Maybe it’s the southern heat or the aurora of the summer, but from the drive through downtown Atlanta, the atmosphere was close to perfection. After picking up Devin Lj Clark from an iHeartRadio interview, we were off to his grandparents’ home for dinner. As Clark sits and listens to his interview on his earphones again, I notice his tenacity. Whether online or in person, Clark exudes a presence of dedication. He is now a working model, has his own modeling agency, and is working towards movies and drink deals.
As we drive, we talk about his life, his childhood, his family and friends. If he could sum up his life in one word, “fast,” would be the one of choice. He mentions recently getting back to the US from London and talks about how long it has been since he has seen his family. He has never been to Atlanta; this is his first time here for some family time and of course, some business.
It’s mind boggling how much can happen in a short span of time. Clark mentions feeling like nothing can ever be still. He states, “The idea that we’re always working or moving towards something makes us appreciate our blessings less.” As he reaches for his phone, the other rings. In one hand, his manager discusses tomorrow’s interview and photoshoot schedule. In the other, his calendar. He looks outside of the window, notices the sunset and takes a few deep breaths.
As we arrive at his grandparents house, the southern hospitality is piercing through every corner of the home. Food, dogs barking, laughter, hugs and warmth fills the house. It’s been over a year since Clark has seen his grandparents and they’re thrilled to hug their grandson again. They discuss how long it’s been since he’s been home and how things haven’t changed much. We sit around the table to catch up on his life across seas and different time zones, the new people he met, the new friends and new experiences. He says, “it’s nice to finally be back, even if it’s for a little while.”
The movement dwindles down in the kitchen. The dinner talk begins to stop and we proceed into our interview.
Fran: “When did you become interested in modeling? What got you in the field?
Clark: “I was scouted at 15 at Chuck E. Cheese and from there, it kind of opened up the floodgates for me. I didn’t go looking for it, it came and found me.”
Fran: “Have you always been as passionate for modeling since you got scouted?”
Clark: “The passion came and grew. It became who I am. It became my career. It became my job. It’s not a hardcore passion but it’s definitely a love. I still want to go back to school and finish my real-estate license.”
Fran: “Do you feel like being a model is a job?”
Clark: “Definitely. It’s only as much as you put into –that’s what you’re going to get out of it. If you only put a little bit into it, and treat it as a hobby, it’s going to be a hobby. If you put a lot into it and you’re blessed enough to become a full-time model, then yes, it’s a job.”
Fran: “Do you think that your look is different from what viewers usually see on the runway?
Clark: “Hmm, it’s weird because I don’t look at myself like that. So coming from a third-party perspective, I’ve been told I’m unique, I’m exotic, and different, but for me, I just look at myself as the kid from San Francisco, California.”
Fran: “How did the opportunity arise for you to be on America’s Next Top Model?”
Clark: “I did an audition. I was scouted by Tyra Banks and that’s kind of how everything opened up for me for the show. I was the only one she scouted.”
Fran: “Did Tyra mention why she scouted you specifically?
Clark: “She said I’m beautiful, I have a unique look.”
Fran: “Did you enjoy being on ANTM?”
Clark: “It was cute. It was mentally draining.”
Fran: “What aspects were mentally draining?”
Clark: “Every part of it was mentally draining. Not being able to have your phone. Being secluded from the world, people, family, and friends. You only see the same people day in and day out. You become a lab rat and you’re in the maze. The cheese is at the end of the maze and you’re going to do whatever you’re going to do to get to that cheese and that’s kind of how it’s looked at.”
Fran: “Did being on the show improve your modeling? Why or why not?”
Clark: “No, just because it’s a show. It’s a reality show. It didn’t do anything to hone in on my modeling per se. The show taught me about myself personally. It taught me patience, love, kindness. It taught me to look at myself a little bit differently, to be a better person. I grew as a person being on the show.”
Fran: “Do you think you’ve made a name for yourself?”
Clark: “Definitely. I made a new one for myself before, during, and after the show. It’s one of the reasons why Tyra brought me onto the show. She liked what I had to offer and she wanted a piece of that as well. The trade-off was that I was going to be on the show and basically be exploited. It was a 50/50 deal.”
