Based on the post-apocalyptic photos Steven Klein took for W magazine's September cover shoot with Rihanna, one can imagine how out-of-this-world it was to be on set that day. Just ask twenty-somethings Hirakish, Sunny, Chucky, and Deion Smith — the four men who were cast to flank Rihanna as the last woman on earth.
"In that moment, Rihanna was like her own little planet." Hirakish said, as he reflected on the shoot from the 34th floor of the World Trade Center, gazing down at the streets below. "This is Rihanna's view," he declared.
Hirakish, 22, is best-known in the fashion universe for sprinting down the Hood by Air Fall 2016 runway in high-heeled boots. Then, he was a fresh-faced arrival from New Orleans' Ninth Ward, where he had lived just six months earlier.
When he arrived for the Rihanna shoot, the post-apocalyptic theme made sense. "I feel like the shoot is about people being left behind and not being attached to the new world," he said. "I’m not talking New World Order or illuminati or nothin’, I’m talking about a new world where we transcend genres, class, and race."
Like with many of Rihanna's fans, each of these men attested to feeling a certain gravitational pull towards the pop star. Deion Smith, 22, who has been modeling since 2014 and walked in Rihanna's Fenty x Puma show, connected to her unapologetic boldness. "That's what makes a person a true savage," he said.
Sunny, 25, who has also walked for Hood by Air and recently modeled in the Yeezy fashion show, said Rihanna has a presence similar to that of the late Aaliyah. "I wonder what music might have been like if they both made music at the same time," he said.
And Chucky, 27, the third Hood by Air model in the group, has a real cosmic connection with the singer, as they share the same birthday.
Not just anyone can stand next to Rihanna and still hold their own though, and these four men were cast not only for their looks, but also their presence and personality. "I’m not a model or a muse; fuck that shit," said Hirakish, who also calls himself a performance and musical artist. "To be a muse is to be amused. I’m not amused by being a muse. A muse doesn’t say anything. I was already this person before I met Shayne Oliver."
"I want models to be recognized for their natural beauty and character; not because of what social status they have," echoed Deion Smith.
All the models — who actually don't like being labeled as such — agreed that if the fashion industry wants to survive, it needs to celebrate individuals.
As the cover shoot depicts, trends may come and go, but its the individuals who may be the last ones standing.