If you don't know Mitch Modes, chances are you’ve seen one of his muses. Running with blue-chip names including The Weeknd and Playboi Carti, Modes has carved out a successful career — and a loyal online following of dark fashion obsessives — with his aggressive, head-turning aesthetic.

Modes immediately commanded the room's attention when we met in downtown Los Angeles a couple of months ago. It's obvious as to why. Entering in an all-black Rick Owens get-up, I'm immediately struck by the "Life Is War” and “I Died In 2010” tattoos on the back of his head and hand. He looks likes the type of guy you'd find holding court in an underground industrial club. Or a video game anti-hero. Naturally, this intriguing character hasn't gone unnoticed.

Ever since Carti's Whole Lotta Red dropped, subforums and fan accounts have wondered, "Who the hell is in the crew?" Some names have been around for a bit, and others are fresh to the scene. It's Modes, along with the likes of joy_diviznburberry.erry, destroylonely, wakeupf1lthy, and nico.ballesteros, who have helped plot the rapper's manifestation as a vampiric supervillain.

But looks can be deceiving, and all that. As I sit down and we begin to talk, Modes' intimidating appearance is overshadowed by genuine and thoughtful insight. Working so closely with a global pop behemoth such as The Weeknd, Modes has undoubtedly reached the summit of his craft. Yet he's not the type to have forgotten his roots, or the at times heartbreaking hardship that it took to get there. Instead, Modes absorbed the pain, and to this day, it still informs not only his approach to work, but his life viewpoint.

We discussed Carti, learning from XO’s team, battling drug addiction, loss, and his brand, Life is War.

How did you get involved in celebrity styling?

Coming from Virginia, where there wasn’t much of a scene, the main way I was able to make connections was through social media. Eventually, one meetup led to another, and I ended up meeting A$AP ILLZ. We clicked pretty quick. He was kind of like my mentor, for a good amount of time. For almost two and a half years I was under his wing. He let me sleep on his floor for a while. That was the start of it.

How did ILLZ help you grow in the industry?

He’s the one who fathered me in, which he's done with a lot of people. He instilled the mindset that these brands need us more than we need them. That’s stuck with me to this day.

How did you get involved with The Weeknd and XO?

I met this photographer named Elie. He used to take photos for The Weeknd, Selena Gomez, and a bunch of other people. He's from Toronto and he needed a place to stay, so I told him to come and stay on my couch. He ended up crashing there for three months while he was working with Disney. In that time, he introduced me to Lamar Taylor, who's The Weeknd’s creative director. Lamar has been probably the most influential mentor I've ever had, not just in the industry, but in life.

XO is so supportive when it comes to helping young creatives. They started a creative incubator in Toronto called HXOUSE, which is essentially a “creative college” that fast-tracks kids into the game. It’s really something else. The reason I bring that up is because, when I met Lamar, he was already running HXOUSE in the streets, before it was actually a physical thing. So when I met him in 2016, I was really trying to take styling seriously. Within two weeks, after meeting him, he was like, “Yo, you're a stylist, right… Do you want to style this XO stuff for us?” So obviously I did it, even though the resume wasn't there. He gave me that chance and ended up loving it.

Image on Highsnobiety
Image on Highsnobiety
Shane Gonzales, Shane Gonzales

There's a lot of gatekeeping in your industry. Did you ever experience anything like that?

There's no ego in that camp at all, or any of the camps I'm tied in with. They're very welcoming and they give a lot of game, which is a rare thing to see in this industry. A lot of people want to gatekeep and keep their industry sheltered; the people I was with never did much of that. They have no problem dishing out that platform to make sure that everyone around them will grow and shine in their lanes just as much as Abel does in his.

How and when did you get connected to Carti’s team?

Phoenix is my brother for real, and he's been mobbin' with Carti for a while now. Last year, during quarantine, we were just plotting, partying, running around. And I've always been super close with Shane [Gonzales] through A$AP as well as the LA scene, which has been rocking with Carti for years. I had never met [Carti], though.

When he dropped Whole Lotta Red, he hit me up a few days after Christmas. It's three in the morning and he's like, “Yo, I gotta show tomorrow, I need you there!” I'm thinking, "Man it's three in the morning, I'm in VA." But I hit him back and said, “Im in VA right now… Where’s the show?” He's like, "Catch a flight, it's in LA. Let me know if you need me to book it. Be here by four o'clock.” So I caught the next flight out with no sleep.

Do you believe in manifestation or spirituality?

Very much so. My mom really instilled that in me. She's like my Yoda. It's funny, because Carti had sung in Vamp Anthem, “When the stars align / Little bitch you better be ready." So even before Carti hit me up, that line stuck with me, and it basically manifested itself.

How has it been working with Carti as of now?

He, like my mentors, is another very welcoming and supportive person. He really brings the gang with him. So moving with him is mad refreshing, especially because we share that core value of privacy and inclusiveness within our world. On top of that, his work ethic is not one of a human, which puts a battery in everyone's back.

You have a brand called Life is War — can you walk me through the inspiration for the name?

It's called "Life is War" based off a tattoo I got on the back of my head a few years ago. The tattoo — and now the brand — embodied my appreciation for all the struggles and obstacles that have come into my life. It started when I was 17, back in 2010. I had a friend named Ben Sarley, and we spent everyday together growing up. He was like my big brother, really. But when I was 17, he passed away in a car accident, and that's when the war began.

Following that, my other closest friend that I met in middle school, Steven Perez, passed away in a car accident in 2013. After that, both of my grandparents passed away. Then, in 2015, Ben's dad passed away on the same day that Ben passed away, like five years later. My cousin Richard, too, who was the only other outcast of the family, passed away as well. Just a lot of death in a short amount of time.

That's so much loss in such a short period of time. What did you think in the moment?

In the moment, I was like, "What the fuck is happening?" But looking back at it now, I kind of understand it. It was god's plan, in a way. I know that it's written out, and I can read it back and understand it, in a way.

This happened so this would happen and this would happen, etc. This would make me do this to make me the person I am now. So the whole war that I've been going through has made me me, and I'm so grateful for that. That's why I give so much attention to it.

People read “Life is War" and think it's a negative thing. But it's far from that. At the end of the day, every single person has a battle that they're going through. In that battle, you might win or lose, but you're going to gain strength from it, and you're going to learn from it. Either way it goes, you're going to get stronger from it.

To someone who may be fighting a losing war, what would you say to them?

You need to embrace that pain and trust that everything happens for a reason. So if it's the worst thing in the world, it's happening so you can take it in, and process it your way. Remix it how you have to, and spit it back out to help somebody else. Now, I'm in a position where I have somewhat of a platform, somewhat of a voice, to a bunch of kids that I don't know, that look to me, and say, “Oh, he got his Life is War stuff, I can relate to that.”

These kids don't have the platform to talk about it or even, like, a safe space to talk about it. Among men, there's not a lot of vulnerable emotional human interaction. That shit will eat you up inside and make you physically ill. The more you talk about it, the more it can unify and help people express their feelings and hardships.

Would you say you use the brand as a way to cope?

I'm fairly open with my opinions. I'm open about my pain. I let people know I'm sober and I battled addiction. I came back from that to where I am now.

What is the end goal of Life is War?

My only hope is that people can see, like, “Yo, this kid lost his best friends in very tragic accidents. And he used to be doing hard drugs, with nothing to his name. And now he's in a position doing what he's doing now.” I just want to inspire people to know that no matter what pain you're going through, it gets better and it will get better if you face that pain, and you embrace it and process it instead of just running from it. That's really what life is all about.

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