travel edition.

Mountain or beach?


Winter or summer?


City or countryside?

“Countryside. I'm going for wild here."

Car, train, or plane?

“Car, or all three?”"

Travel alone or together?


Plan or go with the flow?

“100% no plans… with some advance planning."

When you're not traveling, what are you doing?

“As a photographer, I might be shooting projects for different brands and magazines or personal projects. I’m DJing and working on events and music with the Audio Coming Soon guys. I'm dabbling with more art focussed projects at the moment and getting ready to release some works for the first time. It's exciting, I've been working and drafting for years and now I feel so ready to just put more things out into the world. I'm in a fortunate position in that everything I do sort of flows into one another."

Do you think London is always going to be your home base?

“I don't know. I'm originally from the countryside so I'm still always drawn to nature. But I love being around people, I love meeting new people, and I feel like the energy in London is so good that it makes me feel driven in a way that’s hard to replicate. I love being in the city, but I travel quite a lot. If I had to be home full time, I'd maybe choose somewhere that was even more closely linked to nature."

Speaking of inspiration, name a person, a place, and a thing that inspires you.

So many people, from my friends and family to random encounters that stay with me. The well worn phrase that “ everyone has an interesting story if you look for it” really is the most obvious truth. I read a lot and I'm inspired by a lot of writers, at the moment it’s Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and Haruki Murakami. I also love people that just do things differently and are open to new ideas. Obviously, Virgil Abloh is a massive inspiration just in terms of leading with a sort of radiant positivity about everything and everyone.

A place that inspires me… at the moment maybe the Swiss Alps or Rajasthan. I know they're both worlds apart. But Switzerland is addictive, visually ridiculous and time there is deeply restorative. And India is on another level. Everything is more vivid, the colours, sights and sounds are all dialled up to an extreme that makes everywhere else feel flat for a while afterwards. I think it was A. A. Gill who described it as 'the world with the lid taken off.

For a thing, a blank canvas is very exciting to me. Or even hotel stationary, a blank notepad and there's a pencil or pen next to it, I can't not be writing or doodling or doing something on there. As part of the studio here, I have an easel set up with canvases. If it's blank, I feel drawn to it. I want to create. I want to do things."


Emmanuel Lawal is a man of many talents: model, DJ, music producer, brand consultant, but first and foremost, creative entrepreneur. In this edition of Citizens, the born and raised Londoner tells us about his city, career, and latest project – The ACS Show.

29 Nov 2021

Paolo gattone

Hey Emmanuel, how’d you get your start in music?

“In terms of knowing what I wanted to pursue in my career, it was from being at fashion events and afterparties. I wanted to do more than just be a guest. I knew I’d love to be part of it, do nights, program nights, DJ, and everything else. But my actual start in music was just from being around musicians in general and having a community of musicians that gave us the opportunity to DJ for them, produce for them, and get immersed in their own careers."

How did you and your business partner, Ashton, meet?

“We were signed to the same agency when we first started modeling. I was 19 and Ashton was 16. Going to Milan, Paris, all these shows in Europe and America, we just created this bromance from traveling, living, eating, and working out together. Being like-minded individuals, we decided to join forces to create something."

Is there anything that you want to try next?

“Not really. I just want to keep carrying on with the broadcast and keep creating spaces for me to breathe in when it comes to fashion, music, and lifestyle. Everything else is just up to destiny. I'm just happy with where I'm at now."

Music, fashion, travel, sport. If you had to give up one for the rest of your life, what would it be?

“Easily sport. Music is something I listen to every single day. Fashion is something that I have to think about in order to get ready. Sport is something that I do when I have the off time, it's a bit of a hobby, and I'm definitely not making any money from sport haha."

What is the best and worst advice you've ever been given?

“Worst advice is probably somebody telling me somewhere along the line of ‘this is impossible, and you can't do this’. The best advice was ‘move towards it’. It wasn't even advice; I was speaking to one of my mentors at the beginning of the year and saying how much juice and energy I have at the moment and how much I wanted to create. His response was actually just ‘move towards it’ and it made me realize that even a step forward is better than a step back, even if it's a tiny step forward. "

What has been your favorite brand to work with?

“Prada. I loved Prada since I was a child. From the age of 12 to 15, I wore Prada to school. I didn’t go to an affluent school where people had unlimited pools of money, I saved up so much money to buy it. So, it was one of those full circle moments working with them. It wasn't something I did for the paycheck, I'm proud to wear the stuff because of the child in me that just loved to wear them in school."

What's your staple fashion item?

“My staple item would probably be jewelry because we change clothes. So, I would say somewhere between my Cartier bracelet and my Rolex."

Three songs that best represent you.

“At the moment:"

Name your favorite part of London.

“Greenwich, probably. I grew up there and it’s so different anywhere else in London. It’s not super fancy and it's not super hood, it's just normal. It’s so diverse, it’s got both historic and new monuments, and the O2 arena. It’s a good balance."

If you were to live in another city, what would it be?

“Berlin. We love Germany. We haven't been able to go back for a while, but we’ve been fortunate to play a few things in Berlin. It's not like there is a massive hip hop presence but the kind of people there just love the music and are there to have a good time."

Best music venue ever?

“The Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. I’ve never been there but I’m dying to go. It's incredible, from the layout of it, to the chairs, the light, acoustics, the whole thing. The design and architecture make it the best venue in my opinion."

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

“Person. That’s a hard one. Can I say God? I’ll say God."

“A place that inspires me is London. Naturally. London has so many success stories whether it's football, music, fashion, community lifestyle, culture, business. So many people have made it here."

“In terms of a thing that inspires me, I would probably say, it’s an idea. The idea of achieving everything. Knowing that you could possibly achieve what you put your mind to. Even if you haven’t achieved everything that you want to achieve or know how to exactly, it keeps you going, getting to one hurdle, conquering it, then another. Then you realize everything can be done. I think that is so inspiring."


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.

03 Oct 2021

Paolo gattone

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."


Cynthia Cervantes dedicated her career to community betterment. She co-founded Maroon World, a studio that celebrates BIPOC communities. In this Citizens interview, Cynthia talks about her new city, being a working parent, and Maroon World with her husband, Travis Gumbs.

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."

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."


Reflecting the world we live in today, Reginald Sylvester II is an abstract artist that captures moments in time on canvas. In this edition of Citizens, the New York-based painter tells us about his foray into the art world, his creative process, and the characteristic an artist needs to push the work further.

08 Aug 2021

Paolo gattone

Is the business side of being an artist something you had to learn as you go?

“Most definitely. You learn as you go. The unique relationship I have with my Dealer and good friend Max has been fruitful in the sense that I’ve been able to learn as he grows. Having full transparency with your business and business partners is key."

When you're creating a piece where do you start?

“It all depends on the day and circumstance. I’ve noticed since I'm right handed it’s usually the upper right hand area of the surface that is confronted first."

How do you know when you're done a piece?

“Hard to say. Paintings are like time stamps. I suppose when I’ve lived with a work long enough, when that time is finished the work itself is finished. Then again you could say it’s never finished until it’s realized in front of the viewers beyond my studio walls."

When you're in the studio what do you need to help you work?

“Music, then sometimes silence. Focus."

What music are you listening to?

“A lot of different things. From Hendricks to Miles to Jay Z. I’ll transition into Hans Zimmerman then to Lupe Fiasco to Mary J. Blidge. Depends on the feeling, time and day."

What do you wear in the studio?

“Painters pants, tee, and Rick Owens Birkenstocks."

Do you ever feel insecure about your work?

“Without a sense of insecurity there’s really no need to feel as if you need to push your work forward. No room for what ifs."

Complete this sentence. ‘An artist should always…’

“Create with humility."

True or false. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

“Possibly true to a certain extent."

Here's a difficult question, do you have a favorite color?

“Navy blue, brown, and black."

Which artists do you pay attention to or think other people should be paying attention to?

“Artists that excite me are Janis Kounellis, Frank Bowling, Julian Schnabel, and David Hammonds to name a few. Artists to pay attention to today: Tschabalala Self, Spencer Lewis, Somaya Critchlow, and Coco Capitan.">

As the art world becomes more digital, what are your thoughts on NFTs?

“No real thoughts on NFT’s pertaining to the world of art. I feel there’s other areas of focus that are more important to me at the moment."

To wrap things up on an inspirational note, name a person, place, and thing that inspires you.

“I think my dad is super inspirational in the sense that he just wants to build. That's all I want to do. So, the conversations that we have had as of late, or as I've been becoming my own man, they've really been based off of building belief systems, family, generational wealth, heritage."

“A place that inspires me is tough. It’s between Mexico City and Tokyo. They actually remind me a bit of each other. Tokyo is more of a grander place and definitely more industrial, but I think the things that I like about Japan are the little nooks and crannies. I like how things are kind of crammed together. I think with Mexico City, you find little essences of that. But the biggest reason why I like Mexico City is just the balance I feel between nature and city."

“The thing that inspires me is the act of making. The fact that you can think of something and use objects that already exist in the world in order to create something new. I just think it's like the closest thing we can get it to God, aside from women being able to give birth to children. Making something that didn’t exist at one point and then does for a minute, day, year, is just inspiring."


Tyler Adams is a multidisciplinary artist specializing in photography, art direction, and casting with a wide array of clients such as Def Jam Records Opening Ceremony, Beyoncé x Adidas. In this edition of Citizens, the LA native tells us about his early creative beginnings and shows us that there is more than one way into the industry.

12 Jun 2021

Paolo gattone

Hey Tyler, you wear several hats. Put these three things in order of importance to you: photography, creative directing, casting.

“Oh wow, okay so photography is definitely the most important because it's what led me into the other avenues of my creativity. After that would be casting and then creative directing. Uh, wait, no. But that's hard to be honest because when I first started shooting, I was doing all these things in my personal work. I wanted to create images, but I wasn’t seeing the type of people that I wanted to shoot, so I started casting for myself. I didn’t have budgets to go to a showroom and pull clothes, so I was either putting together things that friends or the talent were bringing or even pulling out of my closet and putting that together. So, all of it is kind of important to a degree in order to make art. But I guess photography is the most important because that’s how I got into all the other things."

Why did you gravitate to photography in the first place?

“It was kind of an innate thing. I say that I've been shooting since I was 5. Growing up, my grandma had an old school Polaroid 600, and I would just run around with it, create, and shoot things. It's always been something that was there and that just started my fascination with it. I've always been a visual kid."


Tyler Adams is a multidisciplinary artist specializing in photography, art direction, and casting with a wide array of clients such as Def Jam Records Opening Ceremony, Beyoncé x Adidas. In this edition of Citizens, the LA native tells us about his early creative beginnings and shows us that there is more than one way into the industry.

You've worked with a lot of brands. Any favorites?

“That’s a tricky one. I don't want to play favorites but if I had to choose...Opening Ceremony was one of my first big fashion clients. Just being a fan of the brand, that was like one that I really wanted to work with. I shot with them for a while, I did some social and editorial stuff. Then, they let me shoot fashion weeks and I worked on a couple of their shows. So, that may be my favorite one because that got me to where I am today."

Was it hard breaking into the industry?

“Oh my god, yes. My friend and I laugh about it now. Photography has changed. It's mind-blowing how different photography and the whole industry is now versus what it was like 6 to 10 years ago. At the time when I was in college, the mindset was that you went to school, you built your book, you took your book and you moved to New York. It wasn't until you worked in New York that you would pop off and actually get to work. But out of college it was like you assisted somebody for years and then at some point you move from being 30th assistant to 1st assistant before having your break or whoever you are assisting being like, ‘I have a job that I don't want to do, you can do it’, and then that's you’re beginning. I didn’t go that route because I was like if this is what it's going to take for me to put food on the table, it’s going to take a while. But I didn't want to move outside of my creativity.

SO I started helping a really close friend of mine who was an upcoming stylist. She occasionally needed help and I feel like that’s what changed it for me because being on set in that capacity is different from being a photographer's assistant. When you assist a photographer, they don't want you to speak to the client. But everybody else has a different relationship, when you're with the stylist and those people for 8 hours on set, you actually get to know people by name. It allowed me to build relationships and be like, ‘oh you know I'm helping the stylist, but I actually shoot.’ Photography assistants can’t do that. They can’t say, ‘yeah check out my work’ because it feels like he's trying to take the photographer’s clients."

What’s your most memorable shoot?

“My second time in Paris was pretty memorable and cool for me because the first time I went to Paris I didn't shoot which I was bummed out about. I always try making an effort when I go somewhere new or somewhere different to actually create work in those spaces. So, I was with Kendall, and we shot in the Tuileries Garden. There was a carnival, and he just grabbed his skateboard, and we were just chilling. It was an evening in June, so the light was amazing, the weather was nice, it was a good time."

When you cast people for a shoot, do you keep diversity and representation in mind?

“Always. That's the first thing. When I was starting out there wasn’t any. Even now, if clients ask for diversity, there aren't a lot of options of people who look like me or people who come from the areas I come from. In general, I'm usually trying to extend opportunities and bring more people in, to experience being on set and working, or being in front of the camera. The cool thing about today is that you don’t have to look like a runway model to book a campaign or to get work."

What would you say makes a great photograph?

“Great’ I feel can be subjective. I think perspective is very important, not so much composition, but I mean like my personal chase. Like what I may think is a great image may not be a great image to you. You may be into colors or compositions or location, but all of that has to do with your perspective and what makes the most sense to you or what you move to personally."

Do you have a favorite photograph?

“Yes. Actually, I do. My favorite photograph of all time – I get so excited thinking about it – is Richard Avedon’s portrait of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar before he was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In New York, it's a picture of him on the basketball court. He's tall and lanky. His posture and everything is so elegant and beautiful. It's the freshest thing. I've tried to recreate the essence of it in my own work a couple times."

So, do you prefer to photograph people?

“Professionally, I do shoot a lot of people, like fashion portraiture. But I still have some weird tether to wanting to photograph cityscapes, different vignettes of buildings, or graphics and shapes. I usually try to make them both kind of work together in my work – people, spaces, and architecture."

