The kid from Christchurch taking a bite out of Big Apple's fashion

New York is the city that has crushed a million dreams. But now, a couple of skinny Kiwi kids are making it in the Big Apple. Jack Tame goes partying with New York Times fashion writer Isaac Hindin-Miller and his Vogue model girlfriend, Ashika Pratt.

From the day he began writing, Isaac Hindin-Miller always aspired to making it into a New York newspaper. Backstage at New York Fashion Week, he achieved his dream.

The winter show for the US clothing label Band of Outsiders had predictably attracted a smattering of the uber-cool celebrities and socialites, faces and names. Vogue magazine editor Anna Wintour, actress Kirsten Dunst and hip-hop star Kanye West were among the society elite afforded front-row seats. And at the back of the room was this anonymous, willowy kid from suburban Christchurch.

The show ended, the lights went up. And despite his relative familiarity with high-end fashion shows, and fairly regular encounters with their token stars, the kid from Christchurch couldn’t help himself. For once, it wasn’t worth feigning fashionable nonchalance.

For once, he wanted a photo. And Kanye West probably should have said no.

“I put my arm around him and said, ‘I am your biggest New Zealand fan. I love you, I love everything you’ve ever done’,” Hindin-Miller said to him.

The young man smiles and rocks gently when he tells me the story, as if agreeing with his gushing sentiment. And although his somewhat predatory adoration probably cost him cool points, it made for a hell of a Facebook update. And a hell of a debut in the New York press.

“A crazed New Zealand fan accosted Kanye West” said the review in the following morning’s newspaper. The dream, of sorts, was realised.

THOUGH HE has lived in New York for more than a year, Hindin-Miller still pauses when asked what it is he actually does.

“I’m a blogger,” he tells me. “But it’s kind of embarrassing to tell people you’re a blogger, so I say I’m a fashion writer.”

He’s both, really.

Eighteen months after the “crazed fan” incident, Hindin-Miller has been commissioned to write a regular men’s fashion column for The New York Times.

Now, they publish his name, and only those with clashing sartorial tastes would consider describing him as crazed.

“As soon as I started writing, it was always my dream to write for The New York Times. I always thought it would be about something really serious like war or something like that.

“But as it turns out, I basically write about myself.”

The gentle self-deprecation is a familiar theme in his conversation and work.

Since starting his blog, in June 2008, Hindin-Miller has built a finger-in-many-pies career in fashion writing and styling. Aside from his blog and column, he has a contract with US fashion label Park and Bond, and is the creative director for Little Brother, the off-the-rack mens’ fashion label founded by Auckland tailor Murray Crane.

I first met Hindin-Miller in Williamsburg, a once-scungy Brooklyn suburb that has morphed in recent years into a global centre of neo-hipsterism. From the train to his apartment was a 10-minute walk past boutique cafes and artisanal everythings. You could score the rolled-up jeans, sleeve tattoos, bow ties and beards. Single-speed bikes abound and a young man in a battered suit and tie can feel particularly uncool.

At apartment 4F, an Adonis opened the door. He was unnecessarily topless and dashingly handsome, with a big sweep of sandy brown hair flicked across his forehead. Straight, gay, or neither, you could get lost in his eyes.

“Hi … is Isaac here?” I asked.

“Yeah, bro, come in,” beamed the warm Australian. I recognised him as a model I’d seen on the side of a bus a day or two earlier.

“Eeeeeeeeeeeeh!” cried a voice from the loft above. A wiry frame scurried down the stairs, and stretched out its hand.

He had on a fitted shirt and jeans, and a hairstyle, not a haircut. Hindin-Miller turned for the door.

“Tom,” he said, looking back at his Adonis flatmate. “Put a shirt on.”

For a man of thread, it’s about as far as his fashion policing extends.

Growing up in Burnside, in Christchurch’s northern suburbs, Hindin-Miller realised at a young age his interest in fashion placed him firmly in the masculine minority, that the ruck-and-maul crowd probably wouldn’t appreciate tips on embellishing their summer hues.

“Less than 1 per cent of men in New Zealand are actively interested in fashion. I mean there are guys who like clothes, but fashion … I always used to think it was just me and Murray Crane.”

There were, however, few opportunities in 1990s Christchurch to extend one’s fashion horizons, and Hindin-Miller made brief ventures into more traditional Kiwi male pursuits.

“I played rugby for seven years,” he says, with a smile and an “I-told-you-so” tone of voice.

Upon reflection it was his physique, not his fashion, that probably cost him an All Black starting spot – but Hindin-Miller does recall some mild sporting success.

“At the age of 9, I was a Canterbury rugby rep alongside (All Black halfback) Andy Ellis.” he laughs. “And I don’t mind if you mention that in the article!”

But rugby, and Burnside for that matter, seem a long way from the life Hindin-Miller now lives.

He earned his tailor’s stripes under the tutelage of Murray Crane, in Auckland.

