Creative Director and fashion scout Kevin Amato is a quietly imposing figure in the fashion industry. It was Amato who first discovered Instagram darling Luka Sabbat in New York's well-heeled, ever fashion conscious SoHo neighborhood. Amato was also among the first to aggressively challenge catwalk norms, scouting nonprofessional talent straight from the streets and placing them in all their raw, unpolished glory on the runways of subversive labels like Hood by Air.
With his larger-than-life persona and proclivity for the word "legend," Amato's models are a concerted pushback against the lack of diversity in an industry where 77.6% of models in fashion shows are white. Yet despite this status quo, when Amato comes to play there are genderqueer rave kids in post-apocolypctic garb, iconic ball queens, and all ilk of people whose very existence challenges society's stringent standards of beauty and normalcy. When Amato scouts he looks for a certain attitude, an almost defiant way of being, rather than a standard, quantifiable kind of attractiveness.
His latest project, WOMB, is a completely crowd-sourced magazine that is a joint collaboration between Amato, VFILES and the store's thriving online community. It's everything you'd expect from Amato: cheeky, irreverent, heartfelt and completely encompassing of the zeitgeist of today's youth. Amato stopped by to chat with us about how he got his start in fashion, how WOMB came about, and why crowd-sourcing ideas is more important than ever.
What was your first foray into fashion?
It kind of just happened through photography. I went to SVA (School of Visual Arts) but at the time people didn't really understand my point of view. The first time I did a print piece was for Interview and that was a highlight for me; it was the moment I was like, 'oh shit I could actually do this.'
Why do you think it took awhile for people to understand your aesthetic?
When I started there was a favored look and it wasn't my look. The preference was more posh and I was just a bit too raw. I also think my style was too raw in the sense that it didn't feature white people. That's why even now I still think there's so much further to go.
Your approach to casting re-contextualized what it means to model. Was that very intentional?
My philosophy is that everything has a narrative and everyone should have a purpose in a fashion show. Before that though, I did it out of necessity. For Hood by Air nobody would give us models for about four years because the clothes were so crazy -- boys in dresses and all that. So I had to find kids we could put down the runway who were in the look. I'd also try to get agency models too, but as soon as the agents found out the show they'd pull their models.
Why did you partner with VFILES for WOMB?
They have it locked down with the fashion so I thought it would be nice to create something more personal that looks at the intimate lives of the people who are part of their community. It's really about exposure, opportunities and discovering new things. So for art directors or creative directors I'd like to think they'd use WOMB as a reference for emerging artists. Even with VFILES, I'd like to think they'd use the platform to scout new talent.
It's my way of giving people opportunities and nurturing careers. You can't be about the youth and then put a price tag on it. Whether it's an album or a clothing line or whatever, it just doesn't make sense to me. I think it's important to genuinely give back without an exchange of money.
Creatives sacrifice so much and if your support system isn't strong and really backing you, which I think most people don't have, it can be really tough. Even with me, my family is so supportive but for a long time it was like, "When are you going to get a real job?"
The other reality is that normally any platform so integrated with digital media kind of makes people just see dollar signs for some reason, so there's this weird mindfuck where if something doesn't seem organic and accessible it automatically seems expensive. That's also why it was really important to me to provide a free voice.
So what is WOMB's voice?
There really isn't a voice it's more me just listening. There also isn't any deeper point to be made except for that you need to make your own point. I just want people to be vocal and somewhat disruptive. I want some people to get mad and some people to be like, 'I love this.'
Honestly, if people don't think now is the time to speak up and act out they're crazy, especially the youth. I feel like young kids are kind of put to the side in their own categories, like they're Gen Z or whatever, and then society just monitors them with their eyes and their number books without really listening to them.
Tell us about the "We've Got Issues" theme...
We've got issues is a play on this whole cultural intel where it seems like everybody is using irrelevant questions for mass marketing purposes. I thought it was interesting because I feel like the internet is so sterile, there's no physical or emotional attraction, so the graphs and surveys were a way of getting people to be interactive.
It also kind of reminded me of those old Cosmopolitan quizzes that make no sense but are still really fun. Also, asking certain questions was a way to get people thinking about the importance of fashion. I mean, with everything going on in the world how important is fashion at the end of the day?
Compared to things like agriculture or healthcare it feels like there are so many other things that anyone creative (or not) can impact. Fashion is sort of irrelevant in all of it without really being irrelevant since it's such a big part of the culture.
Did survey results reveal anything insightful or was it all kind of playful?
Kids got pretty serious about it which was nice. A lot of the answers revealed that most of them felt really misunderstood; it seemed like there was a lot of frustration. That's why I had to put that Chief Keef quote in, the one that's like, "Nobody wants to hear your Chief Keef at 8am in the morning, play that shit at lunch." Even though it seems like something really surface it's oddly still capturing something. It's a hilarious quote but it's also really indicative of that generation, you know?
You mentioned the sterility of the internet, is that why you wanted WOMB to exist in print format?
Yes, I've been really anti-internet lately so I wanted to do something that was tactile; I want people to pick it up and keep it or throw away if they want. There's just so much image over stimulation on the internet and there's not appropriate guidelines for credit. Like Tumblr, to find out who made a piece of art you're clicking a trillion times just to find the source. So for me it was important to make sure that people were properly credited with their VFILES profiles. It's nice because if you like their work you can find them and hire them for something really easily.
What other projects are you working on?
I'm working on a new book with Phaidon Press that comes out in September. It's called The Importants and it's pretty similar to WOMB in that it's all about the kids. I'd call it almost like a bible; Rick Owens wrote all these psalms and poems, it's going to be really cool.
Curious about VFILES? Find out what their NYC team wears to work.