You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who has a bad thing to say about the creative, aesthete and gentleman, Mr Allen Coleman. The Ghanaian photographer and erstwhile Freshwallstreet blogger was in South Africa recently and every second person MR SIPHIWE MPYE came across insisted that he was a noted.man. They were right.
Noted Man (NM): In a paragraph, please introduce yourself
Allen Coleman(AC): Equity trader by day, creative by night. I was born and raised in Ghana, courtesy of my mother’s work as human resource specialist for the United Nations I got to see a world most kids in my community never got the chance to see at a very early age. I have believed for a long time my early exposure to the spoils of the world built an insatiable hunger for beauty hidden in odd places. I grew up with four sisters, being the only boy I was taught at an early stage what women expected from men; and dressing well was my favorite on that long list. Five years ago I took a trip to South Africa to visit my parents, my trip turned out be the birth of the passion that created my website Byallencoleman. I am a menswear consultant for Studio189, social media strategist and a freelance creative consultant in addition to running the website and trading on the stock market. I am lover of beautiful things.
NM: Why did you rebrand your blog FreshWallstreet to ByAllenColeman?
AC: I re-branded Freshwallstreet to Byallencoleman to basically highlight the individual behind my work. After years of shooting street style I found myself doing more than just capturing style on the streets. Out of trust for my ability to spot style I had the opportunity to sit in the creative director’s chair for a few brands and later shooting everything from look books to editorials. I realized my work was slowly hazing out the individual behind it, it literally felt like I was sharing a cluster of work with no direct connection to the creator. I feel like art is as important as the artist; if I stop doing what I do today I would want people to remember my name and not some name I coined up in my favourite bar.
NM: Can you remember the first time you put on a suit?
AC: I was in my teens on holiday with my mother in Geneva. A gentleman struck a conversation with and politely asked me why I was dressed like a rapper, after bouts of exchanging views on what men should look like he invited me into his shop try on a suit. That wasn’t the day I fell in love with suits but it was definitely the day I found out my life as a man would definitely not be the same without one. I do not remember if it was a tailoring shop but the jacket my parents bought for my sister’s wedding after that trip didn’t feel anything like the suit the gentleman convinced me to try on.
NM: What, to your mind, is the key function of an art director and why?
AC: The key function of an art director is to basically convey a given idea in the most suitable medium. Client says I want to take over the world, art director says ‘’this is how we are going to do it’’. An art director is in tune with the language of ‘’how’’, an idea gains ground when it’s brought to fruition, how it’s executed is everything. It’s not a matter of just pointing in a direction with hopes of achieving results, the key function is precision of language either through film, photography, magazines or whatever suits the given idea.
I feel like art is as important as the artist; if I stop doing what I do today I would want people to remember my name and not some name I coined up in my favourite bar.
NM: What is the future of the Polymath? Is the trend going to continue or are we looking at a future of specialisation?
AC: You cannot take away the perks and consistency of results that comes with specialisation. With that said, I also think we should not throw shade on the super humans who excel at everything they apply their focus and commitment to. The future is not going to bend on results, that theory will never change; polymath or not, we are all going to be results driven, that’s the future.
NM: What is the general difference between Johannesburg and Accra?
AC: Johannesburg is blessed with diversity that Accra doesn’t have. The rainbow city really lives up to its name in terms of individuality and energy. The individuality in Johannesburg is amazing compared to Ghana. Ghana boasts a more laid back and welcoming vibe, but the lack of individuality sucks the city dry of potential. Johannesburg has a buzzing creative scene as well, something Accra is yet to dream or even appreciate.
NM: Why do you feel compelled to leave your “day job” and dive whole heartededly into the creative world?
AC: In a perfect world my day job would have been in the creative world, but it took a while to realize the onus is on me to create this perfect world. There are lot of athletes and artists sitting behind their desks crunching numbers because the perfect world doesn’t exist to them. I spent the past few years drawing concepts on napkins for companies that have never heard of me in boardroom meetings just to pass time, I think my purpose has poked me far too many times to ignore it. I want live my dream and hopefully kick start brains to start living in the perfect world and not the one we have been made to simply exist in.
NM: Have you always been compelled to travel, see other places and what has that gifted you?
AC: I got my travel junky jones from my mother, ever since I stepped out of Ghana as a kid I have not been able to get over the giftings of travel. I feel more than compelled to travel; it’s a process that opens my mind to new things regardless of my destination. There are a billion people out there who have interesting stories, food, culture, sights and art to share. Sometimes I wish we would all just stop whatever we are doing and travel to find and share each other. What has travel gifted me? I owe the way I see things and think to travel, what else could I ask for?
NM: You are quite young for one with such grown up tastes, what has informed your style?
AC: The journey of my style is quite confusing; I grew up watching a lot of classic movies. The classic movie channel was the only channel my sisters and I agreed on, and so it was order of the day. I think it’s the reason why I gravitate towards very classic and conservative clothing. A lot of the classic movies I watched lacked color, hence proportions and cohesion of outfits really stuck out for me. Plus I read a lot, as soon as I stumbled into tailoring I relied on a lot of books, plus my presence in the creative circle opened my eyes to a lot . I think my wardrobe leans towards a more conservative approach than the bold theatrics of youth hence the old taste.
NM: There seems to be a global movement of a nomadic black creative class. How can Africans on the continent and the Diaspora collaborate better?
AC: There is an obvious realisation to collaborate but I think a lot collaborations are being done on that realisation and not on structure and desired impact. I see a lot of mixed market collaborations that seem honest but lack beneficial impact to both parties. I think in addition to establishing the need to collaborate we should identify mutually beneficial collaborations; this actually encourages reach instead of collaborating with brands or creatives on the strength of proximity. I love how the music industry collaborates, I wish other creative circles would collab in the same manner.
Image By Mr Allen Coleman