Throughout the years, many mainstream media outlets have played a direct role in shaping and perpetuating the ideal image of beauty, success and a multicultural community. Today, as we continue to navigate the New Normal, with a whole new perspective on life and deeper appreciation of individual talent, August Man Malaysia has taken the opportunity to seek the collaboration of like-minded individuals on a fresh and evocative portrayal of Malaysia’s diverse society through our #iAMuniq campaign.
Thanks to the collaboration of conceptual photographer Daniel Adams, fashion revolutionary Azreezal Hafidz and LifeWear brand UNIQLO, August Man now proudly presents #iAMuniq, featuring a new generation of Malaysians who are embracing their uniqueness with a strong sense of self and, at the same time, redefining our national identity and the standards of beauty.
Here are the individuals featured in our #iAMuniq campaign:
What inspired you to challenge the status quo and pursue modelling and how has it changed your life thus far?
“I realised that I needed to take control of my life, not only for me, but for all the people who were different like me. There wasn’t any representation of people like me, and I knew that this was something I needed to change. Plus, I told myself, “If not now, then when?.””
What is your approach to social stigma?
What inspired you to be a model as well as pursue a PhD, and what do you hope to express with it?
I started my PhD first and then decided to pursue a career in modelling. Along the way of conducting my research, I felt a slight burnout and wanted to divert myself into a completely different environment than the one I was in, and modelling provided the perfect opportunity for that. It was quite a boost to my confidence, too. Today, I’m less shy in front of a crowd, and I would like to show everyone that no matter who you are or what you do, you should be able to freely express yourself and explore your interests, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone.
Having come a long way to embracing yourself, what are the most important lessons/values that you’ve picked up along the way?
Self-confidence is the best form of energy that you could channel to the universe. There will be days of doubts and loathing, but always remember that you are in control of your outlook and what you want to be, so always be the very best version of yourself and you will arrive in a better place.
What is your outlook for the future generation of Malaysia?
My hope is that we could accept the differences that life lays out for us, be it people or places, and embrace diversity as a form of strength, and not as a cause for us to be divided.
“You are in control of your outlook and what you want to be, so always be the very best version of yourself and you will arrive in a better place.”
What inspired your current look and style?
Having come a long way to embracing yourself, what are the important lessons/values that you’ve picked up along the way?
What can one do to turn their drawbacks into advantage?
“If I keep having negative thoughts about myself and my body, it’s going to believe that I’m not capable of looking pretty or succeeding in life when I am in fact capable of anything I put my mind to.”
How do you come to terms with everyday social stigma and rejection as a result of your unique condition, and what do you do to strengthen your resolve?
Nowadays I tend to keep myself quiet and block out all the energy I don’t need. It’s a waste of time. I’ve gone through all of that, and it has transformed into the strength I have now. I just do me.
Considering all that you’ve gone through in the past, what is your outlook on life and society?
Life is always going to be the same for me. You can ask 10 other people who are like me and they’re going to say the same. It’s only society that’s able to change that fact. I just hope that society understands that there are differences between humans, and they can stop being dumb about it.
“I don’t “want” to be accepted. I should just be.”
In view of your experience, what words of comfort/encouragement can you offer to those who are facing difficulty coping with these trying times?
It’s tough being in our shoes ain’t it? It’ll always feel like an endless, uphill battle. But hang in there, keep your head up. The sky is higher than the ground we’re on. Spread your wings.
How has music changed your life, and what plans do you have to take it further?
Music has taken me to places I thought I’d never belong. Because of it, I’ve been able to tour China, perform at some of the biggest festivals, meet some of my heroes… it’s just been wild. Music has given me a platform to do what I love and being “different” has been a blessing in disguise. I just gotta put myself out there and give it my all. That’s the plan. No more being afraid, no more holding back.
What social stigma did you have to endure growing up and how did you rise above it?
As someone who suffered from Persistent Hyperplastic Primary Vitreous (PHPV), which resulted in the impairment of my right eye, I’ve been bullied a lot back then. But I never played the victim. Instead, I focused my attention on sports and became quite an active student. I listened to good music, made great friends, and married the love of my life. Yes, the journey was never smooth, and I even missed a job offer because of my condition (yes, the manager told me the story because he wanted to hire me but the management thought otherwise), but what’s life without challenges, right? Today, at the age of 40, I feel more comfortable in my own skin. Every challenge that I have faced has only enriched me to be a better person.
