Antwaun Sargent is a writer, politico, and fashionista. The Chicago native’s unique aesthetic combines the written word with fashion statements, incorporating issues of social injustice with visual art in a delicate balance of creativity and criticism.
Antwaun Sargent’s whole lifestyle is a form of fusion: he writes for publications both old guard and new; he’s a politicized-yet-artful Instagram star; he walks the line between insider and outsider. Antwaun embodies what it means to be a twenty-first century human. His social media presence is curated yet authentic, rapidly transforming his personal brand into living artform. We recently caught up with Antwaun and talked about his fashion obsession, and the limitations of labeling.
It shaped my perspective on almost everything. The museum scene in Chicago and the artists who live there exposed me to a world of possibilities. It was the culture, really, because Chicago is a diverse place, but you also have a blackness there that allows you to have a communal and international experience at once.
Can you talk a bit about that communal blackness?
The communal blackness is so deeply rooted in Chicago. Growing up in Chicago in the nineties, If you were black and lived in Chicago at that time, one way you expressed your identity was through Jordan basketball shoes. It had nothing to do with socio-economic status, it had nothing to do with class.
How else did fashion manifest early in your earlier life?
My mother was super obsessed with fashion. I have a little brother and she would dress us alike. We went from wearing Lacoste when we were kids to wearing Ralph Lauren when the American designer thing happened. We went to a Catholic school and my mother would go out of her way to find designer clothes that fit the uniform. I knew fashion was important, but I always had my own ideas about how I wanted to present myself. I recognized very early that I wanted to say as much as I possibly could through what I was wearing.
It was all tied together with political stuff. The first things I designed on my own were these political t-shirts. I put little phrases on these shirts, then had them made and watched the response. Bush was President, so I was really interested in using clothes as a way to protest.
How has your relationship with fashion changed since then?
Fashion is one of the things that I cannot shake. I have tried for a long time, but I just can’t. I will spend $1,000 on a silly thing. I go every couple of weeks and just buy and buy and buy. Some of the stuff I wear, some of the stuff I don’t, but it’s so important to who I am and my identity that I just have to stop fighting it.
How do you choose what you’re going to buy?
I go through phases where I’m obsessed with particular designers. I’m really obsessed with Acne right now. I really like the aesthetic and the way that the designer partners with artists. I really like what he stands for, so I want to be close to that. In a weird way, I am close to it because I go and buy the clothes. It’s this idea of self by association.
So that’s one obsession. What are your others?
Is there a competitive quality to social media?
You seem deeply image conscious, but not in a vapid way. You seem aware of the aesthetic ramifications of a photo or post. Can you talk about that?
How does that tie into your writing?
I write about culture at the intersection of art, fashion, and sometimes music — but primarily about black artists. I became very interested in the possibilities that black artists present for representation, the possibilities that they present for exploring myself, and what they say about the world.
Talk a little bit more about the way your cultural experience factors into your writing.
There’s an editor at New York Magazine who called me for a quote. At the end of the conversation they asked “So should I refer to you as an art critic?” and I said — in a very funny way — “I only thought white men were allowed to be art critics.” I laughed and she didn’t. That moment revealed the ways in which we in this society subtly say which people are allowed to do certain things and which people are not allowed to do certain things. No one ever said you cannot be an art critic, but if you look at the major magazines, the major newspapers, who are the people commenting on art? Old, white men. I’m not trying to aspire to be them or be that-there’s something about authenticity that really forces me to say what I want to say and wear as many different hats as I possibly can. That could mean art critic or that could mean writer or that could mean social media influencer, but none of those labels really matter to me ’cause I’m more interested in expressing all different aspects of who I am in all the different ways.
Respect. Thanks for the chat man, and best of luck with everything.