A Conversation with Ian Connor

On Social Media, Social Experiments and Creativity

“I can wear anything!” Ian Connor says, laughing in between bites of gummy worms. When we invited the 22-year-old into our office to see what we had coming in for Spring 16, his reputation as fashion’s undisputed wunderkind preceded him: recent appointee of Kanye West’s creative team, close associate of Virgil Abloh, Wiz Khalifa’s stylist. Factor in the personality cult he has amassed on Instagram and Twitter, and you have someone who represents 2016’s new establishment: a self-made tastemaker who is re-writing the rules of the industry on his iPhone.

And Connor is right: He can wear anything. Introspective one minute and animated the next, he comes off as shy, but has the gravitas to make any look his own—from this season’s new silhouettes by Phoebe English and Yang Li to beachy pop prints by Marni and Saint Laurent. When we spoke with Connor, he shared observations on his unique place in the world, as well as the creative legacy he intends to establish:

I wanted to start with some tweets you sent out yesterday. “I’ve Come To Realization That My Worst Enemy Is Myself.” And right before that, “Success Has Turned Me Bitter.” So everything’s cool and you had a great day?

Ian Connor: No matter what’s going on, I try to stay in touch with myself and the reality around me. So no matter how sweet shit could be going at the moment, or something bad could be going on, I’d remember the good things and the positive points. It’s like, it’s life. I can say shit like that and everyone assumes I’m some sad boy. But that’s not the case.

Do you think there’s a disconnect between you on social media and you in real life?

[Nods] I’d probably have more of a conversation with someone in real life depending on my mood at the moment. I don’t really acknowledge people like that on the internet. I hardly ever retweet people, I hardly ever mention people. You meet in person, there’s times where, like, I was talking to [my friend] outside the other day and some kids ran up and said “Are you Ian Connor?” and I was like “No!” And they walked off. But if I wasn’t in a conversation with her, if I was just bored smoking, I probably would have told them to sit down and talked to them about their day or their life.

It’s amusing at times. It’s like one big social experiment for me. That’s what I look at life like: it’s real, but it’s All. One. Big. Social. Experiment. So I know how to do certain things at certain times just to see how people react. It’s just like, damn, this is how humans are. Like I dropped out of the ninth grade to learn from people. Legit to learn from people.

Have people always admired your style?

Yeah, even when I was weird. Like, before “fashion,” I was weird, but people fucked with me. They wouldn’t do it, or they wouldn’t understand it, but they fucked with it.

Do you remember a first, favorite piece of clothing that got you into high fashion?

Actually, I still have flannels from when I was literally 17. Like poor as fuck. That I have now, that I still wear. So certain things I still really cling on to. Like, I. Will. Lose. Raf. Shirts [clapping for emphasis]. Like, I lost this shirt! [Pulls up his shirt and points to a tattoo of a Raf Simons shirt on his stomach] I lost this Raf shirt and I didn’t give a fuck!

Well yeah, cause you got it tattooed on you.

Yeah. I am my shirt. But if I was to lose that flannel I probably would cry, just cause I can’t find that flannel again. It’s hard to find those certain things. I could easily go on Grailed, or… like this Raf shirt? [Pointing to his tattoo again] I bought this off some kid’s back! He was coming outside a party trying to take a picture and I was like, “Just give me your shirt! Just give it to me!” [Laughs] I gave him $400 for it. Right on the spot, yeah.

“I dropped out of the ninth grade to learn from people. Legit to learn from people.

That must be similar to creative direction or styling. Is the thought process like you zero in on something and you’re like, “Yes, that’s it?”

Yeah.

So you definitely need an eye for what’s happening. But you also need to train yourself to see ahead of the curve, right?

Yes. I don’t sleep. I sit on the internet all fucking day. I’ve been flying from city to city for the past, two years? But I just recently really started going out. And when I go out, I like to sit in the corner. And I smoke, and I drink, and I just watch everything. Everything. I don’t even like having a conversation – I’ll tell people, don’t talk to me. Not to be arrogant or mean or anything, just, like, don’t talk to me because I just want to watch everything.

Once you have a vision of what you see at clubs or on the internet, expressing that to a team and making sure they get it – that must be the hardest part.

No, not necessarily. Based off how I work for top creatives, like… Rocky already gets it, you get what I’m saying? It’s not like I’m force-feeding it upon them in their head, or they’re just getting it because it’s me. They get it cause they naturally get it. It’s mutual. For a fucking Rocky or a Kanye, they actually naturally get it. And that’s what’s so fire about it. Like, I’m actually happy with my work now.

