When I was fourteen, I became obsessed with fashion for about a year. I was convinced that the right look would help me win the heart of an attractive young woman, and spent an unreasonable amount of time and pocket money on fashion magazines, hair styling, facial treatments, and clothing. I regularly forced my then-seven-year-old brother to take photos of me posing in various outfits pretending to be a fashion model. I still have a few of those embarrassing photos of myself leaning against a door, brooding. Needless to say, it went nowhere. I had no idea what I was doing, and I ended the year disillusioned.
My guest in today’s podcast episode had a rather different experience. At an early age, his step-sisters showed him how to dress to impress, and he learned how his clothing choices could command respect and attention. He went on to become a successful fashion model. And then he succeeded as a designer and launched DC Fashion Week — with stints in acting, engineering, and the Air Force along the way.
In my interview with Ean Williams, he talks about his journey into the world of fashion and his vision as a designer and leader in the industry. Ean is keenly aware that fashion can distort and manipulate. But it can also be a way to help disclose one's personality, to navigate the world confidently, even to convey a sense of dignity. He talks about the challenges of facing regular rejection as a model and actor and offers advice to aspiring models and designers. He also lays out his vision for DC Fashion Week as the "Olympics of fashion," highlighting the contributions of designers from around the world. We end our conversation with a broad-ranging discussion on the meaning of beauty in fashion, science, and other domains of work.
You can watch our conversation below on YouTube or listen to it wherever you get your podcasts. Please take a moment to subscribe and leave a review, since it helps to spread these discussions to a wider audience. An unedited transcript follows.
Brandon: Ean, it's such a pleasure to have you. Thank you for joining us in the podcast.
Ean: Good afternoon, Brandon. I'm happy to be here.
Brandon: Great. You had a great introduction to the power of fashion when you were a child that I think helped draw you into this career. Could you tell us a little bit about how fashion became important to you even early on?
Ean: Well, for me, as a child, it was just a matter of we were taught to just match. Back at this time, there was a brand by Sears. They were like Garanimals. Even when I would go in and shop with my parents, I knew if I match the alligator with the alligator, it was a good fit, or the hippo with the hippo. So I learned early with matching clothes and colors and things like that. I would pretty much just kept that going.
It wasn't until I inherited some stepsisters who were older and a little more fashionable, and they gave me some choices. What was the biggest impact was the difference that people responded to. This was in junior high school. We got to junior high school. I mean, you will call it middle school now. I couldn't get over all the commotion and attention that a change of clothes, the effect that it had. I had to admit, as a teenager who was nerdy, I liked it. I want to continue that. I captured the attention of the popular girls in school. They normally wouldn't have not said anything to me for the most part, and they all come in. I was like, wow, clothes. I didn't probably put these words. But I saw the impact of how dressing affected me, even from my teachers, to my classmates, and just in general. So I saw that impact.
Brandon: That's great. What did you grow up? Was fashion an important part of your family? You mentioned your sisters. Was that something that was considered important in your household as you're growing up?
Ean: I don't know if they stressed the importance of fashion. But my mother was very fashionable. She liked to dress up. She was a self-professed beauty queen, so she liked to walk in the room and make a statement. That was always her thing. My father was very cool. I remember, specifically during that time period when I was like seven or eight, some of the clothes that he wore were flashy. There were popular TV shows we were watching, and we could relate to it. So I know he took pride in what he wore when he went out for special occasions. But day-to-day, he didn't care at all. It will be embarrassing coming to school.
Brandon: I can relate to that. I think my parents didn't have any kind of fashion sense, and I found it very, very embarrassing when I'd have — yeah.
Ean: My parents, I was like, oh, please. Tell me he wore something decent.
Brandon: Yeah, sure. That's not torn.
Ean: Fortunately, both my parents were very attractive. My father, all the teachers would always come in. He looked like Billy Dee Williams. Is your mom around? He's like that. So it didn't matter what he wore. He had a lot of swag.
Brandon: Okay. Great. What did you want to do when you were a kid? Then what was your trajectory going into college, and what was it that you're trying to pursue?
Ean: It was basically, I started off wanting to be a doctor. We were all taught at a very young age most prestigious jobs were doctors and lawyers and things like that. I never wanted to be a policeman, or a fire man, or of those things. My father worked really hard. He was a plumber. He knew how to fix things. He had auto mechanics in his background. He self-taught with all. He was always fixing people's cars and rebuilding projects and things like that. I knew early on I didn't want to do that. I was very condescending about it. He would remind me, "This is what pays the bills and gives us a good lifestyle. Don't turn your nose up at hard work." I remember one time saying to him. He's like, "I'm going to teach you how to change a flat tire." I said, "Well, why do I need to learn how to do that?" It's because you may have a flat tire. I said I'm going to call somebody to come in and fix the flat tire. He hated that. He wanted to break that spirit in me because I didn't want to do those things. So I patiently sat there and watched how to do it.
But yeah, definitely, medical school in my freshman year in college. I got an engineering scholarship, but I was still going to just do medical. But after one semester of that, I went to the guy. Because I want to be a psychiatrist. I'm going to tell you what was so funny about it. This is an old reference. It was a very popular show at the time. It was called MASH. One of the characters would wear women's clothing because he was trying to say that something was wrong with me. So he would go in and sit on the psychiatrist's sofa. Somehow, the hourly rate came out. I was like, oh, man, that is good. You can get $100 something an hour in listening and sitting on the couch and taking their problems. I want that job. But after one semester, I saw that was going to take at least 14 years, I told my guidance counselor, I said, I want to get out here in four. What degree pays the most graduating? At that time, it was computer engineer. So I immediately switched.
