Posts tagged Rick Owens
Uncharted Territory

Today marks the launch of the first of a new series for our email subscribers. Each issue will feature a post from our photojournal series Patient Explorers. Which I'm really excited about, because this series will let Composure go in a direction that feels a lot more natural and focused for the kind of brand and lifestyle I want to build. And develop a more focused, findable and resonant audience finally as well. 

In a phrase, what I'm hoping to combine is the gritty exploration of Vice Travel with the emotional self-awareness of The School of Life. And from an aesthetic standpoint Composure has started to blossom among an audience that appreciates both the dark avant-guarde found in Rick Owens and the calm minimalism of Acne Studios.

Until these last couple of months I've never been able to concisely articulate those points, and my audience-building efforts have suffered accordingly. The reality is that in many ways, there's simply no way I could have realistically sat down 3 years ago and planed or strategized my way to the way I now think about these audiences; I simply didn't have the mental building blocks required to get there. In fact I feel like a lot of the world-building initiatives that have developed under the name of Composure (the Virtues and Artistry volumes of the newsletter, the various events & collaborations, etc) have been my way of digging around, slowly developing those mental building blocks. Or in other words, it's all been a way to sort of "fail faster" and "think by doing."  

 

Explorers

I also know that a big reason that it took me a long time to get to a "lifestyle brand" that feels truly personal and authentic is because I have such a negative gut reaction to many existing lifestyle brands out there; kinds that are built entirely around concepts I consider to be rather shallow and generic ("inspiration" or "travel" or "hustle" or "art"). 

As much as I found myself talking about things like beauty and art, I always intentionally kept a distance from anything that felt a little too much like an inspirational poster. I mean, I fundamentally believe everything in the images above, and I know / am friends with many great people who have built large, inspired audiences in these worlds. But this approach just always felt a lil' too direct for me; as someone who believes that the most important and rewarding challenges of life are complex, not simple, I've always had a gut reaction to anything that says the answers are easy.  

The same "complex not simple" concept applies to travel and exploration as well. Almost every travel lifestyle blog I know is focused on the playful, easygoing, relaxing, or carefree aspects of travel; for as much as I talk about things like "exploration" I couldn't ever see the things like sunny beaches and "whoooooo we're so high-on-life!" cliff-diving that makes up a lot of travel lifestyle blogs being imagery that's part of the Composure world. 

(Maybe I just don't like water? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)

 

Self-awareness

Once I started thinking about the more gritty exploration of things like Vice Travel, I was finally able to imagine a kind of "travel" lifestyle that romanticizes finding complex & difficult places over carefree & easy ones. A lot of things started to fall into place. 

What's nice about "complex" exploration is that it naturally resonates with something that has always been / will always be at the core of the Composure thesis: self-awareness. Nuanced, enlightening, brilliant, painful and terrifying self-awareness. I have about a million things to say about how difficult it is to find genuine self-awareness, how difficult it is to even start in the first place. Things to say about how many people live entire lives either not even trying to find it, or never even coming across a set of thoughts that would lead them to start thinking about trying in the first place. If Composure is truly truly truly about one thing, I'd be comfortable saying it's about "self-awareness," and I suspect I'll spend a least a significant number of years using Composure to try and express that in a way words probably never can. 

Anyway. There's something excitingly unique and personal about the prospect talking about self-awareness through the lens of difficult self-exploration. That we're all travelers trying to find difficult places deep within. What I'm building with the Patient Explorers series is a collection of vingettes and reflections on ways to find inner vision. I'm collecting human moments of calm, exploration and self-awareness through editorial lifestyle photography. Peaceful and uncommon moments of reflection. Maybe people who are exploring uncommon places and uncharted territory. It's something that finally feels natural and unique to me, and the audiences I've been testing this angle with on Instagram have responded in a way that feels entirely validating. 

 

"Today, with the Earth mapped, imaged and charted down to the last square foot, the frontier is supposedly in outer space: Mars, the moons of Jupiter, and beyond. But humans’ power to transform themselves and their environment suggests that the most important contemporary frontiers lie in the realm of inner space, in the possibilities for conceptual and moral transformation. It is at these boundaries that our future will be decided."

—Caspar Henderson, Death And Life Of The Frontier

 

I can say I'm genuinely and patiently excited about becoming better aligned with a more well-defined audience. And I know that through this process of intentionally (and admittedly, rather clumsily) building Composure in public, some people who loved elements of the first couple of years may not love elements of the ones to come. If at any point you feel that what we're doing is no longer for you I completely understand. Thanks as always for continuing to follow along. 

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We are patient explorers of challenging places

I'm very intentionally building Composure as a "lifestyle brand," and I've known from the beginning that the most difficult part will be clearly articulating what that lifestyle is. It's relatively easy to make up a generic lifestyle brand for the sake of building an audience, but much more difficult to build a unique and deeply authentic one. I'd like to build the latter. 

Making this more difficult is that I have a tendency to abstract things as a way to make them more rich and interesting. I've had to come to terms with the fact that if I want people to follow along, it first needs to be simple enough that they know what it is.

I think of this as being difficult enough a problem for me to spend at least 2 years on it. About a year ago I started honing in on "artistry" as a central pillar of Composure, which felt a lot more focused than what I started with two years ago, "virtues." Whereas virtues allowed this abstract sort of "people who follow Composure care about strong inner perspective" description, it didn't do a good job of articulating a lifestyle. And while artistry let me talk about the kinds of lives people in the Composure world lead, it still hasn't ever felt like the kinds of simple, clear lifestyle starting point like "travel" that forms the basis of simple brands that people can immediately get.

Combine all of this with the fact that I'm also aiming to balance two different kinds of audiences: those that follow the brand, and those that buy the scarves. Thus far they haven't been exactly the same audiences. And I ultimately don't think they have to be. But I'd like for them to at least be well-considered, and in that way they could at least become at the right amount of similar. 

All that said, I feel like I'm starting to crack this rather tricky code.

Last week the guy behind a nicely developed lifestyle brand reached out to me on Instagram, bringing up a conversation where we touched on much of the above. It got my brain firing. I found myself really digging into audience profiles on both Facebook's (incredibly useful) Audience Insights platform this last week, and through various hashtag rabbit holes on Instagram in which clearly understood lifestyle brands live. It brought a lot of clarity to the kind of lifestyle and audience I want to build around Composure. 

I don't want to make this post about all the nuanced details, but I'm excited to have landed on a lifestyle brand concept that allows for the simplicity that comes with those built around exploration and travel: we are patient explorers of challenging places. 

I'm seeing this world playing with the undaunted exploration of Vice Travel, the avant-guarde  aesthetics of Rick Owens, and the calm minimalism of Acne Studios. 

It's not perfect, but right now it doesn't have to be. All I know is that playing around in these spaces has generated some immediately positive reactions in the Instagram world, indicating that we're in the right direction. We'll keep going. 

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