Gen Z: Christopher Smith

13 September 2017

Photographer Lucka Ngo
Interview Lucka Ngo
Words Berit Warta

Remember that soft summer's wind pushing lightly at your back, transforming wisps of hair into thrilling tickles? The imagination of boyhood transferred to the present, but some winds change and ultimately turn dim daydreams into swirling thunderstorms. Christopher Smith learned how to wing the swing. He proved that ability by beautifully styling his own Generation Z portrait series. New York based photographer Lucka Ngo captures a boy who has opened up a window using the power of a new generation - paving way for his passions through the challenges of adolescence.

Determined by bullying, Sunday-mass and commandments, Christopher’s childhood was okay considering always fighting the uphill battle, but never fully authorized a licensed ownership to his dreams. After testing all the flavours, it was always his taste for fashion and freedom that propelled him to build his own playground to roam free. In a society where genders are becoming more fluid and opportunities are expanding, Christopher launches himself from working at Dunkin' Donuts to becoming an independent stylist and model. At a young age, he has taken command of his goals and cleared his vision. Letting go. Drifting free.

With the influence of a unique beauty and flashy teeth, youth is given a lesson in how to feel comfortable. Compared to previous generations, it is much easier for Generation Z to access that inner quirk and character, and that's what has made it possible for someone like Christopher to simply be what he wishes to be. His peers are taking chances, and so is he. This generation is embracing uniqueness and by connecting with people around them, and their simple truth that it's okay to be just you. Christopher believes this generation are the newest tastemakers, and a generation that cares, standing up for what they believe in. A generation that demands to be heard.

How would you describe your generation?

My generation is pretty smart and very underestimated. I remember reading an interview and this girl mentioned how we have a fresh set of eyes and that’s so true. We’re the newest tastemakers. Also, I think our generation is caring. With everything going on in the world we’re staying connected and actually standing up for what we believe in... It's punk. Our voices are going to be heard one way or another.

What are the good things? What are the challenges?

I strongly believe one of the best things about my generation are the opportunities we have available as opposed to those of past generations. There are more ways to get connected. Obviously there’s more competition, but I’m a firm believer that if you work hard you’ll get to where you want to be. A challenge is the difficulty of being taken seriously and not being treated like a kid.

What’s it like growing up in New York?
I grew up in Long Island, New York in this town called Valley Stream. It was okay. My childhood was okay. I was bullied here and there and wasn’t exactly cool, so I didn’t go to parties until my senior year. I grew up skating with my friends - they were really good, but I sucked. I still had so much fun skating with them, 'cause it was always chill. After school I would usually just go to extra help, then head home. Only time I was allowed out was on Fridays and weekends and even then I had to be home around 6 or 7 pm. My parents were kind of strict, so I couldn’t play video games on weekdays or weekends. I had to wait until the holidays. I didn’t have the cool Sean John clothing or Phat Farm, however, not having it made me be want it even more I think. That’s where my love for clothing came from. Just not being able to have the 'cool' clothes at a young age made me want it so badly.

What are you passionate about?

As of right now, there’s nothing I’m genuinely truly passionate about besides maybe clothes. I know that sounds very materialistic, but I love clothes and style. I wouldn’t know who I’d be if I wasn’t into clothing. However, I don’t let material things complete me. I get annoyed when the only thing people can talk about is clothing, because it gets tiring. I’ll check out collections, but I’m not big on trends at all - it's weird. I like learning about streetwear OG’s and the history of a company. Also, I’m really into modelling. Before modelling and styling I used to work at Dunkin' Donuts, I’m really fortunate my life has been changing and I don’t have to do that anymore. I know my life didn’t have to be like this and things could have been very different, so I’m really thankful. I’m also very interested in learning about art direction and creative consulting. I would love to get into creative consulting and become an in-house art director for a fashion label.

How would you describe yourself?
I would describe myself as positive. Some of the people who used to make fun of me would always ask me why I was always smiling. I’ve always been a happy, optimistic guy. I’ve been modeling for almost a year now. I started out at one of my favorite streetwear brands, 'Noah'. I was street cast when I walked into the store. They asked if I could write my phone number, Instagram and email down, but I was phoneless at the time, so luckily they e-mailed me. That day literally changed my life. I’ve been styling for over a year now.

How would you describe your current lifestyle? And what would you like for it to be in like 5-10 years?

My lifestyle is comfortable - no complaints. I live in this country club and I play tennis with my mum whenever we feel like playing. She played a lot growing up. I tried out in high school, but I never made the team. Come clean, they needed me. In the next 5-10 years I want to be able to get my mum anything she wants. She told me she wants a navy blue Tesla with white interior - she deserves the world, so it’s pretty hard to find the right gift. I want to work as creative consultant for some of my favorite brands by that time, as well as be an art director. I’m learning how to make decks and come up with concepts. My big sister Cecilia Azcarate is teaching me a lot. She’s one of my mentors.

