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MCM x Christopher Raeburn
King wears all clothes MCM x Christopher RaeburnStyling Elizabeth Fraser-Bell

Illustrator King Owusu on London, diversity, and creativity

The CSM student and new blood talent is the first of our MCM Modern Creative Muses – he discusses his work

Luxury accessories label MCM emerged in 1976 on the vibrant streets of Munich. Among the subcultural spirit of the punks and rockers that filled the city, the brand established itself with an imitable monogram signature that has evolved alongside its contemporary designs. After teaming up for a spectacular SS17 show back in June, the label is now collaborating for a second time with British designer Christopher Raeburn on a collection that places innovation and creativity at its heart – and here finds a muse in illustrator and model King Owusu

Embodying the same countercultural attitude and curious spirit that MCM has always fed from, the 19-year-old Owusu is a Central Saint Martins student represented by classmate Campbell Addy’s diversity-first agency, Nii. When he’s not walking for Graces Wales Bonner or appearing on billboards, the north-London native draws inspiration for his drawings from those closest to him. Thriving on the creative melting pot of his city, his process has always been one of collaboration. Absorbing references from his family, friends, school and city, his work is reflective of what he perceives around him. We caught up with Owusu to delve more into how his own attitude to creativity led him here.

When did you first begin drawing?

King Owusu: As the cliché goes, I’ve been drawing since I was a child. I grew up the youngest in a busy house of seven. I really began drawing when I got a little older, I would test my parents and would often be sent to my room in a storm; it became a creative studio where my brothers would work on oil paintings or animations. I used drawings to relax and channel my emotions and thoughts onto the surface of the paper, it was like a sort of therapy. I looked up to my brothers, so it was only natural that I would continue to work as they did.  

Why does illustration appeal to you? What does it help you express?

King Owusu: I grew up heavily influenced by cartoons and TV shows – Naruto, Avatar: the last Airbender, Rave Master and Samurai Jack – a lot of these explored deep subjects matters, about family and finding true purpose in life, that have very much become themes within my practice today. Illustration has enabled me to deconstruct the world as I see it, resembling it from my own perspective. 

“London is full of amazing, diverse cultures... It’s made me able to be independent but understand the importance of collaborations” – King Owusu

How has growing up in London informed your life, direction, and outlook so far?

King Owusu: It has given me a small taste of the wider world. The city is full of amazing, diverse cultures that actively help build our communities. It’s made me able to be independent but understand the importance of collaborations. Amongst all the noise of the city, it’s made me focus on the goals I have set for myself. 

What’s the best thing about Londoners?

King Owusu: The creative scene; I believe there is this fighter that lives within every Londoner, a can-do attitude.There is so much pressure living in such a city but it’s so motivating to see these diamonds being formed. Londoners are tough. 

Why did you want to study at CSM?

King Owusu: CSM culminates some of the best things about London life: the diversity, the freedom and opportunity. It brings in such a wealth of creative talent from around the world and I believe that’s what I needed from my art school; the ability to collaborate and learn in a very open and innovative environment.

How did you get signed to Nii?

King Owusu: I met the creator of Nii, Campbell Addy, in the CSM library, in what I can only describe as a love-at-first-sight moment. Campbell came to me and told me his concept for a shoot he was working on. Through him I met his friend and collaborator Ib Kamara, we worked on shoots together throughout the year until one day he told me about the agency and Nii Journal and I had to join. 

Why do you like the agency? What does it represent to you?

King Owusu: Often there’s a stigma to being with an agency and how restricted a person can be within their movements, but that has never been the case here. The agency is full of young creatives just like me, it’s a great place to collaborate. Also, the agency brings a much-needed diversity to the industry that I think is refreshing. 

What do you like about modelling?

King Owusu: As a design student, I am really fascinated by different creative processes. Modelling has given me the opportunity to see many creatives work and has really inspired me. I often feel like a sponge to all this data as I begin to see it reflecting within my own work. 

Tell us about your creative muses?

King Owusu: A lot of my work is inspired by the people around me. Listening to their inner conflicts and concerns, I try to capture these issues within my work. The artists and people who inspire my work range from Polly Nor, Robert Nicole, Viviane Sassen…I also love listening to the Radiolab podcast.  

MCM has a strong punk heritage, who do you feel expresses that energy today?

King Owusu: There’s a whole realm of artists and designers who are looking beyond traditional means of promoting themselves and their craft. For example, Charles Jeffery uses social media platforms to show (his) work process and how unorthodox it is. His whole club night scene brings together hundreds of designers and people who naturally have quite subverted views on what contemporary fashion and art are today. 

How do you represent punk today?

King Owusu: It’s seen within my work and lifestyle with my friends. My process - it’s all very DIY and spontaneous, I believe that punk is about authenticity. I show this in my own fashion and staying true to myself.

What do you stand for? What is worth standing out for? 

King Owusu: My hometown Wood Green and the rest of North London. Many of the kids growing up there don’t see any other way from being in a gang, as it brings them a sense of belonging and brotherhood. I want to be the bridge that guides them to a better path, that moves away from the glamorisation of gang culture. Reducing knife and gun crime, it’s taken too many of our friends. It’s worth standing out for something that you believe in, a dream or ideal, a cause that could bring us together. 

Visit the MCM Worldwide website here and see more of our MCM coverage here. See more work from Owusu here