Updated: Jul 23
Introduction: Jarvis Brown, Frederick Douglas Model of the Year (2023)
Frederick Douglass understood the power and value of media and visual art in the fight for justice and equality. Media, most notably the daguerreotype that preceded and influenced modern-day portrait photography could be used to communicate and shape ideas, values, and attitudes about people.
About people perceived and classified differently due to various "seen and unseen" cultural markers and codes of identity. The most photographed American of the 19th century--a process and event reserved for the privileged few such as French military and political leader Napoleon Bonaparte, Queen Victoria and other members of European royal families, and Abraham Lincoln--Douglass might be considered one of the first "fashion icons", depicted well-dressed in a suit and tie with that luxury "smile-less" face that we associate with aristocratic, bourgeoisie-wealth, intelligence, seriousness, prestige and power; a look and style with the mystical power to debunk myths about Blacks being inferior to Whites.
Jarvis Brown, Frederick Douglass MOTY, styled in a Calvin Klein (IG. @calvinklein) suit and Carlton Jones (IG. @carltonjonescollection) turtleneck All Antics (IG. @allanticsnyc) underwear, Dior (IG. @dior) eyewear, and Prada (IG. @prada) sneakers
To counter "happy slave" caricatures of black people, including minstrel shows where white actors performed racially charged skits in blackface, Douglass chose not to smile in his photographs, an aesthetic judgment-call that demonstrates a political act of resistance to the dominant narrative, depictions, and social commentary of black people being seen in media as "happy slaves", rather than as dignified, serious, and thoughtful human beings. What I perceive to be a socio-political act of justice, the thing that fascinates me most about Douglass's life is his seeing the power of media as an instrument to communicate the worth, value, and intrinsic dignity of black people, as a weapon of counterattack against cultural attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions about the proportion of humanity to afford or grant to people of color, most vehemently to black people denied the most basic of human and civil rights globally.
What is WPMG's Frederick Douglass Model of the Year (MOTY)?
The first recipient of WPMG's Frederick Douglass MOTY, Chicago-born Jarvis Brown represents a rising star with the potential to become one of the brightest icons in the modeling and entertainment fields. He's a compassionate leader who believes in the human, civil, and equal rights and dignity of people; a black aesthetic of justice, he understands, like Douglass, that images can move people to action. Move them as caretakers and custodians of creation. He's not your typical fashion or Hollywood beauty or sensation, here today... gone tomorrow. Instead, his enduring beauty comes in many forms, not defined by one's persona or physical features or attributes alone, airbrushed or AI enhanced, but more importantly by an aesthetics of interiority, character, and advocacy for those who have historically been marginalized and denied justice and equity as self-determined human beings in culture and society.
Tadhi Coulter (TC): How has your life been inspired and transformed by portraits or images of yourself and others?
Jarvis Brown: Matthew Terry's 2013 super bowl ad for Calvin Klein got me thinking about modeling and wanting to see myself in billboards and magazines. I was in elementary school back in Chicago when that ad came out. He had crazy abs in that campaign; I didn't. I know what it took to get them but I knew I wanted them. I was like 'I don't know the beginning steps of what that would take', but I wanted those chiseled abs. The only other ads that came close over the years were Marc Wahlberg's. I put layers and layers of clothes on in my basement.
Each day I looked in the mirror, I saw that my abs were developing. I've never wanted to get too big, because I wanted to make sure I could also wear nice suits. I wanted to begin my journey from there. So I started doing different plank pushups, handstands, crunches, sit-ups. you name it! My journey with fitness started as a "skinny nerd". Picked up a book and started learning as much as I could about working out on my abs especially. I was bullied in school, so I needed to learn different ways to defend myself. I joined little league football, and baseball, basketball, track, wrestling teams! I still watch the ad to this day. I thought about emulating his poses; I thought about bringing my own creative ideas for different ads.
Jarvis Brown, Frederick Douglass MOTY, styled in Prada (IG. @prada) bucket hat, necklace of pearls from Mykel C. Smith's private collection, and Edwing D'Angelo (IG. @edwingdangelo) white-silk shorts and top
Jarvis Brown (cont'd): I see modeling as an outlet for all people to say, 'No matter what you go through, you've got love all around you'! A situation or circumstance doesn't and shouldn't define you for the rest of your life. No matter what it is. I had to find my own motivation. I put everything I had into this one thing... I use it as a 'No Hate!' statement, modeling as a platform to show that we need each other. To use a sports analogy, I look at it like I'm on a football team. The coach may take me out of the game for a moment, but something else--just give it time, discipline and commitment, and something else--different, better--may come up next time. I keep a positive outlook on life. That outlook helps me stay focused, and not to give up when something doesn't go my way. What we can learn from Frederick Douglass is 'There's more to an image!' Taking the time and energy to get to know someone is important, to want to get to know someone, or to learn more about them is the beautiful and persuasive thing about a picture or image.
TC: What does it mean for you to be "WMPG model of the year"?
