The past few years has seen a seismic shift in the number of anonymous Instagram-based curators who are filling our daily feeds with virtually endless stream of mesmerizing cool: recent sneaker releases, archive grails, throwback celebrity fits, and nostalgic tributes to legends of streetwear and hip-hop.
Curators like @liljupiterr and @organiclab.zip have emerged as prominent tastemakers thanks to their expertly-curated assortment of aesthetics for their hundreds of thousands of followers, who share an equally hype- specific interest in the same subject matter, and includes both industry insiders and some of the most influential celebrities in the world.
Often regarded as the new social media CV, it's not surprising that some of the biggest Instagram curators have already earned places as consultants for major fashion brands as well as being able to leverage advertisement fees for placement in their carefully curated online profiles. Companies like Grailed are already seeing the influence of these accounts and count names like @veryadvanced and @trainer.spotting as weekly editors on their own Instagram feed.
One of the leading names who’s managed to transform his massively-influential Instagram mood board into a platform for product releases and a design consultancy is NYCemail@example.com. Since September 2018, online menswear enthusiasts have gravitated to HIDDEN® to soak up the best in design, art, streetwear fashion and nostalgic touch points in culture under the motto “Past, Present and Future.” In just over a year, the anonymous 20-something behind the account has amassed an audience of hundreds of thousands, including Virgil Abloh, Pharrell, Ronnie Fieg, and Erik Brunetti.
The unifying aesthetic of HIDDEN® sees him share inspirational images around the clock. Despite his undeniable influence on menswear, the British-born creative has remained an elusive figure within the Instagram world even as he’s parlayed his platform into things like special collaborative events with VANDY®, design work for BBC Ice Cream, and helping Drake find cool shit to cop.
For HIDDEN®, his Instagram feed remains the pinnacle of the brand, which he frantically updates at least 10 times per day. But the past six months has seen the creative slowly expand into customer-facing design, tees, hoodies, totes, Nike Air Force 1s, and homeware.
Alongside his personally designed products, HIDDEN® has also leveraged his tight network of like minded accounts to creatively collaborate on joint ventures, like that with VANDY® in 2019 as well as the “HIDDEN® Design Competitions” which he uses as a way to discover and celebrate emerging talent. We set aside some time with the elusive tastemaker behind the account to learn more about his design studio set-up, how Instagram curators are changing the definition of the modern influencer, and how he's evolved his platform.
How would you describe HIDDEN® to someone who has never visited it before?
An immersive view into fashion and music culture from the past, present and future.
There’s been a lot of discussion recently about how Instagrams like yours reflect the blogs and Tumblrs of the early 2000s. It's more like an open message board.
The open discussion found on curation pages mimics that of forums back in the 2000s. Excitement, questions, strange arguments. There’s no rules in the comment section and it's a place where people from around the world with shared interests meet. Creating this kind of discussion is important, it captivates people. I hope that my influence has shown people the possibilities of how far a “mood board” or “archive page” can go. I’m hoping to create a more accessible fashion landscape.
Accounts like yours go against traditional influencer brand models, which use their face to market and promote the page. For you, it’s not about the person behind the account as much as your interests and taste.
You have to be obsessed with the media to keep up. In my opinion, a constant stream of your favorite things is much more telling than photos of your day to day life, I believe my followers know me much more intimately than a typical influencer.
In what way do you feel the new generation of Instagram curators rival traditional media outlets?
Unregulated media is exciting, think early Vice. No other news channel could have captured such real content. In a similar way, DJ Akademiks captivated a huge audience and made hip-hop news fun. I hope we can do the same thing with fashion. In my mind, there’s no need for clean backdrops or high-budget shoots. I like to see what people are really wearing and treasuring and what's coming up in the underground.
HIDDEN® is as much about promoting emerging brands and creatives as it is the latest streetwear drops. What is it about the young creatives that excites you and how do you discover them?
This is my favorite part of my curation; I really like finding things first. The fashion landscape is constantly changing and I believe in the young creatives and it’s become easier for me to find them. I'm flooded by DMs of people showing me their work. I also have my followers' eyes and ears everywhere, sharing with me what they’ve found. It’s become a community effort.
Many of your collaborative projects have been created organically through the community you’ve built online. Why is collaboration important for you?
I see collaboration as a way to expand ideas and do things I couldn't on my own. For example @brainchild.nc is able to create extremely detailed hand drawn graphics that I simply don't have the skills for. I’m in a position to showcase great talent, if I can collaborate with them and have the work showcased for hundreds of thousands of people to see while they bring my ideas to life I believe it’s very mutually beneficial.
