Later that day we came back to the Field House. We were told to dress in swimwear because we would be taking a trip to the beach later.
Fitness & Fashion
Trey Laird & Akin Akman
Trey Laird is a creative director that brands hire to revamp their image.
Akin Akman graduated from the IMG boarding school, which is where the camp was located. Akman is now the number one SoulCycle instructor in America. SoulCycle is a trendy indoor cycling class.
Ivan Bart interviewed both Trey Laird and Akin Akman. Bart interviewed Laird alone first. The interview began with Bart describing Laird as a celebrity that he had always admired. Bart said it was a privilege to interview Laird. Bart began the interview by asking Laird, “Like How did you get started? Where did you begin? Where are you from?”
Laird answered, “I grew up in Texas. You’re going to hear that probably… it comes in and out.” Laird said he knew nothing about fashion, advertising, or branding. Laird continued, “I went to school in Austin, University of Texas.” After Laird graduated he said, “I moved to New York. I was always fascinated with New York. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to do something there.” He moved to New York three days after he graduated.
Bart asked, “What did you study?”
Laird responded, “I got a business degree in marketing and a minor in art history.”
Bart noted, “Isn’t that amazing though? You set out your intentions, and then he ends up having a career that marries the marketing side and the artistic side.”
Laird responded, “I know, I didn’t realize it at the time…”
I noticed Bart kept placing importance on setting one’s intentions and making them a reality. I believe you should set your intentions and then go after what you want. That seems like the continuity between most successful people.
Bart continued, “Currently you will recognize some of Trey’s work in the advertising campaigns of Tommy Hilfiger, Karl Lagerfeld, Tiffany’s. ” Bart noted, “That Tiffany’s Ad was pretty extraordinary… How did that all come about?”
Laird explained the new generation’s experience with Tiffany’s: “Well, Tiffany’s, we’d been working with for the last couple of years. And you all know Tiffany’s. You’ve probably gotten a graduation gift from there or something like that. The blue box. But I don’t know the last time you went in and bought jewelry for yourself. Right? It’s probably like your mom gave you a charm or something like that. So they really wanted to reintroduce it to your generation and make sure it’s relevant and not that you just admired it and were aware of it, but that you engaged with it.” Laird’s task was to extend the market of consumers from older people to the new generation. “I use the word relevance a lot because if you’re not relevant, you’re dead,” Laird laughed. Laird’s profession is centered around keeping brands relevant. Laird’s first steps were to find what was so magical about Tiffany’s. Laird decided that the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s would be a gateway to bring the old and the new generations together. Laird described the movie as, “[something] which obviously many of you know about and love.”
For those who are unfamiliar with the film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, it is based on the book by Truman Capote published in 1958. The movie is about an expensive escort named Holly who befriends her new neighbor. The neighbor is a man who is in a relationship with a wealthy woman who takes care of him. He aspires to be a writer.
The movie’s name comes from the main character, Holly. Whenever she gets down, she dresses up, buys breakfast, a scone or a croissant with coffee, and eats it in front of the Tiffany’s store in New York. She eats her breakfast while window shopping on the sidewalk. The movie is quite odd, but it is a classic.
Laird’s first approach was to use the movie as a marketing tool: “The brand had never done anything with that, but it was the most famous thing in their DNA. So we reimaged Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Laird described apart in the film where Holly window shops in her fancy clothes while she eats her breakfast: “I thought ok well what if there was a new Holly Golightly. So I cast Elle Fanning as Holly Golightly. [I] thought ok maybe she doesn’t wear a black dress, maybe she wears a hoodie. We still gave her a little tiara, but she had her coffee cup. And it was just this fantasy about what if New York City turned blue and came to life and showed you all those dreams came true.”
The next version, Zoe Kravitz was cast as Alice in Alice in Wonderland. She falls down a rabbit hole and lands at a tea party with jewels. Naomi Campbell is the mad hatter.
Bart described Laird’s profession as a creative director: “When brands are thinking about… what they want, they will go to Trey and Trey will help realize that…” Next, Bart asked how Laird defines himself as a creative director.
“It’s about having a point of view. And I think that’s something each of you have to figure out. What’s your point of view? What do you believe in? What do you stand for?” He continued, “…I’m always attracted to people that have a point of view. Um, I never respond to people that (say), ‘Mmm, I don’t know. Whatever.’ You know like, ‘what do you think’?” Laird believes, “…it doesn’t mean everyone has to agree with your point of view, but you have to have one.” Laird continued, “People hire me and my team for our point of view and [to] try and help them find theirs.” Laird described a creative director as the following: someone who does advertising, marketing, branding, product development, and intellectual property development. He says it is about “Taking that taste, that point of view, that decision, an idea and being able to fly it to any touchpoint.”