You've worked with a lot of brands. Any favorites?

“That’s a tricky one. I don't want to play favorites but if I had to choose...Opening Ceremony was one of my first big fashion clients. Just being a fan of the brand, that was like one that I really wanted to work with. I shot with them for a while, I did some social and editorial stuff. Then, they let me shoot fashion weeks and I worked on a couple of their shows. So, that may be my favorite one because that got me to where I am today."

Was it hard breaking into the industry?

“Oh my god, yes. My friend and I laugh about it now. Photography has changed. It's mind-blowing how different photography and the whole industry is now versus what it was like 6 to 10 years ago. At the time when I was in college, the mindset was that you went to school, you built your book, you took your book and you moved to New York. It wasn't until you worked in New York that you would pop off and actually get to work. But out of college it was like you assisted somebody for years and then at some point you move from being 30th assistant to 1st assistant before having your break or whoever you are assisting being like, ‘I have a job that I don't want to do, you can do it’, and then that's you’re beginning. I didn’t go that route because I was like if this is what it's going to take for me to put food on the table, it’s going to take a while. But I didn't want to move outside of my creativity.

SO I started helping a really close friend of mine who was an upcoming stylist. She occasionally needed help and I feel like that’s what changed it for me because being on set in that capacity is different from being a photographer's assistant. When you assist a photographer, they don't want you to speak to the client. But everybody else has a different relationship, when you're with the stylist and those people for 8 hours on set, you actually get to know people by name. It allowed me to build relationships and be like, ‘oh you know I'm helping the stylist, but I actually shoot.’ Photography assistants can’t do that. They can’t say, ‘yeah check out my work’ because it feels like he's trying to take the photographer’s clients."

What’s your most memorable shoot?

“My second time in Paris was pretty memorable and cool for me because the first time I went to Paris I didn't shoot which I was bummed out about. I always try making an effort when I go somewhere new or somewhere different to actually create work in those spaces. So, I was with Kendall, and we shot in the Tuileries Garden. There was a carnival, and he just grabbed his skateboard, and we were just chilling. It was an evening in June, so the light was amazing, the weather was nice, it was a good time."

When you cast people for a shoot, do you keep diversity and representation in mind?

“Always. That's the first thing. When I was starting out there wasn’t any. Even now, if clients ask for diversity, there aren't a lot of options of people who look like me or people who come from the areas I come from. In general, I'm usually trying to extend opportunities and bring more people in, to experience being on set and working, or being in front of the camera. The cool thing about today is that you don’t have to look like a runway model to book a campaign or to get work."


Ahmed Ismail is an entrepreneur, political thinker, public relations marketer, and philanthropist whose purpose has always been about serving the community. In this edition of Citizens, the future-minded businessman tells us about his inspirational journey from hospitality to becoming the co-founder of HXOUSE – an incubator devoted to helping foster innovation and opportunity for young creatives.

18 Apr 2021

Paolo gattone

Hey Ahmed, you’ve achieved a lot of career success. Where did your career journey start?

“When I was 19, I had already dropped out of high school because my teacher and guidance counselor were putting me in programming to become a janitor. They didn't care about my political IQ or my business IQ. They didn't see me. So, I dropped out and started to work as a valet at the Fairmont Royal York. That job changed my whole perspective on life forever."

How did that first job change your perspective?

“I got to see everybody: high roller guests, mom and pop, politicians. When you live in a concentrated urban neighborhood, like the ghetto or one of the projects, you always see the cops or people like you. You don't really see people from other worlds. Every day, I got to see what position or career I wanted for myself. I tried to ask every guest one question and learn how to connect with older people. I asked one guest who had all these cars, ‘What do you do for a living?’ and he asked me ‘Are you in school?’ I said, ‘No’ and he said, ‘Don’t waste my time.’ The first time I ever approached a Black man at the hotel, and he shuts me down. I was so mad. That motivated me to prove myself."


Ahmed Ismail is an entrepreneur, political thinker, public relations marketer, and philanthropist whose purpose has always been about serving the community.

Did you go back to school?

“I went back to school and got into a university. When I saw that guest again, I told him which university I was going to and he said the school was garbage and I should go to Wayne State in Detroit where he was a professor. He even offered to help me get a scholarship and hook me up with a job so I could afford it. What ended up happening is once I get to Detroit, the professor ended up transferring to another school before he could help me. I didn't have the money and I couldn't ask my family for money 'cause they didn't have it. My whole plan just fell apart. "

How did you handle that setback?

“So, the day that I'm about to give up on university, another guest from the hotel pulled up in front of me. We talk, he gives me his business card and tells me to call him. I don’t call him. But I stay and study political science. In my fourth month at school, I was running out of money. In America, if you run out of money for school immigration deports you. What ended up happening is I was reading one of my history books and recognized a face. I'm like, why do I know this man? He was an old civil rights politician who got Rosa Parks out of jail and fought for Martin Luther King. I don't know why but something made me check my wallet and the former guest who gave me his business card, Christian Barton, was the Chief of Staff for the Congressman that I was reading about in my history textbook. So, I call him and he's like, ‘Why the hell did you wait three months? I’m at this bar, meet me there.’ We start to talk, and he offers me an internship with the United States Congress. The highest office in the country. I say yes and he mentors me. When he quits, he recommends me to replace him. That just boosted my confidence. So, I would go to work and watch them change laws and then at night I'd be studying the laws they were changing in school."

What do you think he saw in you to give you that internship?

“I think he saw that I was just really hungry. I had no baggage. I just wanted to work. He saw my immigrant spirit. He knew I had only one agenda which was to dominate and work hard and he gave me the opportunity to do that. I never let him down. When I was supposed to go home at 4 in the afternoon, I would stay till 10 at night to learn what I don't know. He mentored me. He told me what to do and who to stay away from, which is very important because nobody ever told me that people in an office could also be cancerous."

Who are the people to stay away from?

“The people only working to make a check and don't believe in what they’re doing. The ones that are only are working when the boss walks by. Everybody sees it. Management knows and they're just waiting for the right moment to dump you."

How did you move from politics to PR?

“I did the same thing I did at the hotel, I started to look around at other people and their positions and saw Karen Morgan. She was the public relations person for the congressman. If you look at a congressman’s schedule, they could be in 3 or 4 states a night, 2 or 3 planes a day, 10 meetings, and she gets to go tell the congressman who they’re meeting, give them the research, give them the speeches. I never wanted to be locked in an office, so I was like that's my job. I went back to school for public relations. Long story short, that opened up a lot of doors because I didn’t want to do political PR. I did a little bit of automotive PR and then I started to work in sports and entertainment because I realized it's recession proof. When people have no money, they still watch basketball games on TV. I quickly realized what I liked about being in politics and what I liked about sports and entertainment and combined them both to start a socially sustainable marketing PR firm. Helping celebrities and corporations make money, but also help them build their philanthropy or teach them how to become better philanthropists."

So, how did HXOUSE begin?

“December 2016, La Mar Taylor tweeted after winning Forbes 30 under 30, ‘There's so much talent in my city, we’re undervalued. Before I’m 30, I'm going to build a facility for young creatives so they can outshine me and The Weeknd.’ So, I called him and said, ‘Brother, two years ago I designed exactly this project, but nobody wanted it. If you’re serious about this, we can build it together."

Do you look for an immigrant spirit and hunger when considering future tenants at HXOUSE?

“100,000,000%. That's all I look for. I look for somebody who doesn't want me to build their dream. Anybody can have an original idea. So, I just check how hard they're going to work on it. Time and consistency equals success. Some of my friends became successful in the first 3 years of their career, I waited 12 before my career started to make sense but I still came with the same energy every day and knew I was destined for my opportunity sooner or later. You have to work. If you don't put in the work, you don't get the results."

That must’ve felt good.

“It still feels like the most rewarding thing I've ever done in my career."

Speaking of your career and results, can you name a few of your proudest moments?

“In my neighborhood, owning a vehicle was a big deal, all the street dudes had nice cars. So, having my first nice car and making money was a proud moment. Second, was getting the job in the US Congress because it gave me a confidence that I can't overlook ever again. HXOUSE is definitely my biggest accomplishment and I don't even want anything to be bigger. Then the icing on the cake is seeing my career come full circle, from learning to speak English by watching news about politics, to studying political science in school, to now speaking to the Prime Minister regularly and helping him come up with ideas on how to get the Canadian economy back on track."

Originally, the government didn't fully support your idea for HXOUSE. So, it must’ve been a big deal to host the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau?

“Almost two years to the day that we opened HXOUSE, the Prime Minister came to make a historic announcement and offer the Black community $250 million to launch a fund to repair the relationship with the Black community that has suffered and endured systemic racism in Canada. Why that was so monumentally important to me is because it was hard for us to get a grant, it was hard for us to talk to the government, the only thing that really helped was my patience in knowing how the government works from my previous political experience in the US. It was historic because it's one thing to give a check, but it's another thing to acknowledge there was wrongdoing. To have the Prime Minister say that systematic racism is real, it's happening, and it's stopping our growth, became a wake-up call for corporations to get their act together. Now money is flowing in Toronto for Black organizations which has never happened before."

That must’ve felt good.

“It still feels like the most rewarding thing I've ever done in my career."

Describe your partnership dynamic with HXOUSE co-founders La Mar Taylor and The Weeknd.

“A lot of respect. I feel like the little guy because when I talk to them about politics or community or partnerships it's like I'm almost over excited about it and seeing something they can't see. Then when they're talking about creative things that the world doesn't see but needs, I feel like I don't even know what they're talking about, I’m just in awe and I always try to catch up. So, we have a very supportive nature where we all help build each other's ideas."

Are you more of a traveler or a homebody?

“As you get older you become a homebody, but traveling is the only way I live because it’s my inspiration. I write and my writing becomes a plan. My plan becomes a project. When my project is in a place where I'm happy with it, I like to come home and build. So, I'm a homebody when I'm building but I still travel as well."

Are you a thinker or doer?


Any causes you think need attention right now?

“I'm in Europe and what they’re doing with migrants is appalling. Corrupt colonial countries that still haven't acknowledged their wrongdoing have benefited and continue to benefit off of bad policies that disrespect immigrants without ever acknowledging what these countries have done to those communities. So, I would love to see a version of Black Lives Matter but for immigrants. I would love to see our communities wake up because you can only be enslaved if you allow whatever they're telling you to become your truth. Canada has had to acknowledge they've got to start finding ways to pay things back. America compensates by still allowing minorities to grow, have jobs, or even become the president of the United States. I just feel like Europe has made zero concessions and is still exploiting Africa every day. Europe needs to change."

We like to conclude each interview by asking our citizens to name a person, place, and thing they find inspiring.

“People that inspire me are immigrants. All immigrants have a story. I'm always keen to plug in and ask them where they are from, where their journey started and why it started. It sparks my imagination and when I ask those questions, it always takes me back to when I started as an immigrant and first arrived in the United States and Canada. One of the places that inspires me is Amsterdam. It has this introverted, communal vibe. If you don't want to be around anyone you can ride your bike, you can walk the shops, check things out and have a great day. But if you want to see people, they are also very community oriented. It’s one of those places that helps recharge my battery. I think the only ‘thing’ that inspires me is I try to be a better Muslim every day. It's not easy but I feel that when I pray more, I have structured order and my life makes sense. "


Alex Zeta is an intuitive creator that transforms emotion and feeling into works of art. In this edition of Citizens, the up-and-coming artist talks to us about how life in Spain, The Netherlands, and the pandemic have shaped his body of work.

09 Mar 2021

Paolo gattone

Hi Alex, you’re the first artist to ever be featured in the new ØLÅF window gallery. Tell us about your installation.

“It’s called ‘Now, but not now, but maybe even never’. It’s inspired by the sadness I felt my first winter in Amsterdam because of the lack of sunlight and the anxious time we are all living in now. It’s a concept called ‘solastalgia’ which describes the anger, anxiety and different feelings you get when your environment is changing around you. So, I created this fountain that combines fabric and liquid representing a kind of fluidity and adaptiveness to change that brings hope and new energy. I also used tanning bed lights to give the feeling of sun and combat the lack of light."

Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?

“When I was a child, I used to say to my mother that I would be an architect. But I studied graphic design in Spain and worked in a design school for 4 years as a graphic designer. I decided to quit my job because I needed something else. I was more interested in creative spaces, how objects work in spaces, and creating atmospheres."

Was the decision to quit and move to Amsterdam easy?

“I thought about going to Berlin first. But I visited some friends in Amsterdam and decided to apply to the Gerrit Rietveld Academie instead. I started contextual design but realized that it wasn’t for me. So, I switched to another department called ‘Design Lab’ that is based on material research. It's very open and very free."

How has Spanish culture and Dutch culture influenced you creatively?

“They’re really different. I think there’s something very special and particular to Spain, the atmosphere of the people, and I would like to do something creative with it in the future. In the Netherlands, there are many artists from different countries here so this can inspire and blow your mind."

Where is your studio?

“In Amsterdam Noord. I'm quite lucky because I literally live in front of my studio which is something that I never thought could happen. It's super cool. It's very important to be in a domain for you to develop your things."

Do you listen to music while you work?

“Yeah, it depends on how I feel. My work is very intuitive, my methodology is guided by emotions most of the time. I like techno or electronic music when I want to keep my energy up, but sometimes I just need something more pop or relaxing. Sometimes I need silence."

You seem to work with ceramics a lot. Do you prefer it?

“It’s funny that you ask that because I think that’s the expectation now but it’s actually because of this situation with Covid. I was not feeling very good, being alone every day, not in the studio. Then, I met some people that were working with ceramics and I thought I’d try to just make something out of nothing. No serious expectations, just fun."

That’s how you started your @bufffetbufffetbufffet account?

“Exactly. I made some vases, tiny pieces, and then I decided to make candle holders. Basically, I started to post on Instagram as a way to make some income during Corona. At first, I was afraid to post and wanted to delete it, but then I got many messages from people that liked it. So, I continued to do more and found myself selling candle holders."

What do you see yourself doing after school?