Jarvis Brown: The belief and hope that I can be "Model of the Year"! It's an honor and privilege that I don't take lightly. For people who've been bullied like I've been, it's a platform of hope and inspiration. No matter someone's size or body type, I want them to know that they're beautiful, and that they've got love all around them. When I thought of modeling, I was thinking 'Who's gonna like me'? 'How am I gonna be attractive to other people'? I've come to realize and understand that 'Some people like you'! 'Some don't'! Some people might want to follow my brand while others may not. I'm looking to excel in it, and I'm not trying to take anything away from anybody else. We're all sharing in this life together.
TC: What does it mean to you to be likened to Frederick Douglas as MOTY?
Jarvis Brown: It means accepting everything that's coming towards you. Taking everything as humbly as possible, being open to new ideas; it means being a man, not just in fashion and the life of fantasy but in the real world as well. Different things can happen if you stay grounded, and believe in God. Gratitude goes a long way. I have the power to walk away from negativity or indulge in it. It means knowing your image, the person you are, and accepting it. The campaigns make a difference, but the people we bring in and out of our life matter more. I can book a million-and-one ads, but if I don't have the right people in my corner, it wouldn't mean a great deal. If I booked a Calvin Klein ad I'd be excited. That was the first shirtless underwear ad I've thought a lot about on my journey to becoming a model. I don't see a lot of black people in those ads. I want to set an example for the younger generation. These ads and billboards are super important. I've volunteered with the Obama campaign, and have been really big on promoting positivity in the world. 'Michael Jordan scored'! I've placed a bet on this guy... that leads to more fans. I know that I can promote a lot of great things, with my being a great person. Pick me over someone else. I have a personality that's not limited to the room. When I meet people, I like to keep a playful attitude and personality, to keep the energy lite. I don't like being a negative person in any given space.
"Live, laugh, and love" is my motto! Making it on the cover of GQ would also be exciting for me. When I was younger and would take a picture in a suit or something, people would say 'You look GQ, magazine ready'! There's a certain look that I have... I feel like I look average, but other people have told me that I have a look. I like having people in my inner-circle and corner who motivate me to do better. It would be a full-circle moment for me, for example, to book a Calvin Klein campaign. When I started my modeling journey, seeing the Matthew Terry ad, his picture on billboards, was one of the first ads that gave me hope, that inspired me to take action to improve how I wanted to look in pictures. Until recently, I hadn't seen many black people in Calvin Klein ads, at least not until the more recent #MyCalvins campaigns. My chest may actually work in my favor. I used to have the smallest chest. I've had to fight big people punching me in my chest. Growing up, I thought 'I don't have abs, muscles like everybody else'. When people take their shirt off, I wouldn't take my shirt off. When I started learning about confidence, my perspective about my body changed. "My body actually looks pretty good in pictures"! The more I started working with photographers, the more I started to believe in myself. The more confidence I started having in my appearance and feeling comfortable with my body-size.
Styled by Mykel and his assistant "Lord of Labels" in a wool graphic sweater by Delacasso and silk purple pants by Edwing D'Angelo, and Fear of God slides, Jarvis radiates confident-swag luxury, with the mystical power of him being transported and cast against the warmth of an early-morning, rising sun shimmering against Badain Jaran Dunes of Mongolia, China, and the silk purple pants.
TC: What do you think makes you a different kind of model from all other talented models?
Jarvis Brown: Whether the camera is around or not, I feel pretty confident. Pictures remind me of how far I've come. From the first picture that I took, my abs were not as sculpted as they are now. I look better when I pose in different ways. I shouldn't compare myself to other models or actors, but when it comes to modeling sportwear, I compare my body-size to other athletes, and say "I got his body type"! "I got his skillset"! "I look like that"! as a way to challenge and discipline myself to grow. I did a runway show in 2017, but I don't like rejection--being able to sacrifice and know your own strengths--but there are still other opportunities. One door closes, another one opens, so I have what it takes to face and get through rejection. There was a time where it was difficult for me to even think of myself as a model. In 2021, I traveled to North Carolina. I did the photoshoot during COVID. I was in a bad relationship for three or four years. My self worth plummeted, and I ended up in the hospital for a week. That difficult time for me made me stronger. I've experienced rejection, not getting booked for opportunities, but it's important to keep going after your dreams. I bring my own passion and creativity that appeals to people. I love anime, science... and that's something that I think I can bring to pictures to be booked for opportunities with that focus in mind. I don't see myself not being a model. I bring sex appeal and things on set that people might be afraid to try... things people are scared to do, like walking on my hands and looking up at the camera--poses to the world. A little bit of everything!
TC: What's two of your favorite films, a drama and comedy?
Jarvis Brown: "What's Love Got To Do With" for a drama. Like Tina Turner, I've endured abuse, from different relationships to parents. I can relate to her story. She became a lot more spiritual than she had been before breaking out of that situation. My favorite comedy is Todd Phillip's "The Hangover", I, II, III. Three best friends go crazy...hanging out... partying too hard, but their chemistry and friendship is undeniable. Like modeling, we chase after memorable experiences and relationships that endure. The film sheds some light on that. If I'm trying to take the same picture in the chair, and I try to do the exact same pose, I'm going to overthink it. Certain things will be off. I won't compare myself. I have to bring more creativity to a similar pose. It's dangerous to compare yourself to other models. When it comes to posing, for example, you can't capture the intent behind the poses, or 'Why they did what they did at that time'?
