Designed for curious minds, "What's Contemporary Now?" engages various thought leaders across cultural industries taking in their broad, compelling perspectives and unveiling their common threads.
Hosted by Christopher Michael
Produced by Shayan Asadi
Fashion, Fear, and Freedom: Mel Ottenberg Unplugged
Editor-in-chief of Interview magazine, Mel Ottenberg, wants to maintain a sense of fun in an atmosphere rife with fear. Previously creative director at 032c, he’s collaborated with an impressive roster of stars, high-profile clients, and photographers. In this episode, he shares his take on where we are in this cultural moment and how fashion, beauty, and style can be powerful vehicles for communication and social transformation. He highlights some of the influences that have shaped his aesthetic—MTV, The Cock, the downtown scene, and Vogue—and the icons who fueled him as an aspiring creative in the 90s, such as Madonna and Arianne Phillips. Teeming with energy and ideas, he found ways to connect his work in the indie and pop celebrity spaces, and with Interview, he found the perfect platform for his diverse experiences and an outlet for cheeky, unfiltered output. What’s contemporary now? “Fear and loathing is truly the most contemporary thing now. It’s totally gross. It’s totally real, and I think confidence and an open spirit of change is the only way past that.”
Quiladelphia: Quil Lemons on Breaking Old Paradigms
Quil Lemons is a photographer and artist renowned for his innovative contributions to commercial and fine arts spaces. As a Black queer creative force, he defies labels and uses his work to authentically represent the multifaceted aspects of his identity. The youngest photographer to capture Vanity Fair’s cover (featuring Billie Eilish), Lemons is featured in The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion, as well as in many other publications, including Garage, i-D, and W. Recently, he debuted his first solo show, Quiladelphia, in the Hannah Traore Gallery. Lemons’s work extends beyond capturing images; it is a form of activism and storytelling that pushes boundaries and challenges societal norms. He is reshaping narratives around authenticity and sexuality, and fostering open dialogues within the LGBTQ+ community. In this conversation, Lemons shines light on how he’s breaking barriers in the industry, celebrating Black queer masculinity, and blazing a trail for Black artists. He shares his secret sauce for creating one’s reality and changing one’s industry. What’s Contemporary Now? A utopia. A vision of a world with no pain.
The New York Times’s Vanessa Friedman on Fashion, Culture, and Critique
Vanessa Friedman has been the fashion director and chief fashion critic at The New York Times since 2014. Her lauded insight as a critic balances both the courage to speak to reality and a responsibility to inform her readers. Working at the intersection of culture and news journalism, Friedman has seen the landscape of the fashion industry change dramatically in the last decade. In this episode, she gives an honest and authoritative account of the state of fashion, speaking to hurdles that must be addressed in sustainability, production, and creativity in an age of short attention spans and ever-shortening fashion cycles. She discusses the new role of sports in the world of luxury branding, bringing a historical perspective to conversations around elitism and accessibility. Advising emerging journalists to find a unique voice, Friedman herself is always on the lookout for what’s truly new, bringing to fashion journalism a willingness to be surprised. She hopes what’s contemporary now is the kind of open-ended dialogue she conveys in her approach to fashion criticism.
AI and Human Evolution: Nick Knight's Contemporary Approach
London-born photographer and SHOWstudio founder Nick Knight has remained at the forefront of what’s contemporary since his emergence into the fashion photography scene in the 1970s. Over the course of an illustrious career, Knight has worked closely with the likes of Alexander McQueen, Lady Gaga, Bjork and John Galliano, as well as with fashion houses such as Christian Dior, Tom Ford, Louis Vuitton, and Yves Saint Laurent, among many others. Bringing an outsider’s insight into the fashion and art worlds, he began pushing boundaries in the ’80s in collaborations with i-D magazine and revolutionary designer Yohji Yamamoto. He has directed the trailblazing fashion film platform SHOWstudio for over two decades, pioneering new modes of artistic expression and audience connection. In a thoughtful conversation with Christopher Michael, Knight reflects on how he maintains a sense of artistic integrity and urgency—with or without the validation of commercial success. His hunger to continue to learn has driven not only a varied career spanning music, art, and fashion through the lens of the camera, but also kept him at the forefront of technological innovation, whether with SHOWstudio or a riveting perspective on AI—comparing it to the birth of photography and the internet—and how we will evolve.