Bart reminisced, “Turning the clock back, someone with a point of view, Donna Karan.”
Laird laughed, “Yeah, Donna has a point of view”
Bart continued, “I don’t know if many of you know who Donna Karan is but [she] will go down as one of the greatest American designers and especially for women.”
Laird described him and Karan’s first campaign, “She had two brands at the time. You guys are probably not going to remember this you’re super young. This is super depressing,” Laird laughed, “Anyways there was two brands. There was Donna Karan Brand and DKNY. You’re probably more familiar with DKNY,” In the early 90’s, the campaign imagined a woman being elected president of the United States. Laird added hopefully, “Which has almost happened, not yet, but it will soon.” The campaign was called, “In Women We Trust”. Laird stated, “At that time she was the most famous fashion designer that was a woman and [thought it was] very important to represent women in a powerful way.” Laird described Karan as, “ …very much ahead of her time.”
Laird talked about Rosemary in the grove with the hand on the vital shot by Peter Whimper. Laird and Bart laughed as they remembered it. Laird described Whimper as his fashion dad. (I tried to look up what they were talking about but I have not clue. If anyone does please let me know)
Laird reminisced on what we know today as the movie Zoo Lander: “Zoo lander was actually a spoof that was based on…the most famous male model at the time I found… [a] Dutch guy… named Mark Vanderloo. He was nothing at all like Zoolander who is an idiot. Mark was great.”
Bart remembered representing Esther Cañadas an IMG model. Vanderloo and Cañadas fell in love on set and got married. Bart described the duo as, “Art imitating life or life imitating art”.
Laird added, “I’ve had a few of those” Bart and Laird shared a laugh. The two divorced a couple years later. So much for life imitating art.
One of Bart’s mantras is “Through fashion imagery, we can affect social change.” Bart believes that the Donna Karan campaign with a woman as president manifested the idea of a woman actually being president. Like Bart told Cowan in the interview earlier that day, he told Laird to, “Keep doing what you’re doing”
Laird responded with a laugh adding, “I’ve got more up my sleeve”
The next question Bart asked was when Laird gets a new brand, how does Laird guide them if they may not know what they want. Laird responded by saying every brand has different needs. The brand may have business goals they are trying to solve for, some people don’t know they just want it to look better, some are dealing with business problems and their sales are down, and others are trying to introduce to a new market. Laird gave the example of Gigi Hadid, a famous supermodel: “A lot of people think ‘Tommy just hired Gigi to be… a fun model…’ it didn’t happen at all that way.” Laird met Hadid on a Tom Ford set and he was introduced to her by Karim. Laird met Hadid early in her career, about four or five years prior. He stated, “There was something different about her.” Laird described Hadid as, “Incredibly professional, an amazing person, totally present, really focused, smart, but also fun, a little bit goofy in the best way.” Five years later, Hilfiger is one of Laird’s best clients. Hilfiger had been a brand that appealed mostly to men and Laird was in charge of extending the market to women. Laird stated, “Their business is almost 75% men. It always struggled kind of connecting with women… But they wanted to double or triple their women’s business over the next couple of years.”
Laird’s solution was, “I don’t think you can. I think it’s impossible. And I know it wasn’t the answer they wanted to hear but that was the truth.” He told them, ”As wonderful as Tommy is… I just don’t think a millennial young woman is going to connect with that brand. I think we need something more.” Laird continued, “Instead of just hiring Gigi or somebody else to be a model in a campaign what if we actually had her be the company and be the brand and embody that and really take the spirit of Tommy which is always about American classic but serving it up to the world in a new way.” Laird defended why he chose Hadid: “Gigi to me, in my mind, like a new American classic girl. She’s from California, classic California blonde girl, grew up there, but her last name’s Hadid, her father’s Palestinean she has this global citizen side to her as well. To me, she sort of like was a modern American girl.” Laird worked with Bart and Luis Mattos, Hadid’s manager: “And she was up for it we talked to her about it with you and your team and Luis… and we decided to do this which at the time was very risky to kind of turn over the keys to this big multi-billion dollar global brand to an 18-year-old girl from California.”
