Posts in Portraits
A guide to scent & memory // Brennan Michael

In the beginning, Composure just a slowly drifting swirl of thoughts in my head, pieces of an impossibly long story that I started trying to put into words and into scarves. One of the chapters of that story was about a particular kind of art, the kind of art that works in the medium of business; I was struck by the idea that business is a medium for some kinds of artists, just like paint is a medium for some and words are for others. It helped that people like Andy Warhol were known for saying things like "making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art."

The second volume of the Composure newsletter featured these kinds of artists, and Brennan was one of the first people I found to help bring the series to life. Brennan is a candlemaker based in Toronto, bringing artistry to the work of making candles into beautiful things that shape our environments. In his newsletter feature he shared smart notes on the importance of creating welcoming spaces and on the balance that comes with navigating humbling uncertainty. When we found time to meet in NYC we knew we had a rare opportunity to share more. 

On a later winter morning that was brisk but streaked with sun, Brennan introducing me to a world of oils steamed and distilled from naturally occurring flora, fauna, and otherwise. For Brennan, these things can create entire palettes of scents, built on a balance of varied axises that remind me of a kinetic mobile hanging delicately in the air.  In this world of balance, scales of richness and depth pull against others representing a range of textures, counterbalanced by degrees of sweet and dry.       

We spend the most time talking excitedly about a shared obsession: the idea that we all collect our own unique experiences of the world, and that maybe our one job on this earth is just to share those experiences through beautiful things that others want to be a part of. For Brennan, those experiences become memories, and scents makes for a beautiful medium through which to share these meaningful moments. He went on to tell me about a particular kind of musk that's a part of all his fragrances, one he remembers from a Canadian childhood near the woods. Sitting in a Swedish coffee shop, the cardamom buns inspire reminiscence of a recent trip to Stockholm; we talk about where we're going next and maybe what we'll find out about ourselves once we're there. 

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A Guide to Creative Tensions

Sometimes when talking to people about how I'm building Composure I get a chance to explain it in terms of "tensions" that I think are important. I think of Composure as a kind of mirror of my own life, and like many others I find myself trying to balance "work" energy that I put into mundane, routine things (like one-off freelance marketing gigs) and "creative" energy that I put into exploring worlds that are new to me (fashion design, photography, and all the other pieces of a growing Composure world). 

These two things are always at odds with one another in a way that I usually just describe as one of a few kinds of "tensions" that move Composure forward. When catching up with my friend Océane we were talking about how these tensions pull at each other over the span of weeks and months; we shared our own experiences of feeling low creative energy during times when other pressures are high, and trying to balance that with a drive to make the most of creative energy in times when it's there.

I think my experience is that there's always this somewhat frustrating drive to spend the kind of energy that is least available; Oceane and I talked about how months sometimes go by when we feel like we're not doing enough to build on our creative pursuits even if there's the time to do so, a feeling I think a lot of people relate to. But through the conversation we realized that some of our most cherished creative breakthroughs came at the end of those months, as if the time away allowed for fresh eyes—even if that time felt frustrating in the moment. 

We put together this photoshoot as a way to capture those conflicting tensions; moments of openness, and expression alongside others of patience and introspection. Consider it a guide to developing an appreciation for the tensions that come with pursuing creative work, helping us to find and stay the creative path.  

 
 
 

Model / styling: Océane Hooks-Camilleri

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An Explorer's Guide to Finding Home
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When Rebekah and I first started working together we turned to the odd little dictionary Wordstuck to find a mood that fit us both. Some rare expression that would capture something unique about our shared stories.

It turns out that we met through a mutual fashion-world friend, who I in turn had only met by chance at an event hosted by a collective of independent designers. It was a series of otherwise fleeting circumstances, the kind that I've learned to appreciate and savor as part of being here in New York City—a place where rare combinations of disparate people end up being just common enough.

We landed on an iconically Welsh word "cwitch," a word used to capture that warm sense of finding home.  

I left the home I grew up in when I was young (17!) and found it natural to develop a different kind of home-ness in the people I was around. Between time spent in military intelligence school at Arizona, active duty in Kuwait, college in Georgia and a handful of other small landings, I ended up in a lot of places temporarily.

But being in New York has come to feel like something new, something warm, something found. It's only been here that I feel like I can have the chance encounters that let me explore and build Composure in ways I never expected, where seemingly disparate connections are made like magic.

We thought it entirely appropriate to meet at the Brooklyn Bridge, at the dawn of first a day and now a new year with plenty of magic ahead. 🔮💫

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Subtle magics, complex silences
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"Sharp feelings deserve blurred edges"

—@composure_black // 24 August 2016

 

While exploring a riverside corner of Brooklyn we found this small nook perfectly catching sunset rays. By the time Océane and I set up for the shoot it was colder than expected, but we really wanted the light so we didn't mind working through the cold. When your goal is clear you get to choose what matters—and what's fine being sent to a blurry periphery. 

"Subtle magics, complex silences"

—@composure_black // 12 December 2016

 

Sometimes it's easy to go overboard with flashy extravagance but then again sometimes just enough is magic 🔮💫. As patient explorers we all have these tiny lights buried somewhere within; our job is find them and to articulate them well, letting them shine. This subtle yet brilliant self-awareness is a worthy pursuit, and a good excuse to bring glitter to an otherwise dramatic scene. 

"Tiny lights buried deep within"

—@composure_black // 30 November 2016

Model / MUA: Océane Hooks-Camilleri
Featured: Black Succulents Series Scarf

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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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