Brandon: Okay. You also worked in modeling for a bit, right? Was that before you went to college?
Ean: Yes, in high school. Because by then, I had gotten a reputation for being fashionable. There was some regional contest between all the high schools for fashion. I was nominated, and I won. Then I did a local fashion show. I enjoyed that. I was reeling off my runway walk. It was different. I did enjoy that, but it was heavily discouraged. My father's like, "That's not what young men do. Let's get you focused on something else." He didn't want me distracted with that. So he was not a fan. Not a fan at all.
Brandon: Okay. But you did well. I mean, you were successful.
Ean: I did well. Then I went to the military. Because, again, I was paying for school myself. My parents definitely believe that you won't miss class. You'll value better when it's out of your money. They saw this with many of their friends. How people, they were very nonchalant about their education. So it's like if you're serious, this is what you'll do. We're not going to mortgage the house for you to go in and chase women all day. So that was important. Then the military just offered that option. I can get my degree. I can travel the world. They will pay for my college. I will get some training. On paper, it just sounds like a wonderful idea.
Brandon: Okay. What was it like in the military? You were in Italy?
Ean: Yeah, I was in Air Force Intelligence. That was pretty cool. Top 2% of the military, so I've always had an elitist personality growing up. They actually sent me to the psychiatrist. The complaint was I didn't live in a realistic world, my expectations from that. Based on my background, they could not understand the confidence I had on just how I perceive things. RTIs are very intimidating. But I knew, going in, they couldn't hit you. They could yell at you. I knew that was to be expected, so it didn't bother me. Now, if you equate it to like going to jail, then it's scary straight. That would be different. That's how to try to like it to be to really get you in line. But when you know that they're saying cliche things, like, what are you looking at? You say nothing. Who you call it nothing? I mean, I've heard it all before. So yeah, they had an issue with me.
Brandon: Okay. Wow. I see you had two years in the services.
Ean: No, I did four years. Day one, I knew it was going to be four years and done. I knew it wasn't going to be a life or anything like that. I just utilized all the benefits which were to buy a house with no money down, get employed. I only got two years degree while I was in the military. Because the schedule was very challenging, rotating hours and not a normal nine-to-five. So it was really difficult going to school and being full time in the military. It took me 10 years to get a four-year degree. Just a very short 10 years.
Brandon: Wow. Talk about your journey into the fashion world. What was your experience of the modeling world like? Was that something that you wanted to come back to later on and be part of that?
Ean: It was just fascinating to me. Now granted at this time period we didn't have social media, we only had magazines, there weren't a lot of publications of models that look like me. Therefore, it was always like, could I do it? I always fantasized about it. My first exposure were live fashion shows. In every fashion show I will go to, I will get booked. I came back to DC after doing a two-year stint. I modeled while I was over in Italy, because I was considered exotic. And now I know how that works in the modeling world everywhere.
Brandon: Say more about that. What works?
Ean: Well, if you go to any place where 90% of the people look like they could be siblings, then you have another 10% that everyone views that as exotic. Let's say that you're in a community where everyone has dark hair and dark eyes. So when you have that pigment change, they seem more exotic. Then if you have people who have naturally lighter blonder hair, then that seem exotic. But if you go to other places around the world where 80% of people have blue eyes and have blonde hair, then maybe a red hair is considered exotic, maybe a dark brunette. So I've learned early on that if you're not like the norm, you can be exotic and then you can do well in that fashion community. Because everybody wants something different. It took me a long time to get that.
Brandon: Okay. Did you have a positive experience when you were modeling? Were there challenges that you had to face?
Ean: Most of the experiences are not positive. In comparison, for every home run, you strike out about 20 to 30 times. It's difficult. I tried too, as a director, to be very sensitive to the mental health of model talent. Because we live in a different world. It's the only career field — I compare it to dating all the time, which is not a good comparison.
But I put it in this sense. As a gentleman, if you go out and you ask someone to date, out on a date or to a dance — I remember in high school, I asked people to dance. Sometimes she said yes. Sometimes she says no. So she says no. You're walking back across the gym floor. You feel a certain type of way. In modeling, that happens. It always comes down to: you don't have the look that they want. It's almost impossible not to take that personal. Even today, I did a fashion show last night, and I saw disappointment on models coming in. One particular model, she was short. She said, someone said you were looking for a short model. I said I don't know how anyone could have thought I said that, because I would never say I was looking for a short model. Then I realized how it came out. So I said, well. I said I had a short dress, but I don't have short models. I can see she was disappointed. They get excited. They get excited that they'll model for you, which I consider an honor. But I have an aesthetic that I want for my brand. I pretty much stick to it in terms of the type of models I want, the type of look I want. That's important. It's important to all designers. It's not a sympathy thing. It's about marketing, branding.
It's the same. If you're hiring an engineer, they need to have this skill set, these programming skills or be familiar with these applications. You need that. So if you don't have those things, it's not as disappointing. You may still want the job, but it's disappointing. But when it's based on your appearance — you're too short. You're too tall. You're too skinny. You're too fat, or all those things — that's really hard on the model. And I get that. So we try to be delicate in our responses.