(Noting that Jarvis talked about Tina Turner just weeks prior to her passing, I wanted to revisit our conversation to see how her passing now plays a part or factors into the way he thinks of his career in modeling and in life generally speaking). It's made me more aggressive, more passionate the way a football player might look forward to their next game. It made me think about what it means to go after what you want. Her bouncing back from her relationships in culture. I'm also known for my fitness, I taught a group of my peers how to flip. We were doing shows on fitness in Chicago and Iowa, for example, and that was my gateway into modeling. Like Tina Turner, I want to be taken seriously in whatever I do. I am a part of Black America, and Black culture, people like Frederick Douglass and Tina Turner, I see them as overcoming barriers and different kinds of abuse and injustices. Though you look a certain way, it doesn't mean that you are a good person, actually making a difference around issues of injustice. I see myself using whatever platform I have to make a difference. When I broke out of my own situation, I knew that spirituality was something that I needed. I've learned how to become a better person, to be self-sufficient, and to be an inspiration to others and to myself.
TC. What was it like shooting the looks?
Jarvis Brown. I remember being in the overalls and taking the picture. I knew I was going to have fun with it. I didn't have any emotions... I consider the friends in the room. I automatically knew that I would try to listen to easy listening, smooth or rap music. I wanted to try to feel as much as possible. I remember Kelly Rowland was playing in the background for one of the songs. I remember looking at the photographer's IG page before the shoot, thinking to myself 'What stood out the most to me was Hosea Johnson. He worked with Bryshere Y. Gray (Hakeem Lyon's character) from Empire, and I'm a huge fan of that show. I didn't want to break my personality. I wanted to be as humble as possible. He made sure that I was pretty comfortable. Working with him was a challenge; I kind of got stuck doing the same pose. I was thinking, "I don't wanna mess up", but still want to have fun.
TC. What did you takeaway from the shoot, an element of surprise?
Jarvis Brown. My personality is pretty fluid. I actually have a lot of personality than I expected. You can laugh and stuff like that... wanted me to jump. I'm thinking in my head, "Why am I jumping?" I wasn't used to doing my own poses. I would go into a photoshoot, and I would do the same pose. Working with Mykel and the entire team during the photoshoot helped to stretch my creativity and confidence. Working with Mykel was fun! I love his energy. He inspires me to continue to be true to myself, to work hard, and to always be youthful, like I'm in my twenties... in my teens! When I pose, I would go back to some of the poses I took before. Sometimes I'd think I was something else. It's not necessarily about the number of campaigns that you book, if the opportunity to develop relationships is missing from the events, exposure, presence, editorials... having complete exposure to the modeling industry, taking good pictures, my number one thing is that we need people who are fit. It's empowering to be a big model, but it's also about being disciplined and fit. I like the idea of fantasy. I do like seeing things that are attractive. I would go to someone who has the look I want to strive for, to step out with confidence. I know that I'm going to look good in it too. I would go for the fantasy of a "million-to-one". I like the idea of choosing things that out of the ordinary. Things that take a lot of work to get there. 'It's there, but it's not really there'. I would want my daughter and people I care about to be the healthiest version of themselves. I would want the world to look as good as possible. I use strength and power in everything that I do. I practice strength, bravery... to make the statement that I take life seriously. I want to make sure that I make my goal weight. Just to look a certain way.
Jarvis Brown, Frederick Douglass MOTY, styled in Delacasso (IG. @delacasso) vinyl overalls, an Edwing D'Angelo (IG. @edwingdangeloofficial) silk abstract shirt, and Gentle Monster (IG. @gentlemonster) x Fendi (IG. @fendi) eyewear.
TC. Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Jarvis Brown. I would love to expand who I am; I love expanding. Travel to experience the 'Great Wall of China'. When I first saw the structure in the media, I thought 'How could they really build that'! I feel like we should have a wall for our country too. As much as we would love to think, a lot of people do not have good intentions, and it is important symbolically as well as 'in real time' as a barrier of national and political defense.
TC. The next and final question I'm gonna ask because I believe that words have the power to help us become who we want to be, even during a photoshoot, for example. What are 15 adjectives that best describe you?
Jarvis Brown. I hope Frederick Douglass would be proud with my selection: intelligent, wise, energetic, optimistic, aloof, friendly, content, competitive, non-judgmental, innovative, fearless, funny, introspective, introvert, loving. I look forward to exploring some of these ideas in photoshoots and on the runway!
Editorial Production Credits:
Creative Direction & Styling. Mykel C. Smith Creative (IG. @mykel_c_smith_creative_)
Photographer. Hosea Johnson (IG. @hoseajohnsonphotography)
Model. Jarvis Brown (IG. jay_thegreatest__)
Styling Assistant. Joseph "Lord of Labels" Smith-Marino (IG. lord_of_labels)
Production Assistant & Retoucher. Jojo Padilla