It was just another day of scouring the racks at Barneys for my friend, 19-year-old Yale sophomore Cassius Clay, when someone tapped him on the shoulder and complimented him for the way he was dressed. The man was Kanye West, and after a short conversation and an exchange of e-mail addresses, an unlikely relationship developed between the rapper and the cerebral Art History major. Within weeks, the self-described "babe of the woods" of southern New Hampshire who grew up and went to school near Boston had taken a leave of absence from his alma mater to become the rapper's personal stylist and creative consultant.
I caught up with Cassius right here at OC, where he is a familiar face, before he returns to the world of academia that he realized he dearly missed. Read on for Cassius' first-ever interview and see what his heart desires from the store and OC online
Sofia Cavallo: What was your parents' reaction when you told them you were taking a semester off from Yale to work with Kanye West?
My father is in his 80's and my mother in her 60's so they're not exactly Kanye's typical listening demographic. Still, they could appreciate opportunity and were very supportive of a productive pause in my track at Yale. My mother made a Twitter account to follow Kanye (not me) and I've found both Graduation
and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
in my father's car.
SC: What were you wearing at the age of 10?
My school had a dress code of khakis with collared shirts for the younger boys. Dissatisfied with the informality of khakis, I adopted a personal uniform of exclusively white turtlenecks, grey flannel trousers, and black & white spectator shoes. I look back on it now as a dedicated engagement with minimalism (and self-caricature). Occasionally on weekends at home I would pretend to be a pharaoh with amulet and scepter.
SC: Do you have any favorite stylists?
Anna Della Russo succeeds in making fun elegant and elegance fun. Brana Wolf is fluent but not overbearing in her allusions to film and literature. Grace Coddington is relentlessly witty.
SC: What makes the perfect look for you?
An external reflection of personality that admits both reality and imagination. I haven't decided whether enthusiastic matching or dramatic juxtaposition is more contrived – or if that self-awareness is necessarily a bad thing – but both are to be respected for the thought that goes into them. Comfort is indulgent and ultimately forgettable.
SC: What are you currently obsessed with?
Charles Dickens, truffles, gloves from Givenchy Fall/Winter 2010, taxidermy (including the Deyrolle pour Opening Ceremony
scarves!), Picnic at Hanging Rock
(1975), the Orient Express -- and Nicki Minaj!
SC: Do you collect anything?
I scour auctions for rare prints or discontinued colorways of Hermès scarves. I also collect the the "no-no" reserved signs from the Jane Hotel, matchboxes from the Bowery Hotel, and cellphone pictures of the Empire State Building as viewed from the Standard Hotel.
SC: What is one thing in the world that everyone should try?
Ideally: the epautre risotto at Taillevent in Paris. Practically: taking one's jeans to a tailor.
SC: OC is themed on the idea of travel and bringing back souvenirs. What cool things have you brought back from recent trips?
A really wonderful friend from Abu Dhabi gave me a gold necklace spelling out my name in Arabic – easily my most treasured souvenir.
SC: How would you have answered the question "what do you want to be when you grow up" six months ago, five years ago and today?
Five years ago: to be taller than my brothers; a diplomat. Six months ago: to be an art scholar or critic. Today: to be an editor, a collector, or a museum curator.
*Ed. Note: Disambiguation--the American boxer Cassius Clay (aka Muhammad Ali) was named after this Cassius Clay's ancestor, who was a 19th century abolitionist and politician. Updated: 12/27/10 at 9:40pm.