“I have no clue. I really want to try to explore more things and see what I can do with it. I want to develop conceptually. I want to move to another city too. When you move to a place, you get new ideas. I love Brussels. I think it's a very good city because I like the flow of the people and I like that it’s a bit dirty. It’s also a very queer city. There are also possibilities for creators, like designers and artists. Then, I’d like to go somewhere else like Mexico."


Super Bowl winner and record-breaking wide receiver, Victor Cruz, is best known for his explosive plays and celebratory salsa moves. Now that he’s retired, he’s showing the world his many talents extend far beyond the field. In this edition of Citizens, we talk to Victor about life after the NFL, fatherhood, and giving back to the community that inspires him.

25 Feb 2021

Olaf Hussein

What’s your life like right now during the pandemic?

“Ha uhm, life is interesting right now. Just trying to navigate this new world that everyone has to get used to and finding my joy within that. I have an 8-year-old daughter so we’re doing the virtual school thing here and still trying to manage social life. It can be a lot. But I think I’m doing a good job of just scheduling my time and making sure I’m adding new things to the portfolio that maybe I didn’t do before."

Like what?

“Golf is a hobby that I always wanted to start. It’s probably the only thing you can do to be socially distant right now. All the golf courses are open. So, that’s something I’m doing and my daughter has been golfing for 3 years now too. To be able to grow in the sport with her is an added bonus. I think that’s what got me even more into it."


Victor Michael Cruz (born November 11, 1986) is an American former professional football player who was a wide receiver in the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at UMass, and signed with the New York Giants as an undrafted free agent in 2010. With the Giants, he won Super Bowl XLVI over the New England Patriots, and made the 2012 Pro Bowl.

As an athlete in the NFL, you must have a lot of experience managing stress.

“There were definitely some ups and downs. Every day there was stress. I just started realizing the amount of pressure that I used to feel going into the building every day just to play football. There’s something unnatural about having that much stress on you. It’s like every day you’re fighting for your life. Especially the way my career took off. I was an undrafted free agent. You don’t know, especially that first year, when your last day could be. But I learned how to live with it and use that feeling of stress as motivation to not hold back. I wanted to look at it as fuel. I think that’s what I do now to keep myself mentally strong. I’m the type of person that has to have a schedule. I have to have things to do. The gym has been one of those things. Just staying in shape and healthy in general. I think it's about having that routine and a good support system of people you can lean on and I think I have that."

Is the way you train, eat, and treat your body different from what you did in the NFL?

“Well, not really because my trainer is a psychopath and still thinks I need to do football-style workouts. Which is true. We do a good job of meshing in the stuff that I would do as an athlete when I was playing and the things we do now. But I love it. I love working out, I love taking care of my body."

In interviews like this, what is the question you get asked the most?

“The question I get asked the most is ‘what’s the weirdest place I’ve had to salsa dance?’. Uhm yup, that happens all the time. Ha."

So what requires more focus, playing in The Super Bowl or being a dad?

“Oh man. I think both need equal amounts of focus. Actually, I think I’m going to go with being a dad a little bit more because The Super Bowl is like a finite amount of time, it’s two weeks to prepare, you get ready, you got your game plan down, you’re super focused, you play the game and it’s done. But as a dad, it doesn’t end. Ha. It’s been 8 years and counting now and there is no end in sight. The level of focus to be a dad is incredible. I mean you’re always on. There isn't a single second that doesn't pass by where I’m not thinking about how I am going to make Kennedy better. Just being a father or parent in general is a 24/7 job. 24/8 job. If there’s an extra day of the week we’ll take it because it never ends."

You do get to have a bit of fun though, you were on First We Feast’s ‘Truth or Dab’ and Serge Ibaka’s ‘How Hungry Are You?’. Would you eat The Last Dab Hot Sauce OR Alligator claws again?

“Oooh. Uh, I would go with...the alligator claws. They were tasty. I was like, ‘this is chicken, what are we doing here? This is really good.’ But you just have to block out the claws. If I could eat it with my eyes up, I would probably try to eat it that way because of the idea of this hand on your plate, it’s a lot."

What interests you more, music of fashion?

“You can’t do me like that. They’re both so intertwined. Okay if you’re making me pick one, I gotta go with music. As much as fashion is there, I don’t do anything without music. As soon as I wake up I put music on. It just puts me in a space. Certain songs, certain energies, certain mornings. I'm in different moods and I want the music to match my mood and just wake me up. I have a rule, no rap music before noon. We need to hear Anita Baker, Shaday, Marvin Gaye, something that wakes us up like angels. Once we get in the car and I’m ready to start my day and go somewhere, then we can put the rap on and raise the energy level."

What did you listen to today?

“Today was a little different. Today was Nipsey Hussle, One Hunnit. Nipsey just puts me in a frame of mind. When I listen to Nip, it's like let me get my mind right today. Let me get my thoughts together and align myself. I think Nipsey does a good job of aligning your chakras with his music. It just helps you start your day."

Speaking of starting the day, how do you decide what you’re going to wear?

“I'm kind of maniacal about that too. So there’s a whole brain process before bed — Where am I going to go tomorrow? What do I need to put on? Do I want to wear something new? — It's like a match game in my head depending on where I’m going. Someone told me, ‘every time you step out of your house, you have to be ready to go somewhere.’ You never know where the party is going to be and you never know what opportunity may arise. You never know when someone is looking at you. There have been times where something that I have worn may have gotten me a second call, job, or opportunity. Fashion is just so important and so influential in the way that people observe you and depict who you are. They paint a whole picture before they even speak to you by what you have on."

Since you’ve retired, what projects are you most excited about?

“All of it. I started working with E! Entertainment. We had a show but it was canceled due to COVID. I also got into acting a bit. It was crazy because I started doing acting classes and just like anything else, like football, I want to practice before I play the game. I was attacking it from that mindset. But low and behold, wIthin two weeks my agent got me an audition for a play on Broadway. I had only taken 3 acting classes at that time and didn’t feel ready. But I went anyway. It was the most terrifying thing in the world. When I was done, they said I understood the character and have the role. Obviously, things are on hold but when it happens it'll be fun. I like to do things outside of the box, things that people wouldn't expect me to do."

U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with New York Giants Wide Receiver Victor Cruz in the audience after delivering remarks at the White House Science Fair in the East Room of the White House in Washington, April 22, 2013.

So if you’re going to be remembered for only one thing, what would you want it to be?

“The person that just stayed true. That was always true to himself, true to his culture, true to his heritage, true to what got him there."

For our last question, can you name a person, a place, and a thing that inspires you?

“A person that inspires me is Barack Obama. I've been watching him at interviews and speaking engagements. He's always going to continue to shock the world and be a better person than we even thought he was every time he opens his mouth. A place that inspires me is Paterson, New Jersey. That’s my hometown and everytime I pass by or visit someone, it just inspires me to be better. It goes back to that feeling of knowing where I came from. It just reminds me every time. A thing that inspires me is this book I read about Phil Knight, ‘Shoe Dog: A memoir by the creator of Nike.’ If you think about how influential Nike is in so many different things around the world, it's just incredible. I think that level of ambition and the story behind how Nike was invented and created is pretty dope. So yeah, those are the three. "


If you’re not familiar with the name Kai Wright, you might know him better as the renowned hip hop/electronic artist, Sango. He’s the talented DJ and record producer behind genre-melting sounds and albums like ‘Moments spent loving you’, ‘In the comfort of’, ‘Da Rocinha’ and ‘North’. In this edition of Citizens, Kai talks to us about how fatherhood, family, and the ‘Pacific Midwest’ have shaped who he is and influenced his career.

02 Feb 2021

Paolo gattone

Hi Kai, phrases like ‘future of music’ and ‘visionary’ have been used to describe you. Yet you refer to your work as ‘regular, real beats’. Why’s that?

“Yeah, regular means understandable, relatable. A lot of people think that regular means basic and the word normal is bad. In my opinion, you can get too creative where you're not taming the art for it to have a message. That’s the beauty of creation because you have artists that are pushing boundaries and doing stuff that just does not make sense to anyone but them. But you also have creatives, like me, that are willing to reach out to people and understand culture and patterns in how we think and tie it into music and art. When it comes to creating things, I think we have to take what exists already, learn from our past, and repurpose it. You got to take things from the 70s, 60s, 1800s and kind of update the idea, you know. So regular music, regular beats are just ideas and sounds that you are familiar with but in a new way. That’s how I would put it. We’re already so complex as human beings, why add on to that?"

Were you raised in a musical household?

Yeah, my mom still plays piano. She’s amazing. She actually started out making beats on a Casio controller. She was doing that while she was in the Navy. My father was more of a fan of music. He was definitely responsible for my influences, more so than my mom. He was like, ‘whatever you like, enjoy it.’ He wasn’t showing us death metal and stuff like that, but it was stuff that he felt we should hear. The trade off is that my mom was more technical with it. She taught us how music works. She sat me down, explained how to download programs that could help me and explained music theory to me. She was a really great mother because she allowed her children to have their own playground with constraints. She wasn't really controlling as a mom. She was like, ‘Oh I see something in you, and you should go for that. Embrace it.’ Musically that did really help a lot. I found myself knowing myself early on.


If you’re not familiar with the name Kai Wright, you might know him better as the renowned hip hop/electronic artist, Sango. He’s the talented DJ and record producer behind genre-melting sounds and albums like ‘Moments spent loving you’, ‘In the comfort of’, ‘Da Rocinha’ and ‘North’. In this edition of Citizens, Kai talks to us about how fatherhood, family, and the ‘Pacific Midwest’ have shaped who he is and influenced his career.

So, did you always know you were going to have a career in music?

I knew I was going to be a creator. My mom was always telling me this story, I was maybe 3 or 4. We were at this computer store, I think it’s called Circuit City or something like that, and there was this computer that I was using really well. I was drawing on Microsoft Paint and people in the store were watching me like I was demoing how to use the stuff. It was the early 90s, so this stuff is really kind of new and they were like, ‘how did this kid learn this so fast?’ It was because we had computers at school, but I was just geared toward it.

Is that why you chose to study graphic design over music?

It was kind of like a confidence thing. I knew I would be able to teach myself the things that I needed to know in music but not with graphic design and I was really into it at the time. I’m still into graphic design now, but I use it as a tool for my music. I really save a lot of money doing it, ha. Although I’m not opposed to working with other graphic designers, I feel like I have a sense of what I want to create, so why shut that off? But yeah, I chose graphic design because it was out of fear that I wasn’t going to make it in music. I mean I loved music, but I thought I needed to get a degree in graphic design so I can get a job at Sony, RCA, or Universal. I wanted to design album covers and help an artist brand themselves or maybe work at a company that makes clothing. But I ended up blowing up in college and going on tour multiple times. If I had studied music, I maybe would've fallen out of love with it. I know a lot of people who have gone to school for music and found it a waste of time.

Out of all your projects, which has made the biggest impact on you?

I would say my album called North. It was the first album that I ever fully thought out, worked on and saw from start to finish. The times before, I was just experimenting a lot and didn't have any solid ideas. But when I was making North it was a firm idea that I had created and filled it up until I saw the body of work that I was seeing in my head. Then I got together with this record label called Soulection. They put it out and it did pretty well in my opinion. I still had a day job, and I was hoping to quit, but it was a long time until I actually could.

What was your day job?

I made baby oil. It was a night job. I would go clock in and fill the tubes up with baby oil. I did quit that job eventually, but I still needed to work so I did catering. That actually made me fall in love with cooking. Cooking is my hobby.

What can you cook?

Oh easily, jambalaya. Louisiana-style jambalaya. My great grandma’s sister, who’s still alive, she’s from Louisiana and I get all her recipes. I love southern cooking. I love Louisiana because my family is from there. Also, my wife is from Mexico, so I make a mix of Louisiana and Mexican style food. I love cooking.

What else do you do on your off time?

Play video games — NBA, FIFA, Spiderman (my favorite superhero). But I’m getting older now, so I like watching my nephew play. It’s fun hanging out with him. I do a lot of working out as well. I was an athlete in high school and parts of college but gave that up for music. I ran track and cross country. I was a runner runner. I was running the 800m dash, doing marathons, 5ks and competing.

Do you prefer live performances or studio recordings?

Live. For sure.

Big crowds or small groups?

Big crowds.

Are you an early bird or night owl?

Night owl.

When you work on a project, how do you know when you're done?

You know it’s funny, the first project I ever put out ever on the internet was called ‘Unfinished and Satisfied’. So that’s been me, I’ve never known when I’m done, but I’ve always been finished and been like, ‘I'm definitely putting this out.’ I’ll feel confident though, knowing that it might not be finished. If a project is finished, I’ll maybe feel like I’m not thinking enough because there’s always room for improvement or ideas. But my process starts as an idea from a conversation or maybe something that I saw on TV or the Internet that was dealing with a style of music. Or like something historical that I find and I dive deep into figuring out how they did that and why they did that at the time. Or just a mindset, right now my mindset has been about pacing yourself. At first, I liked to go fast, like jump from one thing to the next. Since COVID hit I've been embracing pacing myself again. I would go fast because I was worried that I needed to make as much money as I can or get opportunities while I can because I don't know if it's going to last. I’m literally traumatized by that feeling. I’m never going to be able to rest. Like I went on my first vacation maybe last year. Yeah, I was always thinking I can't afford to go on vacation, I have to pay rent. But yeah, my music is created by starting with an idea. Then it morphs into these little bubbles. I take whatever makes sense and use it on the album or project that I’m making. Whatever doesn’t make sense, I’ll put those ideas aside and save those for later.

Who do you go to for feedback?

I would say my peers, definitely. A few people that I work with. These guys that I work with in Michigan. If your stuff is not good, they’ll let you know. They’re hardcore. Also, my wife and I’ll put stuff on Instagram or Twitter and let people respond to it. It might not be something I’m actually working on, but similar, so I’m going to keep trying it out. I have three types of music making: I have music where I’m helping someone else out and it’s not my stuff. I have music where I’m totally locked in and this is an idea that I’m working on. Then, I have stuff that’s like practice and trying out. The stuff I try out I post.