Fran: “Now that you have your own modeling agency, what is the main aesthetic it is centered around”
Clark: “My board [of directors] is very strict. I’m very selective of who I choose on my board as far as the requirements, aesthetic and image of my agency. It’s really cutthroat. I’m only looking for the best of the best, only because I know what it takes to make it in this difficult industry. Strong, simply classic. It’ll be a powerhouse agency.”
Fran: “You do a lot of traveling. Are there any places that you’d like to visit, or return to?”
Clark: “Spain. I love the people there. They’re so sweet and humble.”
Fran: “Are there any plans you have for the future?”
Clark: “There’s an energy drink deal collaboration in the works. Let’s just say I’m trying to build an empire, and there’s a lot of things brewing on the stove. Also, being on the cover of Vogue or Vogue Hommes would be nice too.”
Fran: “How was walking in NYFW? Was it hard booking shows?”
Clark: “It’s dog eat dog in New York. You have to put your best foot forward, do the best that you can do, meet with the clients, go to castings, be on time [and] kill it kill it kill it. However, it’s always hard booking shows.”
Fran: “As a model of color, have you faced prejudice in the fashion industry?”
Clark: “Yes. Racism does not just apply to the fashion industry. It happens in every career we choose in life. You can go for a job interview, and they’ll probably pick the white kid over you. It’s happened to me. But although there is prejudice, I enjoy being a part of the fashion industry. Race is a huge factor. You still see white-washing in the industry with brands like Tommy Hilfiger that have the same aesthetic each season and maybe every now and then they may have one token black boy in the ad, but not regularly. I recently just did a photoshoot, and felt like I was an accessory to the shoot. I felt like they were showing favoritism to the white models. I broke down for a second off set… I had to snap out of it and I had to realize I’m still getting my check. I’m just going to do the best that I can do so the client can be happy to the point where they still want to book me a next time. It kind of sucked to feel like that a little bit.”
Fran: “Where does your inspiration comes from?”
Clark: “The 90s. Prince indirectly inspired me.”
Fran: “How does it feel to have all this work paying off?”
Clark: “It’s a beautiful thing. But again, I didn’t do it by myself, God has really helped a lot. I’ve just been keeping the faith and he made a way for me.”
Fran: “Any advice for someone following their dreams?”
Clark: “Do not give up and don’t let anyone tell you no. Pretty simple. I know it sounds cheesy, but just keep going for it. I’ve had so many people tell me no since I was 15 all the way until 23, but I kept going and now I have a brand, my name holds weight. Just because someone may try to knock you down and say you can’t do it, just look at them and say okay, watch me do it. You never know, in a year or two, that person could be working for you. From personal experience, success will out rule any rejection you will ever face.”
Fran: “Are you happy?”
Clark: “Let me ask you, what do you see me as?”
Fran: “I see you as a very hardworking person, probably very tired all the time but I feel that you’ve been working for this and now that you have it, you have to keep building on it. I look at previous models from ANTM and the difference is that I don’t see them after. I see you continuously do work.”
Clark: “To answer your question, yes. Although sometimes I want to go into my turtle shell, I can’t. Doing interviews after interviews, fittings, and appearances it’s all part of the blessings. Moving past what America’s Next Top Model had to offer, now, about to do other T.V. shows, possibly movies. My life has crossed over into something even more than I can imagine. I’m excited for the future. Sometimes I don’t see it, but I do see the success with certain things. However, it pays off when I hear someone like you who sits back and tells me that you’re seeing it. I try to inspire and yes, I am happy.”
There is something surreal about watching a man like Devin Lj Clark follow his dreams. We talked about the future, the rejections, the hardships and how somehow, it will all be worth it. Dinner with Devin Lj Clark and his family was a new kind of fuel for my heart to continue my journalism aspirations. I have no doubt that he will continue to strive and change the fashion industry bit by bit.
If you get a chance to read this between the jet lag, photoshoots, interviews, or fittings, Devin, I would like to thank you for helping me follow my dreams. You are a spirit between the stars; a hardworking man who deserves nothing less than the opportunities he has created for himself. An inspiration nonetheless. Thank you.