For the capital’s talented, up-and-coming creatives, the quest for success means firing off the DMs and embracing a DIY spirit alongside tireless determination. Joanna Taylor meets four young Londoners blazing their own trail to the top
The advent of social media has enabled a whole host of innovative, creative millennials and Gen Z-ers to work their way to victory with little more than a wi-fi password and a hard work ethic. This is a generation of creatives making their way to the top via DM-sliding and an embodiment of the DIY spirit many have been forced to adopt in a landscape long-neglected by the Government.
Besides pushing boundaries and inevitably setting trends, the one thing these creatives have in common is that their work and drive comes from a primal instinct to invent. And to us, those bypassing traditional ways of achieving success are heroes, which is why we’re so pleased to be championing four of those on the cusp of greatness, for whom success has come as a product of hard work and a fervent sense of self belief.
As a student studying English at King’s College London, Leah Abbott had no idea that she wanted to be a stylist. That is, until someone approached her in Brixton and asked to use her jacket for a shoot. ‘When she asked me that I was like, “If you want my stuff, I can do what you’re doing.” That was definitely a catalyst for me,’ she reminisces. While assisting and working at a vintage shop, Abbott got friendly with the then up-and-coming singer Jorja Smith, who asked her to quit her job and jet off across America as her personal stylist.
That she did, and Abbott now also counts Celeste, Slowthai and DaBaby as clients and is regularly booked to style covers of magazines for brands such as L’Officiel. Over lockdown Abbott’s red-carpet work has dried up but she says she has been ‘getting her Gok Wan on’, working on a project with Nike in which she gives everyday people style advice. ‘I like helping people, I just like making people feel good,’ she says. Moving forward, Abbott likes the idea of building an even bigger archive of rare and unusual garments. ‘I have friends that have archives of special pieces that they hire out — I’d love to do something like that for sure. I love shopping, so I may as well try and make some money back from that!’
On the short walk from the ES Magazine photo studio to find a private interview spot, photographer, graphic designer and film-maker Bafic looks a tad uncomfortable. He’s not used to being in front of the camera, he says with a nervous laugh. Normally he’s shooting candid, humancentric work for Nike, Louis Vuitton, Virgil Abloh, Neneh Cherry and Buddy. Needless to say, the 27-year-old has come a long way since playing around with animation programs at school.
He finds inspiration in all kinds of things, from Dragon Ball Z to the 2002 Scorpion Knockout Nike advert, Hype Williams, Portishead and Jean-Paul Goude, and says he’s happiest when he spots mistakes in his work. ‘I’m like, oh, I didn’t plan that, that’s good. It’s life; the happy accidents.’ Although image-making is his bread and butter, he doesn’t like to be tied to a job title. ‘The medium is a vessel. I think more about the idea or the concept, the story, because that means that I can take photos or I can do videos or I can make a sticker and it all feels like one.’
‘It’s not as though I would have been mobbed in the streets, but it is a weird time for this to happen’, says actor Harry Lawtey, referring to the success he’s found after Industry, produced and part-directed by Lena Dunham, hit screens during lockdown. ‘Objectively exciting things are happening, but they seem as though they are happening outside of your universe because I, like everyone else, have been at home. Maybe it’s been easier to deal with, perhaps.’ Despite this peculiarity, the actor has certainly sensed a shift since the show aired. Every next step feels like your biggest thing, but [working on Industry] is where I felt something changed. You have so many aspirations as a kid and Industry was the first time that they had been affirmed by someone else.’
Though his family are ‘from up north’, Lawtey was brought up in Cyprus, where his father was stationed while working in the RAF. The actor fell in love with drama at his ‘pretty normal’ military-base school, where the ‘teachers went above and beyond’ and he took to the stage for am-dram productions. After a successful chance audition while on holiday in the UK aged 13, Lawtey’s parents agreed to ship him off to the Sylvia Young Theatre School. The rest is history. ‘Loads of kids have dreams but not every child has parents who can see it in you and tell you that you can give it a go,’ he says, fondly. ‘I’m really lucky.’
In less than a year, Sohee Park has gone from Central Saint Martins fashion student to having Cardi B, Miley Cyrus and Bella Hadid pictured wearing her effervescent, larger-than-life graduate collection. This sudden fame has come as a shock to the designer who, while at a ‘conservative’ school in Seoul, thought she would never have the opportunity to fashion anything of the sort. From a young age Park dreamt up fantasies on paper with her illustrator mother, but it was only when she spotted Chanel’s under-the-sea themed Couture Spring/Summer 2012 show on television at her grandparents’ house that she realised she wanted to create clothes.
‘I instantly fell in love with it — I was so shocked. From then I started to really dream about creating this fantasy world that I had been illustrating on paper. I really wanted to bring that to life through fashion.’ After a stint working with Marc Jacobs in New York during a placement at university, Park now counts the designer as a mentor. ‘I think fashion is all about the glamour and the fun of it, and that’s what he does really well. He told me recently that he’s very proud of me, which was great.’
Men’s styling by Giulio Ventisei.
Hair by Zateesha Barbour at LMC using Ouai.
Make-up by Michelle Leandra at Nylon Artists using Hourglass Cosmetics.
Prop stylist: Lee Flude at Carol Hayes Management.
Photographer’s assistant: Rami Hassen.