Bart characterized Hadid, “She was a great partner because she was very involved.” He continued, “Every time we did a fashion show she was sitting in on the casting she wanted to make sure that those models were very diverse…”
Laird agreed, “She represents her generation in the best way. She’s on it and thoughtful and considerate and she has a point of view.”
Bart continued,“Let’s take a look at your other quite notable work.”
A video began to play called a reel, with campaigns Laird had been apart of including Beyonce’s Heat fragrance, Tommy Hilfiger campaigns, Tiffany’s commercials, and so much more.
After the video, Bart exclaimed, “Wow…” Bart and Laird had both grown together in the fashion industry and worked on many projects.
Laird looked over at Bart and responded, “You’ve been here the whole time.”
Bart laughed, “I tried”
Laird and Bart smiled like old friends.
Bart continued, “Tell us about the Tom Ford Dance line with Lady Gaga”
Laird reflected, “A lot of these things you know, in retrospect, people think just happen. But they usually happen for a very specific reason,” Laird continued, “Tom Ford which you may or may not know, also does movies. He directed his second film a few years ago called Nocturnal Animals. He was on set for about six months doing that movie so he couldn’t do a fashion show in Paris. So it became this whole thing. ‘What do we do? How can we not do a whole show? We’re gonna miss a whole season of press.’” Laird found a solution: “So we decided there are all these people live-streaming their shows… so we thought what if we not just do a show, we just do a live stream show.” Laird made history: “That was the first fully digital show that happened for a major global designer four years ago.” Laird described the show, “There was that old show Soul Train… it sort of had lines and people. And the people would go down and do the dance… we had to show 40 looks of fashion. If we could come up with a way that was entertaining… but we also needed something else.” Laird asked Lady Gaga to come to do an original song which sealed the idea of a live show. “The incredible director (Sam) McKnight did it!” he exclaimed.
Bart’s next topic introduced Laird’s partnership with Lane Bryant. Bart stated, “That campaign launched so many careers. It gave a great platform for someone like Ashley Graham and a lot of curve models. But it also shaped the way we saw women and saw bodies and what size is beauty… Tell us about that campaign.”
Laird believes he has to approach any category with “the same standard”. Laird referred to him and Akin Akman’s mantra of “ a higher standard”. Laird believes no matter what brand he is working for he has to think, “How can you make it the best?”. He said that it always irritated him that “whenever we were approached to do anything that was sort of in a plus size range it immediately became sort of a catalog kinda thing.”
Laird quoted Ashley Graham, that she always tells the story that before the Lane Bryant shoot, the shoots would consist of, “her hailing a cab, or having a coffee in a cab and all of a sudden we had her black and white.”
Bart interrupted, “…and naked…”
Laird responded, “Why not? I mean if it’s done in the right way…”
Bart asked Laird what he has been doing to keep his physique.
Laird smiled at the compliment.
Bart exclaimed, “You look amazing!” he continued, “You obviously you ended up at Soulcycle.”
Laird began telling the story of his journey to SoulCycle: “I started going to soul cycle 8 or so years ago… and liked it cause I was never someone who liked to run. I hated the treadmill. I think it’s horrible, I still do, I can’t stand it.” Laird described SoulCycle was more centered around cardio and he enjoyed that more. “About two years later my sister took me to a SoulCycle class.” He stated, “That was unlike anything I’d ever witnessed. In about 30 seconds I knew it was something totally different. It was the class of the guy you’re about to meet named Akin Akman.”
I looked over and saw Akman was standing on the wall across the room eager to be interviewed next.
Laird continued, “In seconds I thought, what the fuck is this. Like omg, it’s like insane.” He corrected himself, “I shouldn’t say that, but that’s what I thought if I’m being honest.” Everyone laughed. That day started Laird’s partnership with SoulCycle, he started to form the brand into more of a fashion perspective. His angle was to change it from just being a class to being a mind, body, and soul experience. Laird described Akman as his “inspiration”. “It was my own personal sort of physical transformation. Now, it’s just a huge part of my life and it just is. It’s not something that is ever going to change,” Laird commented.
Bart brought Donna Karan up again: “If we could’ve Donna Karan now, the president, it would be more moving more social. It was in Vogue. It was in magazines. It was like an 8-page spread which was pretty incredible watching this woman reach the highest office in the land… how has your job changed in the world of moving imagery and communications through social methods?”