Brandon: Yeah, because you can't change those things about yourself. You can't grow a few inches. But for yourself, when you were in the modeling industry, could you talk about things, maybe challenges that you faced, or ways in which you learned to become resilient, or practices that you developed there that helped you?
Ean: I didn't do it the practical way. Most people got some training, which I definitely value. They got some professional photos, which I didn't start off with. You don't need them. But all these are assets if you have them. If you can already show the client what you could look like, that's beneficial. But for some, they have the skill set to just look at a fresh face, no makeup, playing clothing, and realize that this person has supermodel potential. But it's easier to convey when you see them dressed like a supermodel and all glammed up, and they can show us some variety. So that will always trump the basic Polaroid shot.
Brandon: I mean, you mentioned dealing with rejections. Was that something that was difficult for you to learn how to do? Were you able to do that pretty easily? How was your experience?
Ean: It was hard. It was hard initially. Because you're not having the right look, you don't know what that means. You're not tall enough, or you're not light enough, or you're not dark enough. You're not ethnic enough. It was a different time. I remember going on a casting call, and they wanted me to change my vernacular. I read the script. They were like, now go in here. He goes, "I want you to be really, really black." I'm like, what does that mean? Because I thought they're very condescending. He was going into the language. It was very stereotypical whatever casting or whatever. I said, well, what time period is it? Because that's not what the community, that's not how they talk. As an authority, that's not regular dialogue in any community. It's just not. I remember that being difficult. You're trying to tell the director what to do and correct it. That didn't go over well with my agent. But sometimes you have to give them direction because sometimes they don't know. It's not a bias thing. It's just that they've not been exposed to it. That's the difference.
It's hard. Rejection is hard. When a lot of it is based on physical appearance, that really, really hurts. Because there's nothing you can do about it. You hear a no. It was a no, a no. So you have a lot more nos than yes. One, it does feel character and confidence. So when you do land something, you feel really, really good about. You really can celebrate. But you learn from it. Because sometimes, you can ask for feedback to see what is in there. Is there anything I could have done differently? Then if the answer to that is no, then you know you're not the person for that job. And you have to live with that. You have to be okay. I'm not the person. Because in the dating world, as I compare it to dating, sometimes you're just not the other person's type. They may want a bad boy. They may want this. They may want that. And if you're not that type, you're just not that type. You have to be okay with that.
Brandon: Yeah, how did you get into designing? Was that something you did as a kid?
Ean: I had no aspiration to design. Most of my problems in the fashion industry have been just from an engineering background. If we have a problem, you look for a solution. When I was modeling, I wanted to model in a bigger platform. So I started teaching at a modeling school that had a parent company elite that would come in and do the scouting once a year. That's why I did that. Then training also helps you with your skill set.
For doing a fashion show, I was working with designers. I had a designer put me against the wall with demands at the very last minute. I had to give in, and I hated that. I hated that I had to do that. So then, I started designing. At least, I will have a designer in case it doesn't work out with others. I worked really hard on it. As a result, in terms of career-wise, I have surpassed all of those designers now. They come back, and they all remember back in the day where we were starting off. That was the only reason for that.
Creating Fashion Week, there was an opportunity for the designers in DC to have a platform to introduce themselves to the fashion community. Because there wasn't one here. So then, I created Fashion Week to do that. Everything was always a result of seeing a problem and then trying to find a resolution for it. Then it moves you to the next step.
Brandon: Well, talk about your brands. You have Magnum and Corjor. Can you talk about why those two brands, how they came about, and what they do? What's your creative vision for both of those?
Ean: Well, I first started with Corjor, which was named after my kids — Corey and Jordan. We tell Ryan, once he came around, the third one, that he was the last part of it. It says all three, but it was Corey and Jordan. I start off as a menswear designer. I love smoking jackets. I watched I Love Lucy. Ricky would come home and put a smoking jacket on. I just imagined that that just felt rich. I was always intrigued with old shows like Dallas and Dynasty that showed wealth. Because when you grew up watching Bewitched, and Gilligan's Island, and I Dream of Jeannie, Brady Bunch, none of those shows had opulence and lavish lifestyles. So when you had these other platforms that have that, you're like, wow, this is what the other part of the world lives. It's captivating. Today we're definitely, pop culture has captivated by it. So that drew a lot of inspiration in terms of, I wanted people to feel that way in my clothes.
I did men's loungewear for a while. It was smoking jackets, lounge and pants, and things like that. It didn't sell well, so that was a little frustrating. But people liked seeing it. They love seeing the models in it and all that, but it still has to make financial sense. So what the game changer was, I did a big show with 40 pieces. I did one female dress, and it wasn't even complete. After the show, all of the reporters and media that came to the event all said, "We must see the dress." I remember being so heated about it because that was not the vision. But going forward, I continue to make women's wear. That has been the most influential. I'm published in publications around the world. I'd get special invites to other prestigious platforms because of my work for women's wear. So I came around.
Brandon: That's quite a surprise. I'm glad that worked out. What about Magnum? How did that come about, and why?
Ean: So this young lady in Georgetown, I remember going to her store. I was telling her what I did. She was telling me that — when I told her my price points, the way she goes, that's good. But you have to have something that's of a lower price point. I was trying to understand why. In her example, she says, "My low price points are postcards." Because back then, people bought postcards. Can you imagine? When was the last time you bought a postcard? They bought postcards. She said pantyhose. She sells enough pantyhose to pay her telephone bill or something else, and enough postcards. So she says she makes sure that every person comes in, if they don't buy a gown, they buy something. And it adds up.
