It’s a grey day in Milan. Regardless, or perhaps for this exact reason, the Italian fashion capital is full of energy. People are hurrying through the streets and The Flow House team is on the Via Tortona, – where, during fashion week, all the fashion elites meet up and the big fashion brands have their showrooms. Joan Palà is standing in front on the nhow, probably the trendiest hotel in Milan, while finishing his cigarette. He’s wearing a grey scarf all the way up to his lower lip. While taking the last drag on his cigarette, he greets us as if he’s known us for years and follows us inside. It’s a new chapter.
We sit down on a beige couch that is in perfect harmony with the color of Joan’s pullover. Even as a young boy Joan enjoyed dressing up and asked his mother for advice. Today, he is a successful art director and photographer with an enormous range of influence. Having grown up in Barcelona, it helped him launch his international career five years ago. What started out being a hobby, later became a job, “and that is incredibly beautiful.” Joan raves and calls for excitement. Who is this young man, who seems so mysterious?
It doesn’t take long until Joan starts speaking about fashion and openly admits that his style has remained the same for years. He has, and it is quite obvious, a flair for fashion, his passion, however, is part of the “whole package”: “It is interesting for me to have a ‘setting’ and to include everything – the person, the clothes, the landscape, the details. Clothes are an important part but it needs to be more than that for me. That’s why I would also call myself ‘Storyteller’.” Joan doesn’t want to refer to the profession titling “Influencer.” He also doesn’t call his Instagram community “Followers” but rather refers to them as “Network of Friends.” This so-called “Network” has changed his life.
“Fashion looks good when you mix it with details from life.” What does Joan like most about AllSaints, Sandro and Levi’s? “That the style remains simple.” Joan adores dark color tones, especially grey and explains how the film “The Talented Mr. Ripley” has influenced his style. According to him, this film has influenced the entire fashion industry. “I think that contemporary men’s fashion makes use of styles and mediums from earlier decades and the film is a fantastic example for how fashion from the past is so similar to ours today.” When he watches such films, he enjoys building up his own style on it. The Catalan, who has an older brother, mentions the positive development in contemporary men’s fashion and finds it impressive that women wear menswear. Even if he doesn’t wear women’s clothing, it means a lot to him that neutrality has finally made its way to fashion. “It has a lot to do with our mentality and the development of society. We need to show the world that we can do anything we want and that limits don’t exist. Nobody should dictate what we’re supposed to wear.” Strong statement. He runs his hand through his hair and talks about a close friend he’s especially inspired by. “She dresses like a man and it looks so good!” His current attitude has a lot to do with his past. The contrast to his adolescence couldn’t be any bigger. “I come from a small, Spanish city with no diversity whatsoever. Nobody would even dare to wear extravagant clothing. There weren’t any men who would dye their hair or wear women’s clothing. When I see young people today that seem to be “different” and stand out, then that affects me. Therefore, I am really glad that gender lines are slowly disappearing in brands.” Rays of sunshine fill the room.
A crush on Gigi Hadid or Jon Kortarajena? No. The people that inspire and influence Joan the most in his life, are his friends. “I spent the past few years with friends that also are in the fashion business and they have taught me quite a lot.” His friends haven’t only shown him, how to take center stage but also how to attract the attention of big brands. “It’s a game and they’ve taught me the tricks and rules.” Joan straightens his glasses. He prefers to get to know people that represent a certain statement. “I only need to meet the person, when I’ve decided on whether I share the same fashion statement or not. You can really send strong messages through fashion, but the person – their character and their ideas – that always counts more than the ‘naked’ clothing.”
Joan loves details. Details in his life. Details in the fashion world. “Details make the difference.” It’s no coincidence that he has a hate-love relationship with short-lived trends. Best example: Balenciaga shoes: “I could never wear them, but somehow I still like them. There are people that can pull off the shoes, fill them and exactly know why they are wearing them. I like that.” The same goes for Kanye West. “I could stare at the Yeezy collection for hours on end and be fascinated. So creative and inspiring! But I could never wear it!” By no means a phenomenon. Although the difference lies in that most influencers tend to try and wear everything and anything, which appears random. That’s not the case with Joan. He has a clear pattern. “I’m actually partly anti-fashion.” He smiles bashfully. “There are successful brands that are able to thrill millions of people nowadays – but with pointless fashion. Where is common sense?” Good question.
The youth unemployment in his home country Spain is unbelievably high. Can the country still offer young, creative people the opportunities to realize their projects? “There are big fashion companies in Barcelona and Madrid, like Inditex, that can offer a newcomer something. Specific Spanish brands can be very successful there but all in all and in my opinion, Spain isn’t a fashion country.” He compares the Spanish cities Barcelona and Madrid with Milan. “In this respect, the cities are similar because the people have a similar mentality and the cities are built up similarly.” However, Joan highlights a crucial difference. “In Milan, the fashion is in the people and that isn’t the case in Spain.” Hopelessness for fashion talents? “You can become successful in Spain if you create fashion and love it. But in order to find appeal, the ideas need to be fantastic and compatible for the majority. In Milan, it’s enough if an idea is good in order to find people that will help you. The industry is much bigger and has more power.” That could be a reason why Joan is leaving Barcelona.