How important is having a personal brand in 2020?
A personal brand isn’t important unless it's leading you to what you truly want. My personal philosophy is to strive toward a career which makes you happy, I don't see the point in trying to conform or do what people expect of you. Life is bizarre and short, you should simply focus on what you enjoy. If you enjoy your work you will do it well.
How are you evolving your product offering?
The products have organically developed over the past 18 months from me screen printing Gildan T-shirts at home to custom indigo-dyed garments being made in Japan. Moving forward we are aiming to level up with each release, improved quality, construction, and presentation.
How did you develop @hidden.ny from an influential IG mood board into a legitimate business?
Through the internet we can reach millions of people. Instagram is where a lot of business happens, and I believe large accounts like mine should be respected as legitimate businesses. I treated it as a job until it became a job.
What advice do you have for any other like-minded accounts who are looking to turn image curation into a creative practice?
Don’t look at anyone else for what to post or how to become popular. Focus on what inspires you, what developed your taste; express that. The only way to truly stand out in this oversaturated group is to be unique.
What advice do you have for those looking to monetize their platforms and build it into a profession?
There’s many ways to monetize an account but it’s hard to know your worth, theres no industry standard or guideline. I often see people selling their 20k + accounts for $500 and it makes me very sad; you could be getting that for one sponsored post. I advise them to think long term. This can be a very profitable business.
Over the past year you’ve held two HIDDEN® design competitions. What was the decision behind this crowd sourcing approach?
It’s me looking to find talent and offering an opportunity to people. A chance for someone who was in the same position that I was to be showcased to a large audience. I also just like doing it, I think it's fun and engaging.
How do you find balance between giving people what they know and showing them something new?
It really depends on my mood and what's being released. Sometimes I get caught up in the hype of a new product, sometimes I'm bored and scavenge the internet for gems. My curation isn't planned, it's holistic.
What are the patterns and shifts you see in the culture you cover at the moment?
I see it morphing into something new. When I first began researching and developing in the mid-2000s streetwear was incredibly niche, something I was rooting for. Now it is pop culture. This huge popularity has allowed a wide variety of micro cultures which are all spreading and influencing new design. Fashion is more free than it's ever been and the consumers are heavily influencing the designers.
Your list of friends and acquaintances is vast, but who is one person you really want to meet?
I don't want to meet my idols. I like the image they’ve created and I enjoy them more from a distance.
Typography is something that has always been of interest to you.
Typography is one of the most interesting forms of art. It is one of the most important parts of conveying a message and creating an identity with design. I like to look at a variety of forms of typography from Soviet propaganda posters to vintage Americana to hieroglyphics.
HIDDEN®has grown to the point where it’s having an enormous influence on a certain sect of culture. Aside from clothing are there any other disciplines or areas you want to extend the HIDDEN® vision?
I’d love to create media for YouTube. I see people like @fuckhopsin making great content on there. One of my favorite YouTubers is Trap Lore Ross. I’d love to see the fashion equivalent of him; there’s a gap in the market.
Instagram accounts like yours are relatively new in terms of their role in media and as a brand. How do you see a platform like yours working with or collaborating with bigger industry names?
I don’t think the potential of accounts like mine are fully realized. I compare it to Highsnobiety and Hypebeast when they were using the Blogspot platform. I see us leading the way for new trends, designers and cultures.
What music have you been listening to recently?
I’ve been listening to UnoTheActivist, KEY!, and SahBabii while I walk. Aphex Twin, Leaf Beach, and Vegyn while I work.
How have you been using the quarantine period?
Life hasn't changed that much in quarantine, I’m constantly working. The brand is developing fast, I’m expanding the product range and improving construction/quality. I’ve become more comfortable with delegating work and asking for help.
You've also started amplifying the Black Lives Matter movement and other social justice issues.
It was never my intention for HIDDEN® to be a political voice, it’s not my field. But as the page has grown, it’s become a community and represents much more than just me. Because of this, I found it important to represent the community's opinions and express them loudly — whether it’s through spreading awareness, pushing products made for a good cause, or giving people a way to donate through raffles — and we’ll continue to progress as a community and fight for justice.
Does this moment feel like a turning point for street culture in terms of substance overtaking hype again?
It’s a turning point for the consumer. They want their favorite brands and artists to represent them and set an example. In the future we will see more themes of social justice and equality woven into apparel and music.
Where do you think streetwear is headed?
Five years from now it won’t be streetwear, it will just be fashion. As this style continues to become watered down I believe we will see a rise in traditional techniques such as boro, chain stitch, and indigo dyes to make clothes feel valuable.