You’ve said that you love change. What has been the most notable change you’ve experienced in your career?

I think it was when I first started traveling. I remember the first places I went to were Toronto and Montreal. It was with Kaytranada, a really popular DJ from Montreal. They were literally the first places I’ve been to for music outside of the country. What changed is I started realizing that people really want to see me in person opposed to having music being played in the room, or on the Internet, or in the car. It’s cool that they want to hear me play it. Traveling made me more confident and it made me interested in seeing more people and how they lived. It opened my mind to other people who grew up in a totally different way. When we travel, we should always try to learn. I feel like a lot of people just travel to show that they went somewhere and use it as a backdrop, rather than learning and experiencing someone’s culture or someone’s place of origin.

What else inspires you? Name a person, place, and thing.

I would say a person that inspires me is definitely my grandfather, Alandus. He’s the epitome of raw self-expression and I always struggled with that. I was really kind of shy growing up and I always had a lot of people around me that helped me be more out in the open and more upfront with who I am. It really helped with my music career because a lot of times when you’re on stage DJing or producing in a room with people, you have to be a vocal person. My grandfather is like the absolute most vocal person I can think of. He had a rough life. He’s from Chicago and he spent most of his early years in a gang and he changed his life around. Every time I have a conversation with him it’s always so robust. He’ll say the most outlandish things and you just have to accept what he's saying. He’s really passionate.

A place...ah man...okay, I was born in Seattle and I moved to Michigan when I was 10. I spent a lot of time going back and forth. So, because I’m from the Midwest and Pacific Northwest, I have this thing where I call it the ‘Pacific Midwest’. I would say that’s the place that inspires me. They inspire because of the working class feel I get from Michigan and the mix of the futuristic forward thinking I get from Seattle. That’s me. I’m very forward thinking as a person and how I treat my art, but I’m very grounded in tradition.

Fatherhood is the thing that inspires me. It’s very important to me. I have two kids. It challenges me every day. That stuff just brings the best out of you because you're not living for yourself. It’s a blessing for me because I get to see myself in them. I think kids are put on the planet to teach you how to be grateful for people who are able to have kids and be grateful for family and the community you have.


ISMAEL SANTANA VASQUEZ is someone who stands out from the crowd. His overflowing passion, positivity, and belief in oneself is unignorable. Paired with his tireless work ethic, it’s no wonder he is where he is today. In this episode of Citizens, we spend time with the entrepreneur and top model agent to talk about business and following your instincts.

04 Jan 2021

Paolo gattone

Hey, Ismael. You own not one but two successful businesses — a modeling agency and clothing store. Did you always want to be in fashion?

“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."

How many models do you represent today?

“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."


Ismael Santana Vasquez is someone who stands out from the crowd. His overflowing passion, positivity, and belief in oneself is unignorable. Paired with his tireless work ethic, it’s no wonder he is where he is today. In this episode of Citizens, we spend time with the entrepreneur and top model agent to talk about business and following your instincts.

What motivates you to stay on top of everything?"

“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."

How do you select the models that you work with?

“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."

So, it’s all about personality and feeling.

“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."

Do you have a favourite scouting success story?

“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."

You’re very hands-on.

“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."

Do you have help or is it just you?

“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."

Are you always keeping an eye out for new talent? Are there places that you go?

“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."

Why is diversity important to 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."

How would you describe your work style?

“Sleep is for sheep."

Personal style?

“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."

What are your future goals?

“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."

Have you found anything inspirational lately?

“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."


The world has experienced a major upheaval in 2020 and everyone’s plans have been thrown off course. In these uncertain times, we can all learn to take a page from Mathieu Hagelaars’ book. The footwear designer and founder of Studio Hagel embraces the unexpected, isn’t afraid to change course, and finds innovative solutions in what others might see as mistakes. In this episode of Citizens, Mathieu shares how his experimental process has shaped the outcome of his projects and success of his studio.

02 Nov 2020

Jurjen Beelen

Hey Mathieu, so you’ve said that you started your own studio because no one wanted to work with you. Now, you’ve worked with big international brands and great creative minds like Virgil Abloh, Daniel Arsham, Takashi Murukami. How does it feel to have come so far?

“Well, I feel blessed of course. When I first started I never expected I would work with these kinds of creative superheroes. I never expected it. When I started my studio five and half years ago, I never thought I would go abroad. I thought I would work with Dutch brands, but I never imagined going international."

Five and half years is fast.

“Yeah, that’s record fast. I’m still amazed by it and it wasn’t planned like this. I didn’t say okay within five years I’m going to work with the names you just mentioned. But I did focus on what I really wanted to do and knew that I wanted to do it the best. And thanks to Instagram, I had a stage to show my ideas.”

Wild concept made in collaboration with @opblaashelicopter &nbsp Right: Mathieu Hagelaars.

Do you find that Instagram really helped you get off the ground?

“Yeah, sure. Still now people are asking me ‘Why are you sharing all your ideas?’ because people can just grab them from Instagram. But one of my best decisions was to share my ideas on Instagram. All the projects that I got came directly and indirectly from Instagram. It was the best way to start working and connecting with people."


Since being founded in 2015, Studio Hagel has established a reputation as the world’s leading experimental footwear design studio. We design and develop collections that are rooted in a creative concept that can be applied to everything. Whatever we do, we don’t settle for the ordinary.

STUDIO HAGEL designed and made this pair of custom sneakers for the @TakashiMurakami's exhibition #sneakersforbreakfast at ComplexCon.

Looking back, is there anything that you wish you knew when you were first starting out? Any advice you would give your past self or anyone looking to start their own studio?

“Man, that’s a question...I guess things are always going to be different from what you think. In the beginning, I had an idea that everything I was going to communicate, everything I was going to show, was going to be done by pen and paper. Everything had to be done the traditional way because that's how it was always done.That’s what I always had in my mind. My Instagram feed had to look like a clear story, so my wall had to look like a clear story. But when I said fuck it all, I’m going to do whatever I want and follow my intuition, far better ideas came out. And maybe my wall looked like a big mess, but I started to see a signature of what I was doing. In a way, I found my signature with a looser and freer approach.”

Would you relate that to your ‘driven by experimentation’ process?

“Yeah, exactly. Don’t be afraid to fail or make mistakes. Don’t be afraid when things turn out differently than what you had in mind.”

Can you share any failures that you experienced?

“Definitely. Product-wise, I had an idea to make moulds and I’m horrible at making moulds. I wanted to experiment with all kinds of resins and the whole studio became one big mess. It ended up making an interesting texture but that was it. It all stuck together. I ruined a really expensive resin and the shoes that were in it. Business-wise, you learn things the hard way, like reaching out to people who are more important than you thought. One failure, I forgot a really important meeting and remembered two days after it was scheduled. That’s one of those things you do once and then never ever again. Now, I'm always on time.”

Do you have any projects that you’re particularly proud of?

“The very first shoe that I did with Virgil. I have really nice memories from that project. That was my “breakthrough moment”. It’s a horrible way to describe it but I would say that was my international breakthrough. Virgil reached out to me saying, ‘hey, I like the things that you’re doing and I want to make a shoe with you’ and that ended up being the Off-White Off-Courts. The way we approached it was super hands on and similar to my other Makers Monday projects. That shoe was a big success for Off-White and really good for my studio.”

So, you probably learned a lot from that experience.

“Oh yeah. Working with Virgil was a different approach. I never worked like that before with other art directors on past projects. Also, I got to be in the factories and go through the whole process from creation to prototyping. Everything.”

Design and development men's footwear collection for Off-White. Working alongside with Virgil Abloh.

Are you working on anything exciting right now?

“I’m working on my own brand. I’m really excited but it's also scary because it's your baby that you’re going to create. It’s also a super interesting subject to do research for because you’re going to ask yourself a lot of questions: What is the thing that people want to see from you? How are you going to challenge yourself? In what way are you going to stand out from what's already out there?. During Corona, I used the time to anaylze myself, think about my own brand and what I wanted to be or not be. That's the most exciting and difficult part.”

It’s probably a big task to define yourself.

“Exactly. I’m approaching it as an experiment. For me, it's more about this thing I want to do and hopefully I’m going to constantly improve it. Like I said in the beginning, you never know where it's going to go. So, I can't say this is the way I'm going to start my brand, this is the way it’s going to look, and this is the person who’s going to wear it. It’s not going to work that way. You’re always going to have pleasant surprises and mistakes, maybe some failures, but that's all part of the experiment. That’s the exciting thing.”


When you get a creative block, what do you do to get out of it?

“I like cycling. I have a racing bike. It takes a long time and you're by yourself in a different environment. It’s meditative for me. So, it's a good way to rethink everything I’m doing. If you're stuck, move away, get away from it, and when you come back, you might have a different approach.”

Do you see yourself expanding beyond footwear and experimenting with other clothing?

“I believe in specialising. I think I’m still learning a lot from footwear and still have a lot to learn. There are still so many areas to explore when it comes to footwear. It’s a complicated product and that's also the challenge I have with footwear design. I’m not saying I’ll never do anything else. But right now, there are so many challenges in footwear for me to explore. Like different kinds of techniques and a whole spectrum of footwear – from women’s heels to men’s sandals. There’s so much to do in the world of footwear.”

The NB x Bodega X-racer is meant for "All Terrain”, so we pushed that concept to more extreme terrains.


You probably have seen his work, but maybe you just don’t know it yet. TAL MIDYAN has made artworks for some of your favorite artists such as Travis Scott, Gunna, Bon Iver, 21 Savage, and Justin Timberlake, while also being the Associate Creative Director of the global brand and design team at SPOTIFY. That recognizable design of Spotify’s Rap Caviar playlists? Yeah, that too.

12 Jun 2020

Paolo gattone

Hi Tal, how does it feel to make visuals that are pretty much seen everywhere in the world?

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.

How is that balance of working independently next to your full-time job?

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.


Tal Midyan has made artworks for some of your favorite artists such as Travis Scott, Gunna, Bon Iver, 21 Savage, and Justin Timberlake, while also being the Associate Creative Director of the global brand and design team at Spotify.

How do you translate music into visuals?

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.

Recently, you worked together with Gunna, making his album artwork, promo, and merchandise. What was that like for you?

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.

The artwork received some mixed reactions. Does that influence you?

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.

Is your style applicable to any artist?

Absolutely. I’m very aware of not being boxed in. I don’t want to be just another 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.

A lot of your work involves Black artists and Black culture. In light of recent developments, that must feel ambivalent sometimes.

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.

How have you personally taken responsibility?

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.

On Instagram, you posted about not going back to normal. How do you hope that we get out of this?

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.

We always finish with a question about what has inspired you. Despite the turmoil going on in New York and the world at large, have you seen, read, met, or listened to anything interesting lately?

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.


They say the first step to getting what you want in life is knowing what you want, Bryan du Chatenier AKA Trobi has known since the age of 9. He started his music career DJ-ing at birthday parties and quickly moved on to producing and performing around the world. In this edition of Citizens, the Dutch DJ and multi-platinum producer shares his journey, passion, and vision for his future.

12 Jun 2020

Jurjen Beelen

Hey Bryan, where did the name Trobi come from?

“When I was 12, I started making tropical house music. I took the ‘tropi’ from the beginning of tropical and replaced the ‘P’ with a ‘B’ because my real name is Bryan. But I don’t make tropical house anymore."

Why don't you make tropical house anymore?

“I'm a little bit older now. When I was 15, I was signed to Spinnin’ Records (one of the biggest EDM labels in the world) and started to make more house and EDM music. Now, for maybe three years, I’ve been making more pop music and hip hop with very big rappers and artists from a lot of different countries: Germany, France, Holland, the UK, Columbia. I like that I have more freedom to make different music. When you are a house DJ you can only release house music because your fans expect it. But now I can just make and release whatever I like."

How did you start DJ-ing at 9 years old?

“A friend of my dad had a son who was much older than me who was a DJ. I think he was 18 at the time and I was 9. He had a DJ set in his bedroom, and I started playing with it. I told my dad I really liked it and wanted one too, so he got me a very small DJ set to test out. Then I told him it wasn’t good enough and he got me one of the best DJ sets, a CD 2000. It's a very good and very expensive set, like €4000 or something, and I was like maybe 12 so that's expensive but I paid him back fully though. He got me the nice DJ set so I could do shows, like weddings and private parties. If I got paid like maybe €100 or something, €50 was for me and €50 was for him to pay for the DJ set. With all the private shows that I did, I paid the whole thing back in 3-4 years. So, it was more like an investment for him, and it helped me get into an entrepreneurial mindset."

How did you get your first gig?

“Other than the weddings and house parties, I think the very first real gig in a club was when I was 14 and it was a teenager party for kids in a club. I was a resident DJ there and every two or three weeks they would throw a party."

Would you say that you're self-taught or did you have lessons or mentors?

“YouTube tutorials were my biggest teacher."

When did you know that this was going to be your career?

“At 16, when I was with Spinnin’ Records and started doing more shows. I knew this was going to be my career. But I was young and still working at the supermarket. It wasn’t until I was around 18 that I could quit the supermarket and fully focus on music."

What's the most exciting thing that you've experienced in your career so far?

“One of my China tours. I did a few. That was very dope. Also, playing Tomorrowland was a very big goal of mine."

Why was the China tour so exciting?

“It was crazy. It's not normal for someone at such a young age to tour for a few weeks in a country I have never been, playing in clubs. It was very exciting but that was more in my house music days. Now, I'm more in a different kind of music genre and I started working with Chinese rappers. That's something that I'm working on right now, connecting with Asian rappers."

Traveling must be inspiring for your music.

“Yeah, it’s like a new energy. New experiences of places, like Singapore, really gave me a lot of inspiration. It's such a beautiful country, really clean and beautiful buildings, beautiful nature. Same with China, it's so big, every city is different. One day I’d be in a city that was freezing and snowing and the day after I’d be in another city that was 27 degrees and sunny."

Right now, touring isn’t really possible so many producers are releasing music online. How do you stand out and cut through the noise?

