Presented by Origin Kiss
Special thank You To MY BELOVED PARENTS, SISTER, AND MAXI
Photographer SEQUOIA EMMANUELLE @sequoiaemmanuelle
Producer/CFO JACKSON CHONG @jacksonchong_
Self-Styled by VIKTORIJA PASHUTA @viktorija_pashuta
Jewelry Stylist LANA VAA @aarnika
Makeup KSENIYA BERNKHARDT @k.hart.muah
Hair VICTOR MENDOZA Using BELLAMI @mendozavicf
Set Designer ISAAC AARON @isaacaaron
Photo Assistant JUSTIN PICCARI @jpiccari
BTS Video RAYMUNDO BARRIENTOS @official.raymundo
WORDS BY KIMBERLY HADDAD
Tell me about your professional background prior to BASIC and what led you to creating a new fashion publication.
I come from a small city called Ventspils, in Latvia, which is known as the Eastern–European Venice, so not very many people know about it. I had always dreamt of working in advertising and one of my icons back in the day was David Ogilvy. I wanted to create campaigns and stories that were inspired by his smart ad ideas. I loved intelligent campaigns for Vodka Absolut and the quirkiness of typography and visuals for luxury fashion campaigns. It was everything to me. But in a small country like Latvia, you don’t have many choices in terms of what you can study. You either had to pick economics or humanities. I picked English Philology at the University of Latvia, a very boring degree which gave me two choices: to become an interpreter or a teacher. And after a few years of studying, I really understood that it wasn’t my path. So, I picked up a part-time job while at the university as a journalist at a fashion publication called Podium Artin Riga. When I first applied to the job, I really wanted to be a writer, but the lady who was hiring told me that if I wanted to work as a journalist, I had to start by selling ads in the magazine first. Funny enough, I took that challenge. It was my first real experience in the magazine world and brought me closer to working in advertising. It was a really hard job with a lot of pitching to random clients and arranging the meetings. It was a lot of hustling with almost zero financial profit. Despite the job being intimidating and forcing me out of my comfort zone by talking completely uninterested people into buying ad space, it was still a very interesting experience. After successfully selling a few ads through cold leads, I asked the editor to give me a chance at writing. From that point, I started to write articles about Monica Bellucci and Antonio Banderas. I covered fashion weeks and wrote trend articles on what was happening in the world. This gave me really good experience in media and after working there for one year, I was promoted to a fashion editor for another lifestyle magazine called Kometik Balikum. But I didn’t accept the position. I felt that I could do something bigger with my life. So, I left Latvia and I went to study in England. I got a second degree, a master’s degree in marketing from Oxford Brookes University. This was the complete opposite of philology and it brought me closer to my ultimate goal of working in advertising and media. Back then, I didn’t even know I could work in a magazine. It seemed completely impossible, especially in the country where I was from. We don’t have much going on with high fashion, so leaving brought me closer to my dreams, to where I am right now, fulfilling what I believe is my destiny. I wanted to inspire people and make a difference. Once I moved to the United States, I couldn’t find a job in marketing. Even though I came here with two degrees, nobody wanted to hire me. It was also during the recession. I remember sending out tons of resumes and creative cover letters and all I received was one phone call interview from a small advertising agency in Newport Beach and I didn’t even get that. Now, I see the universe had bigger plans for me.
After six months of looking for a job I thought, well, if I’m not given the opportunity, I should create an opportunity for myself. And that’s what I did. I came here with nothing and took a chance. I decided I could be more than what people think of me. I decided to take a chance on myself. I picked up a camera and started shooting.
I had no prior experience in fashion or photography and didn’t have the appropriate education for it, but I took a leap of faith. I started doing small shoots by myself. At the time, nobody wanted to work with me as I didn’t have the team I have now. I didn’t have a stylist, a makeup artist, a hair stylist, any kind of crew. It was just me. I couldn’t even drive a car at the time. I remember my very first photo shoot. I did the makeup for the model myself, I styled her, I did her hair, and I was the photographer. That day, I also experienced my very first earthquake in California and I thought, this is a sign from the universe. This is something I should be pursuing. Since then, everything changed. Within my first year, I shot tons of fashion content, started shooting celebrities that in turn, led me to shooting many advertising campaigns, magazine spreads, and I finally landed a job as a creative director for a fashion publication in Los Angeles. That pretty much gave me the experience to do what I’m doing now because I was also involved in production and public relations. After working there for about a year, I realized that there was a big need for a good platform for independent artists and talents from all over the world to showcase their skills. There was only a handful of fashion publications that really gave that opportunity. You either had huge media houses that promoted all the same brands and the same celebrities or you have very tiny publications that come and go every month. That’s when I decided to make a difference in that arena and start BASIC. When I started BASIC, I actually received a lot of criticism for its name. People asked, why BASIC? They told me it sounded like a negative thing, but it was quite the opposite. It’s something so essential and crucial. Everything always comes back to the basics and that’s pretty much the idea of our publication. We are everything but basic.
