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Brian Whittaker

Talks career, mindset and future

Interview & Styling: Johnson Gold // @Johnson_Gold
Photographer: Avsthtc // @avsthtc
Assistant Photographer: Niguel
Featuring: Brian Whittaker // @brianhwhittaker

Achieving this at only 18 years old…

Brian Whittaker proudly represents a new-wave of models. Whether he’s posting photos on Instagram to his 900,000 followers, walking at Paris Fashion Week for the likes of Fenty x Puma, or chilling with his girlfriend, Zara Larsson, at his new Thames-side apartment, Brian remains his humble and philosophical self at all times. PAUSE spoke to Whittaker out in LA about his career, his mindset and his future, here is what went down.

Headband: Gucci, Sunglasses: Boujee Frames, Denim Two Piece: Urban Outfitters, Sneakers: Vans @ Schuh

How old are you?

I’m 18 years old.

At 18 you’ve done so much. Do you feel pressure at your age?

I feel a little bit of pressure but it’s all pressure from myself, there’s not really any pressure from other people. Because of the amount that I’ve done it’s then shown me that there is so much more to do. So, with that being said I feel like I want to do absolutely everything and I don’t have much patience.

Where did you get your drive from?

I guess me being introvert, not having many friends and not really fitting in with everyone at school was because I don’t find normal things fun. For example, I never used to go to house parties – ever. I have only been to one house party in my life and I was only there for 20 minutes before I left. I never really wanted the things that the other kids wanted. All the other kids thought “let’s just get an Armani pouch” and that’s cool, they can do that… but my goals are bigger. That’s no disrespect to Armani but that’s what their goal was, to get an Armani pouch and flex – that wasn’t my ideology.

I never really had a goal but because I never really fit in and did the normal things in my school that the other kids were doing. When I started getting into fashion and seeing how other people were living, it showed me a different life and that was a lifestyle I wanted to pursue. The more I do, the more I see; the more I see the more I want to do. It’s a knock-on effect.

Do you get time off for yourself?

Yeah, I do get time off. I used to go to college so it was kind of hard to get time for myself. It just felt like I’d go to college, If I didn’t go to college, I was working. If I wasn’t doing either of those things, I had to make time for my friends and my mum. I live in London now in my own place and I don’t go to college anymore, so when I’m not working I get time which I just use to think.

How did your modelling career start?

I got scouted on Instagram by another model. He sent me his agent’s information after he had already messaged him and showed him pictures of me. Once the agency reached out to me, they just asked for some pictures and I sent in some. They liked the pictures, so me and my dad went in not long after I was 15 years old. I remember I took the day off school to go and do it with my dad. They just liked me, I guess.

Do you think your Instagram following before-hand helped you?

In a way, yes. But I don’t think my Instagram really helped me until recently. I think because I had Instagram I didn’t have to deal with the pressures that the other models had. All the agents were putting pressure on models to get an Instagram following which isn’t really an easy task.

So you didn’t have that type of pressure, did you have a different kind of pressure?

No, I’ve honestly never really had pressure from agencies. I’m quite lucky with that because there are so many models that have to deal with a lot of pressure from agencies which knocks their confidence.

What are some of the campaigns and projects that you’ve featured in which you are proudest of?

The one I am proudest of is my first campaign – Stone Island. The other campaigns I am proud of aren’t out yet. I can’t really talk about it until its out, but one should be out in September.

How would you describe modelling in today’s age? It becomes essential for the model’s of today to be public figures, so how are you going about branding yourself?

Right now I’m focussing on branding myself a lot more. At the start, I used to just focus on growth; growth and branding are two different things. Honestly, branding should be part of your growth right from the beginning and I made the mistake of not branding myself too well before the growth. Obviously, I have done the growing part very well, I have around 900,00 followers now. The growth, I pride myself on that but branding is something I’m working on right now. It’s about finding the right balance.

Did you ever feel insecure in the early days when using Instagram? In today’s society, a lot of young people are insecure about their use of social media.

