For Rasharn Agyemang, Creative Direction Unlocked Limitations

Shot by Rasharn Agyemang | Courtesy of R3-MGMT

Growing up in London, British Ghanaian creative director Rasharn Agyemang understood being limited in career options was akin to a creative prison and has explored every facet of his identity. As a photographer, stylist, designer, and editorial polymath, Agyemang paved his own path in the world of fashion with a unique visual blend of influences that highlights both his cultural heritage and innovative spirit. Trained at the London College of Fashion and former assistant to Simon Foxton, Agyemang used his keen aesthetic sense as a designer to co-found the fashion label, Jaiden rVa James as a way to challenge the boundaries of contemporary fashion. With the support of Nicola Formichetti, the brand was seen on Lady Gaga on her The Fame Monster tour. When that wasn’t enough, Agyemang created his zine, Re-bel, which saw contributors like Hedi Slimane, Juergen Teller, and Foxton himself. His deep understanding of the industry complements his creative drive, gained from invaluable experiences working with The Perfect Magazine, Vogue Italia, and British Vogue. spoke with Agyemang on his expressive style of portraiture, moving on from his former label and zine, and the need for continual support for Black creatives after the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.

Your work has always ranged from design to styling to photography. How did you first get your start assisting Simon Foxton, when did you pick up a camera, and how do all these creative pieces add to the puzzle that is Rasharn Agyemang?
When I started fashion school, I started to look at magazines intensively, started to really do my due diligence and look at fashion history. I was really into making sure I knew who was who. People like Simon [Foxton] was one of them, and Edward [Enninful] was another. I also learned that Edward assisted Simon behind that. I sent Simon images of one of my first collections on Facebook many years ago which he then used the samples in one of his stories for ID. I think that was my first magazine feature, we then stayed in touch and I asked to assist him when I decided to explore styling. The years I assisted Simon didn’t really feel like work – he gave me the freedom to explore in the industry and he even contributed several times to my magazine. I still love the stories we worked on together till this day, and learnt so much from him as a stylist. I started experimenting with photography because I was tired of waiting for the photographer to contact me in order to work. I’m kind of a go-getter, so I need to go.

I’ve always been involved with photography and photographers for as long as I can remember. When working on Re-bel I would help photographers pick the best images and develop the concept for the story I wanted in the magazine. All this then lead to me exploring the idea of photographing my own stories around 2017, when I just got tired of waiting to be picked by photographers in order to create, so I decided to pick up a camera myself and figure it out. What I’m doing now is trying to reeducate people about what I can do. I think I shied away and deliberately put myself in this box of just a photographer but knowing that I am so capable of other things.

Courtesy of R3-MGMT

You were part of Fashion East’s incubator program and created looks for Lady Gaga with your co-founded menswear line, Jaiden rVa James – how did having creative freedom play into your understanding of fashion as a business and how did you transition into other creative outlets?
I had the support of people like Nicola Formichetti, who at the time was editor at Dazed and he would commission stuff for Vogue and with Gaga. Gaga actually paid for my collection without actually knowing because I got commissioned to do her first world tour to do a section where they wanted some leather jackets. It was literally me and Jaiden, and we literally was figuring things out as we went along. It was great because we were being associated with these celebrities but we didn’t really know the business side. It was tough and it was overwhelming. I stopped my brand because after I showed my first collection for men on schedule at Fashion Week, people really start to understand visually what I was trying to say. I was doing a lot then as well.

I think everything I have done so far has been a natural progression from one to another. I just love art and all that comes with it. For some, doing multiple things is impossible, but for me it’s never been the case and I feel like I’m suffocating if I’m not free to express myself in the way I want to. The industry has now started to be a little more open to creatives like myself especially since Virgil Abloh who was a mastermind of multitasking and a man of many talents, and now Ib Kamara who is another who creates freely with no rules. I’m so proud of him because I’ve seen him work so hard to get to this point and everything he is doing now I remember him saying it a few years ago.

How was your process making your zine, Re-bel, how did you bring on contributors, and what’s your favorite part of its creation?
The process of making my zine was tough because Re-bel started just before print started to decline and Instagram was just starting so getting advertising was a struggle. Re-bel launched when I was doing my first show. We had to create our own community of supporters and buzz. There was lots of stalking, begging and calling in favours at the start but getting contributors got easier with each issue as word got around. One of my proudest moments was when Hedi Slimane and Juergen Teller contributed because I was such a little fish in the industry at the time so for photographers I really admired wanting to be a part of my magazine blew my mind and really gave me that boost of confidence I so needed. Re-bel was created at a time I was rejected by magazines because they could only see me as a designer so I had to prove to them and myself that’s not the case and I think I managed to do that at the time.