So since I wasn't selling wedding dresses and evening gowns everyday, I needed a lower price point in a different direction. First, it was all about sensationalism. I didn't use the traditional underwear models where they would look all flat in the front and they're basically old Calvin Kleins on the newspaper. I took these big, hunky bodies. Because I knew that women were the primary buyers for their husband's and boyfriend's or son's underwear. So I had to put an aesthetic that made them look. That was a success for Calvin Klein. He proved much but then model out there. It took off. It was an explosion. The units were flying off. I would go to the post office. Oh, there's the underwear man, which I hate that process. I hate billing stuff. But it was pretty much like the bread and butter for a period of time.
Brandon: Okay. Great. I want to ask you a few questions about beauty, which is a word that some people associate with fashion. What does that word mean to you when you think of the work you're doing, the work you've done? What does beauty mean in your world?
Ean: I think I've looked at in the context of what its goal is supposed to be. So let's first deal with just the normal. Let's go from your earliest exposure to beauty as a parent and you have a child. This baby comes out. It really looks like an alien. They all do. But so much time and care has gone into bringing this life. On a day-to-day basis, as your baby is changing and cooing, and all these days you see this beautiful alien. So it changes. Everyone thinks they have the most beautiful child. They look at it, and they see a reflection of themselves. It's a piece of beauty. So that's the first exposure. I think it's great.
Cushy has superficial beauty. There's nothing real about it. It is all glammed up and artificial. But they'll always be a place for that. They'll always be a place for it. You look at some people who engage in plastic surgery, and they have really altered their natural look to where it's not really a cute aesthetic, but they continue to do it. It's because they have a false perception of what their self-beauty should be. I feel sorry for them. I really do, because they're destroying themselves. You can see beauty in everything that you look for. You see beauty in poison ivy, a daffodil, the sunset, just through the smog. It doesn't matter where you are. Beauty has a lot of different qualities. It's just a matter of just how you look at it.
Brandon: Tell me about in relation to the purpose of your work and the vision that you have, particularly for DC Fashion Week but even for your brands, would you see beauty in the purpose or behind why you do what you do?
Ean: No, I wouldn't say that because beauty has many different definitions. So what to one person, what to photographer's lenses, what they may view as beautiful, the rest of the world, even the majority of world, may not. But fashion can sell anything. They can take what most people may have been exposed to in their childhood and as adults that they would never view as beautiful, but because fashion has embraced it and marketed it in such a way that it's beautiful. There's examples of people with skin discolorations or gap teeth, features that we would normally if we had an option, we would suggest fixing them if we had the money and the resources to do it. But fashion can present it in such a way that it becomes exotic and is viewed as beautiful. Then other people would want to do it. There are some people who have actually had perfectly straight teeth and chiseled them to make them have a gap.
The fashion world can distort your reality as well. But if you go along with it and it works out for you, then by all means, go for it. For example, most people that would view a beauty mark. Marilyn Monroe made it popular, but it was a little dot. It wasn't a mole like Cindy Crawford. It took fashion to make her exotic, where then other women who had imperfections on their face, they started to get work because she had laid down the foundation for it. So they changed the world's perception of what's beautiful. But I'm sure as a kid, she probably was ridiculed for it. Before her, it wasn't deemed to be a beautiful quality, if that makes sense. Yeah. Fashion has sold us division on that.
Brandon: Yeah, that's an interesting point. Because I think, certainly, once you have somebody who's out there as a recognized model, they do shape other people's perceptions of what's beautiful. I was curious, though, in my question in relation to when you set out to start DC Fashion Week, did you have a vision for what would make this event really beautiful, in the sense of what would make this really worth doing? Even when you continue to do it, do you have a vision for how you would execute this in a way that you might be proud of or where its impact could be, something that people could judge as beautiful somehow?
Ean: I saw how demographics were important. Although I lived in Maryland, I knew that there was more power in creating a DC Fashion Week than for me at Baltimore or another major cities around Orange, Virginia, or Pentagon City Fashion Week. I knew that because of the geography in DC, that would have more impact. We always started with saying that I wanted to use diversity to make it a global platform. And because we're home to so many different embassies, and we have resources to designers around the world, it was our goal to be the Olympics of Fashion Week. We had to give a reason why would you do DC versus New York, or why would you do DC in addition to New York. If you're already doing the world's biggest, we had to sell a different dream.
Our dream was to get to your country behind you. That's important to a lot of them. If it's just the ambassadors there or the culture attaché is there, or one of the leading publications that's associated with their country mentions their brand, that's really huge for them, particularly when we were dealing with countries that geography is not much a strong point. It still isn't. I had never heard of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan. I had never heard of those places. We had designers come in from there, and they would do really well. They would pick models. We thought they were picking mainstream models because they were coming over from Europe. They were like, no, we want this. We have models that look like this every day. We want something different. That was surprising. Because when you go to the shelves and you look at all the major publications, you see one form of beauty, at least during that time period. Today, it's never been a better time for diversity in the fashion world. They have finally caught up, and they show it in a beautiful way. You see everything now, versus 10 years ago, that was clearly not the case. So they made a lot of progress.