Who do you see as influencers of your generation today?
Fashion wise, I strongly believe Rocky is a huge influencer of my generation. Anything that man wears becomes a trend. Raf, Needles, Rick Owens and Prada - it's crazy all these kids go wild because of it. He’s bringing Ambush Pow chains and rings back, which is really cool because I was super big into them in 2009. I think Tyler the Creator is an influencer too.

Who influences you?

My mum influences me a lot. She worked hard for everything she's got and molded me into a man. She taught me that people in this world are always going to try to put you down, so you have to keep your head up. My big sis Isha Walia is also somebody who influences me. Back home where I grew up, in school she flaunted all of the fashion. She was genuinely one of the first people to support me. I used to produce and make beats and she made my logo. She gave me advice on anything I asked - from career choices to relationship advice. We’ve known each other for about five years now and we’ve gotten so close. Isha was one of the first people from my hometown to actually do something cool. She was just different and I’m glad she’s helping me focus and find myself, as well as making sure I’m staying on the right track. She saw me grow up and she’s so proud of everything I’m doing, which means a lot. It’s a good feeling when the people who push you see you grow too.

My big sis Cecilia influences me; she is so smart and strong. I met her about a year ago shooting for this Stüssy campaign and she had her gold teeth in waving at everybody looking so cool. We just connected immediately - her and Cecilia both look out for me like we’re blood related. Alan and my good friend Tyler Mitchell, influence me. I have a special relationship with both of them. They show me their work and I’ll give them feedback and they’ll do the same. I appreciate them, because it's honest and genuine feedback. I like when they show me their work, because I feel good that they value my opinion on what they’re working on. Those are my brothers, we all make sure we’re focused and keep each other on track. They’re the family of choice basically. My friend Gia Seo also influences me. She was a model and stylist and that’s what I’m doing right now, so her paving her lane doing those things just showed that I could do it too. She’s the coolest. Lastly, Angelo Baque, he’s somebody I look up to.

How do you think social media is effecting this generation?

A bunch of airhead egos. People can sometimes be too self-absorved because of their following and followers, very annoying. Also people lead different lifestyles offline than what they allow people to see of them online. Although, social media can be informing and also connects people who stand by the same principles.

What do you do to make yourself happy?

I shop a lot. I spend time with my mum. I check out a lot of photographers and stylists, especially at CLM agency. One of my favourite stylists is Tom Guinness. When it comes to photographers, I’ve been big on Dexter Navy and Tom Craig. My favourite photographer in general is Tyrone Lebon. Shooting with him was really fun. Modelling makes me really happy.

Would you say you are an emotional person?

Not at all.

Do you feel comfortable sharing your emotions with others? If so do you express these? Do you cry?
Depends who it is. If it’s my mum or somebody I care for or trust, then yes. I do express these emotions sometimes, it can be a lot especially when you care for somebody and you share the same pain that they’re going through. But no, I do not cry. I haven’t done so in a very long time.

Do you feel like you have control when it comes to your emotions and emotional reactions?

Yes I do, I learned to control it. When I was younger and got mad, I use to go crazy - I thought I could take on anyone. Looking back, it's pretty funny. I should’ve gotten beaten up a couple times actually. Glad I didn’t.

How do you handle stressful situations?
I don’t really stress. When I do, I just think it's not a big deal and try to understand the bigger picture or just think about something else. I usually sleep, and then I've forgive myself by the time I wake up.

With mental health being a buzzword these days, is this something that is close to your heart?
No, not really. I’m a really positive and happy person.

In modern society, genders are becoming more fluid. How do you feel about gender identity and fluidity?

I think that it’s very important to be true to yourself and your identity. I just started getting comfortable in my skin very recently. Gender identity is pretty important to me - especially being a young black man, society expects us to act a certain way. After seeing 'Moonlight', I thought about how sad it is for people to have to cover up their identity and who they are at the core, because of how society might treat them.

Do you think masculinity is changing in the young generation of today?
I think it depends on the person you ask. Where I’m from, at school, I was expected to act hard and the seniors kept asking me why I wasn’t like that. They wanted me to talk a certain way, dress a certain way, treat girls a certain way and I didn’t, so they bullied me. Things were weird.

Are you spiritual or religious?
I grew up being forced into religion. I had to go to church every Sunday. I had to make sure I got a haircut or else my dad would cut my hair. We wore suits every Sunday. I would usually sleep in church, I wasn’t really that interested. I’m not really into church, but I do pray here and then.

Have you ever been in love?

Not yet.

What is your dream?
My goal is to find myself and the person that I am supposed to be. Maybe the career path of being an art director and creative consulting is for me. I've gone through these different phases, I jumped from producing music to going to school for journalism to styling, so I want to make sure that this is what I want to be doing. I’m getting older and more mature and I want to make sure my career is something I’m passionate about. The ultimate goal is to make sure I’m established and a well-rounded person. Eventually I want to get into photography and start this project that’s been on my mind for a long time. I’m working on stepping up my styling work - that’s a huge goal of mine this year. I’ve really just been focusing on being a better person. It doesn’t take a lot to be a good person. I’m on a big mission in life, but I’ll always know the key to it all is to be a good person, work hard and don’t wait for another soul to put you on game.

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