Brian Whittaker

7 February 2022

Photography Emilia Staugaard
Fashion Nathan Henry
Interview Sophia Razvi
Grooming Ciara DeRoiste using Fenty Beauty
Fashion Assistant Livia Ghelli
Special Thanks to The Columbia

Against the coral-coloured backdrop of his uncle’s veranda, model Brian Whittaker dials in from the tropical haven of Turks and Caicos. In the background he shows me crystalline turquoise waters and the same uncle’s fishing boats, and the beating winds of an onshore breeze buffet his microphone as we catch up on where he’s at these days: the ways he has grown, his mental health and his plans for the future.

Things are in stark contrast from the last time we spoke - over a year ago, pre-pandemic - for Mental Health Awareness Week 2020. The changes are too great to number, but Brian feels “like a real person” and “more at peace” than he’s ever been. A perfect match for his present surroundings.

In this photo series, Emilia Staugaard snaps Brian in the coolness of The Columbia hotel while Nathan Henry styles the model in a mix of textures and hues before heading out to inhale the sweetness of Kensington Gardens. Ciara DeRoiste and Livia Gheli tend to the details as pigeons flock around the team and caramel leaves crunch underfoot. An overcast sky looms low over Hyde Park as the usual city buzz is dampened and the day draws to a close.

There are many chapters to the 22-year-old. There’s the ‘self-righteous’ chapter - one he has recently closed with the help of intense self-reflection and meditation. There’s the ‘anti-establishment’ chapter, defined by a denouncement of social media and mainstream dramas. There’s the period where he fell out of love with the fashion industry, a fire that he is beginning to rekindle again thanks to his appreciation for the craft. Come what may in Brian’s story, large is the fact he is open to it all - and more importantly, he is willing to look back in order to move forward. Join us as we do just that.

Last time we met we touched on your identity and growing up mixed-race in a white school. What is your relationship to your roots now, the Caribbean?
I have a lot of family here. My grandmother's house is just over there. I’m staying with my uncle, and he built this whole block. He's currently out on trip - he has small boats that he runs fishing trips on. Yesterday, when we went to a few bars, everyone knew my mum. She was an undefeated athlete. They kept telling me, "Oh your mum is a local celebrity." There's not a lot of people here, so everyone knows. She still has records that haven't been beaten to this day. She's a bad bitch.

You've got big boots to fill.
Yeah - I'm just realising that now - but damn! My grandmother as well, everyone knows my grandmother. I was with lots of fishermen yesterday and my grandmother is like the boss of being a fisherwoman. I think for a while she was one of the only female divers on the island. She is the best diver. She dives 60 feet without oxygen tanks to harvest conch. She's turning 70 now, which is why I'm out here.

How do you think you’ve changed over the past 2.5 years since we last spoke in 2019?
I've tried to change in a lot of ways. Looking back at how I was as a person at that particular time, I was going through a lot mentally. It was quite a challenge. I was kind of relearning. I had just come out of a two-year long 'first love'. We were long distance so I spent a lot of time in another country, in Sweden, and I had my whole life over there. The pandemic hadn't started yet at that point, so it was kind of weird. I was in this state of relearning how to just be - how to live. I was in a weird space.

I've always been very detached as an individual, but I never really thought of myself in that way until recently. I realised this is why I've grown up feeling so funny and alienated - my perspective is very detached. At that time, I was starting the process of trying to become a better version of myself. Obviously, it's a forever journey but to do that you have to acknowledge things about yourself so you can then heal it or understand and move forward. But whilst it is good to acknowledge those things, it can also be depressing when you’re constantly looking at the bad things in life, and that contributed to my mental state.

Now, I feel like life is quite contrasted from that moment. Things are going well. Nothing's going great right now for anyone (except my uncle!) - it's still a pandemic - but despite all these things I'm more at peace with myself than I have ever been. I feel clear in my mind, I feel more like a real person right now. Before I felt like I was just an observer. It feels weird to say out loud.