Brandon: So that was really important to you, to highlight diversity and to make that — I certainly recall you had taken attempts to include modest fashion, for instance, that was not something up there elsewhere.
Ean: Now it's different. Because, again, fortunately, I had an organization come to me everyday modestly. Because, of course, I've seen the time before, but I didn't know that it was modesty wear. That probably come from, well, I encourage people now today to get a history of fashion and to study. I didn't do that, so I'm a very, very, very bad example. Because there are a lot of things you really learn that are insightful that help you. I just was fortunate to be in the right place the right time and stumble across it. We were interested in modesty. It was a very sensitive time because we just had 911. I remember some of the parents expressing their concerns, worried in their ignorance that we're going to be the victims of terrorists now. Because if these people are here, they go, if these people are here — I was like, that's not the case. So it was embraced really, really well. It was different. We did it for a number of seats. We were the first. We heard later, New York Fashion Week, they announced that they were the first Fashion Week in the U.S. to have it. But we had them four years. I would post there a comment and comment up under. We had them four years ago.
Brandon: That's great. Talk about the process that goes behind creating something like a Fashion Week. Is it super stressful, or do you see any beauty in that process too?
Ean: It is super stressful, because there are a lot of moving parts to any production. A lot of things can go wrong in a live production. So you have to be well-prepared for that. There's always a fear of someone tripping, or
a breast popping out, or pants not fitting. That's always a fear, no matter how well-prepared you are for that. That's part of it. The other part is getting the right players involved in the seats. Because we want press. They want to get exposure for the brand and get feedback. We want influencers. Influencers, I used to frown on them back in
the day. But as the world changes, you have to change and be adaptable to it as well. Because now we all recognize the importance and impact the influencers have. So that's important.
So, yeah, it's stressful in terms of wanting to get everything right. Everybody just wants everything right. Then you're dealing with the creative community. They all have big personalities. It's very rare you come across a super humble, quiet spirit. That doesn't happen. They're all Jeff Gordons. Because they want it perfect as well. My team tells me that I'm the worst of all of them. But I'm organized. As they say, because of your organization and your OCD, it's almost impossible because it's just too much. Just relax and trust your team. It's like too much. So we joke about it always afterwards. We really do. I think it makes them a stronger employee in that they can have the me, they can have anyone else.
Brandon: What is your team like? I mean, do you enjoy working with them? Do you get to use the word beauty when you see beauty in that collaboration with the folks you're working with?
Ean: They love fashion, which is good. Because you can't do it for a paycheck. You can't do it for paycheck. You're more passionate about something that you enjoy doing in being a part of the process. Then I don't have to micromanage. Because it's your work ethic. It's what you want to contribute to the process and what you want to see happen. That's different than someone having to do something, having a listen, be a bean counter and count jelly beans or whatever. That's something monotonous. They all enjoy being part of the creative process. That is great. We're literally like family. After that, I'd take them out for dinner. We go to each other's events, whether it be somebody's baby shower, or wedding, or they're getting an award for something. So we're very supportive of each other in that. That's great. They're clearly all are, they're considered as family and friends.
Brandon: That's great. When you say they love fashion, what about fashion do they love? Is it the ability to change the way people feel? What about it is worth loving?
Ean: I think they're drawn to the fashion world, and they're excited when it comes to it. There's something about the clicking cameras, the beautiful models, the fashion, the responses, all being part of the production in that process. That's exciting. It's still exciting to this day. So that part.
Then they all have backgrounds. Three or four of my members were models and expressed interest in learning how to do more and were able to be promoted and become team members. But that's sometimes a challenge. Because this last season was the first time I implemented that no staff members could model. Either you're a staff, or you're a model. I don't want the lines to cross over. That was hard for some people.
Brandon: Why is that? What was the reason behind that fear?
Ean: I think that when you are working with the models — because models, it's a click. You're clicking with the models. Then when you have to be in a position of authority, it's hard for the models to make that adjustment, because you were just laughing it up and with them a moment ago. And now you're telling them what they can do and what they cannot do. That doesn't always transfer well. I think they lose the respect of their position because they are of that association. So it's important that there's a difference between production and management and models for me. One person decided that they'd rather model than be on the team, which hurt my feelings for a moment. But I realized that the designer really love them, and they have a different aesthetic. It's exciting for them. So I did it.
Brandon: Awesome. What is your vision or your hope going forward for DC Fashion Week? Do you have a dream for what you'd like to see this become?
Ean: I do. The last Fashion Week was the absolute best, hands down. It was fantastic. We were able to do a lot more because we had some generous sponsors come on board. For most of the seasons, I have always been self-financed. We'll get some sponsorships, a lot of donations and kind and things like that. Every now and then, a big corporation like T-Mobile or Coca-Cola will come in and do something. But they were not consistent. Of course, we're gracious whether you give $200 or $50,000. We're gracious for all of it. But it's good when it's $50,000 because we can do a lot more. But because of that, we're able to give a lot. We are the highest return on a designer's investment. We're the lowest priced major fashion week in the world. You can go around and check the other sites and see what they charge for registration. The number looks in there 5 times, 10 times higher than what we do. So we're non-profit. Our goal is not to get it that way. Then we have the public income versus just buyers in press. The public can come and experience it as well. We think that's helpful. I think that part is helpful. It helps cover some of the overall costs. So that's where we differ.