How is BASIC Magazine different from other publications of the same genre?
BASIC is a completely different animal. It is a publication that has a nonconventional format like no other known publication and that was my goal. BASIC is like a visual museum, where every page takes you on a different mental journey.
I want to surprise my reader, keep them guessing when they turn the pages and don’t know what’s coming next. We don’t have the typical format or the same structure that many other magazines have. When you open BASIC, it’s as if you’re stepping into a new world. We’ve created sections that have never been seen before—BASIC Look Books, BASIC Heroes, BASIC Case Study, BASIC Characters, and so on. We feature personalities that you wouldn’t normally see in a fashion mag- azine. Even though we’re considered a fashion publication, I would classify BASIC as a cultural phenomenon. We blend the boarders between a coffee table book and a fashion magazine. Since we’re a quarterly publication, we’re out every four months and each issue is a collection of visual stories that we have several months to work on. I remember when we came out with the very first issue of BASIC, I received a phone call from a designer who was crying. He told me he couldn’t believe he had worked his whole life creating his collection and that it was finally featured in a print magazine. He could hold it in his hands. It made me realize how what I do makes people happy. It’s a form of physical gratification and that is really important. We need something physical us what we did. I told them I was a photographer, that I have my own magazine and that we just did a shoot with Michele Morrone. They were so excited! They were like, oh my God, the guy from 365 Days? I thought to myself, are they even allowed to watch that film? But we were the first ones to put him on the print cover, which in turn, catapulted his career by opening new doors in advertising campaigns and appearing on other prominent covers. We have also featured Salt Bae on the cover, who isn’t your typical cover model, but he has an extremely inspiring story of his own. We want to share these kind of stories of success with the world, inspire people, and I know it sounds cliché, but we want to push people to believe in themselves and take actions of their own.
BASIC viral shoots are quite phenomenal as it’s not a common concept amongst other magazines. Talk to me about these shoots and what they mean to the publication.
Viral shoots are an extremely exciting game for me. I consider them to be puzzles, an intellectual mind game. A viral shoot is a series of photos that have one theme, photographed in the same style, but showcase different elements. For example, our very first viral shoot was a series called, “What if Cars Were Supermodels?” I picked the topic because I had zero knowledge of cars. All I knew was one car was red, another was white, one looked fancy, another one was fast—the basics. Since I had no knowledge on the topic, I decided to expand on the idea by interviewing different guys. I went up to random men and asked them what it felt like to be in a BMW or a Mercedes and started to gather a lot of information that turned into keywords. Then I put together a list of cars that had completely different qualities and features and I thought it would be really cool to take a woman that looks and feels like a car with the same features and highlight her personality through the concept. The idea exploded unexpectedly. We had millions of views on the internet. The article was translated into so many different languages and reposted because people could connect to the idea and that’s very important. It was such a cool project for me. Sometimes, I call it “intelligent fashion” because it gives you something to think about. It is a conversation starter. The series put BASIC on the front page of Google and blended what I had always wanted—advertising and fashion. Viral shoots are something we try and do for every issue, but they are also emotional turmoil. It takes a lot to come up with an idea and create it in the way that one picture is understandable to any person in the world, no matter what language they speak or what their social status is. We use fashion and art to unite people and create unity.
In reflection of all of our past issues, what has been your favorite viral photo shoot or spread?
I consider BASIC to be a very unique creature, almost like an alien creature that needs attention and investment. Every issue is my favorite, but if I had to pick, there is one project that I feel didn’t get the attention that it could have gotten because it may have been confusing for some people. I love the spread called “Dollz”. It was a mixed media project where I combined fashion, art, photography, fashion illustration, and collage. I picked my favorite looks from the Resort Collections from back in 2017 and asked a famous artist, Eris Tran, to create fashion illustrations of those runway looks. They were then supersized and cut out from pieces of cardboard. We went to a location called Salvation Mountain in the desert and put those cutout illustration looks in front of the real model and photographed them. This was very exciting for me because I got to really exercise my brain as I don’t like to be bored. I like to get myself excited and hyped up, especially when I know everyone else will like it. I’ve done so many shoots and projects, and I know that if I put my mind to something, I can make it super fun and unique. I feel like this was one of the coolest spreads we had in BASIC.
