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Mike the Ruler’s Kingdom

Hanging out in NYC with the 14-year-old muse and his crew – including VFiles It-Boy Luka Sabbat, Camp & Street member Rahel and Rookie ed Amy Rose Spiegel

As part of our new summer US project States of Independence we've invited our favourite 30 American curators, magazines, creatives and institutions to take over Dazed for a day. Today, as part of our State of Fashion week, New York's new muse, brand lover, and fashion obsessive Mike the Ruler is curating our content. We get his gang's favourite American youth tracks and find out Mike's ones to watch of America's best designers. Check it all out on the Mike the Ruler Day page.

Taken from the Autumn 2014 issue of Dazed:

Only in New York – America’s cutthroat cultural melting pot – could a 14-year-old boy from the Upper West Side become outsider fashion’s new muse. Mike Hope (better known as Mike the Ruler) is at the forefront of a wave of fashion rebels fearlessly infiltrating the mainstream. The city is in new hands, run by designers such as Hood By Air and Telfar, experimental record labels Fade to Mind and UNO, and performers like the genderqueer collective Chez Deep. Together they’re as genre-blind as a Tumblr feed and, with the help of the internet, are obliterating the boundaries that have previously divided art, fashion and music. Mike and his friends don’t have just one job or career track and they don’t spend their days glued to a computer screen. They construct their own workspaces, and are redefining what it means to be an artist today. The lines are permanently blurred.

It was only a year ago that Mike started showing up at events in the cult fashion pockets of New York – VFiles parties and the A$AP Riot Raves – but he immediately stood out as an anomaly. It wasn’t just because he was young and sweet-faced like Stuart Little child star Jonathan Lipnicki circa 1999 (as Mike self-described one #flashbackfriday). Firstly, he looked as if he’d been collecting cult brands like Raf Simons and Rick Owens for decades, topping his looks with glasses Dwyane Wade might covet. Secondly, he spoke about his style and what others were wearing with integrity, naturally tossing in the slang and shrugs of a teen city kid. In fact, his knowledge of fashion history goes far beyond reblogs – he proudly titled one compare-and-contrast homework assignment “Helmut Lang vs. Calvin Klein”. So who won? “Helmut Lang, of course.” His Instagram may be an enviable collection of #OOTDs, but when it comes to culture he has #nofilter.

Ask any 20 or 30-something adult who calls Mike a friend (as many on the downtown scene do) and they’ll say their awareness of his age fell away within minutes of meeting him. Though Mike’s personal style focuses on underground labels mostly born in New York, his foray into fashion was not on the sidewalk, but in the hallowed galleries of The Costume Institute at the Met. His dad took him to see Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in 2011 and something clicked: his mouse. Hundreds of thousands of times, until he memorised collections posted online. “I remember the garments with blood stains and the clear plastic and wooden jackets!” he enthuses. It kick-started a journey that turned him into a full-blown fashion obsessive: “It takes me like two hours to get dressed every day. I probably try on five outfits and end up choosing one,” he explains, admitting he then takes one in his bag and changes whenever he feels “gross”.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that he’s still a kid, albeit a talented, perceptive one who seems poised to sit on a fashion throne. Last March, Mike was on the cover of New York magazine’s internet fame themed issue, wearing an HBA padlock chain that, recently, a doctor advised he immediately remove from his wardrobe. The weighty lock was hitting a growing bone in his chest. It’s fair to say that his taste is beyond his years (and his skeleton).

Today he is kicking back at his home on the Upper West Side. “Can you guys move your dough and fluids?” Mike asks his friends and it takes a second to register, dough = bagels, fluids = orange juice. Luka Sabbat, 17, and Austin Butts (aka Asspizza), 16, listen to Mike and move their food; they also listen to him about untucking their shirts, changing shoes or switching a hat. Stacked around are his plastic bins labelled “Hood by Air + Telfar” and “Supreme Hats”, and there’s an Eckhaus Latta sticker smacked on the wall above Mike’s bed. The boys have already torn through the racks of clothes for today’s shoot, and are goofing around while they wait. “Luka, this is one of one,” Mike jokes about a VFiles foam finger, which he uses to smack his friend. Two girls – Gabriella and Manon – float around as the boys shop online, slouched on chairs, half-included in that way girls sometimes watch boys play video games. Except instead of “Shoot him!” or “Die!” the boys pipe in with “Cop it!” and “Extremely rare!”