200.000 – for some this represents the inhabitants of Geneva, but for Joan, it means more. It represents the number of people following his visions on Instagram. For Joan, who comes from a humble background, this doesn’t come naturally. “While certain people were posting cats and rainbows a few years ago, I started publishing quality images, because I’ve always loved photography.” He had a vision, that still makes his eyes beam today. His recipe for success is a banal one: The 25-year-old didn’t launch his Instagram and projects to earn money. “I didn’t even know that that was possible. I enjoyed publishing beautiful pictures and focusing on details that drew attention to fashion. I started with it because I loved it.” Isn’t this hinting at narcissism? “Each person feels good if they know that others enjoy their work and follow their experiences. Perfection, however, doesn’t exist.” Even perfect images? “There are influences out there that post seemingly perfect pictures – with the perfect sunset, the perfect hair – but I prefer genuineness.” The subject needs to be broached again, whereupon Joan clearly positions himself. “We aren’t living a movie. It’s my life. I want to be real. And yes, sometimes, quite often, you see pictures that are fake and over-edited. I want to be able to show my life and personality and not have to fabricate my life.” Joan noticed the end of success for phony perfectionism. “Real people can’t really relate to seemingly perfect humans. More and more people are noticing this, and that’s why I’m sure that an increasing amount of young people like it when pictures aren’t over-edited and just depict real life.” He gestures with his hands. Naturalness and authenticity are important to Joan. “Everyone has bad days and doesn’t feel great. Even me. And then it touches me when I receive messages that say, ‘Thank you. Thank you, for making my day.’ This might sound weird, I mean I’m no pop icon, but I’m thrilled when people appreciate and feel my work.” Even if he’s no pop icon, Joan is able to reach people and is aware of his responsibility. However, he highlights, “I don’t want to be a dictator!” Are there dictators on Social Media platforms? “No, since Instagram offers a huge variety and various different types of accounts. You’ve got the trophy wife, who doesn’t know anything about fashion but suddenly gains millions of followers on Instagram and is named influencer of the year – that’s something I would criticize. Because, without trying to blame anyone or trying to think of any stereotypes, it is possible that they aren’t doing it wholeheartedly. However, I would honor someone, who builds up everything on their own and truthfully gains followers.” Joan is a classic example for that. He takes a sip of water while taking a quick glimpse at his phone before he immediately putting it away again, and begins to rave about his favorite artist Frank Ocean. “I love deep songs that actually express something.”
In order to achieve your goals, one must work hard and fight for them. Joan, who loves pasta, is sure that: “You are who you are and sooner or later you need to accept that.” But? “But you can work out more, dye your hair, study, go to work and save your money – people need to sacrifice things, in order to do what they really love.” He begins to talk about times when you couldn’t take traveling for granted. “At the beginning of my career, I had multiple jobs simultaneously, as I worked at a bar to be able to afford clothes and traveling. Nothing comes from nothing.” Joan believes in the good and beauty of people. “Each person is beautiful and can be whatever he or she wants to be if they’re willing to work for it.” And he gets quite poetic. “Nobody loves you more than you love yourself.” Independence means a lot to Joan. “I was never dependent. Not from my parents or even my friends. Dependence is something dreadful.” Does being independent imply loneliness? “I love being alone! In the mountains, in a hotel room. There are people that hate being alone but you should actually use such moments to work on your inner and not outer self.” His eyes sparkle. It’s almost noon.
Favorite country? “I am direct, and in certain things, a very consequent human being, but I can’t respond to such questions with a simple answer. Such an answer is black or white. And my favorite things are grey.” This perfectly reflects his personality. That’s why he also liked Iceland. “It was grey, dark and different.” Joan is tempted by the unknown. “When I travel, I just feel so good. I quickly get bored in Barcelona so I prefer to travel the world.” If you expect this Spanish guy to love clear blue skies and 40 degrees in the shade, then you’re mistaken. Rain makes him happy, which his “Network of Friends” has definitely already noticed.
2018 brings a lot of change for Joan. “I’m not tired but I’d like to reshape what I’m doing.” Therefore, the 25-year-old is moving from Barcelona to London. “I don’t just want to publish pictures for brands but independently work as an art director. At the moment, my options are limited in Barcelona and I’d like to move on. Life is made up of cycles and my cycle in Spain is coming to an end.” He’s trying to not overwork his hate-love relationship with Barcelona. “I don’t want to be fed up with Barcelona, it’s my home after all. But the city isn’t inspiring me right now.” He imagines his future as art director to be very diverse. Joan, who studied tourism management, illustrates how exciting this job can be. “It’s not just about wearing a pair of shoes from a specific label and representing them on Instagram. If I really like the brand, I’d ask them to give me the chance to realize an entire project for them. That would mean that I would organize the models, the locations, the styling – everything.”
He has many ideas that he wants to convert into actions. He lets his enthusiasm show but it doesn’t make him seem grimly determined at all. His charisma allows him to appear relaxed, even if his calendar is filled with meetings, straining the capacity of his iPhone.
The photographer is standing at the door and the clock is ticking. Before this grey day comes to an end, Joan makes one aware that grey days are good days. He walks towards the coatrack in order to get ready for the shoot and slip into the clothes that make him appear timeless. So timeless, that in 20 years’ time, we will be talking about the style of “The Talented Mr. Palà”.
Creative Direction + Text: Karim Coppola
Photography: Alessandro Lo Faro
Hair & Make Up: Erika Calabrò
Editorial Assistants: Claire Oehninger, Michèle Schlegel
Brands: AllSaints, Levi’s, Sandro Paris
Special Thanks: Hotel nhow Milan