GK Reid

A simple Google search for GK Reid will lead you to a cluster of veins, each coming from the heart of the source- a creative genius. The Renaissance man is not a jack of all trades, but rather the master of all: directing, styling, designing- The list continues to grow as he adds more icons to his archive of influential clients. We took the bench this time around and handed the interviewing baton over to the ingenious photographer, artist, and educator, Paul Sunday. The tête-à-tête between the comrades gives us, mere mortals, a glimpse into the past, present, and future of the GK Reid world.

You had a unique schooling for an American, spending quite a lot of time in India, how did that transpire?

I feel I was very fortunate, my mother gave me the opportunity to go to boarding school in Mussoorie, in the foothills of the Himalayas, when I was 8. I was eager to see India & explore a very different way of life.

How has that international perspective influenced your development as an artist?

I returned a new person, at home both nowhere and everywhere. Experiencing such extremes of diverse cultures and beliefs as a child awakened in me a plethora of fantasies and creative possibilities that I push to expand with every new encounter.

How did you first become interested in Fashion? What did you like about it?

It was in boarding school that I learned the power of fashion. When I dressed in a black blazer emblazoned with our school crest, with a crisp white cotton kurta and churidars with highly shined black shoes, I was ready for school. At the same time I was learning to sword fight and would regularly perform in parades and contests around India. When I wore the blue or gold silk kurta cinched in a cummerbund and cotton churidar with a towering turban on my head, I felt invincible. Elephants and drummers would lead the way as I marched through the streets swinging my swords wildly at my classmates in a rehearsed yet still dangerous battle… We’d break out our rock t-shirts and jeans on Sundays, the only day we were free to wear what we wanted. I loved the transition these outfits helped define. It’s amazing how much fashion empowers one to be seen as being the way one would like to be, which in turn inspires one to live up to the expectations created.

Collaborating with Bowie was a turning point in your career. How did he influence your work?

Bowie was a massive influence for me. I worked with him on multiple projects over a dozen years, from styling shoots with many different photographers, like Masayoshi Sukita who’s worked with him since the 70s to Inez & Vinoodh for Harper’s Bazaar, to producing his Valentine’s Day music video.

Any specific lessons you learned from him?

David was an incredibly complex, highly intelligent and talented human being who seemed other-worldly, so we got along well! He had strong ideas of what he wanted, but when I brought my concepts he was often excited to go in the new directions I suggested, or to find ways to combine them.

We’re still collaborating in a way, on The Return of Thin White Duke, a book we began 10 years ago that started as a short story in a fashion editorial for V Magazine. I came up with this crazy idea, brought it to David, Iman, author Neil Gaiman and artist Yoshitaka Amano, and I art directed the project, which I’m thrilled is now nearing fruition.

How do you stay on top of trends in the fashion world – is it partly instinct?

I’ve been inspired by artists, stories, films and characters I’ve met on my travels. Knowing what trends will come is partly instinctive, and partly trusting in my repeated experience that when we create cool things, trends are sure to follow.

While you are still involved with styling, what different skill sets have you added to your bag of tricks?

Creative direction, costume design, film production, set decoration, fashion design… anything else I’m missing here?

And how does it feel to transition consistently between all these different roles?

I’m fortunate to work with artists who ask me to explore different facets of my creative vision. Some find it hard to understand how I simultaneously produce films, handle production design and design costumes, but these go so well together and are all part of the same creative energy for me, just in different forms. Each requires problem-solving, bringing people together, and creating a cohesive expression of ideas and feelings, with the greatest production value while minimizing costs. Working in multiple areas has helped me grow exponentially as an artist, and I believe it’s the reason my work has won so many awards.

I’ve noticed that people gravitate toward you, whether it’s a group of teenagers needing directions on the streets of Manhattan, or a newly minted superstar hanging out in a hotel bar, they always spot you and approach you. Are you aware of this and to what would you attribute that quality?

That’s funny, I didn’t think of it that way. I guess I often feel I’m from another world, so I connect with those who see outside the ordinary parameters of any given situation.

You have a quirky, fun personal style — how would you describe it? What are the influences, if any?

The way I dress reflects my mood, so it must be whenever I see you I feel quirky and fun. Clearly you inspire me!

You’ve worked with an astounding percentage of the world’s most renowned celebrities — what do you think are the defining ingredients that go into making such big personalities?

There is one quality that many of the artists I’ve worked with share — from Rihanna to Anne Hathaway, Prince to Kanye, Beyonce to Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez to Lady Gaga — as much as those behind the lens — Floria Sigismondi, Inez Van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin, Matthew Rolston, Peter Lindbergh, Michael Hausmann, Indrani — a perspective that is unique, a willingness to step outside of what is comfortable and expected, to find themselves and bring their audiences with them.

Do you feel like you’ve become a pretty good talent spotter after all these encounters?

Yes absolutely!

What stands out to you when you feel like a young model or artist has that special something?

There’s a light in their eyes, and a determination to create something meaningful, whatever it takes, that pushes them beyond the norm.

Any secrets for getting along well with highly demanding, pampered, not quite of this world, celebrity clients?

Its essential to stay grounded and focus on fearlessly exploring creative ideas together. I encourage artists to channel their dramatic energies to focus on the greater journey of ideas and the art we are creating together.

What we’ve created together has gone on journeys of its own, with photos and videos touring exhibitions and museums around the globe. The fashions I created for Daphne Guinness were exhibited in the window of Barneys and in the Museum of FIT, the dress and shoes I designed for Hello Kitty for Lady Gaga bounce from country to country, from the Museum of Popular Culture, Seattle, to the Japanese-American National Museum, to National Museum Volkenkunde, Netherlands.

Are you working on anything now that you can share?

I’m producing, creating production design, and costumes for several amazing new films and photo shoots, all of which I’m sworn to secrecy on.

Interviewed & Photographed by Paul Sunday