How a Freshman Scored a ‘Times’ Contract
“Hey, g’day mates!”
It’s not a salutation you hear much outside of southern Oceania, but so starts each post on Isaac Likes, the atypical men’s fashion blog penned and produced by Isaac Hindin-Miller, himself an atypical men’s fashion blogger. He’s invariably used that disarmingly cheesy address, a play on a dated Kiwi colloquialism from his parent’s generation, since the site’s founding in 2008, despite admitting that it’s just “a silly thing my best friend and I used to say to each other.”
It's un-nuanced explanation that makes for a good starting point when it comes to understanding the 32-year-old New Zealand expat’s popularity—by immediately speaking to readers like a childhood pal, Isaac began to lay the groundwork for his future calling card, an inclusive brand of digital friendship that’s helped him rack up 50,000 unique visitors a month and 40,000 highly engaged Instagram followers. (For insecure types who need more convincing than the initial let’s-be-buddies messaging, Isaac, no stranger to caps lock, also signs off each entry with an affirming “I LIKE YOU!”; he says because he “likes the positivity of it and it makes me laugh.”)
Even if we hadn’t established that Isaac definitely really, really likes us, it would be hard not to like him. He’s that rare breed of slashie that actually deserves the slashes (sorry actor/waiters), or, to switch to a different form of punctuation, a man built for hyphens (like, look at his last name). He’s not only a blogger, he’s a blogger-writer-relationship expert-whistleblower-DJ-singer-model, and that’s just the abridged employment form version.
Haters gonna hate or something like that, but after spending time with Isaac, it was impossible for me to deny the guy is no dilettante, jealously of skills, plural, aside. His career path is as diverse and full of hustle and hutzpah as you’d expect, with a resume that reads like the collective LinkedIn profile of Alphabet City, the creative New York City neighborhood he now calls home.
In high school back in Auckland, Isaac moonlighted at hairdressing salons, washing hair and sweeping up. College saw him launching two T-shirt lines (as one does), followed by a post-graduate stint as a personal assistant for media and buyers during New Zealand Fashion Week (“it was always media roles, but I helped out a lot,” he says, probably too modestly) while also gigging at the region’s top menswear tailor. Next, a six-month, around-the-world trip, before heading home to become a junior booker for a modeling and talent agency (“Lasted a year. Hated it.”). At 24, Isaac landed a writing position at a national shelter magazine, where he earned that “whistleblower” mantle—a compromising story he broke about the country’s largest media conglomerate was labeled “defamatory,” and the next day he was fired. Turns out, Isaac was right. He sued. They folded.
Armed with a small settlement, savings from years of fiscal discipline (apparently he’s good at that, too), and a well-deserved Erin Brockovich halo, Isaac fast-tracked the blog by jetting to the shows in Europe, chronicling his stylish adventures in between stints in NZ, where he met his DJ partner, and eventual fiancée, the hard-to-look-at-beautiful model, Jenny Albright—they connected over hip-hop, late-night partying, and a shared affinity for leather jackets, which, as any devotee of Isaac’s Insta-feed can tell you, is one of his signature wardrobe staples. (Their incredible, juicily dramatic love story been captured in detail here—when I asked why a Hollywood studio hasn’t optioned it, his one word response was: “right!?”)
The duo (just as friends) moved to New York City together in 2011, where the Isaac Likes “What’s In Store” column attracted attention from The New York Times’ T magazine, whose editor offered to host it on their website instead. Just like that, Isaac was writing for the Grey Lady, with “What’s In Store” 2.0, featuring zippy accounts of his shopping experiences at boutiques like Dior Homme and Acne. Plum fashion freelance journalism assignments followed for titles like Details, The Business of Fashion, Esquire, GQ. All together not bad for someone the New Zealand Herald once called “a spoofy-haired skinny Kiwi kid.”
But, honestly, how does a NYC freshman score a Times contract? I asked Bergdorf Goodman’s Men’s Fashion Director Bruce Pask, then the director of T: Men’s Fashion, who was the first person to hire Isaac stateside. “I met him in Paris during the men’s shows… he seemed to be popping up everywhere and at one point he introduced himself and asked me a few questions for a piece I was working on. He was curious, enthusiastic, and seemed excited by the whole menswear milieu. He had an easygoing personality and a friendly… with a perspective about the scene that was refreshing and engaging.”
