What is Authenticity?

Aleali May, Elise By Olsen, and India Rose Explain

We live in an age of unprecedented self-expression. Social media lets us craft the identities we want and share them with audiences that once would have seemed inconceivable. But with these new opportunities comes the temptation to build fantasies, craft personas, and keep it decidedly less than real. For a new generation of creatives and artists who have grown up on the internet, building a personal brand may as well be second nature – and it’s a crucial part of their practice. But does skill at selective self-representation mean honesty gets left behind? To get a better sense of what realness means in 2015, we asked three creatives under 25 whose work we admire: what does authenticity mean to you?

ALEALI MAY

A quick Google search of image consultant, stylist, model, and blogger Aleali May tells you a few things. She’s an aspirational Instagrammer with a legion of followers drooling at her every post. The names Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa, Nike, and adidas crop up so many times that if you weren’t following already, you will be now. She’s one of the few stylists who have made the marriage between streetwear and high end designers into editorial bliss. Is she authentic? You’d be pushed to accuse her of anything else.


Do you think your social media is more a reflection of you, your work, or your ideal persona?

Aleali May: What I try to do is show a lifestyle of the type of things that I’m into. Because your regular blogger, they may not wear Rick Owens, they may not like certain things, say, that I wear. So it’s like, the girl that does wear it: what is she into? What type of lifestyle does she live? I never started like, “Oh my gosh, I just want to sell stuff and make money off of it!” It comes from a place that is authentic. I just want to show people that there are more girls into this style as well as the other girls.

When I’m looking at the people you work with and style, that, to me, screams authenticity. Is that important when it comes to your work?

AM: For sure. Honestly, nobody wants bullshit sold to them. So the things that I’m into or the things that I’m trying to get my client into, I really try to break it down: what are they wearing? How is this worn? Where is this worn? I really like my client to be informed, just because some stylists, they will dress the person but they won’t inform them of, say, the type of lifestyle of somebody that wears Raf Simons – what that means. I want them to walk away learning something as well. Maybe, hey! They found their new clothing brand that they wanna fuck with!

How does one play the Internet and not be a victim of it? How do you use it to your advantage?

AM: You can use it to an advantage by getting off your message: who are you here for? What are you trying to build? It’s not like you have to post paragraphs, but you know, your daily life and what you aspire to be. You know that when you start a social media account, if you are on some bullshit and you wanna feed bullshit, that is exactly what is gonna come off! If you’re like “Hey, I’m here, I just wanna show what I like or what I’m doing with my life,” everything just evolves from that. Less forcing. 

ELISE BY OLSEN

Everything writer Elise By Olsen says is either eloquent, intelligent or Nordic-ly straight talking – but most of the time, it’s all three. Currently editor-in-chief of her own magazine Recens and a co-founder of blog network ARCHETYPE, she runs one of Norway’s most controversial publications from her bedroom at her parents’ house. The only hint of her youth is her highlighter-pink Amélie bowl cut. Did we mention Elise is 15?


Do you think authenticity exists on social media, or does it just act as a second life?

Elise By Olsen:I think it exists. You can create your own character, your own web persona. You can look however you want to and you can post pictures of your face only when you feel you look good. And you can select the kind of people you want to talk to and meet, which is cool.


Is there still space on the internet to break boundaries and shock people?

EBO: It depends. I know the web is very international, but for example, in the U.K. what people are provoked by differs from here. In Recens 2, which was not that radical, people were like, “Woooah, you can’t do this!” and “Whoooaah, this is too much!” We had a spread of two naked girls lying in a bed. It’s so beautiful, artistic, and amazing. But people were stopping by and lifting their eyebrows and being like, “15 year olds shouldn’t be publishing this!” It’s very traditional and conservative here in Norway.


Do you think you have shaken it up a bit in Norway?

EBO: Yeah, I think so. I think we have washed out what’s provocative or not. I think we have had an impact on the gender stereotypes, cause we are trying to showcase how, in Norway, it’s really divided. There is not a fashion magazine I know of for both men and women or anything in between, it’s just: you’re a man and you’re a woman, it is so separated and categorised. I also think we have had an effect on the glossy magazines: they have seen that being commercial and gender and beauty stereotyping is not selling well. The young generation don’t want that.


So gender is going down the list of priorities?

EBO: Definitely, for people my age.


And what does authenticity mean to you? 

INDIA ROSE

India Rose has been hailed as the voice – and blog – of a generation. Five years after its launch, the 23-year-old creative director, stylist, and digital consultant’s website has evolved into a beautifully shot and curated portfolio of her latest endeavors. Not to mention her Instagram, which is her new baby-slash-cash cow. With 100,000 followers scrutinizing her every post, India says it’s now more important than ever that authenticity stays integral to her work.


Do you think you’re authentic?

India Rose: I would like to think so, but of course I get my inspiration from certain people and places. None of my friends are in fashion at all: they’re all in music or something similar, and I quite like that. I try not to follow too many fashion-based things because I feel like if you’re constantly following it, you end up copying it. Say if you were the assistant to some fashion stylist or photographer, you end up kind of becoming them in a way. That then becomes you. I don’t feel like that’s healthy.

Do you think your website has done well because of its honesty?

IR: That’s what people say, and that is what brands say when they come to me. They trust what I do – they would be able to spot a mile off when I do something that is sponsored, and every time that I have to do it (because I do have to pay the bills) sometimes I do have to do stuff I wouldn’t normally. But the thing that I say every single time to every brand is: as long as I have creative control over everything, and make it look how I want to make it look, then I’ll do it.

Integrity is important because I feel a lot of people are trying to do the same thing. They are all like magpies, they’re just obsessed with getting there as quickly as possible. I don’t feel that is the right tactic anyway. I think the slower you take it, to some degree, it pays off.


What do you think you did differently compared to what everyone else was doing?

IR: Even though I am in the fashion industry, I’m not particularly driven by fashion. I’m not trend-led. In fact, most of the stuff I wear is menswear. I don’t care about the size, I just kind of wear what I like. I don’t even look at the brands sometimes. People say that’s refreshing, because a lot people just buy things because of the brand and everyone ends up kind of looking the same. The stuff that I do is quite male-led. It’s kind of showing you don’t have to be this pretty little girl to be sexy or appealing.

I was going to say, but I didn’t want to say it because I haven’t done it yet – but slowly integrate the music that I listen to. For some reason music and fashion isn’t as connected with womenswear as menswear, and I don’t know why. So I am trying to find a way to combine the two, because that is something that I am really passionate about.