When people in the media talk about print, it’s always about how print is dying, but BASIC is actually thriving. Where do you see print going in the near future?
That’s a really good question because I’ve heard this ever since I started BASIC. The first question I got from one of my friends was, wow, you’re starting a print magazine in a digital time?
He said I was crazy, but there’s something special about having a physical book in your hand. It’s proof that what you’ve worked really hard on has a physical form, a print publication that can be relevant for many years and generations. The magazine can be here for 20 years or more, but the Instagram post with millions of likes is gone tomorrow. I don’t think it’s print that’s dying, it’s the content that’s dying.
And with BASIC, we put a hundred percent of our time and effort into our content, into the people, and it shows. The energy of people who participate in the creation of BASIC also transcends to the reader through the pages of the magazine. I think it’s extremely important to keep having print and to keep BASIC in print. It’s something no digital platform can substitute. We use our digital platform for viral shoots as a way to smoothly integrate whatever’s in print into digital. We can still share backstage content while creating additional conversations and stories that make people feel good and I think that’s what BASIC is about.
Where do you see BASIC heading in the near future?
We have really big plans. We aren’t just a magazine. We are a media company that does projects from advertising campaigns and fashion films to interactive events. We do projects that correlate to the pages of the magazine. We want to expand more into the digital space and possibly into television, but on our own terms.
This is our 20th anniversary issue and an incredibly unique one, given you and Jackson are featured on the covers. Can you talk about the concept behind the shoots and how the idea developed?
This is a very special issue. We’ve been on the market for six years and every issue has been a personal and emotional investment. I sleep, dream, and think BASIC. I don’t just come to sets, do photo shoots, and go back to my ordinary life—which I don’t really have, by the way. Every day is different, every idea is unique, and I’d be lying if I said this issue was easy. This issue was very challenging. Since it was our anniversary issue, there was lot of pressure to create something extraordinary. We wanted to top everything we’ve done before. I also really wanted to create something that other magazines haven’t done before, and one day, my sister gave me the idea to highlight my team, the people behind the magazine, especially for the anniversary edition. We are the people who live, work, and breathe BASIC, so we thought this would disrupt the current media climate. I feel like fashion publications nowadays are too sterile, too impersonal sometimes. It’s the same thing over and over again. I wanted to showcase the people who worked hard on this issue, but in a cool, creative way. The shoots are inspired by a mysterious story you can read in my BASIC Boss Letter.
What in your personal life has influenced you to choose your career and what people and/or things inspire your creative efforts?
My career chose me. I’ve never believed in the idea that you have to be one thing or pick one specific job and do it for the rest of your life. I have always admired Leonardo Da Vinci, who was an excellent painter, sculptor, scientist, and engineer. His talents only prove that our minds have no limits and if we set higher standards and goals for ourselves, we can achieve things we’ve never even dreamt of.
I was always a rebel and didn’t like people putting labels on me. I believe all things in the universe are connected and we as humans are capable of so much more than society determines. I never worked well under someone else’s whip. I always wanted to do things that I wanted to do and did more than I was asked.
Being your own boss requires a lot of sacrifices and difficult choices, but it’s better to starve and create your own legacy than to live comfortably your entire life in a passive aggressive state or always complaining. There should be no regrets, but if you never try, you will always regret it later. Every no brings you closer to a yes.
Tell me one interesting fact about yourself that not a lot of people know.
I don’t drink alcohol and I have never tried it. I also never watch horror films. My body and my mind are a temple.
Name the last three songs you listened to on your Spotify.
“Cherish the Day” by SADE, “Work” by Charlotte Day Wilson, and “In Your Arms” by Baby Rose.
Who are some of your favorite designers?
Yves Saint Laurent, Elsa Schiaparelli, Balenciaga, Robert Wun, Miss Sohee, and Dilara Findikoglu.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
When people wear socks with slippers.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
My sister told me once to never forget to think.
What’s your drink of choice?
Homemade rose milk tea with a secret ingredient.
What is the most adventurous thing you have ever done?
I started BASIC. It takes me on a different adventure every single time.
What TV show can you watch over and over again without getting tired of it?
How would you describe your job in one word?
How would you describe your team in three words?
I would describe my team in two words: humble firecrackers.