They were traits that served the blogger well when he decided to focus full time on Isaac Likes in 2013 (“I couldn’t make proper money to pay my rent as a writer”), quickly attracting eyeballs with his unorthodox mix of content—sure, there were plenty of outfit editorials, but also quirky stuff like studio visits with Tyga, stream of conscious anecdotes including an ardent apology for misjudging Lorde (yes, the teenage crooner), free-wheeling interviews with interesting friends, and relationship advice (his guide to getting over a breakup became one of 2013’s must-shares).
The latter exposed him to more mainstream acclaim when Leandra Medine’s massively popular site, Man Repeller, commissioned him to helm a regular “Ask A Guy” segment, standing in as a sort of postmodern agony aunt to solve the burning conundrums of its confused-in-love ladies. One of his favorite solutions—which often combines an endearing aww-shucks factor (he labeled himself “a boring old fart”), quotes from the Buddha, BuzzFeed-y jargon, and personal experiences—involved a woman who didn’t know how to tell her live-in boyfriend she wanted to have less sex. Part of his answer? “YOU GUYS. Few things will put you out of the mood quicker than sharing a cramped studio with another humanoid.” Medine, quizzed on the column’s success, says, “it was generally very straight forward and no frills, and I think that’s really satisfying, which is why people gravitated towards his series.”
His approach to fashion, like his approach to relationships, is not intimidating or didactic, laced as it is with oddball humor and affable self-deprecation. To repeat myself, he’s remarkably amiable, sort of like a sartorial koala bear, or to bring the simile closer to home, Frodo, unassuming hero of The Lord of the Rings, where New Zealand subbed in for Middle Earth. Except, you know, a lot more attractive: a mop of shampoo commercial hair, just-right scruff, a lean, tall frame genetically concocted to show off sharp clothes, and a face that his followers have favorably christened the Antipodean Adam Levine. In short, the kinds of looks that encourages ardent Isaac Likes stans to leave flirty comments better suited to a member of One Direction, i.e., “wish I was the hand in your pocket.”
Don’t get me wrong; he also earns plaudits on his style, what Pask calls “believable, with just the right amount of charm and quirk to keep it interesting. He presents himself in a way that is honest and real,” which has brought him sponsorships from the likes of Adidas, Abercrombie, and Saint Laurent. A digital director at a high-profile luxury label confided to me (off-the-record) that Isaac’s always one of their top choices for social media campaign: “He brings relaxed confidence and humor to an otherwise super serious fashion world and it makes him and the clothes more relatable.”
When I turned to Isaac to self-describe his aesthetic, he admitted that’s tough even for a fashion blogger—“It’s a really hard question to answer without sounding like a complete dork.” But after some consideration, he delivered an off-the-wall summation, signature Isaac compelling in that it didn’t sound practiced: “I would have to say I like it when I wear something that references an awesome moment in menswear history, whether it’s Bob Dylan walking down the middle of the street on The Freewheeling’ Bob Dylan album cover or Leo in Romeo + Juliet or a Wes Anderson movie or the way Japanese businessmen wear a charcoal suit.” He paused for a minute, clearly not quite done: “Oh, and any outfit from The Talented Mr. Ripley.” A lot of influences, huh? Yeah, he agrees, “my style is not original, it’s very much borrowed.”
I wanted specifics. “Well,” Isaac adds, “I tend to get a bit higher end and wear one statement piece that makes you go ‘wow’ (like a killer shearling coat), but I’m quite happy wearing it with a plain white tee and beat-up jeans. I think I’ve got a good eye for the showstopper piece without ever veering into costume territory.” Then I forced him to describe his style in a song—“Hey, you’re a DJ,” I not so gently reminded him. Isaac replied over email a day later, choosing Soulja Boy’s Turn My Swag On and including a lyric in case I missed the point: hopped up out the bed, turn my swag on, took a look in the mirror said what’s up.
