Jake Davis isn’t just a video director, style blogger (he was one of five men’s fashion writers profiled on the front of the New York Times’ Style section earlier this month), and downtown New York insider: he’s a really nice guy.
Point in case: A few weeks ago, Jake took a chunk of time out of his day to talk to Matt about his work, his family, and his plans for the last year on earth. They covered so much ground- and had so much fun – that we decided to spread Jake’s Our Voice over two weeks. Last week, the conversation included Woodstock, hip-hop, and pastries; this week, the guys talk about Jake’s recent work, his unique take on personal style, and growing up on a visual diet of MTV Cribs.
Matt: Let’s talk about what’s happening now. What’s the last year been like for you, in terms of goals? I don’t know if you even set them …
Jake: The last year has been about growth, both personally and professionally. You have to say goodbye to certain relationships and say hello to new ones. People always have this moment where, say, they’ve worked a long time for a company and they say the biggest change and the most growth comes from leaving one situation and starting another. And even in that moment, you’re not sure about it.
Jake: So it’s not like there’s a whole bunch of strategy going on over here. I work with some amazing people – Kerri Kleiner, who is my heart and soul, and Chris Black, my muscle and backbone. We’ve put in the legwork and now it’s all paying off.
There always so much going on behind the scenes that no one knows about. People see the finished product – the video or whatever – and they don’t realize how much you sometimes have to fight for those things. For twelve years it’s been my strategy to take every opportunity and make the most of it. Even if it’s a small opportunity, you have to say, “I may not make any money on this, but let’s still make an incredible film.” Or it’s, “We’re going to make a little money off this; let’s reinvest what we make in this other project.” People only know what they see. And if something feels bigger than it is, that’s probably a good thing.
Matt: No doubt. I think some people get successful looking bigger than they really are, by doing just that. That whole get-money attitude of ‘90s hip-hop, that whole attitude of “I took my $25,000 and went to Jacob and bought a chain,” the whole look-bigger-than-you-are thing – that gets people’s attention.
Jake: You’re right. For better or for worse, that’s my generation – the hip-hop generation. We grew up watching MTV Cribs. None of that is real … well, maybe a little bit. You see an image and take it at face value when you’re young. You have to learn that that’s not reality.
Matt: What’s the first rap video you ever directed?
Jake: I was involved with so many rappers early on, doing short films and documentaries. But the first big video where a lot of money was spent – and not, like, crazy, crazy money in the ‘90s, but like, to where we were on a process trailer and we shut down the city of Toronto to shoot – that was Drake. I’m going to pull the footage I have of that shoot out one day: I have a flip cam and we’re on the process trailer and the music is banging and we have Toronto kids running after us and it was, like, 3 in the morning … It was this incredible moment. That was like, “OK, I’m living this fantasy that I used to watch (on TV). I’m just a kid from Woodstock and now I’m here doing this; I don’t know how I got here.”
Matt: Speaking of how you got there, with your parents being in the clothing business and repping clothes that were really cool, I see where the interest you have (in the world of fashion) comes from. But I can definitely relate to something I read when I was researching you, about recognizing style as opposed to being stylish. That’s how I’ve always thought of myself, as someone who designs clothes: I come up with something and think, “I know this dude, and he could rock this and look great, but I never could.” Not to put you on the spot, but you’re in that scenario now; you’re reporting on (style) and people are turning to you, asking, like, “What does Jake think is cool?” Did that interest develop with (Jake’s well-known video interview series) Test Shots?
Jake: A big part of it is osmosis, living below 14th Street in New York. I’m really not that well traveled. I spent a lot of time in LA and I do travel for work, but most of my time is spent in New York. And, especially for the last 15 years, there’s been incredible style here. You just walk out your door, and it’s unbelievable. Even the kid who has no money …
Matt: … is rocking it.
Jake: … is killing it in their own way. I know there are a few other cities out there like New York, where people really express themselves outwardly. But because it’s all about walking here, it’s just a form of expression. If you’re an expressive and creative person, there’s just no way you can’t have an opinion and take it in and want to show people. Obviously, I spend a lot of time talking to my friends, and most of them are clothing designers, talking about style. And hip-hop – it’s all about presentation. Rock is, as well, but it’s more subtle, and a little dirtier. But hip-hop is crispy – it’s like, I need that newest thing and I’m getting it today.
Jake: The funny thing is, you talk about the trends that are happening now – this whole heritage thing. I don’t know if we’re coming out of it or if it’s here to stay. People like to give me a little bit of credit for some of those trends, but it’s really just what I grew up on. I’ll pull out a class picture of me when I was seven years old and I’m wearing a chambray shirt. That’s just what made sense in Woodstock – wearing buffalo plaid jacket, or work boots, or even camouflage. Those things are very American, but it was also my parent’s funny way of playing dress-up. I mean, my father’s from Miami Beach, my mother’s from New York City. (Dressing that way) is like their fantasy: “Oh, we’re in Woodstock! This is how you dress in the woods – you wear moccasins!” That’s what I grew up on, so of course it’s what I wear now.
The sweatpants come from tennis culture; you go to a tournament and you wear warm-ups before you play. Back when I first played, they weren’t polyester-based yet; Nike was still doing jersey – mostly 100 percent cotton. The look was gray sweatpants and a gray varsity crewneck sweatshirt, and then under that you’d have your shorts. White tennis sneakers. Very simple. So that’s that aesthetic. That’s what I love.
But then there’s the heritage aesthetic. And then you move to the city and (are exposed to) this sophisticated element as well, with the double-breasted stuff. People are getting a little more tailored now. My best friend Brendon (Barbenzien) who does Supreme, he dresses up: he is a gentleman. He’ll wear a fedora and a bow tie to dinner, and it fits him. He’s comfortable in it. The whole thing doesn’t work on me, but I’ll take an element of what he does. Then my other buddies, it’s like homeless chic. Not that I’m a label whore, but you check what I’m wearing and it’s like, a $1,000 jacket, or if it’s white tennis sneakers it’s some $500 exclusive sneaker that you can’t get anymore. But that look, to the naked eye, you look like a homeless dude.
Matt: The first time I ever met James Wilson of Secret Forts, he came to Nashville and did an incredible blog post on us. We were standing in front of the big garage door window at the store, and he was asking me questions and whatnot, and this homeless guy walk by in the dopest, freshest blue khakis that you’ve ever seen in your life! He had on this great scarf and just looked so good. And James looks over at me and goes, “Effortless.” I will always remember that. I always thought
that was so great: “Effortless.” I’m always attracted to people who just are effortlessly looking fresh, so I totally get it.
On that tip, I always like to ask this question: Who is the freshest dresser in your family? Is it your Uncle Leon or your cousin or your dad or your mom … Who is it?
Jake: I have such a small family, both my parents are only children, so … I’m the freshest dressed.
Matt: There you go!
Jake: In true hip-hop nature, I’ll own that.
Matt: Real talk, son. Real talk!
Wiz Khalifa – Roll Up
My most commercially successful music video to date is Wiz Khalifa
“Roll Up.” We shut Venice Beach down for a day. Over 60,000,000 views.
I don’t care much about numbers but I do like that I was able to
create something with a
real pop sensibility for Wiz without
MSeries: Extra | Featuring: Koji Kusakabe | Position: Owner – Extra-NYC.com