“I just do my thing to be honest. I just make music that I like. I think the music that I like, a lot of people also like. When I release music, I also think as a DJ, so I'm like ‘why would I play this as a DJ?’ If a lot of DJs play the track, it will become more popular. I think things like this are very important and I try not to make music that is too weird. I like weird stuff but not too weird so a lot of people will listen to it."

Where do you envision your career going next?

“For now, I'm focusing on countries like France, Germany, and the UK. Next week I'm going to France to make music with very big rappers and singers. I work with every big artist in the Netherlands, and I want to work in new territories with big rappers from other countries. I also finished my Dutch album and it releases this year. It's one of the biggest projects of the year because there's no project with this many big rappers on one album in Holland. That’s the next thing I think that's going to really give my career a boost. Then hopefully I can go to the two other countries and make music there as well."

Tell me about ICEQOLD.

“It’s a new platform that I made six months ago. We sell sample packs for producers to help their beats get to the next level. Producers can also download free samples and free melodies too. A lot of upcoming artists or vocalists don't have the right tools to make their voices sound good and now you can just use your laptop and your voice sounds great. So, your demo will sound way better. For me, it's very important that all people have the same tools to grow and develop their beats. It's crazy because when you give a lot of people the same tools, you see a lot of different kinds of work. I really like it and I like it to give them the best. All the samples we create ourselves from scratch and before we release it, I will check all the samples myself. If it's not good enough, I tell the sound designers and they make it better because people deserve the best samples. I think people deserve good sources and when you buy something on ICEQOLD, you know it's quality. I use the platform for myself too."

Which do you prefer? A nice car or nice house?

“I'm 21, I’m at the age where I would choose a nice car but when I'm a little bit older I will choose a nice house."

Do you listen to your heart or listen to your head?

“Listen to my heart.">

Do you live to work or work to live?

“Live to work. I don't work because I must, I'm just doing it because I really like it. I love to go to the studio every day. Just not on the weekend because I have a girlfriend and I need to spend some time with her too of course. But when I’m not in the studio it doesn’t feel right, like I’m missing something."

Are you a thinker or doer?


To finish our interview, can you name a person, a place, and a thing that inspires you?

“The person that inspires me is Michael Jackson. I have liked his music since I was young. The place is my studio. I really get a lot of inspiration from it. It's a building with maybe 6 studios in one place, so there are a lot of people making music and you can just walk in and listen to what they're making. The thing that inspires me is nature. I really like nature or animal sounds. I like to use a lot of those natural sounds in my music. "


Designer, artist, and social media phenomenon, Nicole McLaughlin, has changed the way the fashion industry thinks about upcycling and sustainability. It’s her unexpected translation of materials and tongue-in-cheek concepts that make her a leader in innovative design. In this edition of Citizens, Nicole reflects on how her career started and where she wants to take it in the future.

16 Apr 2020

Paolo gattone

Hey Nicole, you’re a highly sought-after designer working with international fashion brands. What gravitated you to the industry?

“Yeah, I have kind of a weird backstory. I went to school for speech language pathology. I had a deaf boyfriend when I was in high school and became fluent in sign language. I was very passionate about it, so I went to school to pursue it. Then I got to school and realized that I liked sign language more for the art of it and the visual form of communication. I toyed around with switching to an art or design school, but I ended up staying at the college I was at and started doing a general media program. I was doing more design, website design, packaging, that kind of stuff. That led me to my internship with Reebok right after I graduated. I still don’t know to this day how I ended up getting this internship because I had zero experience in terms of the fashion industry and footwear. But they had me come on as a graphic designer making graphics and prints for sports apparel, like running tights and tanks. That’s really when I started to learn about fashion; the patterns and the construction that comes with making clothing as well as the production side of it, like going to factories and understanding timelines. It was really during that time where I was curious to know how things are made. That's when I started to mess around with footwear, taking samples and things that were just laying around the office, cutting them up and frankensteining them together, just seeing what I could make out of it. During that time, everything was exploration and that’s kind of where I still am today. Everything I do is always practice. It’s always exploration. It’s never anything that’s meant to function perfectly or to be sold and mass produced. That’s never the intention behind it."

Yeah, it seems like a lot of your pieces can also be considered art.

“I get that question quite a lot, ‘Do you consider yourself more of a fashion designer or an artist?’. It took me a little while to figure out where I sit in the space. To me, I think I’m more of an artist and it just so happens that my medium is fashion. A lot of the pieces I make do function, they can be wearable pieces, but it’s just more about concept and an idea. So, I think that would sit more in the art space."

How long does a project usually take?

“Uhm, it depends what I’m making. I think footwear is probably the thing that I’ve gotten the fastest at because I make shoes the most. I think a shoe would take me up to 1 or 2 hours. It involves the least amount of material and pattern making. I’ve spent days on things, and I’ve spent 20 minutes on things. It varies. The funny thing is — in terms of social media which is the more instant gratification type projects — the less time I spend on a project, the better it does in terms of engagement. The things where I just think of an idea that’s kind of stupid and it only takes me a couple minutes to put together are the ones that tend to do really well. It’s never the ones where I painstakingly spend hours stitching, sculpting, and figuring it out. But I always hope that the people that really understand what I’m doing in terms of construction are the ones that see it and can appreciate it."

Which projects were the quickest to make but had the biggest impact?

“Recently, I did a glove made out of bread which surprisingly did super well. I literally just carved out a piece of bread and stuck my hand in it. The idea was ‘warm and toasty’. That project only took me less than half an hour to make and it did quite well. It had a little bit of a viral moment. I also did a project where I put a stamp on the bottom of a high heel. It was such a simple thing and did so well."

Is there a project you’re particularly proud of?

“It was a personal project. I did an auction in June last year for Black Lives Matter. I put my head down and was grinding and made 6 or 7 pieces by hand in less than a week. I put them up for auction. I didn’t really know what was going to happen, but I just felt like I needed to do something to help in some way. I think we raised $20,000 in a couple of days and that’s probably the most fulfilling thing I had done as a freelancer. To share and help as much as I could through creating art was very rewarding. I was very happy about that. It inspired me to go and pitch to work with brands for more charitable opportunities. Finding ways to do auctions and have them donate, raise money, and raise awareness."

When making the transition to freelance, what do you know now that you wish you knew then?

“A lot of things. I never intended on going freelance. I always thought I was going to work in a company. The way I grew up, my parents taught me that secure jobs are a good thing, growing in one company from start to finish is a good thing. So, when all this started to take off and I was talking to my parents about the opportunity to work for myself and be a freelancer, they were freaking out and were like, ‘What about your 401K? What about health care?’. It was really nerve-racking to take that jump. You do lose this sense of security. At the same time, it's a very rewarding decision. Working for yourself, you're making your own luck in a way. Everything that you do, you can take a step back afterwards and say, ‘I did that. That was mine and take ownership over it.’ It's a good feeling. I’ve always kind of gone with my gut and that usually tends to work. But there are a couple things I wish that I was a little bit more knowledgeable in and on myself about, like understanding taxes, establishing my residence and my studio residence, and all of the more logistical things of running a business. I’d also say, maybe save a little bit more before you quit your full-time job."

You went freelance just before 2020 and the pandemic. That must’ve affected you.

“Yeah, that was such an ‘oh shit’ moment to go through. Especially to have that happen in less than a year of being freelance because a large part of my business was traveling for workshops, meeting with brands, and hosting events throughout the world. Right before the pandemic, I just finished teaching a workshop in China, I was about to leave to go to South Africa, and the following week I was going to be in London, then all of a sudden all that just gets pulled out from under me. I was like, ‘Woah, woah, what's going to happen now? That's a huge part of my business. If I can’t travel and I can't do these things, what’s about to go down?’ I freaked out a little bit. I was nervous but I took a step back and let everyone regroup because all these brands were in the same situation where they're freaking out too. Two weeks later, all these brands came back to me and proposed digital workshops and social media things. It was a way to leverage being home and because so many people are consuming content in masses which is a big part of what I do, I was like, ‘Okay, what if I work with brands and help find cool ways to help their brands on social media?’ So, my business became a little bit different during this time, but I've embraced it and it's been fun."

Have any of the places that you visited influenced the work you’re doing now?

“Yeah, I’m really fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel as much as I have. I mean obviously not during this time, but when I was working at Reebok traveling was a really important part of our job. We would go to the factories in China and Vietnam. From there, I would always take trips to Thailand, the Philippines, and Japan. I loved that part of my job. When I left Reebok, I was really nervous that I wasn’t going to get to travel as much. It was so amazing when Adidas reached out and invited me to come to Shanghai and teach a workshop. So, I went to China and that was a cool experience because I felt a connection to sign language by teaching a workshop to people where we don’t speak the same language at all. We were making something together but had to communicate and speak to each other in a visual way. That really inspired me. I want to continue to travel to other countries and try to find ways to teach workshops to young people and people who are just curious about the industry."

What advice would you give to up-and-coming designers?

“I’d say this is probably the most important advice as a freelancer, it’s kind of corny, but don’t lose the reason why you started doing it. I think sometimes it gets really blurry and all these amazing commission projects come into play — and obviously you have to make a living, that’s first and foremost — but a lot of the time you lose the passion of why you started creating the things, or writing the things, or doing the things you were doing that inspired you to want to be a freelancer. Personal projects are still something that I feel very passionate about and something I carve out a lot of time to try to do that. A lot of the time it ends up being late nights and weekends to still maintain those projects. It’s tough but you have to make sure you do it or you’re going to lose your sanity."

What’s the most challenging part of your career right now?

“Finding the balance between the commissioned projects versus the personal projects. It gets busy sometimes and the first things to go are your personal well-being and mental health because you’re just in grind mode and sometimes that can last a really long time. Right before Christmas, I was back-to-back-to-back on so many projects and by the time Christmas came I slept for like a week straight. It was amazing but I realized that I pushed myself way past my limits. It was kind of funny because the week that I was able to sleep and rest and not check my email, my skin was so good."

Do you ever have to overcome the feeling of imposter syndrome?

“Yeah, I mean I still do. Full transparency. It’s really hard not to feel like that sometimes. Especially not coming from a fashion background or product design background. I just kind of show up and am like, ‘Oh look at these things that I’m making that could fall apart at any moment.’ It’s hard but you have to find this level of confidence and ride that. Ride the line of staying open and humbled by what you're doing, but also feeling confident in what you're making and your ideas. You don’t have to be an expert. You don’t have to come from a prestigious school where you learned all the tricks of the trade. You can learn as you go and own that and be okay with that. I’ve always kind of been this way. If I’m curious enough about something I’ll figure it out. I think a lot of people are that way. You just have to be confident enough."

What career milestones or goals are you hoping to achieve?

“I would love to continue to build upon the workshops and become more of a non-profit. I see myself going in less of a brand direction and more of an educational direction or become a resource within the industry to support younger people who are looking to get into design. Kind of what I’m doing now but on a larger scale. I hope to have a team of people that can help come up with solutions for brands that have excess materials and get those materials to schools that need it. I hope to still be making things for fun too. I want to explore homeware and larger scale things. I started working in the furniture space, like chairs, but it'd be great to do bigger installations with upcycled materials."

You’re an outdoorsy person.

“Yeah, I rock climb. That’s my preferred sport. I love outdoor anything: clothing, accessories. There is just so much design detail that I think also gets lost quite a bit, like reflective details or trims, stuff that we don't always look at and get excited about. I love that kind of stuff."

What’s your go to outdoor activity outfit?

“Ooh. Well, I’m always wearing a beanie. Mainly, I like Carhartt for beanies. I’m kind of traditional like that, I guess. I’d say Arc’Teryx jackets are my favorites. If I’m to buy anything new, Arc’Teryx would be the only outdoor brand I would go buy a jacket from. I find a lot of Patagonia, L.L. Bean, and Colombia in thrift stores. I usually wear climbing pants, Gramicci or North Face. Then shoes, I have National Geographic shoes. They’re really cool and no one really knows that National Geographic has shoes. They’re really sick. They’re like my prized possessions. I like Smartwool socks too. Socks are very important to me. Even for my projects too. The way I style my stuff, my socks are usually visible, so I don’t skimp out on the socks. Gotta go all in."

For a thing that inspires me, this is kind of weird and I guess it's ‘things’ plural, but I like oversized objects. Things that are meant to be in store displays. I have this oversized Vans shoe for example. I actually have a couple of these. I like the idea that things could be taken out of context completely and I think store displays are the best example of that. They just go crazy with it and then the stuff is always on eBay for really cheap after because no one knows what to do with it. So, I’d say my giant shoes have inspired me."


Since the start of this year, Visual Artist Geray Mena has been making amazing visuals to support our collections. From his Growth and Development editorial to his Work From Home visuals, Geray always knows how to catch our brand aesthetic while simultaneously creating something uncanny and interesting in his own signature style. In this episode of Citizens, we asked the Spanish artist about his work, and his views on the world in 2020.

04 Mar 2020

Jurjen Beelen

Hola Geray, on your website you describe yourself as a “visual artist and image-maker.” What’s the difference between them?

“The difference is that a photographer takes a picture of reality, while I try to create a new reality. In my work, I create new environments and sculptures. During my time at the visual academy in Madrid, I was not only focused on photography. It is a bit too narrow for me. Sometimes my work doesn’t even involve a camera."

It’s easy to describe your work a certain way, but as a visual artist, how would you characterize your work?

“Chaotic, haha. I like to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself as much as I can. both visually and conceptually.”

Does that involve a lot of post-production?

“Not as much as you might think. I never do any retouching, and when I do postproduction I usually work together with RGB Berlin and Studio Wolfram. They know how to make everything look exactly how I want it."

You studied both in Madrid and in Amsterdam (at Rietveld Academy), how did that education shape you to the artist you are now?

“To be honest, Madrid didn’t bring me that much. So when I was done, I was kind of stuck and didn’t know what to do with my life. I started traveling around and assisted some photographers in Paris and London before I had the idea to go back to school. That really changed me and the way I approach my work. The freedom of the Rietveld Academy as well as the city of Amsterdam made me fall in love with my work again.”