Our last conversation centred around bullying and mental health for Mental Health Awareness Week 2020. At the time you had just taken a hiatus from social media and were feeling great. Where are you at in your relationship with social media now?
I acknowledge it as a tool for people to work. For me, I have followers so I should be posting more and capitalising on my audience. That's what everyone wants to do. Everyone wants to have a million followers and make money from everything, but I don't know. It's not life. Obviously, it's a necessary part of work - the pandemic has made the idea of work more of a real concept. You have to remember I started off as a model, I got scouted when I was 15 so I've never had a “job”. I've just been lucky, doing different modelling jobs here and there in different places. I've never had a 9-5 and I feel like during the pandemic work was scarce, it really made me realise that I was protesting. Not using social media was me to myself, trying to be like 'Brian you're not like "them". You're not going to be like "them".'

I thought that the reason I felt that way was because I was the one without an ego. Now, I realise that there was so much ego in that attitude - in that distaste for people who use social media all the time. I just realised how much of a **** I was! I'm all for spiritualism and self-healing and people seeking good intentions and "dissolving the ego", but they can just be so smug. You know what I'm talking about - you know those people.

Ah, the self-righteous type.
Yes. That was me for the past few years. But when I realised I had these issues, I had to deal with them head-on - and that’s why it was such a heavy time for me. I'm talking about actually sitting there and reflecting on all my darkest baggage and trauma. I've made a point to acknowledge everything. I'm not going to sit here and tell you I've had the most traumatic life, but I've got my own set of shit, like everybody else. And I've made a choice that I am going to deal with it now even if it's painful. People’s behaviour is a reflection of their fears. If you don't acknowledge what made you feel a certain way when you were younger, it shapes how you interact with the world around you. That's why I don't have any hate in my heart for anybody. I'm just the result of what consciousness did with my set of conditions. As are you. That's the way that I've seen it. We all have a consciousness that is moulded by life experiences.

And how do you personally acknowledge and deal with the shit?
Meditate. Meditating on these things that caused me pain. Trying to make sense of it. I don't think I've ever been a shit person. But I just want to be ready for when it’s time for me to have kids, I want to be able to give them a seasoned toolbox and not put problems in them. I feel like parents always have a toolbox, they have their own set of tools and it's not always perfect. There are useful things in there and non-useful things, but it still works. And there are tools that will make things worse. That's where I'm at: trying to analyse this toolbox, so that it serves me, but also, more importantly, so it serves my family when it comes time for that. That's all I really care about.

Exercising is also really important to me. It literally changes your mood. If you really can't be bothered, even half an hour will change the way that you feel. Whenever I feel terrible, I notice it's because I haven't exercised. It just puts me in a different headspace. It gives you a new perspective on a problem – you release dopamine. The gym is sunshine.

Is a family on the horizon any time soon?!
No!! I'm motivated to make dope stuff. That's my main motivation: to have the resources to create things and own your ideas. I'm finally having fun. I've always been so serious. Everything has always been so literal to me.

Where in the world do you feel most at home?
I have my room at my parents’ house. I have withdrawals from that room! Whenever I get bored, I start thinking about my room - sitting at my desk, I think about my bed. My room is tiny - on paper, it's not a good room. But I love it. Other than that, nowhere really feels like home. I'm happy wherever I'm at. That is what was so hard about the pandemic; I'm so used to travelling. When that was taken away, I just felt idle. Travelling is when I'm in my element. I'm happy to live out of the suitcase for three months at a time. I don’t need a ‘place’. That’s why I moved out of London. Don't get me wrong, I love London, but only when I'm busy or when I can leave the country. I hate being there day in, day out. Especially as a model when you don't work every day.

Do you have any projects in the pipeline or plans that you hope to realise for next year?
I have a lot of plans - none that I really want to talk about! I’m in a weird space, as I said, the whole readjusting to life/time situation was my biggest priority. I was focusing on my mental and physical health. Before that, I was very focused on my ideas and developing things. Now I’m trying to actually bring these things to fruition. Trying to figure out which thing to attack first because I have a lot of ideas. I'm figuring out and learning and upskilling so I can actually do what I want to do properly. I'm not going to put out some half-baked stuff, you know? That’s not who I am or what I represent. When I start my companies, I want people to take away that I am a man of quality.