“In some ways, it hasn’t changed. It’s just the mediums have changed. You still need great ideas,” Laird answered.“ In other ways, though it’s completely different. I think it’s also about speed and I think content is key and it’s like a beast. Every day, we see something on our phone and it’s over and it’s the next thing,” Laird continued.
“Speed and engagement,” Laird described as becoming real issues. He believes social media presents so many distractions.
Laird answered, “It was funny with the whole phone thing I was really down about it a few years ago. At first, I couldn’t get my head around it. And I thought it was really depressing that all this work that we do boiled down to somebody looking at their phone. But then if you change your mind and you’ll get in a different perspective, you can go okay well how can I be inspired by this. And so for me it became a challenge. Like ok if the whole world is going to look at everything on their phone, how can I do something that makes that the best it can be and make a lot of people want to have it on their phone.” Laird advised, “How you approach something and how you choose to look at it really defines the way you can navigate it.”
“How you approach something and how you choose to look at it really defines the way you can navigate it.”
Bart continued to name all the jobs that are important to bring a campaign to life: ”A photographer, the talent, the makeup artist, there is always a manicurist on set (fun fact most people do not know that) and sometimes even a choreographer. What’s it like to be around all these creatives and is there any part of the creative that stands out during the shoot?”
“Team work,” Laird responded, “It’s like a team and everybody’s got a role.”
“Whether it’s a fashion shoot or a baseball team everyone has got a role,” Laird advised, “If the team doesn’t work together, it doesn’t matter.” Laird believes that everyone is equally important on a team.
“If the team doesn’t work together, it doesn’t matter.”
“My role is to not only assemble this great team, but I have to inspire them and make sure they stay focused,” Laird clarified.
Bart added, “Be nice to everybody. You never know, as you move through fashion, you meet them again, and they remember if you were mean or if you were nice. And That could also determine whether you got the job or not.”
“Be nice to everybody.”
Bart commanded, “Even if you’re not in a good mood, get in one.”
“Even if you’re not in a good mood, get in one.”
Laird reminisced on getting Chinese food with his colleges the night before and they all had fortune cookies. One cookie said, “Courtesy goes a long way.”
Laird added when he meets someone on set “if they’re not nice and they have a bad attitude, they don’t get asked back.”
Laird admired Gigi Hadid’s ability to always treat everyone on set kindly. After the shoot is over, Hadid thanks everyone. Laird added, “Whether you’re the assistant behind the computer or Pat Mcgrath… she immediately goes and thanks everybody and gives everybody a big hug.” Laird said Lewis Hamilton, a famous athlete, does the exact same thing.
Akman started approaching the stage. Bart introduced Akman as a former boarding school student at IMG. They played Akman’s reel. Now Bart, Laird, and Akman were on the stage together. Akman and Laird sat the exact same, crossing their legs. They also had on the exact same outfit. Their shirts were black with a logo that said team under it. Akman is a SoulCycle instructor and trains people to reach their athletic potential. Akman is also a model.
“When you’re doing your SoulCycle. How many classes a day would you do?” was Bart’s first question.
Akman responded, “I do around six or seven classes a day.”
Bart in shock responded, “So how do you eat?” The audience laughed.
Akman eats all the time, between classes, during class, and relies on snacks.
Akman described his normal day as waking up at five AM and going to teach around six or seven AM. He eats a protein bar sometime around those hours. Before his 10:30 class, he lifts and eats breakfast. After his his 10:30 class, he eats again. He then takes his brother’s class at 10:30. Then he goes into the office and does some work to further his brand. Lastly, he has two classes at night. He eats again. He goes to sleep around 11:00 PM.
Bart then asked if Akman has a social life. Akman does go out sometimes, but he “usually watches movies or something.” He has more time for leisure on the weekends when his classes are only in the mornings.
Bart asked how Laird and Akman began developing a brand together. Laird recapped from earlier in the article that they met when Laird’s sister dragged him to a SoulCycle class. Akman was the instructor and him and Laird became friends after class. Laird was working on a campaign for Tommy Hilfiger. Rafael Nadal, a famous tennis player, was the talent for the ad. During the meeting, Hilfiger’s team was looking for another model and their description reminded Laird of Akman. Laird immediately suggested Akman, who by that time had become his good friend. They worked on the campaign together.
After the campaign, Akman sought help from Laird to build his brand. Akman said it was not easy to get Laird to work with him: “I had to convince him.” Akman wanted to focus on sports medicine and graphic design. Akman had a rough time figuring out his logo and where to start. Akman would ask Laird, “Hey can I borrow your Illustrator and Photoshop? Can I come to your office and you show me some ideas of what you would think it should look like.”