Geray Mena is a visual artist living and working in between Madrid and London. Following his BA from Gerrit Rietveld Academie he started producing meticulously detailed staged images that examine the semiotics of contemporary image production, dancing in the lines in between autonomous and applied art. Working in a variety of media, including photography, video, and installation, his multifaceted practice incorporates references from seventeenth century spanish and dutch paintings to the early advertising images, synthesizing the essentials of photography with elements from other art forms such as classical painting and cinema.

Now you are also a teacher yourself, how do you ignite those same discoveries in your students?

“I’m teaching at a couple of academies in Madrid and I do workshops abroad. Mostly about the boundaries between commercial work and art. I think that’s the most important discovery: if you look at recent developments, the distinction between art and commerce has pretty much evaporated. Beyond that, I try to make future generations aware of what’s going on in the world and the systems that lie behind it. Movements like feminism and antiracism are things I value and I think they are important for an artist to acknowledge. I’m not trying to impose my views on them, but the work you make reflects your ideas. A great picture is not just a pleasant thing to look at, it should have an impact.”

Are your personal views part of your work as well?

“Absolutely. The work is so much about who you are and where you position yourself. I think I create in an intuitive way so I can’t really have distance from my work. Because I’m in the middle, I can’t step out of it so far.”

To me, your work seems very product-focused, how do you still manage to add those values into your work?

“Somehow my work became quite object-oriented in the last few years. That grew organically. I shoot many still lifes because you don’t need a big budget to make them. But I wouldn’t say that I’m a still life photographer at all. Lately, I´ve been doing fashion and documentary as well. That variety is what I love most. If you look at the great artists in history, they don’t follow one straight path or genre at all. It also excites me to flip the anachronic hierarchy of genres. Still lifes are still being undervalued if you compare it to animal painting, landscapes, genre, portraits, and history paintings.”

Your last shoot for us was made during quarantine and depicted various “work from home” situations, how did you create those?

“I live in one of those gentrified neighborhoods of Madrid, and I am lucky enough to have a place where I can both work and live. We chatted with Paolo and Olaf, and we tried to brainstorm about ideas. I tried to figure out what I could do in the limited space and time we had. I invited two friends who live nearby, we ordered some props, and had some fun. One of the things I love about my work is the collaborative process. That’s why I live in Madrid, I can work with the people I trust.”

Spain was heavily hit by COVID-19, what was that like for you?

“I was mostly at my studio and I rarely went out. I don’t follow the news that much either, so a lot of things went by me. Workwise it was an interesting time. Because I don’t need huge sets or teams, I was able to still do a lot of work. I did a story for the latest issue of Wallpaper magazine, which I haven’t seen yet because all the shops are still closed, and I just did a story for Amazing - Closing Ceremony, my favorite magazine from Shanghai.”

During the lockdown, what has inspired you most?

“My friends! We’ve gone on zooms and walks while having a lot of good conversations during the quarantine. Sometimes until deep in the night. Both stupid jokes and deep conceptual thinking. This is something we already did before quarantine, but during times like these, you come to realize how important these things are.”


In this episode of Citizens we talk to Suzanne Schulting. Not only is Suzanne an Olympic gold medalist, world champion, European champion and 2018 Dutch Sportswoman of the Year, she’s managed to achieve it all before the age of 20. Ambitious and unstoppable, the now 23-year-old speed skater talks to us about life as an elite athlete and her goals for the future, making it clear that she’s far from the finish line.

13 Nov 2019

Paolo gattone

You’ve achieved so much at such a young age, what’s your next goal?

“The next goal is the World Championship this year in Rotterdam. So yeah, I want to become world champion because it’s for the home crowd. I don’t think there will be any crowd because of Coronavirus but still I really want to become world champion. Also because last year in March our World Champs got canceled because of the virus. So yeah, I want to be world champion again and the year after Olympic champion in at least one distance, maybe more. Maybe two gold medals or three gold medals. At least one."

What drives you to keep going?

“What really drives me is the gold. The feeling of winning the gold medal is the best thing ever. You train so hard the whole summer just for the feeling of crossing the finish line first. I scream my guts out when I win. That feeling really keeps me motivated and it’s like a drug. You want more and more and more."

This year must’ve affected your training.

“Yeah, it's all different. Normally, we get rest or go to camp or something like that. At this period right now, I would be in Calgary for 3 to 4 weeks for competition and enjoying the nice weather. But now we're in Holland and it's raining. I miss traveling and being abroad. But that’s the way it is."

What do you miss about traveling?

“In the winter, we start traveling the first part of the season. October, November we always travel to America or Canada. End of November or beginning of December, we’re always in Asia like Korea, Shanghai, or somewhere in Japan. That’s 3 weeks abroad. After that, we stay in Europe. We do training camps and competitions. I miss the competition. That’s why we travel, we’re there to race. They help us stay motivated because we have a reason to train. There’s a goal."

Are you based in Amsterdam?

“No, I’m based in Heerenveen. A really small village in the north of Holland. It’s like a 75 to 90 minute drive away from Amsterdam. I’m also from this part of Holland. I’m from the north, but my boyfriend lives in Amsterdam so I’m there a lot."

You’ve been speed skating since you were 8-years-old. How did you discover the sport?

“Well, my parents live in the middle of nowhere with little canals around their house. So, they were like, ‘okay, if it's frozen in the winter you can do some speed skating’, and that’s how I learned to speed skate. That’s where it all started."

Did you love it right away?

“First, my mom took me to see what kind of skating I wanted to do — speed skating, ice hockey, figure skating. So, for my first year of skating I did figure skating but I hated it because it was so boring and I wanted to do something different. All my friends from my village did speed skating so I did that instead."

What’s a training day like for you?

“I wake up in the morning around 8. I go to the arena around 8:45. Start doing my warm up, sharpen my skates, and then I will be on the ice around 9:45 until 11:15 or 11:30. Then I go home, make my lunch, eat my lunch, maybe take a nap. Just chill. I go back to the arena to do weights or some cycling from 3 to 5. Then, I go home and eat at my parents place or make dinner for myself and my boyfriend. So, that's my day and that’s 6 days a week."

What do you do on the 7th day?

“On Sunday, I always rest. I watch television or sports, or maybe go drink coffee somewhere or go out for dinner in the evening. Just really chill."

On the days when you feel off or your performance isn’t as good as it should be, how do you deal with that?

“Yeah, that's hard. Sometimes you feel that you just don't have the legs to win. But you have to reorganize your race and come up with a different strategy or adjust it. And you have to believe in yourself, it’s the most important thing."

What was it like to meet the other athletes at the Olympics?

“I was really impressed the first time I went to the Olympic village. You eat all together in a big venue and see all the other countries and athletes like Lindsay Vonn, the super famous skier. It’s super cool to see all the different kinds of sports and all the athletes working towards the same goal."

How did it feel to represent your country?

“I feel really honored actually because in Holland it’s all about speed skating. It’s really a big thing. It’s really nice to skate in the suit and have the orange helmet. It feels really good to represent such a small country."

Do you have any competition rituals or anything that you keep with you for luck?

“No. You have a routine in your warm up, but I’m not kissing something for luck or anything like that. I know some athletes have little things like always wearing the same underwear, but I don’t have anything."

Are you more comfortable in skates or shoes?

“I’m the most comfortable in skates because I really know what I’m doing. I’m really in the zone. I feel the most confident when I’m wearing my skates and my suit because I know I’m the best at doing what I’m doing in the moment. When I’m in my shoes I’m also confident because I really have my own taste."

What is your taste off the ice?

“It really depends. I really like clothes that aren’t too tight. Loose fit. I like boyfriend jeans and really love sweaters. I’m just living in sweaters. Sometimes I like hipster style too. I also love a really beautiful dress for a special night out. But most of the time, it’s all laid back and not too complicated. Just a nice sweater and boyfriend jeans and I’m a really happy person. Oh, and Dr. Martens too."

You probably get asked a lot of the same questions in interviews. What’s something people might not know about you already?

“Ooo. Well, I play piano. It’s funny because most athletes don’t know that I play piano. Most of the time I’m a really busy person, like, I react to everything and everybody. So, when I’m just sitting there and playing piano, people are surprised when they see me and say it doesn’t fit me. I also like to party. I really like to party but we can only do it at the end of the season."

When you meet younger athletes what do you say to inspire them?

“The most important thing is to stay focused. Don’t get distracted by side things.The only thing that matters is skating. All the press and photoshoots, of course it's nice and fun, but it's all about skating. The only thing that can really make you happy is skating a good race or earning a medal."

What do you find inspirational yourself?

“I’m really inspired by athletes who become legends in their sport. That’s my inspiration, I want to achieve the same. To become a legend because I have so many medals. I want to be legendary. That would be really nice."


Think fast, act faster, constantly hustle. Mike Cherman embodies the principles of what his streetwear brand, Chinatown Market, was built on. The founder and creative director is known for unapologetically creating work that causes a cultural stir and encourages a new generation of designers to create what they believe needs to be created. In this episode of Citizens, we discuss what running a business looks like in 2020 and get Mike’s thoughts on creativity.

19 Jul 2019

Tiffany Chung

Hey Mike, how is pandemic life for you right now? Still working from home?

“You know I’ve honestly been pretty normal, well not normal, but we’ve been working pretty actively in my office for awhile now. We do weekly testing. We have a lot of protocols in the office to keep people safe. And luckily, knock on wood, we haven't had any issues. So all around, I think it's really about how we keep each other safe, more than making sure that no one comes back into the office. But luckily, we’re also in a big open air loft kind of space so it allows for us to have that kind of environment."

Has 2020 affected your business in a negative or positive way, or both?

“I think for the positive to be honest. You know, I think that when the pandemic happened, it kind of forced us to organize, have way more meetings and structure. We couldn't just go fly by night with ideas because we all now had to be sitting on computers, having meetings, coordinating, getting on the same page. So, you know I think when that all happened, it was a really good moment for our company to be challenged to think differently. I think also at the same time our online business catapulted in a big way and I think we just realized why not invest in ourself. I think a lot of times you get caught up in these ideas of all the cool stores and all this other stuff you can do. For me, it was a big eye opener of how we could really double down on us and see that investment come back."

Creating brand experiences, connecting with your audience, building a community, has been a big part of Chinatown Market. Do you think this has also helped you thrive in Covid-times?

“I definitely think that we are lucky to have a team that’s part of everything that we do. Every kid in my office, whether they are in a photoshoot or creating some kind of content, they are a part of submitting ideas of what we make. There is a really succinct 360 effect to what we have. A lot of companies have a separate warehouse, people who do they’re photoshoots, and all the things are separated. Where for us it's all under one roof, so when this all happened we were able to vertically operate 100%. So, it was a really interesting time and actually showed that we were in a good spot, we just needed to get more optimized and continue to get smarter. I mean obviously we’re fortunate to be in that position because I know a lot of people not so much. To me, it just depends on whether or not they were ready to innovate and I was lucky to have a great partner, someone who pushed to get organized because this was such an unknown thing."

So, you’re based in LA right now.

“In Los Angeles now, yeah. I haven’t really gone much of anywhere except for Colorado once to go see my mom. I drove 16 hours."

But you grew up between New York and California. So, is Chinatown Market influenced by both these worlds?

“I would say that Chinatown Market was more influenced by New York City Chinatown. The idea of the stores, the t-shirts, the rapid commerce that happens. Not just the idea of bootlegging because I think that’s just the easy scapegoat of what Chinatown is. There are so many clever, fun, and amazing things that come out of these marketplaces that were always so interesting. Every day I'd be on my way to school or work and I’d go to appreciate the amount of different things that were coming out of these places. Every week, these dudes would have a new pun t-shirt that made fun of the most trend-based, new age thing. They were just on it, but they weren't getting the credit they deserve. So, it was kinda like a funny moment where I took a step back and thought ‘You know what? Some of these shirts are some of the most classic shirts ever’ because we’ve seen them since we were young. Now even the classic ‘I Love New York’ shirt, rest in peace Milton Glaser, but the other kind of funny ones, ‘I’m with stupid’ or whatever, obviously that one is a dumb shirt forever, bad example, but they’re a nostalgia point and really interesting in that sense."

So, in a way you’re paying tribute.

“You know in the initial creation of the brand, it was the idea of that innovation and that constant creation that really inspired what we do. Looking at what Chinatown Market is today and it’s still what that is. We have an entire innovation lab, all of our kids are in there, always creating new things, we’re constantly putting out new ideas, and there's a new product created every single day. It's truly that kind of spirit that is what Chinatown Market is referencing. It’s not referencing Chinese culture. I think a lot of times there are misconceptions and I have to draw a clear line. It’s a very serious thing to me to be culturally sensitive and respectful of those things."

You’re someone who has seen amazing results from taking risks. For example, the Frank Ocean X Nike shirt. As your business grows, becomes more established, and collaborates with bigger brands, do you still feel capable of taking the same level of risks you once did when you first started out?

“Yes, but it’s also hard to stand out. Even online; everyone on Instagram is influencing each other in a way, and the algorithms push it even further.

I think there are definite risks in a lot of this, but it's a calculated risk. It's the idea of asking for forgiveness not for permission. For any young creative, I'm not trying to help you go bootleg, I'm more trying to say go shamelessly create what you believe needs to be created, and if you believe it needs to be created then go make it. If it needs to be made, then it needs to be made. I put a swoosh on a pair of Converse and we didn't make it so I could sell thousands of swoosh Converse, but it ended up on Lebron James. He wore it before the finals last year and it became this crazy moment and it was literally just a funny idea. I'm not the first one to do it actually, but it became a thing we’re now known for."

Are there any projects you’re particularly proud of?