But going forward, of course, we would have more community partners. Eventually, I do want it to look like an Olympics. I want the world's best designers from each country to show their work at Fashion Week. That's a huge effort to try to do, but I think it's something that's doable. I look forward to it. I really do.
Brandon: That's a beautiful vision. What led you to make it a non-profit?
Ean: Well, I knew that as myself, I didn't have the resources available for Fashion Week as a designer, for me. I mean, I did the calls. It was six figures when I first started trying to show it with the other major platforms. I couldn't have gotten both. But I did it. I knew there had to be other designers in the same position. I felt that as a non-profit, we can negotiate lower prices on everything. Because as I've mentioned, it's different. A reason why we don't do this is because we're trying to help. We want to help designers. We want to help models, graphic designers, publication. We were here to help as a platform. We weren't the first fashion week to do this. There have been several others that have embarked on the same thing. I hope it was eventually to get charitable donation, so people would like fashion as well. That was eventually the hope for that to happen. But as long as people can respect it's a nonprofit and that we had a mission, then that made the price point explain. That makes sense.
Brandon: If you have any advice for folks in the modeling world or are aspiring to be models, given all the challenges, given how difficult it is with the rejection and so on, what advice would you have for people who are entering that domain?
Ean: I will say for them to, one, study. Here's the part of the study process. That sets a model all the time. There are some very popular model websites. They do a category ranking of the top 50 female models and the top 50 male models or the top models in this particular category. I say look and see who those people are. Look at their poses. Look at the agencies that they're associated with. Look at the work that they're trying to do. You don't have to reinvent the wheel. You can take that as inspiration and incorporate that in your own style. So do the research on that part. Don't try to join this particular agency if they don't have any talent that looks like you, unless there's a clear need for that. So that's part of it.
Aim high but be able to have realistic expectations. That's really important. That's just as if, if I get this job. How will I feel if I don't get this job? How would I feel? That's important. That's important for your mental health. Of course, I tell them this is most important. Just simply be professional. That's what people would remember. They remember you for your own time. They remember if you are kind. They remember if you listened for feedback. They remember if you smile. Leave an impression. Be kind to everyone. Because you don't know who is going to make a reference. Now if you're mean to the receptionist, as the casting director, as soon as we're talking, he or she maybe like, "Do you really wanted that model?" Or, she can say, or he can say, "What do you think of this model?" Then it'll draw their memory, and it will work in your favor. I know that happened with me on several occasions. It's just a matter of just treating everyone with respect and kindness. That, they would remember. But they also remember rudeness.
Brandon: Yeah, that's great. Any advice to designers who are, again, trying to succeed?
Ean: For designers, we all share some things in common. We all want to be famous designers. We all want to be celebrity designers. We want rich people wearing our clothes. We want to be in the best stores. I laugh when I watch some of the reality stars when they all come up with a brand, and the first thing they say they would have been Neiman's and Saks, and all of these prestigious retail outlets for their brand that's nowhere near the aesthetic of what the brands that are r&d first. So that's the delusion in itself. So be realistic about that. Who's your customer? Who's going to buy your clothes? What do you want that impact to look like? Where do you imagine your items being? Not where you want them. What's the reason? Where you can have them? That will really help. That'll keep you from being disappointed.
I realized that I can use the sensationalism for Magnum underwears. I got the trademark. I knew what most people would think if they heard the name Magnum. It goes to the adage of sex sells. So I would put these very sexy models in Magnum underwear. Then I would go to the adult novelty stores, and I did brand placement in those. At one point, I was in five of them. I was moving units that way. Because then, there wasn't a lot of underwear in there that a lot of people would normally buy. I put it that way. But because of the name and the branding, it did well in those stores. So that's where I aimed for. I didn't aim for Macy's, Target, or any of those things. But as of today, my first manufacturer resold my xx inventory to other places. So now it's on Amazon and Walmart of all places.
Brandon: Yeah, bootlegged, right?
Ean: Bootlegged. I'm like, wow. So yeah, could you guys set up Google alerts for your brands and stuff. I was like, well, I'm on Amazon. Wow. I'm in Walmart. How did that happen?
Brandon: You're not getting any of that money.
Ean: None of the money. But they say imitation is flattery. No, I don't go for that. But it is. It lets you know you reached a certain status. That happens. Because they do it to the best of brands. There's fake Gucci everywhere. They do it to the best of brands. I have to look at it that way.
Brandon: What else are you working on? I mean, you have such a diverse range of careers and interests. Is there any other project you're juggling on top of all of this?
Ean: I am considering going back to theater.
Brandon: Oh, wow.
Ean: I just want it so that my kids can see it. I haven't done television in a super long time, so I would like for them to see that. I'm being offered a script for a play for early spring. So I'm going to consider it. That's one thing. I'm going to continue to, of course, do fashion and decide what direction I'm going in for the new collection. So that's it.
For Magnum, I have expanded to swimwear. It's going to be high-end swimwear, which we normally can't picture what does that mean for men, high-end swimwear. There is a category of men who will pay $200, $300 for a personal trunks. Most won't, but there are a group that will. So I'm catering to that particular crowd with the latest. It's flashy, gold, metal. So I'm going to do an editorial campaign for that. I want to work with other photographers for editorials. So that's always fun to see your work published. It helps with the branding. It helps with the selling. So I'm super excited by that and just going forward.