Laird and Akin now have a brand together called Army. Army basically is a workout class.
Bart inquired on where the name came from.
Akman responded it was his fans: “They said, ‘hey call us army.’.” Akman said Army originated from his love of exercise and training people and eventually it evolved. He added, “As people asked for things, I started listening to what they wanted.”
Akman is still in the development stage of his company. Bart asked Akman to give a brief summary of what Army is.
Akman said Army is inspired by IMG Academy training from the time he spent at IMG’s boarding school. Akman believes that nowadays everyone wants to train like pro athletes. Akman wanted to answer the question of how everyone could train like a pro athlete in a productive way for them individually. “Prehab, Rehab… nutrition, clothing,” Akman said were items that would be focused on in Army training.
When Akman and Laird would work on the brand, Akman would always relate his training to IMG. Akman would say, “Well when we were at IMG, we would do it this way.” Eventually, Akman and Laird visited IMG in November. Laird had a first-hand experience of how Akman wanted to model his brand, Army, off of IMG training. After visiting IMG, Laird had a greater understanding of the conditioning required to be a great athlete. Akman wanted to find a way to apply IMG’s training to a mom, a lawyer, or anyone.
Akman stated, “It’s a mindset.” At IMG mental and physical conditioning are separate. Later that week, we sat in an IMG mental conditioning class that I will be writing about in upcoming posts. For mental conditioning, athletes sit in a room and a coach tells them how to think in order to be successful. The coach also goes over the reasoning why an athlete performed good or bad and how they can perform better next time. Akman explained what is different about his class: “While I’m training, you’re doing the workout but you’re applying the action while you’re doing it. So it’s becoming your habits and rituals.” Akman continued, “You try to get people to see your point of view and where it could go. I’m trying to make people see their own potential and unlock that as they level up.” Akman dealt with his vision when he was growing up at IMG and he had to keep growing to understand himself more. Akman trained at IMG since he was five to be a famous tennis player, but after an injury, he could no longer play. He had to shift his vision from being a tennis player to becoming a trainer.
When asked on how Laird and Akman make such a great team, Akman responded: “We’re pretty much on the same frequency…we complement one another… we divide and conquer.”
Laird said, “We come from the same drive…It’s different background, but it’s the same approach.” Laird and Akman claim to not argue much because they have similar mindsets. Laird complimented Akman, “When you’re job is to inspire all these people on a daily basis… sometimes it’s nice to find someone that inspires you. The coach needs coaching sometimes.”
“The coach needs coaching sometimes.”
Bart asked how fashion ties into the athletics. Akman responded he got recruited to model in Miami. He was sent to Milan and then back to New York where he is now. Akman hates the casting process required to be a model. He wanted to figure out a way he could incorporate his love for training into modeling so that he could run the casting calls instead of attending them. He began to build his brand on exclusively training. Akman did not want to just be a model. He used his platform as a model to leverage relationships with people like Trey Laird. Eventually, IMG became his representative. IMG books Akman for jobs that align more with his mission instead of just modeling jobs. Akman coaches people from the fashion world too. One of his greatest issues with his fashion clients is consistency. One of Akman’s clients is Edward Enninful, editor and chief of British Vogue. He lives in London but when he comes to New York, he dedicates himself fully. Then Enninful goes back home. Akman says he has many clients who are inconsistent. He says when they return they get frustrated when they cannot pick up where they left off.
Bart asked Laird and Akman for advice for young creatives.
Akman stated, “Stay open,” he continued, “If it’s not going exactly how you planned it, try to see it in a different… perspective.” Lastly, Akman added, “Don’t just play the game, be the game-changer.”
“Don’t just play the game, be the game-changer.”
Q & A
I asked Akman and Laird how they stay humble. Akman responded, “Don’t forget who you are and where you come from”
“Don’t forget who you are and where you come from”
A Note to Trey Laird and Akin Akman
I really enjoyed talking to you both! My sister loves SoulCycle so hearing more about it made me understand why she likes it so much. I enjoyed working out with you both the next day too! I almost died but it was worth it! I stuck it out all the way through and I was proud of myself. Lol. I hope to bring my sister with me to take one of your classes in Soho! I also hope to work with both of you one day! Go Team! Army for life.
Sasha C. Yates
Wednesday @ 9:30 am I will be talking about the end of Day 1. The beach, meeting Devon Windsor, and working out the next morning with Akman.