“Honestly, this last one is the most proud I've been of a project coming together and being executed at the highest level. It was this Grateful Dead project we just did. Basically, we did everything, we bought a 1969 VW campervan, we got a guy to fully gut it, wrap the whole thing, fully custom, the entire interior was done too. It was one of these moments where we planned to essentially recreate the Grateful Dead experience where you go to these different spots and you can experience the music and buy this bootleg merch. The whole idea was how can we do that now during Covid-times? Go get a parking lot, only allow a certain amount of people, bring the van out and create an experience. I think with the Grateful Dead though it was also because...and I hate to keep saying Lebron James, but...Lebron James wore the stuff before one of the games again recently and it created a huge moment for us. I think being able to work with these iconic properties, as a brand like Chinatown Market while sure we're growing and building a bigger fan base or whatever, we're still tapping into a totally new crew of people that have never seen us before."

You seem to really want to empower young people. Why is that important to you?

“The biggest thing to me, beyond just empowering the business side, is empowering these kids to make decisions, to step up and say stuff. When I was coming up, no one wanted to hear my opinion and no one wanted to get my thoughts, it was like, you do what we tell you and if we ask you then sure say something, otherwise shut up and go over there. While as our company grows there is a little bit of the ‘shut up and go over there’ because you can’t have 100 voices in everything, I do believe we created an environment where we have a team meeting every week, everyone submits an idea, we have a challenge, there's an ability for someone to walk over to the design area and say ‘I have an idea to do this’ and literally the next day we have a sample of it. To me, that’s the beauty of what we do. Anyone can affect our business. One of our warehouse kids came up with a t-shirt idea one time and we sold hundreds of units of it, and so it's like a beautiful moment where we were like ‘Yo dude, amazing! You literally came up with this in a team meeting and now look what happened, the shirt is real and now you can see your idea went from concept to creation."

When you first tried to land a job, you created a guerilla poster campaign to get Jeff Staple to hire you. Have any young creatives tried stunts like that on you? Did it work?

“None have done it really well. They’re always lazy. I’m like come on man you can’t try this, do exactly what I did and not do it better. I'm going to be pretty critical, I had to sit in a New York City holding cell for a night. It's just ridiculous with any of those things, so, yeah it's definitely happened but it's always disappointing. Not to be a snob or anything, it's more like if you’re going to do some shit like that, go do it."

You’ve pretty much been on your career path since highschool. Was there ever a moment where you doubted what you were doing?

“When I dropped out of Parsons I was living in this person’s second bedroom and I was getting graphic design gigs off of Craigslist. I took the subway up to the Bronx, did this flyer for this cell phone store and it was a nightmare for 50 bucks. It's just funny to think about the things I would do to try to make some shit happen. I can’t say there was ever a time where I was like, I don't think I can do this. But I think there were so many times where I was like, no one cares. I think it's part of the self-deprecating thing you have to do to yourself to keep going. I always build up this idea that the ship is always sinking, so I have to keep pushing hard."

Would you describe yourself as an introvert or extrovert?

“I’m an introvert but extroverted in a comfortable setting."

So, how does it feel to be a public figure as an introvert?

“Well, I guess there's a beauty in the fact that Chinatown Market is not just me. Luckily, I'm not like the Willy Wonka, sure I'm technically a part of it and the leader of it, but I also believe it's about the community and the kids that work in my office and those guys are also going to become big things. It’s bigger than just me and at a certain point it's going to transcend me. At the core of what Chinatown Market was created on, you can say I was there, but it's going to transcend me because it's about the evolving culture of creativity and kids loving apparel. I try to make it less about the ego side of all these things because I also recognize and am grateful for the fact that I get to make clothes every day."

You make clothes every day, but what do you wear every day?

“You know, there’s companies like Teatora, a brand in Japan, and it’s really interesting because it's not designed for the modern runner or cyclist, it’s for the modern office worker who is sitting at a desk or flying on a plane. Everything is so functional and built for your everyday life and that's what I wear now because I want stuff that functions 100% for me. But usually I wear all black and a white pair of shoes. That's it. Every day the same thing. It almost looks like I’m wearing the same clothes every day. But, I literally have 50 t-shirts that are black and 4 pairs of these pants that I wear. I know it sounds psycho, but it's basically easy for me and I just like the way it looks."

Tell me about some of your tattoos.

“Uh yeah, I guess this is a funny one. Basically, I have this tattoo on my ribs. I did my grandmother’s name and I misspelled it. So, I went back two weeks later and I crossed it out and I redid the whole thing. So, that has always been one of those shameful moments in my life of like ‘goddamn it, why did I rush this?’ I called my mom for the spelling, wrote it down, and obviously didn't write it down correctly. I was probably distracted. So, yeah that's a fun story."

Last question, outside of the streetwear and fashion world, where have you been drawing your inspiration from lately?

“A lot of architecture and Frank Gehry design where he takes really cheap materials and makes something really beautiful out of them. I don't know, just plants and cactuses and the idea of surrounding yourself with plant life and all those things. I was lucky enough to get a home this year and have a yard and plants around me. It's the biggest gift I've been able to have, somewhere I can truly have my own space and just be with me. I was in apartments for so long, sharing apartments, roommates, and like its nice to have peace."

Article image by: Christina Choi


While this year has forced many of us to slow down, Rocco Manco has been moving full speed ahead on launching his new project, Primary Archive. It’s this creative director’s unyielding passion for everything he does that keeps him going and fueled his 20-year long career. In this episode of Citizens, we talk to Rocco about the places he’s been, the inspiring people he’s met, and his latest endeavour that combines sustainability with his vision of classic and pure design.

11 Jul 2019

Camilla Krogh

Hi Rocco, you’ve had a long and successful career in the fashion industry. How did you get your start?

“I started in 2000, after studying industrial design. So, something completely different. After industrial design, I was working in an advertising agency. It was there where I started to work with a sportswear brand and at a certain point they said, ‘why don’t you join our team, we may need a creative guy, or someone with a bit of a different vision of our product’. Yeah, that's how I started. The team was Napapijri which is a well known sportswear mountain brand. I had the chance to work directly with the founder of this brand, a kind of visionary guy, comparable nowadays with the guy from Patagonia. So, he was really into nature and developing technical products for hiking, citywear, urbanwear and this iconic brand grew exponentially and became internationally recognized."

You’ve also worked in a number of different cities and countries. Have the different cultures influenced you as a designer?

“Yeah, Italy, Turkey, France, and now I’m in Holland. Basically, in the companies where I worked it was international people around me. So, there wasn’t a big difference. The big difference was specifically in the approach of the market and approach of the brands. Italians are really conservative in terms of developing products and in their approach to the market. They prefer to go deep and be product specialists in the market segment where they stand. That's why you have specific, high quality products, high quality manufacturing, and often traditional design. Turkey was a massive market because they were producers. So, they were focusing on quantities with good quality but always based on time and price delivery. In Holland, they are “visionary”. Dutch people know the market really well and they know what the market wants, they’re really driven by that. But on top of this, if they own a strong identity in their brand, they are great to stick and dive into it really intensively, and I see a kind of passion in that, I like that.”

Is that why you stayed in The Netherlands the longest? The approach to fashion and design?

“From a culture point of view, I really like the style of life that you have here in Holland. I can walk downstairs in my pyjamas, go to the supermarket and nobody cares. I feel this helps also to create less barriers between the people. There is a kind of freedom of expression in everyday life. I need to mention as well that I love the fact that I can easily move and do everything by bike in an international city, that’s also unique."


Fashion designer and design director renowned for captivating and trend-setting products that blend vibrant sportswear, modern tailoring and street culture. Meticulous attention to detail in concept development, technical design, fabrics, planning and merchandising. Strong storyteller, igniting consumer experience. Commercially astute, driving revenue growth through effective project management and interdepartmental communication. Archivist, collector, and teacher in fashion design and brand building. Innovator and advocate for sustainability and conscious production.

So, what moments in your career have been the most impactful for you?

“When I was working with Napapijri and worked with Marco Trapella, he was like a mentor for me. That first experience was the most important, especially with a really interesting person close to me, who easily and naturally teaches something every day.

Another moment was when I started a brand called ‘CDSB Jailwear’. It was a project where I created work inside a prison. It was me and an associate team of people: psychologists, technical people, administration people and we brought sewing machines into a prison close to Milano and employed prisoners for the production of clothing. The clothing was really cool, it was a kind of streetwear brand with jail wear influence. Until the 70’s, in Italy, but mostly all around Europe, in prison you need to have a uniform. Basically every country had its own mandatory uniform. In each uniform there was rich detailing that I used to create this brand. For example, striped fabrics because in prison they create visibility or show which area of the prison you belong, buttons to adjust the uniform on your body because they were produced in only 2 sizes, no invisible pockets were allowed, everything should always be visible for the guards, etc. So, we took that detailing and we mixed it with hoodies and sweatpants and we taught the prisoners to sew it. Product-wise, it was a really incredible experience. Human-wise, it was even better because I met people who have incredible stories and state of souls, people who will probably spend their lives there. We gave them, just for a few hours, a kind of contact with the world outside the walls. With work, in a way, we made them feel useful and part of a society again. It was a way to look at design from an ethical and social point of view.

Another one is when I came in contact with Elio Fiorucci. I was lucky enough to work with a lot of inspiring people but Fiorucci was definitely a person difficult to forget. He has been one of the denim fathers in Italy. The one who invented lycra in denim and created the first skinny jeans for women. In the early 80s, Fiorucci was often a guest at Andy Warhol’s factory; there are pictures of him at Studio 54. He was a classic Italian guy from a good family that went to New York and was struck and fascinated by the American culture of those years. In Milano, he has become a pop icon. He used to have a store in the 80s, in the center, called the Fiorucci store. It was famous all around the world for a few things, one was Madonna at the age of 18, before she was ‘Madonna’, performed DJ sets in the store. This was in the 80s and in Italy, not London, where he was bringing in a DJ girl and playing music during the shopping day on weekends. He also invited Keith Haring to create a massive mural on the wall of the store which is now a monument and still there today. I got to work with this guy for a denim school project and then I spent a few meetings with him. Beside being a big source of inspiration, he was a gentleman and really sweet person, deep reader and connoisseur of contemporary culture. Also, we talked a lot about pop which was in a way the first marketing culture that we know in fashion and that still influences us today.”

Cool. You were a lecturer too?

“Yeah. That was also another amazing experience. I proposed my workshop in army wear. I have a consistent archive. I always collect pieces and it's mostly workwear and army. I went deep into discovering things like why pockets, reinforcements, or regulations are specifically designed and how to design uniforms and technical gear, not from a fighting point of view, but just for a functional and ergonomic point of view. I really went deep and I always use these references, even in my job today. So, I taught 2-year courses there and it was a massive experience. First of all, for the first time I understood I had something to share and the importance of “sharing”. Sometimes you get so busy just going from one project to another that you forget that you’re still growing and this is still your passion. It's amazing to work with young kids who are there because they are hungry to learn and to create. I started with the story of the uniforms and continued with the explanation of the most iconic garments and their technical design solutions. I let them select different countries and they started to design their own collection based on what we studied together with their style and vision of fashion. Some of these students I’m still in contact with and even some I have worked with.”

So, for a young hopeful designer, what skills or characteristics do you think they need to have in order to thrive in the industry today?

“Always be curious. Don’t be afraid to do something different than what you think you can do. I’ll explain. Sometimes a young designer fresh out of school thinks he knows what he wants to do, for example, shoes for women. So, often they will start jobs and they end up designing basketball shoes. Even though it’s not what you want to do, you should still put passion into it. Be flexible with what is happening in your life, be hungry and learn from everyone, everything will make you a better designer tomorrow.”

Speaking of passion, you describe yourself as a ‘fashion collector and icon addicted’, what do you collect?

“Basically, menswear. So I can wear what I collect. Army, workwear, sometimes sportswear items like gore-tex jackets, old hiking or outwear pieces. Back in the day, a lot of experimentation was really in sportswear. Sailing and hiking were two big schools where waterproof zip was developed for the first time, vulcanized shoes were developed for the first time, a lot of new tricks that you find in normal products today which at that time were considered at the top of technical execution. I collect those kinds of pioneer pieces together with the most iconic menswear pieces selected by their design, possible in the most simple and authentic tailoring execution.”

I hear you’re starting a new brand?

“Yeah, this is related to what we were just talking about. An obsession to collect pieces in a certain way. It’s my passion to collect these state of the art, unique pieces. I also wanted to be sustainable. Sustainable and collectable. A person who inspired me a lot is a person who I’ve collaborated with in the past: Maurizio Donadi. A few years ago he started a project, Atelier&Repairs, where basically he’s using old stock and transforming it into a new collection. He’s always saying, “The only sustainable fashion is the fashion that doesn’t produce.” I like that concept and I started a project quite similar where I look locally and around the world discovering warehouses with dead stock products. Products that have been produced but never sold and are now just trash. I select and I buy dead stock related to my vision of menswear – pleated trousers, army shirts, trenches, and those kinds of things. I inspect each piece, I eventually repair and restore it and add my brand and my story on it. The name is Primary Archive because it’s an archive of primary selected pieces.”

That’s really exciting.

“Yeah, it's quite interesting. It's always exciting for anyone to start a brand and be facing every part of it – the website, the communication, the look, how you shoot the pictures, where you get the clothing, how you twist the clothing.”

Where do you see the future of fashion going post-Covid? Do you have any predictions?

“I don’t know if this is the future but I’m really fascinated by the rise of new local brands. I see a lot of young kids, younger designers with really incredible talent, potential, and energy and I see that there’s not so much space in the big industry. The industry of massive fashion is struggling. I really wish that, like in Amsterdam, there are more of those local brands. They don’t need to be super big but they need to be persistent and unique in their product. Nowadays, we all can sell a product or a service globally. So, I wish to see that and I think the future of fashion will be interesting if every city, community, or culture has their own characteristic brands. So, kind of local products and different shades and selections of products. Less big brands and more differentiation. That would be cool.”

And finally, has anything inspired you during the pandemic?

“During the special lockdown time, because of this situation of being at home and working from home, I had to finish work and take care of my 5-year-old kid at the same time. Therefore, I tried to involve him in an activity related to what I was doing. What I found fascinating and what I just discovered was his vision: the white blank sheet that only kids have when they see something new, their simple questions that inspire you and let you see things differently.

