ANDRE J... LIKE IT IS
What is it about the human compulsion to adorn oneself, to dress in a particular style, to strike out with a 'look'? Considering mankind is the only thinking 'being' capable of intellectual decision making, on a mundane level 'dressing' could be considered a subject that functions as part and parcel of everyday life with boring respectability, but for us with a vent towards developing a personal style there are endless possibilities to the dressing up box. Projecting an image apt for the various roles we play in society vs. the sense of individual taste and selecting an image of unique beautification is as intriqueing now as it's ever been.
Glamour as a concept is an invention of the the 20th Century and is generally associated with the advent of film in Hollywood, glamour became an iconic theme played out both in lifestyle and imagination from it's onset. The sense of escapism celebrated via this medium at once expanded on formal notions of beauty. Class distinction, wealth and artistic interpretation became blurred, decadent and fantastical imagery seeped into the everyday world of mere mortals. The influence of movie stars upon the general public created an enduring global obsession with glamour and it's trappings which remains as fierce today, albeit in a slightly corrupted way! With theories on glamour and anti glamour abounding, here we are in the 21st century still debating ideals on acceptable and thought provoking extremes. It has to be said the most 'normal' kind of glamour can look freakish if it's not to your tastes.
Andre J is one such person who is questioning the perceptions of the norm. His 'look'? Describing Andre J in layman's terms seems somewhat irreverent, bearded and bewigged Andre strolls around town in a series of looks that combine couture and high end fashion resulting in an assemblage of his own perceptions. His main angle focuses on glamour, but there is no genre tagging here and I wonder if he realizes that he may be changing some notions of acceptable beauty, 'The world is becoming much more 'unisexy'... simply because we are all made up of X and Y chromozones, masculine and feminine.' Adding, 'It's just a thing that is happening naturally. Gender is a label, just a box... as in art, it holds it's own interpretation, everyone sees something different'.
Growing up in Newark, New Jersey Andre always had a strong sense of being 'different', raised by his single mother who upon reflection he recalls may have played a part in his sensibilities, 'I remember when I was 3 my mother tied a pyjama top round my waist, put one of her long wigs on my head and took a photo of me. she wanted a girl!' Andre continues, I''ve always been different, I would say from the age of 6 when I was molested, I knew I was different and that incident confused me sexually...' Perhaps these two events may have played a part in setting Andre apart but the hero in our story has a way of dealing with the negative in a most positive fashion... 'Today when I put on my makeup up I got the answers to what I was seeking.' Andre continues with a true air of sincerity, 'I constantly added lip gloss and it put me in the zone. When you take an additional 5 minutes to with yourself, opposed to neglecting yourself it really works. When you look glamourous you act glamourous and what you wear has a direct phycological effect to how you act.'
Since his timely departure from Newark, a stint in LA for a year, Andre soon realized he had the potential to be an authentic superstar. His strength lies in an undaunting belief in the form of a personal mantra 'positive energy and individuality'. Like a shinning knight armed with lipgloss Andre J really does feel his message is relevant. Does he feel like he's a role model? Here Andre reveals his socially aware side, 'Yes I do, though perhaps, I feel more like a mentor. I go to The Lower East Side Girls Club in New York, I go and talk to the girls about feeling good about themselves, respecting themselves.' With a caring and community minded approach to survival he passes his message on. His other charities include The Life Ball in Vienna and Designers Against Aids in Anterwp, 'If I can make it easier for people to express themselves, even if it's just one person then it's a job well done.'
Ending up NYC in 2003 Andre sauntered into Pat Fields, 'I Just walked into the shop, I had a bald head then with a headscarf on, a bindi on my forehead and stack heels.' Talking about Pat, Andre has fond memories, 'She loves the kids that express themselves, that are edgy, that are daring, she thrives on that.' Before long Andre became a spokesperson for Pat Fields, 'I became the PR Director of the boutique'. Speaking to the press and looking after clients such Amy Winehouse and Victoria Beckham, Andre was soon to be 'discovered' walking down a New York street. 'My first real shoot was for V Magazine shot by Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin.' Then came French Vogue, 'I got that that through stylist Joe McKenna.' (Who really did find Andre in street strolling mode!) 'Shot by Bruce Weber that just changed my life because it was so contraversal. It was 2007, I had a 3 page feature in French Vogue, I was dressed in heels, there had never been a cover with people smiling on and I was the considered the 2nd black male ever to grace the cover. Carine Roitfeld, editor in chief said it was fresh!'
Optimistic and positive Andre J spreads the love and the power, his mission may be simple, 'When I came to London, I wanted to do what I did in New York... I got all the boys wearing high heels, when they came through Harlem and Brooklyn they came in full glam! They saw that it can be done from reading about me and they felt liberated! It was so inspirational'. Capital cities are where Andre excells, 'If I hit the big cities I can make it anywhere... next I'm hitting Toykio, I'm going to take over the world!'
Spending his time between the streets of New York and here in London where Andre has become quite firmly instated into our subculture, bumping into Andre is always brings a smile to my face and recently artist Wolfgang Tillmans had the same experience resulting in a portrait of Andre J chatting on the phone in one of his latest exhibitions in Berlin. Strangely I do always wonder what other people see, because once you get past the male and female signifers Andre's beauty and style become the main focus, Andre is quick to reply laughing and telling me the kind of remarks he might get on any given day, 'What the fuck, what is that... is it a man? Occasionally somebody will say, 'You are beautiful'! Provocative and confrontational maybe but Andre says, 'I feel sexy!' adding, 'I am fashion, it's about style, I am the look, this is what is translated into my everyday reality. My references have ranged from Cher, Diana Ross and Tina Turner. But lately I'm inspired by the future... broad shoulders and birds. I think my look will gradually progress into other things... always with the beard, i've been told by Tyra Banks I should never remove it!
Words - Princess Julia