Crane hired the young man because he was prepared to turn his hand to anything and do whatever it took to get the job done – plus, he came from the South Island.

His knowledge and strong opinions, says Crane, are hardwired and instinctive. “He is like a dog with a bone sometimes and has an almost unflagging confidence in his own ability.”

He showed some of that confidence when he first met his girlfriend Ashika Pratt, a model from Auckland’s eastern suburbs.

Pratt has the deep, brown eyes of a doe, and a perfect crisp smile. She has herself enjoyed international modelling success, appearing in numerous international campaigns and on the cover of Vogue’s India edition three times. Jobs still take her to London, Paris and throughout Asia, but after a tiring few years without a stable base camp, she settled in New York.

The pair met on a subway platform. Hindin-Miller recognised her, struck up conversation and eventually wooed her with tickets to a private Guns N’ Roses show – a story he delights in retelling to great dramatic effect. He somehow got tickets through a friend, and was standing outside the gig minutes from its starting time, with no sign of his Kiwi date. Pratt was on the train and running a few minutes late, with no way of getting a message through. Should he stay outside? Should he go in? Sure, they’d clicked on the subway platform but were two minutes of chemistry enough to risk an intimate rendition of Sweet Child o’Mine?

Apparently so. He waited. She made it. And as he finishes the story, Pratt gently rolls her eyes, sighs and smiles.

The pair constantly tease and joke with each other, walking hand-in-hand and laughing. Hindin-Miller it would seem, has recently purchased a smartphone, and passionately documents the minute details of their lives through the photo-sharing website Instagram. Everything from a $12 Puerto Rican haircut to a pair of new short shorts, to Pratt grinning through a pair of novelty candy teeth is photographed and published in a commentary of an enviable New York existence.

PRATT AND Hindin-Miller are part of a group of young models and writers who’ve moved from New Zealand and Australia to work in fashion in New York City. Hindin-Miller estimates 80 per cent of his friends in the city are models – through his work, they’re the majority of the people he meets, and together they socialise in a sort of Antipodean posse of youth, beauty and success.

“I often think of myself as the father lion,” he says. “And all the cubs are running around trying to play with me and I’m swatting them off. I’m the grumpy old man who tries to keep everyone in check.”

The life undoubtedly has its cliched privileges. High cheekbones and flawless figures have a habit of opening doors and shortening nightclub queues. Club promoters offer the group free alcohol and velvet-rope service in exchange for their beauteous presence. During a recent heatwave, Hindin-Miller somehow worked his way – and mine – into two separate rooftop pool parties in the space of a week, both crowded with beautiful people and sometimes showy wealth. (One party promised burgers, and instead served tiny boxes of coleslaw. The other was good for a dip, but the guests were “a bit Jersey Shore”, he said).

“The more you get into it, I guess you see the darker side of the industry,” he tells me, brushing off my partying stereotypes. Those working in the global industry see frequent abuse – financial and otherwise – of young and naive workers. Above all, fashion is fickle and New York is a transient city. Models can go weeks without paid work, and many of Hindin-Miller’s closest friends leave town for months at a time.

He doesn’t struggle though, not any more. The day of our interview, I strolled with Hindin-Miller and Pratt through Manhattan’s trendy West Village, and in the space of a block he was recognised twice.

The first stranger pulled up in a gleaming white Range Rover and whistled out Isaac’s name. He’s a top marketing executive at Hugo Boss, apparently, who’d once hired Hindin-Miller to help film a Hugo Boss video. The second was the creative director for Ralph Lauren. Hindin-Miller had met him at a party.

“It’s like he knows everyone!” Pratt exclaimed, as the ice melted in our coffees.

In an industry defined by exclusivity, and where exclusivity is defined by image, I asked Hindin-Miller to explain his success.

“I always think you’re dressing for the job you want as opposed to the job you have,” he explains.

When he started out sneaking into fashion shows, that meant faking an image of belonging. “I wouldn’t tell people that I was staying in a one-star hotel in Milan that cost me €45 a night and where the internet only works for two hours a day. I’d go, ‘Hey look, I’m sitting next to Kanye West at this show’.”

In spending time with Hindin-Miller though, you have to wonder if the key to his success has actually been quite the opposite – whether he hasn’t actually faked anything.

In an industry of privilege and wealth, whether being a personable, boofy-haired and happy-go-lucky guy from the fashion mecca of suburban Christchurch, might have just afforded him a rare and unique charm.

It is, after all, fashionable to be a little different. Especially in New York.

It’s how he landed the job with the New York Times. Hindin-Miller had a chance chat with the newspaper’s mens’ fashion editor after a European show, worked the contact, and started his segment upon moving to New York.

Does he earn much money?

“Pathetically little.”

But is there money to be made?

“Some of my female model friends definitely would be earning half a million dollars a year.”

Is fashion fulfilling?

He pauses. “Sometimes it is like, eurgh … what am I doing with my life?

“But I think if you can give people a bit of enjoyment in their day then you’re not doing too badly.”

By Jack Tame

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