Meet rising model and dancer Fernando Casablancas
The experimental theatre student on moving to New York, embracing his queerness, and starring in Abercrombie's new and inclusive 'Fierce' campaign.
Photos by Ryan McGinley, courtesy of Abercrombie.
All-American clothing brand Abercrombie & Fitch was a beacon of 00s style and culture, promising a carefree lifestyle, and hot and steamy summers as advertised in the sexy black and white ad campaigns. For nearly two decades, the photo-lined shopping bags themselves were the hottest accessory in malls across America; the scent of Abercrombie's iconic Fierce cologne acted as a breadcrumb trail to their dimly-lit, club-like stores. But A&F was also a brand built on exclusionary messaging of the ‘thin, beautiful, and cool’ teenager' -- they refused to make clothing above size ten until 2014 -- a brand choice which clearly (and thankfully) hasn't withstood the test of time. Amidst store closures, the brand is unveiling a new, exciting campaign for their generation-defining cologne which lives on, in hopes to celebrate individuality and put a much more inclusive foot forward.
While Abercrombie’s pivot could be seen as disingenuous, the teen retailers have been working on a rebranding overhaul over the last four years, which included removing shirtless models from stores and installing a new CEO. The clothes themselves have evolved beyond short skirts and skin-tight tanks too. The new, very colourful Fierce campaign was photographed by Ryan McGinley and features a range of models, artists and athletes, including world champion soccer player Megan Rapinoe. One of the standout stars of the campaign is a new face -- the 22-year-old model, artist and performer Fernando Casablancas (his brother is Julian of The Strokes), who nearly equates the rebrand to his own self-discovery and path to self-acceptance.
“Abercrombie symbolized being cool and being a teenager and fitting in -- but fitting in through being better than people,” says Casablancas, of the brand’s legacy. "[But] when they approached me, and explained the message that they were going for -- which was this idea of fierceness before being like ‘I am better than you’, Sasha Fierce untouchable -- they made it way more applicable to each individual’s fierceness. I thought the message was really beautiful. For me, it was never about the perfume, it was about the message of truth and how truth is fierce.”
At the age of 17, Casablancas left his home of Rio de Janeiro to study fine art at Parsons in New York City, before ultimately switching to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he is currently majoring in experimental theater. New York, he says, gave him the opportunity to accept himself and explore his own identity in a way that was restricted in Brazil.
“For so long, I denied myself of my truth, and I came from a place of not being able to be myself,” he says. “When I came to New York, I had this moment of explosion. I did all the things I couldn’t do when I was back home. I started accepting my queerness, my fluidity; I started accepting the parts of myself that I didn’t think I would ever accept.”
This fierceness is something that Casablancas instills in his performances, channeling what he calls a "plastic disco doll", in his fluid dance. His most recent show called "Physical Evidence," with Jack-et Pearl and Matthew Later, took place at The Sultan Room in Brooklyn. It was billed as "a skin crawling, intoxicating, euphoric fever dream that will exhilarate and animate it’s guests to realize physical reality in a new light by embracing the freedom of vulnerability".
Casablancas' piece consisted of an improvisational dance -- he started alone in the bathroom -- as a callback to his childhood: “Every time I’m dancing, I’m doing it for myself. I wasn’t allowed to take ballet when I was a kid. And so I danced in my room by myself.” Throughout the performance, he slowly made his way out into the crowd, to the sound of techno beats, before taking center stage, where he stood still and his set finished.
Though dance seeps into almost all of his performances, he doesn't necessarily think his work falls under the umbrella of performance art. “Now we live in a time where performance art is such an abstract title,” he says, before discussing the more classical vision of performance art -- the Marina Abramović’s of the world. “The people from that time were performing and documenting their performances in very specific ways, but now everything is documented. Can you consider an Instagram model a performance artist? Maybe,” he muses. “She’s building her avatar, constructing her idea, performing her image, her brand to the world.”
Casablancas is a natural performer, perhaps because it's in his genes, but he hopes to make art across many other mediums. “I want to do more paintings, more video performances; I want to make sculptures,” he says. “But I always wanted to do performance. I grew up in musical theatre, so I always wanted to do that, but weirder stuff -- the kind of avant-garde or neo-modern, abstracted ideas.”
“I love a weird thing,” he adds, smiling. “Now that I’m in theatre, I’m trying to pull it into the art side. I’m always trying to mix worlds! ‘Only that which is filled with contradictions is fully alive’—Bertolt Brecht. I feel like that’s so true.”
Casablancas is just a few months shy of graduating from NYU, leading to the inevitable 'what’s next?' question that every soon-to-be graduate stares down. “I’m always such a big question mark,” he says. “I don’t know what the next step is, which is kind of exciting. But I’m always following that direction of the star that I’m following, always following that truth that I know is divine, always going towards something.”