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For new Austin talent, Graham Cumberbatch, styling is more about exploring cultural identities than finding the perfect pair of shoes.  Influenced by his family, especially his father’s style, he’s long been aware of the importance of how you present yourself to the world.

Graham is an Austin native but fresh from a degree in Semiotics from Brown University and an internship at GQ in New York City where he contributed to the art department and also wrote for the GQ blog. He has so many interests and talents that he hasn’t yet figured out which one will define him, but for the moment, a chance encounter with former Austin Monthly stylist Brandy Joy Smith, has steered him into the Texas fashion scene.

I recently sat down with Graham for tacos on Austin’s east side to reminisce on the pains of hauling shoot props across Manhattan and Dallas vs. Austin style.

Austin’s style is a reaction or opposition to Dallas, it’s anti-fashion.

You studied Modern Culture and Media at Brown University – describe the coursework and how that plays into what you are doing today as a stylist? 
The department used to be called Semiotics. It’s a cross-disciplinary field that covers literary theory, visual art, film theory and production and social philosophy. It’s all about the way knowledge is produced. It’s about signs and visual language and how the way in which they’re coded and decoded impacts how humans relate to each other.

It has a lot to do with how I approach styling. Our sartorial choices have a lot to do with how people define us. What we wear is a visual language we use to either connect with other people or set ourselves apart. I like to tell stories with style, communicate notions of place and people and explore cultural identities. I’m inspired by film references, literary themes and ethnic histories. Fashion isn’t generally considered to be very intellectual, but I think when you view things through the historical relevance of style, there’s a conceptual depth that’s possible when you collaborate with the right people.

My favorite photographers to work with are the ones that treat the stylist and other artists on set as equal creative partners and allow them express themselves.

What are some of the most important elements in a photographer-stylist relationship?
I think ideally, you first need to come to a common understanding of what makes a great image. That means finding a common language because everyone brings their own perspective on what that means. Collaboration is essentially about getting on the same page creatively, then letting the other person do what they do best. My favorite photographers to work with are the ones that treat the stylist and the other artists on set as equal creative partners and allow them express themselves.

 Who are some of your favorite Texas photographers to work with and why?
I’ve done a lot of work with Tania Quintanilla of  TQPhoto. We met through Brandy Smith. She has a great eye and an old-school beauty-oriented approach to fashion photography that’s hard to find these days. Her images always look refined and classically beautiful. Sometimes I think she makes my work look better than it really is. I also really like working with Wynn Myers. Of course, y’all know her here at I Love Texas Photo. We actually went to high school together at St. Stephens in Austin. Her stuff is really pretty. She has her own style–very naturalistic, great use of natural light, lots of emphasis on the elements. It’s fun to match my styling with her approach.

Photo by Tania Quintanilla for San Antonio Magazine

Tell us about your mentor, Brandy, and how you got into styling.
I met Brandy through my sister. They met on the set of an ad shoot Brandy was styling. We became fast friends and I ended up assisting her on a shoot for Austin Monthly by chance. I’d never done any styling but I helped with the guys’ looks and I liked it. I assisted her several more times and when she moved to NYC, she recommended me to Austin Monthly, one of her longtime clients. I made my pitch and started doing their monthly style spreads for the next eight months. It was a great experience–kind of just thrown into the fire, learning everything on the job. But Brandy’s been the mentor–always available to answer questions about the biz and give advice. She’s actually helped launch several people’s careers in styling. She’s a very giving person, never competitive, even willing to assist me when I’m in a jam. The industry can get a little hectic for a freelancer, we all need someone like Brandy in our corner.

Graham has a distinct style in his work–he understands proportion and color and he’s great at combining street with high style. -Tammy Theis/Wallflower management

You recently signed with Wallflower Management, tell us about that and how it has changed your work.
I just signed with Wallflower a few weeks ago, so it’s still pretty new. I really wanted to break into the field in Dallas. It’s a bigger market, Texas’ original fashion capital, with more commercial clients and a wider range of retail options. I think Wallflower will help broaden my opportunities. When we met, they really understood my aesthetic and were willing to invest in marketing me to a wider audience.