Honestly, Instagram gave me security. I was always insecure: I was a mixed race kid who grew up in the whitest place in England. I grew up in a very white village, just outside of Birmingham. When I was growing up, I was known as the black kid. I’m mixed race and to a lot of black people I am seen as white, I’m very light-skinned. If I go to a black area, I’m seen as white and they don’t really like me for that. If I go to a white area, or when I grew up in this white area, kids didn’t really like me that much either. Kids didn’t really like me until they thought it was cool to say the N word and then they used to act like “Brian’s my friend, I can say it”. When that stuff first started happening, at first it didn’t feel good but at the same time I wasn’t used to that sort of attention so I guess I appreciated that attention and just started accepting it like “I’m the black kid”. Kids started to at least pretend to like me.  That and the fact I’ve got very ‘gappy’ teeth, also another black feature of mine… Also my nostrils, a few kids used to say it looked like I had sunglasses on because my nostrils were so big.

You felt like an outsider?

I felt like an alien. I remember being in primary school, looking in the mirror and I just didn’t know what was wrong with me. I knew there was something wrong with me but I didn’t know what it was. Why do I look different to everyone else? It never occurred to me that my mum was black and I was a mixed race kid.

When did you begin to accept yourself and start feeling happy?

After high school, it’s a shame I never really went through that during school. Literally the summer I left was when my life went uphill in so many ways and I met some friends. It took me to see a different life to see that there is more too life. When you’re in school, your life is school. That’s why kids care so much about popularity and having those pouches and what-not. Your reputation in school is all you know and it’s everything. The fact that I got to experience life outside of school before the other kids – working as a model – meant that I was working with adults and people in fashion. Seeing that and having the realisation that the more people I meet, the more perspective I’m gaining. Right now I am open to have a conversation with absolutely anyone because with each person you meet, you gain perspective.

You seem to have grown up so fast. How have you matured?

Perspective. Talking to people and learning how different types of people act and how different people view situations, adapting and learning from that. I do work with adults and I have to be able to work with them. This is normal to me and all my friends and the people I work with are older than me so there’s no petty arguments and I don’t really do ‘kiddy’ things anymore. With that comes a disadvantage but I don’t really see it as a disadvantage: I don’t really connect with people my age. I feel disconnected with people. I just saw my closest friends who I used to hang out with all the time when I used to live closer to Birmingham and we haven’t seen each other in four months. It then occurred to me how much I’ve grown in four months in the fact that I can no longer relate to people my age anymore. Which is kind of a sad thing because we are thinking about completely different things. My mind set’s completely different, the way we approach and respond to things is so much different than it used to be. Because they’re my friends I can still connect with them to an extent whereas with other kids my age…I feel like I’m the teacher and their student. It’s about life experiences.

– Brian Whittaker

Headband: Gucci, T-Shirt: Stylist’s Own, Bag: Gucci, Jeans: BoohooMAN, Flip Flops: Gucci

You’ve had an early career, so you feel like you’re in a different time?

Yeah. I was on the train the other day, I went to visit my parents and I was on a train back to London. There was a girl behind me who called my name and she said “Hey Brian” so I said “Hey, what’s up” and we just started talking and she started to mention that she went to my old school, she was 24 years old and she was struggling. She was like “Oh man, I just moved to London and I’m looking for a job”. She was really struggling looking for a job and she was nervous about how she was paying her bills. It’s quite a normal thing for 24-year-olds, moving to London and looking for opportunities. It then occurred to me that I have a nice apartment on the River Thames and I’m not worried about paying my bills, so I’m quite blessed when looking at it from that perspective.

So you’ve worked your way up to be in that position? Wow, that’s amazing!

I live by myself, I have a two-bed apartment and I really like it. Two-three years ago it wouldn’t have even been a thought. When I started modelling I was wondering how many shoots it would take me to buy an iPad – that was my ideology and mindset.

So you had a business mind-set from early on?

Yeah, I used to sell sweets at school and save up for a month to buy some clothes.