I'm going to take a step back on producing other fashion week. I did a lot of fashion events this year. As I told some organizers of the event last night, this is my last fashion show this year. They're like, no. I said yes, it's my last one. I'll go attend others I'm not showing or producing anymore, unless I get a call from Oprah or something.
Brandon: That's great. What fuels you? You've got I think so many different interests. Are there a set of key drivers or motivators that you think keep your energy up and keep you going?
Ean: It is seeing so many people's dreams fulfilled for them, from models, to designers, to even people who are new to journalism and saying I wrote a blog on my cover this year. It increased my blog viewership. I can't wait to do. As a result, now I got invited to do other things. A lot of people are telling me, because our coverage was DC Fashion Week, we now are invited to New York Fashion Week, which of course, is the mecca. A lot of designers say that because of that, New York Fashion Week has called me. I know they would never knew who I was if we hadn't done the platform. So hearing those success stories, that is always great. We're always wanting to come back, though. But sometimes you just go on, and you go on. So we understand that as well. That's always exciting.
For models to get their dreams realized. There was one model. I told her mom, I said you absolutely have to take her to New York. There are certain faces you look. It's like 1 in 20,000 that has the look. I'm telling you she has the look. Her mother took her to New York, and she got signed to one of the top agencies next. So we're like super duper excited for her. We had another model. I told her that she had the perfect look for Calvin Klein. She went to New York. She got signed by a New York agency, and her first client was Calvin Klein. We don't always get it right. But we're super excited when it does happen. We really are.
So that's the most important thing, the gratifying part of seeing people work hard on their dreams, and we give them a platform to exercise that and they view it as successful. That's great because it literally changes their lives. There's nothing wrong with having a different business platform where you make the best ice cream. It gives people joy because we like ice cream. Does it impact the world? I don't know. But it gives us joy. So it's just how you view it. We love seeing people have their dreams fulfilled. Because most, they have different backgrounds. We have designers who are doctors, who are lawyers, who are professors. And although they enjoy their nine-to-five, it's a different thing for them to follow their passion like that. So we get it. We find it exciting. We're happy for them.
Brandon: Awesome. Ean, thank you so much for taking the time. This has been super insightful. Where can we direct our viewers or listeners to your work?
Ean: Well, our main platform is, of course, DCFashionWeek.org and Instagram @officialdcfashionweek, Facebook at DC Fashion Week. My personal is @mr_dcfashionweek. I'm curious to hear your vision, your view of beauty. What is beauty to you?
Brandon: Oh, yeah. I'd say, for me, it operates at various levels. I think there's a fundamental metaphysical beauty. Everything that exists is beautiful because it's part of existence. I think that's part of this reality. It's attractiveness, right? The little things in space that draw us, that faraway galaxies and black holes, all of those things, to the tiniest sort of particles I think have an intrinsic attractiveness. But then there's also, I think there are a number of things that are beautiful have in common. There are things like harmony and symmetry and elegance and a sense of fit. Unity is an element of surprise. Whatever we call something beautiful, it typically has some of those qualities.
I'm really interested in beauty in the work that people do. There's certainly a physical beauty, which you're talking about in either clothing or faces. But in the work of a designer and seeing that there's a match between whatever they're coming up with, and the person who's wearing it, or the way in which something makes people feel and the way in which clothing can convey to people a sense of confidence, I think there's —
Ean: It can reflect your personality. Because we'd make judgments, whether we do it so intently or just organically. When we first see someone, we look. Most people, if you take three people who haven't walked in the room, they will walk right back out. You ask them to describe the people that came in. They will almost all put the same main features down for each person.
They announced that there's a scientific way of looking at a facial shape and the space between the eyes and the nose bridge and the fulness of the lip. There's a scientific way of examining what a "perfect face" is that most people will respond to positively, because it falls within this thing. But then, you can have someone that doesn't fall in that whatsoever at all, but because almost everyone has a duty to that when they smile, when their faces really light up and smile, that part is great.
I remember referring to a model as a boring pretty. They want to know what that meant. There was nothing wrong with her, but it was just a boring pretty. She was pretty, but there was nothing exciting about her portfolio. So if she were to do some things differently, it would come across much more positive. It wouldn't come across as boring, if that makes any sense.
Ean: Whereas someone else is not deemed aesthetically as attractive, but because they have excitement in their pictures and their poses and their personality, they're stunning. It's impactful. Because when it comes to marketing, you can put a particular model in something, and it doesn't capture anyone's attention or anything. Or, you can do it in a different way, and it makes a big difference.
I'm sure you've seen this experiment they did with Payless shoes. They put it in a very ritzy area. I think it was in New York. They put very attractive sales people in and display. They made it exotic. I remember they had this ran. They could perfectly give a fake accent. I don't know what country it was. But he worked at Neiman's. And because of this fake accent that he would give, it made him an authority on fashion. He would sell shoes. It was easy to say how he would just sell all. He sells somebody's shoes. He said like it was a special pair. He felt that part of his delivery was his fake accent. I can't even do it. I don't know. It's somewhere between French and Ukrainian and maybe Caribbean. It was so funny. He's southern. It's hilarious.
Brandon: Wow. But yeah, I think that's one of the challenges with beauty. Escape can be deceptive, right? You can use it to deceive people in some way. But also, the kind of unexpected aspects of beauty that you're mentioning are really important, that the way in which a person's personality or energy can shine through and make something not boring.