“I never played the victim. Instead, I focused my attention on sports and became quite an active student. I listened to good music, made great friends, and married the love of my life.”
What inspired your androgynous choice of style and what does it convey about your personality?
I believe in dressing that celebrates the silhouette and shape of your body, and realised that most women’s outfits fit me better, and after experimenting throughout the years, I’ve managed to figure out what works for me and what doesn’t. I think this speaks volumes about my daring spirit to try new things, but also about my high level of discernment and commitment to editing my personal looks.
What is your outlook on men’s style in these modern times?
With social media playing such a huge role in providing great inspiration to all, I feel that men’s style has definitely evolved, albeit slower than the women’s. From a local context, it’s definitely slower than the rest of the world. I’ve no qualms with how Malaysians use fashion, but I do wish for more versatility and variety to be available in the market.
“I’ve no qualms with how Malaysians use fashion, but I do wish for more versatility and variety to be available in the market.”
What are the common misconceptions about you as a stand-up comic in real life?
That we are always happy. I mean, we are humans too. We go through life just like everyone else, we get sad and sometimes we go through hard times. Just because we pretend to be happy on stage, everyone just assumes that we are just jovial and full of laughter all the time. Too deep? Ok, then I’d say that people think that comedians are great lovers. Which is true by the way.
What is your usual source of material for your shows?
Everything around me. My family, my friends even people I don’t know. There is comedy in every moment of our lives, when something happens, usually people just let it wash over you, but as comedians we look at things differently and see the funny in the situation. But that doesn’t mean that people have to be careful around us or we’ll talk about you on stage, it doesn’t work like that. I WILL NOT talk about how you accidentally spilled coffee on yourself.
In today’s trying climate, what advice/experience can you share to help us look on the bright side?
That it will also pass. We, as a society, have gone through so much already, and we have come out on top. We will get through this and there will be a brighter tomorrow. I have a lot of faith in humanity and how we deal with difficult times. Having said that, there are idiots and we kinda have to play to the weakest link.
“There is comedy in every moment of our lives, when something happens, usually people just let it wash over you, but as comedians we look at things differently and see the funny in the situation.”
What’s your strategy to dealing with a tough audience?
I have multiple strategy, usually, I start with a small portion of the audience with the hope that maybe if the rest see them having fun, they will join in. I make sure I get their attention and it will spread (hopefully). Or maybe I become a lot more animated, with the idea that if I can physically catch their eye, then they will start paying attention. But getting their attention is step 1, if I don’t hold it, then it is all in vain. But some audiences are beyond saving, when outside influences are involved, the audience is not worth saving. You cannot fight prawns being served while you are on stage, even I would choose prawns over me.
Tell us about a time when you had the last laugh.
I remember when I started doing comedy for the first time, I was horrible at it. I thought that if I used swear words enough, it would eventually be funny. I really did not know how jokes worked. The audience in the show was some of my friends and family who were NOT impressed. I remember some of them saying that I would never be a comedian, as I don’t have a knack for it, and as the saying goes, “you can’t learn to be funny.” Fast forward to a couple of years later, I had a show and by pure coincidence, some of the people who said that happened to be at the show, and I did VERY well. I remember them coming up to me after the show to tell me how I had grown to be one of the best they’ve seen. Also, when my ex (who wasn’t very supportive of me being a comedian) messaged me when I got my Netflix special. HAH!
What is the quality that you find most inspiring about your brother and what can you learn from it?
John: Russell dares to do what he wants. From the choice of his career that has taken him all over the world including Europe, the States and Asia, to his very unique sense of style. He doesn’t give a shit what others think.
Russell: I would say “dedication”. My brother John is very dedicated to his craft. Starting a business on your own is not easy but his hard work has been paid off. So what I learn from my brother is as the saying goes, “If you build it, they will come.”