He’s also not afraid to trade on his relationship with Albright, who’s become a professional partner, too, shooting social media advertisements with brands or DJing their events (the duo’s name is, of course, Isaac Likes Jenny), or both. In fact, Isaac’s most popular Instagram photo is a candid-seeming (but professionally shot) snap of him and Albright running through the rain; Isaac says it reached close to 3,000 likes because “anything with me and Jenny together doing something romantic or cinematic always do very well [and] this photo combines both… It’s been my experience that beautiful clichés perform better than anything else on Instagram.” Like an on-screen rom-com couple, Jenny says “it works because we have real chemistry together and really enjoy working with each other and it translates in the photos.” Isaac goes further, emphasizing, “being a cute couple in photographs is 100 percent of our brand.” When I wonder if selling the coupledom as a brand gets exhausting, he assures me there is some stuff they keep private (“we didn’t post our engagement on Instagram”) and that “at the end of the day, Instagram is work—there has to be a separation between home and office.”
Looking at his blog or social media channels, you wouldn’t necessarily understand that it is a fulltime job—at a glance it looks like spontaneous shots of a fun-loving, photogenic dude having fun around the globe, and looking good doing it. But, in reality, most of what you see is staged. Showing off his style (and monetizing it), is him playing a character. Ninety percent of his photos are shot by professionals, including by fellow style bloggers like One Dapper Street’s Marcel Florrus or Moti Ankari of The Metro Man. Like a magazine, there’s an editorial calendar of sorts, with shots thought of in advance and themed around the season and events. He gives me a quick tip: “Fall and winter are the most dramatic and picturesque in the city, spring and summer is the best at the beach.”
He’s very much part of that male fashion influencer crew, which is obvious from the snaps taken with them sprinkled liberally through his feed—in a recent group shot, he even jokingly referred to their posse as “the rat pack.” “We’re super collaborative, and they inspire me just about more than anybody else when it comes to Instagram.” Careful to make sure I saw the humor in the crew designation, he says “I don’t think any of us would call ourselves the rat pack in seriousness… we are unabashed about calling ourselves bloggers. There’s no shame in our game.”
But doesn’t that include some sort of narcissism? Isaac points out, again, that’s part of his work description: “Yes, I get affirmation from the amount of likes I get. It’s my job, and I monitor my success level via audience reaction the same way a salesman tracks his or her success through sales or a comedian evaluates his or hers through laughs.” Doesn’t that mean, I posit, that you’re living for social media and not the other way around. “My job is to create content that inspires or entertains or makes somebody feel something, so yes, a lot of the time I do things specifically for the content. But you have to take a break from that, otherwise you become a nightmarish person and I’ve spent my fair share of time behaving like a nightmarish person.” Perhaps, but I have trouble believing Isaac was ever nightmarish.
All clothing and accessories by Gucci (gucci.com)
Indeed, he was more than obliging to help The Daily Beast model some of fall’s most covetable coats, melting everyone on set as he did what he does best, turning his swag on in true Soulja Boy mode to show off the styles around the city, all while being charming as hell. Complimented by his trademark low-key/high-key outfit curation, you’ve got a neat guide to bookmark for all-around autumn jacket Isaac realness, featuring on-trend silhouettes (bomber, moto, trench) and labels (Coach, Gucci, and Sandro, to name a few). Tasked with once again picking a song, this time to describe his fall coat style, he’s well-prepared: “Baa Baa Black Sheep… sorry PETA.”
Remember, though, that Isaac is more than just a fashion blogger, no matter how smoking he looks in those coats. Case meets point with his latest project, recording an album of his father’s songs. Wait, what? Uh-huh, his dad—“his style is not dissimilar to James Taylor or Cat Stevens”—has been writing music and touring worldwide for the past 35 years, and is, Isaac claims, “one of the most famous singer songwriters in the international Baha’i community.” (For non-divinity school majors, the Baha’i faith—which Isaac practices with his family—is a monotheistic religion that originated in Persia heavy in spiritual and moral unity.) “My goal is to get my dad’s music out to the masses.”
If you thought our friend couldn’t be busier, he’s also hoping to write a “great relationship advice book for women millenials someday soon.” Any other projects, dude? (Like I don’t feel lazy enough.) “I’m super interested in podcasts—I’d love to give that a go.” He reflects a little more, turning to show off a chestnut-chased jaw-line that his readers would recognize and “like” (with fireworks) anywhere. “What the world needs is real people telling it like it is, and my biggest goal is to be honest with whatever I’m doing. Being as real as possible in my work is my progress project. Watch this space.”
Styled by Wendell Brown. Grooming by Sena Murahashi