How Black Atlass Became Fashion's Latest It-Boy: Exclusive

Black Atlass poses for a photo during the Ulla Johnson presentation at  Skylight at Industria Superstudio on Sept. 8, 2016 in New York City.
Kris Connor/Getty Images

Black Atlass poses for a photo during the Ulla Johnson presentation at  Skylight at Industria Superstudio on Sept. 8, 2016 in New York City. 

The Canadian R&B artist Alex Fleming reveals his designer connections while on tour for Haunted Paradise

In 2017, if you’re a twenty-something year-old musician trying to establish an identity, chances are there’s a trail of bread crumbs scattered across the cybersphere depicting your evolution as an artist. But Canadian-born artist Alex Fleming of Black Atlass seems to have skipped those awkward growing pains.

At 22, Fleming has released a whole trove of material to accompany his R&B and electronic-tinged music, and there’s nothing amateur about any of it. In the beautifully shot black-and-white music video for “Blonde,” the imagery of California palm trees, a grand piano catching fire, and blonde hair blowing in the wind all blend together in a sophisticated mélange. The same goes for the videos for “Tonight” and “Paris,” the latter of which caught the attention of Louis Vuitton creative director Nicolas Ghesquière three years ago (when Fleming was still a high schooler).

Since then, Fleming has fast become a designer darling: Vuitton used his track to score a film for an exhibit at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs, Hedi Slimane put his music in a Saint Laurent men’s fragrance ad, Dior menswear designer Kris Van Assche has invited him to sit front row at shows, and last fall Alexander Wang tapped him for his fashion campaign alongside Kylie Jenner, Vince Staples, Lexi Boling and Zoe Kravitz. “I want to be regarded as an artist overall in the same way Prince was, so fashion is just as important as the music," says Fleming. "The aura that you create when you walk into a room is a big part of an artist’s performance. As corny as it sounds, my art and my vision is my life. I can’t really separate the two—it’s all one thing.”

Currently on the road to promote Haunted Paradise, his lush self-produced full-length debut that explores the lightness and darkness of California through layers of trappy drums and arpeggiating synths—the L.A.-based artist hopped on the phone to talk style, visuals and his artistic identity.

What inspired the music and visuals of Haunted Paradise?

It all started the first time I visited L.A. two summers ago. It was a place I’ve always wanted to visit—and to finally come here and experience it in my own way, created a whole new inspiration for me to write from. I wanted to create a fictional narrative—almost metaphorical to the way that I see this place; it’s beautiful and sunny but there’s also darker side of what goes on here. It all kind of ties into what I’m going through as I start to become more involved in the industry.  

What do you love about the city? What don’t you like?

I really love it. I love the people and the vibe and the energy out here, it’s inspirational to be able to run into or be amongst some of my biggest influences. I really enjoy going off on my own for a few days on my own and exploring the city, watching and listening. If you’re open to the city, it has a lot to offer— and the people have a lot to offer. The vibe is what you make it. If you spread the positive energy it comes back. Even the Uber drivers have interesting things to say. I was actually just speaking to a woman yesterday who was my driver, an older woman, and she was telling me about how she was super involved in theatre and acting back in the day—and she sees all of these acting and vocal coaches here, and she was a back-up singer for all of these amazing soul singers that were on Motown. Stuff like that has a way of sparking something new.

What initially got you into music?

I was born in Montreal and lived there for about six years—then my Dad got a job in London, Ontario which is a super small town. That really is a huge reason for why I turned to creativity more—there wasn’t much going on there aside from sports and other small town stuff, it was very isolated. I turned to expressing myself through art, and that continued into music and visual art and photography. The Black Atlass project is a blending of all of those different things.

How do you experience going home to Canada now that life has taken you to someplace so different?

It makes me realize the path that I’m on is a separate world than the real world. It gives me perspective, it keeps me grounded and I like that. I like to go home and be secluded from it all and spend time with my family and the people I grew up with. Really just refocus and cut out the noise for a bit. 

When did you realize you could sing?

I’ve always been creating naturally without ever thinking about it—drawing. I thought I was going to be a photographer and graphic designer, that’s what I wanted to go to school for after high school but I was always doing music on the side for fun. I took a big interest in music production, and found a love in hip hop—people like Kanye who were blending all of their creative outlets into one. That’s where that started. There weren’t singing lessons or anything. It’s been a learning experience and I feel like even now I haven’t fully developed my voice or my sound. Haunted Paradise for me is the real foundation of where I want to build the rest of my career and the rest of my sound. 

The fashion industry came knocking on your door at the ripe old age of 19. How did Vuitton find you?

It was wild, I didn’t believe it was real at the time. They emailed, they had heard a demo of my song “Paris” which was one of the first things I put online at that point. I have no idea how they heard it, but that opened up a big door for me. And was certainly a direction I was interested in going—so to tie it into the music right away was pretty amazing. 

Of all the work you’ve done with the fashion industry, what’s been the best?

I think so far the shoot for Alexander Wang was by far the craziest thing—between that and the Dior show a few years ago. Those were some pretty major moments for me. But the shoot with Alexander Wang was another level. To be behind the scenes, to be able to witness Alexander work was super inspiring. It was a proud moment for me to look around and feel like I had made it to a certain point, to think, “I’m here.” That pushes me to keep working harder, to continue growing. 

Has there been lots of great fashion swag?

Dior set me up with a few suits at their Paris show room. I still wear those—every time I have to wear a suit, that’s my go-to. But right now, for every show I’ve been wearing Alexander Wang and then the t-shirt that I designed for the album. Keeping it really low key, but it’s something that I put on that makes me feel ready to play music.

THE BILLBOARD BIZ
SUBSCRIBER EXPERIENCE

The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to Billboard.com/business.


To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.