You use your Instagram in a business manner. Some models don’t utilise their platforms by collaborating with brands outside of their modelling career. How did you go about doing that and what tips would you give to other models looking to be influencers?

Social media, promoting and marketing is to have a brand identity and direction that you want in your head. You have to see yourself as a brand and see what is good and bad for the brand. If a certain company – I’m not going to throw shade – but if a company was approaching you with a fitness product and said “Hey, can you promote this and we will pay you this amount per post or we will give you a percentage on each sale you make with this code” if it’s some bulls*** brand and you’re promoting that, it’s going to make you look less serious to the brands you actually want to work with. You’ve got to not do some of those jobs that you think will look bad for your brand’s identity.

If we look at my Instagram and, for example, Luka Sabbat’s, we both have a very similar follower. Luka has built up his Instagram so strategically and has such a clear brand identity that he can be doing all these fashion posts and it all looks organic. That’s another thing, you’ve got to make your posts look organic with sponsorships, make it look as organic as possible or people will see it’s a bulls*** sponsor and people don’t like that as people can see through the bulls***.  Back to what I was saying about Luka, he’s done it very strategically and very smart, so now people only associate him with fashion. It makes sense for high-end fashion companies to be hitting him up. But if I look at myself, I do, do fashion but I also do a lot of fitness – people know me for having a good physique. For example, while Luka will be doing a lot of fashion, fitness companies aren’t going to go to Luka. Fitness companies are going to gravitate towards me as I am physically fit. I am running, I show that I am running and people know that I am into fitness and people come to me for fitness inspiration. It’s about branding; you’ve got to see yourself as a brand.

The thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is see(ing) yourself as a brand versus when you have a brand. When you have a brand, you are prepared to put money into your brand to get it off the ground. How many people are prepared to put money into themselves and their Instagram? No one. If Instagram is your business, you’ve got to put money into it. It’s about how bad you want it and how hard you’re willing to grind for it.

Tell us the story of how you met your girlfriend.

I woke up and my friend had sent me this message and it was a screenshot. He was like “Zara Larsson just posted you on Twitter”. I was like “What, who’s that”. He was like “What, you don’t know who that is… she’s a singer”. I went on her Instagram and thought “Oh, she looks cute”, obviously saw she had a lot of followers so thought she must be doing something. I went on a music streaming service, typed her name in and I listened to the first song and thought “Oh, I’ve actually heard this before”, she’s super popular on the radio. It’s so weird, after that day, every store and gym that I went to, they were always playing her music. I gave her a follow on Instagram, I DM’d her and I was like “I’m Brian Whittaker, I’m the guy you were looking for”.

Basically, the post said: Who’s this guy, how old is he, where is he from, how does he like his eggs cooked. Then I sent her a DM saying “I like my eggs scrambled”. We just talked for a little bit and then we met up a couple of weeks later in London and went for a nice dinner. We then saw each other about a month later in New York and then after we saw each other in New York we actually didn’t see each other for a long time. The thing is, after New York she then came back to London not too long after that. She was like “Come to London, I’m coming to London so come and meet me”. So I came to London to meet her and because I used to live close to Birmingham it took around 2 1/2 hours to get there. I go all the way down to London, I’m texting her like “Hey, where are you staying? Where are you at?” and she’s not replying. When I got to London, one of my friends was actually there so I went straight to my friend’s place and we just started hanging out and we were hanging out for like 2 hours and I was hitting Zara up and I was like “Hey, what are you doing?”. I was trying to call her and her phone was dead. After a while I said, you know what, I’m just going to go home. So I started going home and then she called me and she was like “Oh no, I fell asleep. I got to the hotel and I fell asleep, come and see me now”. It was getting late so I thought the time I get to her hotel, I’m only going to be able to be there for around ½ hour and then have to go back. I felt a little bit embarrassed and I said “I’m just going to go home”. Went 2 ½ hours back home, 5 hours on the train and she had pretty much stood me up. We actually didn’t see each other for a year – we barely spoke at all. Then we met as I was in Paris walking for Fenty x Puma and she was also in Paris doing press and promo. The funny thing is, we were actually both supposed to see other people whilst we were there and we both cancelled on these people and then we saw each other. That’s when we clicked. Every other time we saw each other, there was always something like “Oh I got to get home, I’ve got school tomorrow”, it was that kind of stuff. In New York, I was with my mum and she was looking for something. I remember I was going for dinner with Zara and my mum was like “Hey, where’s the camera charger? I need the camera charger!”. It was so late, I was 16 at the time and she was worried. There was always something. Last year when we met in Paris, it was just perfect timing and everything just want so perfectly. We just went for a nice dinner and drank wine.