That’s a great position to be in. And creative consulting for Kanye West, that’s like the all-star team. How did that come about?

It was over years, since I was under Virgil at like 19. When Virgil reached out to me I didn’t know who he was – I didn’t know what a creative director was, what the job titled consisted of to Kanye. But the n*gga I actually did look up to was this guy A$AP Bari, who is Rocky’s best friend. I saw that he looked up to Virgil, so it’s like a chain. Just like the kids who look up to me who don’t know who Bari is, but they know I look up to Bari, they’re gonna look up to him just because that’s your idol’s idols, you know what I’m saying? Like it’s your father’s father, so you automatically gotta fuck with your grandfather. And that’s what it was with Virgil. And it wasn’t until around YEEZY Season 2, once I started doing work with Kanye and shit, that’s when Ye started to really fuck with me, see what’s inside my head.

What is it you think your team all sees eye to eye on?

We all have cool different visions that all fall into the same thing. Like I come from a hardcore punk background, that’s what I grew up on, so my style is based off of that. When I wear above knee shorts with a size large tee with Sk8-His, that’s where I come from. So like, I get that, and then they’ll like this, so we’ll just bring it all together some way, some how. Cause we’re all interested in the same aesthetic of things, no matter how much our mind jumps from thing to thing. We still know how to make it come together.

We all have cool different visions that all fall into the same thing.

Aside from YEEZY, what are the labels you’re most excited about right now?

I love Palace. I love Bronze. Dime, from Montreal, I love them. So sus and weird. It makes me appreciate the clothes so much more, cause I know how sus [Phil Lavoie] is. And he is like, gone. Supreme still of course. I’m just really a streetwear kid. The high-end shit doesn’t excite me anymore. It’s still my everyday, but… I love J.W. J.W.’s really cool. Vetements. Alyx studios. Alyx is gonna be like… 2016 will be a good year for Matthew. For a fact. Matthew’s been the future. He’s the one that’s like, yo, this thing is the vision! I remember when he used to have like, tattoos, Latin Kings baseball jerseys with loafers, it was just so cool. He’s creative as shit.

What do you think of this current menswear trend that’s more of the androgynous, delicate, new Gucci thing?

To be honest, I really don’t care. I don’t care about fashion, it’s just something that I fell into or infiltrated. It’s not about the trend. I know what my market is, I know what my employer’s market is, you get what I’m saying? So, like, everybody else can have that. Switch it up. Like how everyone was so fucking cyber when the Hood by Air phase came in? Like heavy, late 2014 and this year? And now everyone wants to go, like… I don’t know, bro! N*ggas want to wear womenswear clothes. Ain’t nothing wrong with that! I’m wearing womenswear stuff right now [points to Vetements sweatpants]. But it’s not my style.

Another trend is how social media has opened up so many opportunities that weren’t there previously. But it’s also made the whole fashion and creative industry move at such a fast pace. And you seem like you’re so laid-back. How do you deal with that?

Cause I understand that I’m the first of my kind and the only. So therefore I’m the best. I don’t have to worry about competition and deadlines and shit. So I’m kind of lazy. What’d Rocky call me? “Unreliable sometimes.” [Laughs] Like there are times where he’ll tell me to come into the office and I’ll be like, “Yeah.” But I want to go hang out with the young kids! And I don’t know how to text back sometimes, like it sucks, I have to learn how to grow up with that. But it’s all easy for me. It’s like breathing. Creating for me is like breathing. The emotions that I don’t show for girls or other people, that’s my work right there. That’s my whole existence.

I’m the first of my kind and the only. So therefore I’m the best.

Do you think you’re blazing a trail for others?

Yeah, that’s my whole point! Like, I’m gonna die, so what am I gonna do? I’m gonna not live this just to be cool for now? No. I’m doing this more so for others than myself. Fuck that whole for-the-people speech if n*ggas really don’t give a fuck. I really care about the young kids that’s to come after me. I gotta make sure that my name really lives on, you get what I’m saying? I’m gonna be more relevant dead than alive. And that’s my whole focus of doing all this now. I go through so much bullshit in my head or whatever. It’s like “Yo, fuck this, I’m over it.” But I’ll never stop. I’ll never stop. Until I’m dead.

What do you think you’d be doing at 22 if you’d been born 30 or 40 years ago?

Some sus shit. [Laughs] Up to no good. If I still had the same mind that I do now? Yeah, I’d be up to some other shit. 

Photography: Brent Goldsmith
Words: Mary Tramdack
Styling: SSENSE