“John is very dedicated to his craft. Starting a business on your own is not easy but his hard work has been paid off. So what I learn from my brother is as the saying goes, “If you build it, they will come.” “
Pushing The Boundaries of Diversity
The editor-in-chief who founded Glam Lelaki in 2005 and, following his departure from the magazine ten years later, Stail.my in 2005, Azreezal Hafidz has carved out a successful career with his high-fashion approach to publishing and sensitive touch on the pulse of luxury and international culture. His edgy and creative direction attracted the collaboration of many industry peers and local personalities, and garnered wide support from international brands. In the following interview, Azreezal shares his personal experience and stance on cultural diversity, as well as his inspiration for our Diversity feature #iAMuniq.
What kind of background and support did you have growing up?
My family has always supported me in who and what I wanted to be. Mum always encouraged me to explore my creativity in as many things as possible, enrolling me in art classes, drawing and story-telling competitions, etc, where I got to play and explore different characters. After graduating with a Bachelor of Communication, I pursued my ambition of becoming a writer and started putting my heart and soul into Glam Lelaki.
What is the rationale behind your approach to publishing?
When I started Glam Lelaki, I felt that the magazine needed to reflect our point of view on the industry and our outlook for a progressive society. Even though many of the things I did were not what society was ready for, I did it anyway, with provocative shoots and edgy styling. I felt that if I didn’t take the first move, nothing would change. So, I kept on doing it. It was my personal goal to make a change. Most of the personalities that we featured were surprisingly very open to the ideas that we proposed. At the same time, I also chose to work with like-minded people whom I could collaborate with; people who shared our vision and ideas, portrayed through our work, in hopes of driving progress. I started Stail.my at the same time as the surge of the diversity movement. Back then, Malaysia was still new to this, but I chose to jump on the bandwagon and have since kept pushing the boundaries with our contents in hopes of inspiring our society to be on the same level as the international community.
In that case, would you also consider magazines as a form of art and, like art, a vehicle for change?
Absolutely, the visuals, the writeups, the fashion spreads, cover stories, etc. I strongly believe that art, fashion, or even literature, is supposed to reflect what is happening in the real world and take the lead in championing change. Through art and literature, we immortalise what the current vision is. So when I look back at whatever I did for Glam or Stail.my, I can say, “Oh that was what was happening around the world at that time,” and I’m not just talking about Malaysia, but globally. That’s why I feel it’s important for me to show that in my work.
On a more personal level, you’ve attracted quite a lot of attention from the world over with your daring and androgynous sense of dressing. What inspired this?
My former mentor in Glam, Kak Wirda, used to tell us, “When you attend an event, make sure that people remember you.” I guess that was like my way of leaving a memorable impression. During my travels, observing how people dressed, I felt that it was ok for me to express myself further. Also, I don’t really care too much about other people’s perception of me. I’ve been taught by my parents that for as long as you are not doing anything that causes harm or trouble to anyone, you’re fine. So I always feel that by being who I am, I’m not harming anyone or causing any trouble.
“I felt that the magazine needed to reflect our point of view on the industry and the outlook of a progressive society. Even though many of the things I did were not what our society was ready for, I did it anyway, with provocative shoots and edgy styling. I felt that if I didn’t take the first move, nothing would change.”
Where do you find the confidence to dress the way you do?
It has a lot to do with accepting myself. Having accepted myself, my flaws and everything that makes me unique has made it easier for me to be comfortable in my own skin. As long as you’ve accepted yourself, you’ll find yourself more comfortable among people and begin to let your personality, talent and other aspects of you come through, allowing people to see more to you than just your appearance and dressing.
What do you have to say to those who deem you a bad influence?
I feel that that has a lot to do with insecurity – the insecurity that we’re out to change what they are told acceptable and moral. If you’re a man of faith, you’ll believe that we’re all created by god, including the ones who are different. So there must be a reason why we’re created differently. When you question someone for being different, you’re questioning the higher power.
What is the inspiration behind your collaboration with August Man?
Instead of hiding their unique qualities, I wanted to highlight them further. Daniel also wanted to adorn them with flowers, to enhance their uniqueness. It’s also to emphasise that we shouldn’t be judgmental or be afraid of their unique features and sense of self. Adrien, for example, we’ve put him in a dress in light of his penchant for wearing one. Don’t hide who you are and show the world your uniqueness instead!
Photography: Daniel Adams
Styling: Azreezal Hafidz
Assisted by: Grace Namarol, Melissa Foong & Amber Goh
Makeup: Emmy Agung
Hair: Eranthe Loo