This month’s focus on “The Business of doing Business” in New York City, highlights the evolution of people in their careers, the real challenges that start-ups face and their victories, and the change-makers and influencers, who truly transform the zeitgeist of the city. Today, we chat with model Rafael Lazzini, whose career spans over a decade in the fashion industry and who is now evolving into an entrepreneur, with his jewelry business, Liberty Art Brothers.
– By Khahlil Louisy
On a hot morning in April, Rafael Lazzini stood in the kitchen of his Greenpoint, Brooklyn home, busily brewing coffee. “Brazilian coffee, you have to try it,” he told us. The six-foot-four model has a youthful disposition and is all smiles, while warmly engaging the team in conversation, as we prepare to photograph him for this article.
I took advantage of the time Rafael sat in a chair, as the make-up artist touched him up, to conduct this interview.
Rafael, why don’t we start with your background, for our readers who aren’t familiar with where you’re from?
Sure. I’m from Sao Paulo, Brazil and lived there before moving to Milano, when I started modeling – I was about 16 years old. I also lived in Paris for about 6 months to a year, going back and forth and in Barcelona for a little bit as well. Then I had an accident where I cut my Achilles tendon while skateboarding, so I went back to Brazil for a year to relax and then moved to New York. It’s now almost 10 years living here.
So many models come out of Brazil, how did you get your start?
Yeah, there are a lot of us. I was walking in the street and there was this supermodel thing going on, like a competition and this girl said we should go to check it out. My friends and I went and I won, so I was like OK, I guess time to start to work. Before that, I was a graffiti artist, but after the competition, I started modeling and here we are.
Do you remember your first major runway show, for a recognizable brand?
I think it was Giorgio Armani. I worked with them many times, so every time I was in Milano, I did Giorgio and Emporio Armani.
How about your first big advertising campaign?
I think it was Diesel. Back then I had very long hair. It was a good job while I was living in Italy.
Do you think much about how the industry has changed between when you started modeling and now?
Yes, things have changed very much. The way we shoot now is different from when we did back in the day. The media is totally different too. You have to take care of your image much more because you now have Instagram and Facebook. You have to be professional at all times, because people see everything. Things also move much faster now; it’s let’s do this and that, you don’t stop anymore.
What about the type of guys who work now, because that has changed too?
Yeah, it’s different. Before, you had the fashion guys and the commercial guys, but now it’s like people are looking more for something real or I guess normal people. I don’t mind it actually, because back in the day, models were very stereotypical. Now, if a guy is cool with a good attitude, he doesn’t need to be very tall, the personality and style will get him work.
Yeah, a good example of that are the recent Dolce & Gabbana shows, where the guys aren’t necessarily models, they’re social media stars or digital media stars on Youtube and Instagram, with a huge following.
Yeah and I think that is so cool, because it’s representative of everyone, you know. Attitude is very important. I have worked with models before who are so stiff. The newer guys maybe don’t care so much about the image of being a model, they’re being themselves, so they are a lot easier on set, not doing the template or classic poses. Clients now want a different energy than that.
Ok, so let’s talk about your jewelry brand. When did you start?
About four years ago. My brother was living here and I really wanted a wallet chain, so I went looking for one and never found it, because they all break – the metal ones – and I didn’t want that kind of look. So, I tried making my own chain with spiritual beads and all my friends said they liked it. My brother and I were talking and said we should start a men’s brand and go into business. Now, we have our own shop, online shop, and preparing to launch the English site.
Do you think you will stay only in jewelry or will you expand into other product categories?
I’d like to do some clothing I think
What kind of clothing?
For me, it has to be the same way I think about accessories, something to give you personality and give who you are an extra touch, like compliment you. Something basic, like denim, or like a sweater or cool jacket; things or pieces that you can have forever. I don’t want to do lines or collections, because designers need to be really good to be inspired all the time, which is hard. Man, imagine every three months you have to put out this collection and then get ripped to shreds by the critics or the fashion crowd, it’s not easy.
Even less time now, because the number of collections required from designers are increasing and they have to sell it, promote it, market the brand, do the social media… it’s never ending.
Yeah. That’s why what we do is the main collection and the campaign shoot. But throughout the year, we will release a couple of pieces, because people only want a few pieces, they don’t need an entire collection. I think we have to make what we really like and add a couple of pieces throughout the year.
Do you star in your own campaigns?
Yeah, I do the art directing, the styling, a little bit of everything. We actually just shot yesterday. A friend and I went to Chinatown and we had a good time shooting the rings in the fish market, among the fish sitting on ice. My brother also creates pieces and we collaborate on design. He is full time in Brazil. Now we’re expanding here and have some people in Barcelona who are interested as well. We started with a really small showroom and now we have the house with a barber and a coffee place and you can get drinks too.
Nice. We should go to Brazil this Summer.
Yes, and I will tell you everything to do and where to go.
So, let’s talk about relaxing. What do you do when you’re not working?
I try to spend time with my son, at least two days a week and maybe go to the park to do some skateboarding.
How old is your son now?
And when is the next one due?
Are you ready for two kids?
Yeah man! You don’t really have a choice, right?
True, you can’t exactly stamp return to sender.
Yeah, right! It wasn’t 100% planned, but we were already talking about it and then it happened, so we were very excited.
Where is she from?
From Brazil as well.
You definitely have a type, from your history…
Yeah I think so. You know, when you can speak the same language and the culture is the same, everything is easier.
True. In all your years modeling, where would you say is the coolest place that you’ve traveled to?
Patagonia was really cool. Chile was cool too and the glaciers, but because it was so windy, we were being thrown around.
What would your ideal life look like and what are you aspiring to?
I think just being able to do what I love, I’m trying to do that now. And I love my job as a model, but I think when you have a hobby on the side that’s becoming more of a main job, then that is the goal.
Would you encourage your son to become a model?
I don’t think so. I was talking about this yesterday with a friend. The agencies should maybe provide more direction, which is important. This industry is not easy to navigate on your own, you know. If you have someone advising you on the type of modeling to pursue or how to dress and construct your image, it helps a lot. I don’t see my son becoming a model full time, because I know how hard it is. I have friends who say all the time, “I want to be a model” and sometimes it works, but you should enjoy that time and think about something else for after. As a model, you can be everywhere, doing every show and in every magazine and not make any money. I have friends who have been working for over 8 years and they have nothing. Before, you got paid a decent amount for doing the shows and campaigns. Now, it’s very little, so you can actually end up with debt and not make any money. For my son, I don’t want him to do it, because you really have to be there and invest. I started modeling very young, so it was great for traveling, but now there are many ways to do that.
It’s also easy to get spoiled as a model. You know, you travel and stay in expensive hotels, but once the industry is done with you, if you have no skills and no money, then you are stuck. At that point, some models don’t want to give up the lifestyle, so they end up doing all kinds of things to keep living like that.
So I guess the question is, how do we in the industry, remedy that situation?
I think it’s not something that can be fixed easily. I think it maybe starts with finding the right people and managing careers better. Agencies sometimes will try to find the guy of the moment that a designer is looking for, put him on an exclusive, and once he’s done, no one else wants to work with him. The agency makes its money from the booking, but for the model, now he or she is sitting on the agency’s board forever, not booking anything. I guess integrity on everyone’s part and being more selective on who gets represented is important. You know, each agency now has so many models and that brings down the rates, because everyone is available.
Rafael Lazzini was photographed by Mark Grgurich and groomed by Maiko Ando. He styled himself.