What are some of your favorite places to shoot in Texas?
Austin! I think Austin is a great place to shoot. But central Texas in general is beautiful. Growing up here you don’t appreciate it as much until you leave. The landscape here is really like nowhere else. I’m actually headed out to West Texas next week and I’m sure that’ll be equally gorgeous. I’ve been out to the Davis Mountains area before but never to places like Marfa and Alpine. I’m excited. I’m a big fan of the desert.

Photo by Wynn Myers

What are some of the benefits of styling in Texas?
It’s really easy to meet and connect with people professionally. There are very few jaded attitudes around because the fashion arena is so new here. Everyone really just wants to meet new people and collaborate as much as possible. There’s a lot of space to be creative without worrying about too much establishment red tape.

Favorite places to shop and pull clothing in Texas?
I love working with the folks at ByGeorge. They’re my high-fashion go-to. Sometimes you just need some Celine and there is only one place to get it. For menswear, Service is always great. It’s really well curated, relaxed, sophisticated–what an Austin man should look like. Maya Star and Co-Star are both great. MayaStar is a little more classic Austin, Co-star is a little more New York. Other Austin favorites are gallery d, Stella Says Go, Mynte, Feathers (great vintage), Olive Vintage (run by friend Laura Uhlir) and Capra & Cavelli (ask for Ken Miller).

Recently, I’ve been styling for San Antonio Magazine. If you’re ever there, hit up Aquarius Boutique, Penny Lane, Pinky’s, and Sloan/Hal.

You mentioned how Facebook was a really active platform for fashion professionals in Austin, how do you use social media for your business?
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram–they’re all becoming more vital for marketing yourself. It’s really a combination of just establishing an online presence and connecting with other people in the industry. I kind of just try to put my personality out there–things I like, things I draw inspiration from–and see who’s out there.

The way you present yourself to world matters a lot, especially for a young black male. It’s how people gauge your self-respect and to a certain extent, your approach to life and work.

You said your family, especially your father has influenced your personal style, tell us about your dad.
Since I was little, he’s always made a point to teach me the importance of personal appearance.  Clothes and material things aren’t everything, but the way you present yourself to world matters a lot–especially for a young black male. It’s how people gauge your self-respect and to a certain extent, your approach to life and work. We tease him that he’s a little bit OCD, but he was definitely about the details–pants and shirt pressed, shoes and belt matching, tie knotted straight, shoes shined–all the basics. But beyond that he’s always had a very distinct sense of personal style. At the law firm he worked for when I was younger, he was known as a unique dresser. He was always mixing patterns and shades–polka dot ties and striped suspenders, monk strap shoes and tortoise shell glasses. I used to love to borrow his clothes, I still do. I wish I’d had enough foresight to make him keep more stuff from the 90s (when he was as skinny as I am). But I did manage to hold on to a pair of his old frames I might start rocking. I also still wear his old YSL belt, when he sees it he likes to remind me, “Man, that thing is older than you are.”  I think it still blows his mind that I’ll be 30 soon.

What would your dream shoot be?
My dream collaboration would somehow involve Rihanna (forever muse), Jesse Ware (other forever muse), Casely-Hayford, vintage Versace and Junior Gaultier, Paris (never been), with Meline Matsoukas and Bruce Weber behind the camera.

Favorite designers?

Wow that’s really hard. It kind of goes in cycles for me, to name a few- Celine (so tough, minimalist like me), Stella McCartney, Acne, Vena Cava, Hood by Air. Locally, Betty Atwell out of San Antonio and Hey Murphy here in Austin.

What’s up with your mom’s famous mac n’ cheese recipe? Can we have it?

Oooooo, that’s a family secret, yo! I will say it’s delicious and that it all starts with the roux.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Response to “Graham Cumberbatc​h”

  1. [...] two stylists, Uel White and Graham Cumberbatch (Graham is in Austin and featured in a previous ILTP interview). We chose them because they are very Wallflower. Not sure if/when we might expand to other [...]

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