Courtesy of R3-MGMT

You often photograph and style your images. How do you approach combining these two arenas within your photography?
My previous experiences helped me understand how to multitask. It all starts with the idea and what I’m trying say for that particular shoot, once I know that, styling becomes a breeze. Being dyslexic, I’ve never been a technical person – always visual, so what I’m doing now is perfect. I believe all you need is a great eye and a great team of collaborators to make the vision come alive. I was just saying the other day that I have so much respect for stylists because I used to be one and I know how much blood, sweat and tears they go through behind the scenes, sometimes more than the photographer.

You’ve worked with a number of high-profile clients, including The Perfect Magazine, British Vogue, and WSJ. What has been your favorite project to date, and why?
To be honest I don’t have a favourite because each shoot has meant something significant to me. From my trip to Ghana, my first cover for LOVE and my global stories for Vogue. Katie gave me my first break of being published in a well-known magazine. Not only that, I got the cover and it went viral. I was just doing it for fun and I knew eventually I wanted to do it long term, but I was still experimenting. I still am, to be honest. I’m really thankful for the opportunities I have been given, and for people allowing me to explore my creativity without much restriction. It has been great because this is when I become alive and create strong images.

Shot by Rasharn Agyemang | Courtesy of R3-MGMT

How do you stay inspired and motivated creatively, and what steps do you take to continue pushing yourself to new heights?.
I stay motivated creatively by staying connected to culture in music, art and film and architecture. Most people don’t know about me but I spend hours a day looking at floor plans and furniture. As an artist I have always tried to surround myself with art from different mediums.

Do you have any muses? Or someone you constantly look to as far as inspiration or somebody you stick to?
My muse has always been Naomi Campbell! I’ve loved her since I was a kid and that never changed. We have talked about working together for sometime now, and hopefully the dream will come true this year. Beyoncé, Madonna, Tracey Emin, the Spice Girls and the late Zaha Hadid have all been a great source of inspiration. Like Naomi, they all scream strong, powerful, and the beauty speaks for itself. Something I always try to celebrate and bring out in my work when photographing, especially in women.

You’ve shot editorials in Ghana for Document Journal during the Year of Return, take us behind how it was creating the shoot and the rising fashion and creative scene there.
The Ghana story was shot in 2019 at a time when I remember feeling really lost and discouraged in the industry. So I took some time out to think about what moves I wanted to make next and what I wanted to say and show in my work. I met with photographer Markn who I wanted to work with at the time but we couldn’t decide on what it was going to be. Until I told him about my plans to visit Ghana, explore my photography, and reconnect to the country I was born in and my family. We decided to collaborate on the story together and the rest was history. I love that story because I had freedom to be the stylist and explore my photography. Markn would pass me his camera and I would do the same. It was wild but really gave me that first kick to take photography more seriously and not just as hobby.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a creative, and how have you overcome it?
I could write a book about this because I’ve been in the industry for a while now. For me personally, it’s the constant unwanted sexual advances (yes this does happen to men, also), the abuse of power, and the main one is constantly being reminded that my skin colour is not of value by the the actions of people or what they say. During the pandemic and the BLM movement there was a celebration of blackness. It went from little interest to some of the most powerful editors and art directors, some of who once ignored us, wanting us contributing and being part of the conversation overnight.This was fantastic because I finally felt seen, but as the months went by and the world started to open up again I started to notice the promises and interest some had made quickly vanished, making me feel like just another box they had to tick at that time and not something they genuinely wanted to improve on. We have made some great improvements on the outside in the fashion industry but internally the industry is now just going back to how it was before pandemic and that hurts. I think it’s up to everyone in the industry, from corporate to not corporate, to realize the privileges that certain people have and how they can control a narrative.

Shot by Rasharn Agyemang | Courtesy of R3-MGMT

How do you collaborate with other creatives, such as stylists and art directors, to bring your vision to life on set?
I love collaborating with others especially, with other stylists. At first, I think some can feel threatened because of my background as a stylist but I always make sure it’s a fun collaborative experience for all of us and I’m a bit of a fashion nerd so any excuse to look, touch and talk clothes I’m in. Right now, I love exploring with photography and hopefully one day to be able to take everything I’ve learnt from design, styling, publishing and photography into consulting for brands.

What advice would you give to aspiring creatives who are just starting out in the industry, and what do you wish you had known when you first started?
The industry moves fast and sometimes it can be very overwhelming so please take a deep breath and sometimes a break and think long term not just the now. Be nice and surround yourself with people that really care for your wellbeing not just for the opportunities you can give each other. I’m in an industry full of the who’s who and people in tight circles and that has always been something I’ve struggled with so having friends outside the system to get fresh prospective on things really helps. Also, it’s ok to say NO especially if they don’t value you and your time.

Rasharn Agyemang | Courtesy of R3-MGMT