Season 3 Trailer
When we first asked the question, “What is contemporary now?” we thought it made sense to explore the makings of culture by tapping into the varied perspectives of creatives whose work has helped shape the contemporary landscape. This season sees that dream continue, having the chance to speak to a master on the intersection of technology and image making and a brilliant young artist on the recontextualization of queer black culture. We explore how creatives lead successful luxury brands and even tap into the important role of the critic as a lighthouse amidst oceans of information.
Subscribe now for new episodes starting Monday, November 13 with Quil Lemons, Vanessa Friedman, Mel Ottenberg, Ruba Abu-Nimah, Brendon Babenzien, Willy Vanderperre, Amanda Harlech, Gordon von Steiner, Robin Galiegue, Thom Bettridge, Nick Knight, and many more.
Creative Audacity: Isamaya Ffrench’s Unconventional Take on Beauty
British makeup artist Isamaya Ffrench has been challenging our perceptions of beauty and creativity for the past decade. She attributes her unconventional approach to beauty, one that escapes commonality and mainstream aesthetics and paves the way for bold innovation, to her family’s background in engineering and problem-solving. Spurred by a face painting side hustle, her nontraditional rise in the industry saw her take on pivotal creative roles—such as brand ambassador, creative director, and global beauty director—for luxury brands, such as Tom Ford, YSL, Christian Louboutin, Burberry Beauty, Byredo, and today, beauty curator for Off White. In 2022, she launched her makeup brand, ISAMAYA, an evolving line of progressive beauty products entrenched in the zeitgeist. In this episode, Isamaya shares with Christopher Michael her perspectives on cultivating creative audacity and innovation in beauty. Some may consider her work subversive, yet she sees it as contextual and impulse-driven—LIPS, the brand’s penis-shaped lipstick, was influenced by conversations around gender and sexuality. What’s contemporary now? Isamaya believes it’s time for people to acknowledge and accept that having a different opinion, preference, or approach is okay. “Just leave people alone and let them get on with their lives.”
Creative audacity: Isamaya attributes her creative edge and audacity to her upbringing—having grown up in a family of engineers and creatives.
Penis-shaped lipstick: Isamaya is often driven by impulse; she’s very receptive to what’s happening around her, so it’s no surprise the discussions around gender, nudity, and sexuality have indirectly influenced her work. However, more than anything, LIPS was a logical decision.
Global beauty director: Is it challenging working for brands? “It’s about having different experiences,” Isamaya says. Although she values the creative freedom of having her own brand, she enjoys the collaborative aspect and various parameters of working with other brands.
Side hustle: She worked her way up from face painting to semiprofessional body painting to makeup artistry.
Product design: Isamaya describes her love/hate relationship with product design and how it is a part of her path to success.
Favorite clients? Junya Watanabe and Tom Brown—to name a few. Isamaya looks for a strong sense of self and a willingness to push creative boundaries when partnering with designers or brands; to find new territory while maintaining a concise brand aesthetic and philosophy.
Advice: “If you’re passionate about something and you want to do it, do it. You only live once!”
What’s next? Collaborations, new makeup collections, and a documentary about global beauty aesthetics and ideals.
What’s contemporary now? “Just leave people alone and let them get on with their lives.”
A weekly delight
Every week I look forward to see who the guest is and of course the stellar conversation between Christopher and the guest. For me, there is no other fashion podcast. You know it’s a great conversation when at the end, I’m always left wishing it was longer!
Come for Christopher’s fantastic voice; stay for the insightful and smart conversations. A engaging listen for industry insiders and outsiders alike!
Thoughtful, curious, and diverse
What’s Contemporary Now is a grounded example of reflective thought and engaging discussion. I appreciate the diversity of guests and the unique perspective around creativity, drive, authenticity, and what’s driving a renewed take on craft within industries, today.