The young Americans in this portfolio curated by Mike – Luka Sabbat, Hari Nef, Lil Government, Rahel, Asspizza and Amy Rose Spiegel – may not all come over to hang out at his house on weekday nights (though some do), but they’re all on his incredibly scrupulous internet radar. They’re subjects of interest. By the end of the day, Mike’s in a pair of white Chanel cargo shorts (model’s own) and like so many before her, photographer Brianna Capozzi wasn’t able to resist gifting some of the clothes she brought – which she made herself – to the young style icon. Mike’s curiosity doesn’t wane. He holds up a pair of old silver shoes, rave or rain-weathered, with their straps wrapped up in clear tape and asks her: “Who makes these? What are they?” “They’re from the Salvation Army, like, years ago,” Capozzi says. To Mike, it’s all fair game in fashion. His friends bury him in clothes and he lays in the pile – a fashion snow day – luxuriating. Holding up a pair of Siki Im pants, he declares: “The garment itself is fucking beautiful.” Spiegel helps him yank off a pair of snug white cowboy boots. Karen Hope (Mike’s mum) holds up her iPhone and the crew gathers into a candid-looking, natural, laid back and impossibly cool just-hanging-out-picture. They’ve been patiently waiting for you to receive this issue so that they can Instagram it. But don’t think they aren’t genuine. Asspizza, slightly shy in his vintage Selena Gomez tour shirt, gives me two seconds of eye contact when he says: “I care about Mike. He’s, like, the best kid I ever met."

“What I like about Rick Owens is that there’s always a story behind it,” explains aspiring designer Luka Sabbat (who sat front row at Dior as a toddler with his parents). His hunger for narrative in fashion is shared by his generation, but if you’re a fashion kid these days, it’s hard to resist the temptation to strut your stuff on Instagram. “I’ve gone a long way thanks to the internet, but it can also be a fucked-up place. No one forgets what’s online,” he says. “Don’t chase the followers, chase the money or whatever you’re trying to make.” Right now he’s working on a small collection with his dad, and hoping to develop his design skills at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp.


What three words define the States today?
Kind of crazy.

When and where are you happiest?
Barneys, New York.

When did you first fall in love?
Last month with my girlfriend.

Ultimate American album?
Moody Blue by Elvis Presley.

Does the American Dream still exist?
Yes, and it’s extremely hard to get. Everyone who has made it is rubbing it in your face on social media.

“New York’s a place where you can look like yourself and have people really see you,” explains 21-year-old Hari Nef before excitedly sharing that to pass her acting course at Columbia University, she will play the role of Irina Nikolayevna Arkadina in Chekhov’s The Seagull. Nef’s the first transwoman at Columbia to take on the famed role, and she had to beat a pack of talented peers to win it. Today, you can feel Nef’s stage presence in Mike’s living room, where she tries on a halter top with dramatic loops that fall down her back – Mike made it himself. The two friends met on social media, and share a love of fashion and performance art, which, in New York, are symbiotic.


If you could change one thing about the US, what would it be?
I would shuffle the identities of all public figures and politicians. 75 per cent of them would be women, 25 per cent of them would be men. 75 per cent of them would also be queer, 45 per cent of which would be trans folk. Only 25 per cent of all public figures would be white.

What is your favourite quote about America?
“Everybody has their own America.” – Andy Warhol

Which living American do you most admire and why?
Right now it’s Laverne Cox. In her work, I find unprecedented possibility for my trans sisters and myself.


Does the American Dream still exist?
Yes, it’s finding out who you are, making money and living your life.

What is your favourite slang phrase?
THOT (that hoe over there). In a sentence, you’d say: ‘I went on a date with a girl and I don’t like her, she’s a THOT.’

What three words define the States today?
Beautiful, disgusting, infectious.

When and where are you happiest?
In New York City – otherwise I’m miserable.

Where did you first fall in love?
I’ve never had a relationship. I don’t feel ready to do that. I don’t want to do anything unless I know who I am.

What would make you leave America forever?

What will America look like in 2050?
More technology, more global warming, more high-packed shopping.

When was your last run-in with the cops?
I can’t answer that.

What is the most overrated US tourist attraction?
I hate the tourists. They’re gross. They make everything crowded, it’s too much to take.