If you weren’t modelling, what would you be doing?

Honestly, I don’t really see myself as a model despite that being the only thing I’m really doing. If I wasn’t modelling? There are some things I am going to pursue but I’ve not talked about it to anyone except for my friends and Zara. One of those things is music and one of those things is acting.

I can definitely see you in the acting field.

Yeah, a lot of people say that. Especially because of my voice, people are always saying that I sound like I should be in a movie. I’m just going to take life as it comes. There’s other things on top of that, there are companies that I want to start and I want to get involved with investing and all that kind of stuff.

Have you ever felt depressed on your journey with the amount of exposure you’ve got?

Not really. The thing about social media, when everything is going well – you’re on top of the world. But when you aren’t gaining as many followers as you were or you’re not getting as many likes on your post, you may think that you don’t rely on social media for happiness but it does have an effect. You are so used to things going well and that is the norm so you don’t think about it. As soon as things aren’t going as well… it can give you a lot of anxiety. It used to give me a bit of anxiety when I had patches of time when things weren’t moving so smoothly but as soon as things start picking up again you realise it’s not that deep. At the same time, social media can effect people because either you’re really not going to be accepting yourself and you’re going to try and be everyone else on social media. Or then, like me, it has really helped me come out of my shell and gain confidence. I would not have been anywhere near as confident now without social media. I’ve had people say negative things to me and you’ve got to learn to overcome that.

How have you learnt to overcome the negative comments?

The fact is, people can hate on me but it’s not affected me yet. Why am I going to get caught up? If someone is affecting my lifestyle, say, if someone was trying to take money out of my pocket and bread out of my mouth, that’s when its like “Oh, shit, this is actually serious”. These things aren’t going to happen by people calling you names and I think that’s one way to look at it. Maybe that is slightly pretentious. Another way to look at it is that all these people may be hating on you but no one is actually coming after you. I’ve had death threats but I’m right here doing this interview with you. I’ve never had any real confrontation in person. I’m not going to be stressed until it happens. Why would I pre-stress myself out for something that might not happen? I’ll be stressed when something happens. Zara told me this one thing and it had a big impact on me even though it’s the simplest thing. Every time I drop my iPhone I’m always like ‘f***’, it hurts my soul just thinking about the fact it could be cracked. When you pick it up and its not cracked and it’s fine, you’re like “Oh”. Because of this, you’ve already allowed yourself to get p***** off to then have to really calm yourself down because what you got pissed off about something  didn’t actually happen. She’s saying don’t get upset about something that might happen. On top of that, say your phone does crack, it’s already cracked and you can’t uncrack it.

What are your goals for 2018?

I’ve been writing my goals down a lot lately and I’ve really been re-evaluating everything I’ve been doing. There’s another direction I want to take. I’ve always told people to believe in yourself, whatever goals you have, pursue them now and try your best so you’ve actually got that chance of doing it’. I’ve realised that I’ve not really been taking my own advice so I’ve been thinking lately if there is anything I want to do… “What is it I want to do?”. I came to the realisation of what it is I actually want to be doing and I now I am just trying to structure everything around that. My goal for 2018 is building a better foundation for myself so that I can start to build on it. Right now, this is not anywhere even remotely close to where I want to be and where I am going to be in a couple of years. Two years before now I was a lot different to who I am today. Two years from today I’ll be so much different to what I am right now. The evolution will be pretty crazy, you’re going to have to keep an eye out.

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