Apart from this, it was very interesting to see how clothing has evolved. From an element of image or expression and communication, to a primary functional accessory where comfort and almost the intimacy of it hasn’t downgraded them, but made clothing even more a part of us. I've seen people dust off their wardrobes, rediscover and put on what they really feel like the most. Experimenting with layering, composing unthinkable looks, being even more themselves and giving back value to what they have. Could this have been a conscious fashion lesson for all of us?”


After more than a decade as the Head of Women’s Design at G-Star RAW, Rebekka Bach is now using her creative superpowers to make a positive impact on the world. In this episode of Citizens, we talk to the freelance designer and denim specialist about her journey into the industry, finding ways to include sustainability and humanitarianism into all her future designs, and the inspirations behind her latest projects.

24 Apr 2019

Paolo gattone

Hey Rebekka, did you always know you wanted to be a fashion designer?

“Yes, since I was very small I had always wanted to be a fashion designer. I told my mom, but she always told me I can't make a living from it. So, her and my dad, they more or less forced me to study to be a doctor. When I had some of my first biology classes where we had to dissect a piglet and find out how it died, I had to throw up or stand outside the classes. Still until today, I can’t look at needles. It's very strange because I work in fashion, but every time I see a needle I almost have to faint. Knowing I wasn't going to be a doctor, my parents were convinced I had to do something like law. So, I went to business school and after one year I was like, ‘no, this is also not me’. Finally, I went to fashion school and I was like, ‘this is me’ and they could see that it really made me happy."

You’ve been dubbed a ‘denim specialist’. What made you choose denim?

“Actually, I never had an urge to work in a specific fashion direction. It’s the creative process that I enjoy. It suits the way my mind works. I have worked in semi-couture and with all sorts of different types of materials and fashion. But I think it all changed the moment I met the Head of Design of G-STAR in the Amsterdam Airport – the legendary denim master, Pierre Morisette. He literally ran after me at the airport to ask me where I bought the jeans I was wearing. They were jeans that I had designed myself and made at a factory in Italy. He was like, ‘Oh, I love them. You have to come and work for me.’ and almost a year later I quit my job in Italy and joined him at G-STAR. I was there for 13 years."

Do you still have those jeans today?

“I do! They are in a box somewhere. Every time I’m cleaning and I find them I always think, ‘No I’m going to keep these’. I must say I’m a little bit of a collector."

What do you collect?

“I’ve actually been decluttering my whole wardrobe lately. I really enjoy getting rid of stuff. It feels like a relief. But instead of throwing it out, I have started reselling them. I like the idea that some of the clothes I have can have new owners and can actually be used again properly. So, I don’t keep clothes, I prefer to only collect denim. Most are old jeans, but if I see one special pair I’ll keep them. It’s super nerdy sometimes, like for example, the other day I saw some denim pieces from a Levi’s series called Type 1. The concept involves a heavy stitching with 1-1.5 cm in between the stitches. It's technically more advanced as they may have been stitched by heavy-duty sewing machines and the designs are bolder and more outstanding than classic and authentic jeans. These pieces are from the 90’s and from a special capsule. That’s the type of thing that I like to keep. It's not for wearing or trying, my collector’s pieces are often too big because they are men’s jeans. It’s just for me to study."

Do you like designing things outside the world of denim?

“I must say denim is always the thing that keeps coming back to me. I think it’s because I naturally acquired a lot of experience with it. I love the denim industry, I love the people there, and I love the materials. But with fashion in general, I like the impact of what you can do with shapes and colours and also the connection it has in society. I like to see what it can do for individuals but also for a larger group of people. For example, one of the recent projects I have worked on involves jewelry and supporting women in Afghanistan in secluded areas. It’s a female empowerment project initiated by the United Nations and organized by CRS/Sustainability advisor, Caterina Occhio, who is also the founder of the meaningful jewelry brand, ‘See Me’ and the ‘Heart Movement”."

It’s really cool you get to work on projects like that.

“Yes, I love to work freelance now. I love the flexibility and freedom I have in terms of working with so many interesting and different people, companies, and industries, like the jewelry project, and looking into what I can do to help other people. Now that I have my own company I choose to work primarily with sustainability. So right now, I’m working freelance for a creative and innovative Dutch label, which is rooted in upcycling premium and luxury fashion. The brand is called, ‘1/OFF Remade in Paris’. Each piece is unique and re-designed from high-end vintage garments. It’s a great challenge. I like these kinds of projects where I actually feel the purpose of my work has a bigger impact."

Is it hard to break into the Dutch fashion industry as a foreigner?

“Mmm. Well yes, I think maybe it is. But in the years that I worked here, it was for an international company so most of our activities were global and I never had to face any issues integrating into the Dutch fashion scene.

Are you interested in exploring the industry in other countries?

“First of all, I’m really happy to live in Amsterdam. I was travelling a lot over the years and had cities in mind where I would think, ‘oh, I could definitely live there’. But through the years, I realized that whenever I was in Amsterdam I could really relax. There’s something very soothing about the bikes and the canals. I love it here. As for other cities, there’s something about Japan that connects with me. I think I would like to explore and live there for one or two years at some point in my life. Also, I love Copenhagen, I lived there before. I was raised in Denmark but was born in Korea. I was adopted and recently had the pleasure of meeting my birth family there. I found Seoul to be a beautiful and very interesting city. The people as well. It has a strong connection to me."

Your Danish and Korean background must influence your design aesthetic.

“I think so. When you grow up in Scandinavia, you grow up with a certain kind of aesthetic that you’re being impacted with all the time and you don't even realize it. Danish design aesthetics are Nordic, natural, simple and minimalistic. I can feel how the Italian, Provence, and Parisian influences differ from the Scandinavian. I find it inspiring and appreciate the difference. But I do definitely think that my Danish upbringing has an impact on my view of things. My Korean side, I don’t know. I was three when I came to Denmark. Maybe it’s more in my personality. Sometimes people say Koreans are very strong-minded. [Laughing]"

Do you wear your designs?

“I often get inspired by what I’m working with or wearing. A very great example is the first freelance job I had after my years with G-Star. I was working with the Belgian brand, Essentiel Antwerp, and their design values are nearly opposite to G-Star. It’s all about flower print, pink, fun, and colourful. I had been working with blue, black, grey denim for so many years and was so ready to get out of this monochrome colour card. I immediately was like, ‘let’s go and jump all in”. I really enjoyed it so much. When I design something radically new, I need to try it for myself. For example, I need to know what it feels like to walk out in a complete neon pink jumpsuit. I think it's a great experience to understand what it feels like for the consumer. I think it's like being a chef. You need to taste what you’re cooking."

And for our last question, what has inspired you lately?

“Uhhh, so many things. With the upcycle work at 1/OFF Remade in Paris, I’m getting inspired by all the unique and beautiful pieces of vintage clothing. When you work for a conventional fashion brand you often start like: this is the concept, this is the colour card, these are the silhouettes per season. But with this brand, the clothes are already made, it’s genderless and seasonless. So, you have to think about what you can do to redesign and repurpose it in order for a person to find it relevant and desirable today. For example, for SS21 we designed a beautiful tracksuit made from 3 different vintage sports garments like Nike and Adidas, and a vintage Hermes scarf in a hybrid with a Ralph Lauren shirt. One of the iconic pieces is a beautiful fusion between the classic tweed Chanel jacket and a Levi’s denim trucker jacket. It’s a very fascinating combination. Each garment tells a story and gives inspiration."

“Besides this, this summer I was working on a denim capsule and they weren’t specifically asking for sustainability. Like with many companies, it isn't really a high priority due to the pandemic and other business issues at the moment. But I thought I would try to push them. They wanted a small capsule for a spring/summer campaign, so I made a whole concept for them that was sustainable, very masculine, non-dyed denim, organic cotton, with performance characteristics such as an antiviral coating which was inspired by what’s going on today with Covid and virus protection."

“And lastly, for the current jewelry project I’m working on, I’m very much inspired by the location in Afghanistan. In that area, there are mountains with certain types of gemstones. These stones are said to be spiritual and have certain meanings and properties like healing crystals. I was reading all about it and buying all these vintage books about stone energies and the history of jewelry. I think during these times with the pandemic, we feel extra sensitive and drawn towards having extra energy or a spiritual gem in a necklace or next to our bed. So yes, all this inspiration is coming from what’s happening in the world right now."


If 2020 has shown us anything, it’s that digital technologies have become extremely pervasive. The way our lives intertwine with technologies is striking, as it seems like it has become truly impossible to live without. Digital artist and designer Chris Kore is someone whose life revolves around the digital influence in our environment. In the middle of the Covid-19 turmoil, we had a call with her to talk about her work and ideas.

22 Feb 2019

Tiffany Chung

WILLARIS K - COBAKI SKY - A series of video artworks for Australian electronic and ambient producer Willaris K on the Astralwerks Records label.

Hi Chris, how is life at the moment for you? Are you still in the Netherlands? “Yeah still here! These are weird times, but as a freelancer, I think I’m kind of used to it. Many projects (especially physical exhibitions) have been canceled or postponed. But it’s interesting to see that many brands are now calling upon digital artists more than ever."

How would you describe what you do?

“I like to call myself a digital dreamer. You could see it as a combination of an artist, designer, and digital world explorer. I like to think outside of the (digital) box and about things that are not possible in physical reality. It’s very multidisciplinary. That’s nice about the era we’re living in. Many people work at the intersection of different fields."

WILLARIS K - 5'OCLOCK - A video artwork for Australian electronic and ambient producer Willaris K latest release '5’OCLOCK', on the Astralwerks Records label.

How did you come to this exact intersection?

“I think everyone in the world wants to find themselves. I grew up in Ukraine and it was hard to find a fitting creative outlet for me there. I started studying Architecture in Lviv when I was 17, and after that, I traveled around a bit. I’ve lived in Florida for a moment, and I ended up at the KABK in The Hague to study Graphic Design. That’s where I found my thing."

With two bachelor’s degrees you have plenty of formal training, do you implement your architectural background in your current practice?

“A little bit. Architecture gave me knowledge of space which I still use in my digital work. I learned to approach my work critically and think creatively."

I’ve always seen art schools like KABK as sort of separate ecosystems. I have the impression that everyone gets brainwashed with the same information and ideas.

“I can understand that. Art institutions tend to be bubbles."

ATTENTION.VALUE - Canvas is a video art installation initiated by TivoliVredenburg of 150 m2 situated in Park 6, Utrecht.

How do you manage to get out of that bubble?

“I’m not sure if I succeeded to break out of that, but I tried my best to get influences outside of the art institutions. My background and previous education surely helped with that. There are so many international students in the Netherlands who all bring a fresh perspective."

Is it dangerous for an artist to live inside that bubble too much?

“Yes, but it’s also hard to stand out. Even online; everyone on Instagram is influencing each other in a way, and the algorithms push it even further."


Chris Kore (real name Christina Kordunian) is a digital dreamer, media artist and graphic designer. Born in Ukraine and currently based in The Hague, she is interested in the intersectional relation between technology, art and science; in the exploration of an ever-changing mediated reality and its influence on human perception. Her personal works touch the philosophical and psychological sides of our technological nature, question the expanding development of Artificial Intelligence, mixed realities and our digital traces.

SS-20 GROWTH & DEVELOPMENT, Helianthus Agapanthus & Hidrangevia Nobilis.

WILLARIS K - 5'OCLOCK - A video artwork for Australian electronic and ambient producer Willaris K latest release '5’OCLOCK', on the Astralwerks Records label.

Talking about that, your work has a lot to do with algorithms and AI. Could you tell me a bit about that?

“I like to think about how physical and digital spaces merge. With my graduation project AImnesia, I tried to imagine how AI would fill in memory gaps by creating fake memories that are plausible enough to be perceived as real. Social media is already some kind of external memory, and that raises concern regarding the ethics of AI. I wanted to critically assess the centralized power of those who are sponsoring the research and creation of these algorithms, as well as the selection of the databases on which AI’s learn. I believe there is a general unawareness and bias regarding the rapid development of deep learning."

AIMNESIA - The AIMNESIA project focuses on the concept of human hybrid memory, which can be augmented, influenced, and modified by AI.

Where does your fascination with technology and the future come from?

“It comes from my childhood. I’ve always been more interested in futurism and science fiction than in contemporary reality. It allows you to dream about things that aren’t possible. Things like space travel, teleportation, double realities. I think movies portray this combo the best."

Can you name a few examples?

“The Matrix, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, Blade Runner. I actually was partly inspired by the idea of memory from Blade Runner in my graduation project called AImnesia. It’s about human memory that can be augmented by digital technology. AI algorithms can be trained on these big data sets and, in theory, be able to recreate lost memories."

Do you think we could see something like that in the future?

“I think technology changes everything today. We had an industrial revolution and now we live in the technological revolution. It's interesting and frightening at the same time how this intervenes people and nature and our lives overall. With the recent news and changes in the world, we cannot deny how powerful the influence of evolving technologies is. It's crucial to find out how we can navigate through the new reality, which is filled with fake news, surveillance, data collection, and targeted content."

How do you translate that into new work?

“I like to reconceptualize things in a more positive and thoughtful way. Our reality already feels like we’re living in a dystopian movie. I might be interested in science fiction, but I don’t want to live in this future; I just want to see it on a screen! I try to imagine the world I’d like to be living in in the future. My works are usually quite bright and colorful."

Prime example: your latest work for OLAF HUSSEIN.

“The timing was perfect. With the pandemic and everyone freaking out, choosing these colorful hybrids was a way to show that we can imagine this dream world where you can still enjoy beautiful objects indoors. It’s posing the idea that nature will adapt to technology development and change in the environment. These flowers don't exist in reality, but we already have gen-modified foods and animals, so hypothetically, it wouldn't be impossible to combine a part of a sunflower, with leaves from a lily and other flowers or plants. It’s based on MIT research on plant nanobionics. Plants can naturally evolve into hybrid species and adapt to the environment. Russian scientists have recently developed a glow in the dark tobacco plant, and it kind of looked like our project! That was so cool!"


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.”

17 Sep 2018

Jurjen Beelen

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.”

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."

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.”

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.”

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.”