Rahel Haile, 26, looks like a young Whitney Houston and runs with the Camp & Street crew in New York, the label started by Le1f that’s due to release Rahel’s first EP this summer. She starred in Le1f’s diner-set “BOOM” video as a backup dancer alongside DonChristian – they’re college friends from Wesleyan. After making music on the side for a couple of years, she just quit her job teaching at an elite private school (think toddler Gossip Girl) to, well, pursue the American Dream. So far so good: she plays her single “Serve” and even the boys on set stop swapping shirts to bob their heads. “As long as somebody is giving me a platform, I say something.”


What high school clique were you in?
If ‘agitated brown kids on financial aid at elite private school’ counts as a clique, then that’s where you could find me.

What is your ultimate American guilty pleasure?
I really like deep fried food. It’s bad.

If you could change one thing about the US, what would it be?
White supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

What smell do you associate with the city of your birth?
The Stella D’oro cookie factory used to send the scent of cookies all throughout Kingsbridge and Riverdale in the Bronx.

Austin Butts aka Asspizza loves pizza because it’s made of simple ingredients combined to mindblowing effect – a tension he hopes to create in his work. The 16-year-old artist-in-the-making customises jeans and tees, drawing on them with the kind of free hand Nate Lowman would admire. That in part comes from being young with a lot of time to spend in your parents’ basement, and if you asked us, we’d give him an A in internet wit. But Asspizza, who often lets Mike the Ruler come over and draw on anything he can get his hands on, sees this teenage free time as the start of a career. His plans? Skip college, make art, buy an island. One where they will deliver pizza.


When was your last run-in with the cops?
Well, me and my good friend used to steal toys – Pokémon Cards, My Little Pony – from Toys R Us on the daily. We sold everything on eBay and made over $5,000. We spent it all on Rick Owens and Supreme. Man, those were the days! Eventually we became greedy, going to every single Toys R Us in New York and stuffing our school bags full with stolen toys. We got caught in Queens and spent two days in a holding cell.

Ultimate American album?
I listen to everything from Mozart to Miley.

What food reminds you of home?
A bacon, egg and cheese sandwich.

Amy Rose Spiegel is a 23-year-old writer and editor at Rookie, so you could say that she’s more in tune with the thoughts and emotions of young women in America than any other non-teen: “When you try to make a national identity, you come up with a certain uncertainty, a sense of unrest. There’s something shivering beneath the skin of American teenagers, wanting to be something, do something,” she says. “My whole goal at Rookie and my career goal in fact is to do work that makes people feel less alienated. That’s it.” Spiegel is currently working on a book and someday wants to edit her own publication, but for now, she’s that rare American Millennial who says she’s perfectly happy where she is.


What three words define the States today?
Elegant, inelegant, racist.

Which fictional American do you most identify with?
Cal Trask from John Steinbeck’s East of Eden.

Most underrated US tourist attraction?
My apartment.

When was your last run-in with the cops?
A bona fide police chief wearing tails and a pocket square tried to pick me up at a Paris Review party a few days ago. He described himself as a “real Brooklyn boy.” I did not accept his offer to go on a ride-along.

A stylist, writer, creative director, caps-lock Twitter-caster and self-described metacultural polymath, 29-year-old Lil Government runs social media for collaborative creative platform Despite her name, her voice is far from lil (see her “fuck me I’m smart” selfies) and connecting in the virtual world or in person seems to be her main drive. She has just moved to New York after living in Boston for almost a decade, but unlike kids like Mike who were born and bred in New York City, Lil Government describes herself as a “proud girl from the sticks”.


What is your favourite quote about America?
“You guys are evil. Canada’s the best country in the world. We go to the doctor and we don’t need to worry about paying him, but here, your whole life, you’re broke because of medical bills. My bodyguard’s baby was premature, and now he has to pay for it. In Canada, if your baby’s premature, he stays in the hospital as long as he needs to, and then you go home.” – Justin Bieber

Which fictional American do you most identify with?
I don’t identify with fake people, real or imagined.

Ultimate American film?
8 Mile.

Photography Brianna Capozzi; Styling Victor Cordero; Styling Direction Mike the Ruler; Photographic assistant Amanda Chu; Groomer Ami Osada; special thanks to Karen Hope