Ean: So what's the opposite of beauty for you then? Now we determined what we think beauty is. What's the opposite of that?
Brandon: Yeah, I think it's a very broad umbrella term that I'm using. I think it has very contextual aspects to it. I do think we can call things ugly in ways that are — for instance, when I study scientists, where they find beauty or where they talk about where they find beauty is in either the phenomena they're studying like the star themselves or in the insight, the understanding, where you have a harmony between an idea you have or a theory you have and how reality actually turns out to be in that fit. That wow. I guess it might be like this. But to see it's actually this way, that kind of fit is really beautiful. Or even just uncovering the hidden order of patterns is really beautiful. You asked about ugliness. It's always about relationships.
Ean: Not ugliness. I didn't say ugliness. I said opposite of beauty.
Brandon: For me, I want to call it ugliness because that's the literal — I'll tell you where it lies for them is in the kind of toxic relationships in the workplace where somebody is exploiting them, or harassing them, or bullying them. So that's what they talk about. Then the way we do it in our research is we ask about positive and negative emotions. You often tell me about some powerful positive emotions you experienced. Then they talked about beauty. We asked about powerful negative emotions. They talk about what we're calling ugliness which is this kind of relational toxicity. So I think, yeah, if you could talk about beauty as, say, justice. When you see relationships that are just and harmonious, or even in society, we see a lot of injustice that we'd call ugly. We would denounce it. We'd say that's not beautiful, like the way people are being treated or how certain structures are. But usually, underlying those judgments of you want to denounce some kind of unjust structure, you're assuming that there is a kind of opposite of that which is the just order, the way things ought to be. That's the vision of something beautiful.
Ean: Got you.
Brandon: So if you ask me, it's hard for me to separate my own judgments from what I do as a researcher. I'm always like, in what field do you mean? I mean, do you mean for a lawyer, or do you mean for a scientist? So I don't know if I have my own.
Ean: I think certain words like ugliness will never have any type of positive feedback. I think it's different to say this is something that I'm attracted to, versus this is something that I'm not attracted to. It's just something that I find appealing versus something I don't find appealing. Because if I don't find it attractive, it doesn't mean it's not attractive.
Brandon: Correct. Yeah.
Ean: When you — not you. But when someone describes something as ugly, no one wants to see that as beautiful because you've determined that it's already this thing.
Brandon: Yeah, I think you're setting the boundaries between what's beautiful and what's the opposite, right? Because I think there's a lot of things. You can say, like, look, this piece of music, or this piece of art is beautiful. I just don't like it. But I can see the beauty. I can see how other people find it beautiful, because it has symmetry or has these kinds of harmonies or whatever. You could say that's great. It's just not for me. That's fine.
Ean: Right. You always hear people say, "I don't see what's so special about this person." It doesn't mean they don't think the person isn't attractive. They just don't see what the hype is about.
Ean: I love when a person can use their resources and tools to sell anything. It's a lesson in marketing. It's great. It's a science. Some people are masters of it. I think the best to do it in the game are the Kardashians. They're masters of it. And so I find that quite impressive. While others, sometimes, don't want to see people constantly win. Of course, they have the shares with troubles and things like that. But sometimes when a person is winning constantly, then it automatically builds up resentment. Then it's not beautiful to that person anymore, and that's unfortunate.
Brandon: Thank you. Yeah, I think it's a very generative term. It opens up a lot of different ways of looking at the world I think if we look at it through the lens of beauty. It doesn't mean the same thing to everybody. But I do think there are certain common features. There may be 11 to 25 different things that we could consider beautiful. I don't think it's an infinite range of things. But because there's so much diversity in the things we find beautiful, I think it's possible to have some interesting conversations. But also, I think it can help people. My sense is it can help people to thrive. If you pay attention to what's beautiful in your work, if you try to look for that and try to work in a way that's beautiful, or to find beauty in your work — it's not just one thing. It can be a range of things — you pursue those, and it can help you to flourish and thrive in better ways.
Ean: Just the wilderness cell. There's a series on Netflix called like The Plant Series or something like that. It's beautiful to see how things have — I didn't say the word evolve because I believe in design. But however the process is, there was an explosion versus someone say, let there be light. The explosion still happened. The life still happened. So to decide which path you want to go spiritually. But it is when you see the wonder of the world and the beauty and the complexity of just how things are from the simplest things — the ocean, animal life, and butterflies — it's just breathtakingly beautiful. And just how things work, from a bumblebee moving pollen from this plant to this plant and how plants respond to this type of organism, I find it to be the most fascinating thing.
There are some of the colors I wish I could duplicate in fabric. Now there's a silk-dying process that you can. It's kind of tedious, but it's beautiful. It's really beautiful. Some just naturally occurring colors in nature are just beautiful. I meant all of it.
Brandon: Well, I think that's one of the powers of beauty. It makes us want to reproduce it, right? You encountered these colors and you're like, I want to be able to create that and to share that with others. I think in my latest podcast episode, my guest talked about how he defined was beauty as a shy peek at divinity. There's something beyond breaking through. That there can be things that you find pretty, but there are also really powerful experience of beauty that are almost other-worldly and pull you out of yourself and point to something beyond, which is I think also part of the arresting power of beauty.
Ean: Yeah, that's fascinating.
Brandon: Yeah, wonderful. Ean, thank you. I'm very grateful for you being on the show.
Ean: Thank you. Thank you.
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