What are some of the challenges of your industry, the fashion world?
Morality. It’s all moral, all my qualms with the fashion industry. When I was in my self-righteous mode I was very ‘I hate the industry’. The thing is, I love fashion. I love putting on clothes. I love that feeling of wearing a certain outfit or the experimentation and making art. It's fun to create stories in editorials. There is no reason why people shouldn't be able to have fun and if they can make a living from it, that's great. But I guess my vision was so tainted because there's just a lot of bullshit in fashion. I think there are a lot of great things about fashion but there are also bad stuff - like fast fashion. My biggest problem was that I couldn’t ignore the commercial stuff in order to make money as a model. I'm not the son of a football player or movie star or something - I do get paid well, but not well enough to ignore the commercial stuff. Because I had been doing so much commercial work - sometimes for immoral companies - and not enough editorials, I'd kind of fallen out of love with modelling and the fashion industry. I was just becoming more and more aware that I'm a marketing tool. But in the pandemic, I really fell in love with clothes. A well-designed article of clothing is a piece of art. It is an art form - each piece is an art baby from a designer.

What changes would you hope to see come to the industry over the next few years?
I want to see people have fun. Fashion is just in a weird place, I think. Because there are so many young people in it now, and I'm including myself, there is a lot of ego in a way that is a young problem. There are a lot of people that don't know how to use their ego. People care too much about their self-image in a way. There are a lot of people that are genuinely fun, and the shocking part is I feel like they often get undermined.

I just feel like people need to have fun. Dress however you want to dress because it's fun - you don't need another reason. Do it because you like it! That is one thing that I want to drill into my brain. We also need to do something about fast fashion but that is a whole can of worms because it's not necessarily just the company's fault. They are responsible but so are consumers. But I think to have some level of awareness, without being self-righteous, of what we consume and how we consume. All my favourite clothes are used - I buy all my new things from Uniqlo! I really love Uniqlo - Uniqlo days are for muted colours. Very simple and sophisticated. But when I'm not doing that, I'm experimenting. My Uniqlo clothes are my safe clothes.

Today I’ve got Michael Jordan shorts and some Raf Simmons on. Such a weird combination but a fun one nonetheless!

Catch up on our last conversation with Brian here.

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Above Left: Brian wears Cardigan by Stella McCartney x Ed Curtis and Polo by Boss.
Above Right: Brian wears Jumper by Dior x Sacai.

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Above Left: Brian wears Jumper and Trousers by Dior x Sacai.
Above Right: Brian wears Jumper by Charles Jeffrey Loverboy and Trousers by Dior x Sacai.

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Above Left: Outfit as before
Above Right: Brian wears Jumper, Trousers and Shoes by Dior x Sacai.

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Above Left: Brian wears knitted vest by Dunhill.
Above Right: Brian wears a full look by Burberry.

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Above: Brian wears knitted vest by Dunhill and Trousers by Les Boys Les Girls.

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Above Left: Brian wears Jumper and Trousers by Alexander McQueen.
Above Right: Outfit as before.

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Above Left: Brian wears Coat by Ten C, Jumper by Prada from Matches Fashion, Trousers by Kenzo and Shoes by Mihara Yasuhiro.
Above Right: Outfit as before.

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Above: Brian wears Jumper by Loewe from Matches Fashion and Shirt by Diesel.

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Above left: Outfit as before.
Above Right: Brian wears Jumper by Loewe from Matches Fashion, Shirt by Diesel and Shorts by Charles Jeffrey Loverboy.

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Above Left: Brian wears Cardigan by Stella McCartney x Ed Curtis, Polo by Boss, Trousers by Etro and Shoes by Mihara Yasuhiro.
Above Right: Outfit as before.

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