In our ongoing series,
When you ask models what they like best about their jobs, most of them will say it's the travel. This is especially true for George Alan, a redhead familiar from his starring roles in campaigns for the likes of Hermès and Lacoste who has visited far-flung locales like Jamaica, Tokyo, and Mozambique for work. "I spent a lot of my time while traveling absorbing as much as I could," he says. "I never looked at it as a career path. It was really more for the experience." Those years of exploration and inspiration have paid off for Alan, who is now the principal of Brooklyn-based design firm Design Department and a force behind such hotspots as the Williamsburg club Output (named the third best club in America by Rolling Stone last summer) and Playland Motel, which has been credited with bringing a new stylish vibe to the Rockaways in Queens. Up next is a digital newsstand coming to the crowded subway platforms of Union Square later this year, yet another example of Alan's burgeoning entrepreneurship.
Hometown: New York, New York, but originally from Salisbury, North Carolina
Agency: DNA Models
How were you discovered?
I was in college at the time, and approached on the street. I blew it off because at the time I was really focused on finishing school and getting a job. Of course, after graduating, finding a job proved to be a little more difficult than originally anticipated, so I got back in contact with the agency.
What expectations did you have for your career before you started?
I majored in advertising/communications and industrial design at FIT, so I had been exposed to the idea of what the fashion industry could be like, and my expectations were pretty low because I was coming into it at an older age. I was already 22 years old, I'd already been through school. For me, it was an opportunity to go see the world and do things, travel, meet people. There's so many great things that models are afforded, one of which is being exposed to the world and culture and inspirations. That was the one thing that I took from it.
When did you start to move away from modeling full-time?
I modeled full-time for three years or so, and I lived outside of New York a lot. When I moved back to the city, I decided to get back into industrial design, so I started working for an architecture firm, basically as an intern. Because of my background in industrial design and in construction, being able to actually fabricate things, I ended up working my way up the ranks there to senior designer and project manager. I learned a great deal about the architecture industry insofar as it relates to retail design, hospitality design, less residential and more commercial stuff. That's where I got my appetite for places like Playland or Output and experiential design. I found it quite enjoyable because it was a real 360° process, from design to fabrication to customization to finished product. It was really fun to see something go from an idea to something solid. I worked for this architecture firm for about two-and-a-half years and then decided to break out and do my own thing and started my own little practice.
How did the idea for Output come about?
I've known my partner Robin [Scott] for many years through modeling, and Output was actually something that he and I cooked up because we noticed a white space in Williamsburg, that there was no place to go and dance. There were amazing bars and restaurants, but there was a mass exodus of people to Manhattan to go dance. We started digging around and found a space and got to work.
How did you decide to branch out into hotels with Playland Motel in the Rockaways?
Once Output opened, we turned our sights to the Rockaways, where we had been going for a few seasons. We noticed that it was for day trips only. There was no place to stay, and at night, most places weren't serving food or drink. There was nothing there for people who were doing a beach trip from the city. We got really lucky and found what is now Playland, which used to be an old hotel back in the 1940s and 1950s. It sat vacant for almost fifty years.
How did Hurricane Sandy affect Playland?
The property was purchased before Sandy and then destroyed, which was really interesting because it allowed for Playland as it exists now to "rise from the ashes," so to speak. As the area was being rebuilt and redeveloped, we were trying to do the same, and we felt that by supporting a place where people could come to enjoy the Rockaways, we were adding to that local flavor. A lot of stuff got washed out and didn't return.
How did you come up with the concept of having different artists design each room?
That was actually a product of all the conversations we had about the idea in our circle of friends. Our friends or colleagues are artists and fashion designers and painters and sculptors, and every conversation we had with them about the design direction of the space led to a different response. We sent out a one-page creative brief to the artists that was, by design, not limiting. We gave them a budget and suggested a couple things that they could do, like a bed or a place to hang clothes, but other than that, we told them to feel free to express themselves. It produced amazing results. When you give people that much creative freedom, but with a specific budget and a specific timeline, it allows for a flourishing of ideas that get jammed into a funnel by finite constraints. It was a really interesting dichotomy between the two. A lot of artists are not necessarily accustomed to working with a timeline, so this kind of creativity with a deadline was an interesting process.
What can you tell me about the digital newsstand you are working on?
The concept is to update the idea of what a newsstand is and try to create an elevated experience for commuters. We're all accustomed to what a newsstand sells and how it operates, and we feel that there's room to inject new ideas and new products and new media in different ways and be able to offer customers a broader base of information or goods or services. It's an idea that revolves around a white space again. Newsstands always carry the same goods, so we feel that there's room to do something a little more innovative so that we keep content rotating and add something new to the daily commute.
The first one will be in Union Square. We feel that it's a great place to try something new. It's a place of innovation and change and constant growth. The demographic is a huge mix of New Yorkers, so we feel it's a good testing ground. Keep your eyes peeled. It should be coming in the next six to eight months, fingers crossed.
What was your first modeling job?
The first one that I remember was a trip to Jamaica with Perry Ellis for ten days for a catalog shoot. At the time, I was fresh out of school and just happy to be in the industry and traveling, and it was my first gig out of the country and my first exposure to the trappings of what the lifestyle has to offer: the exposure to cultures, the exposure to new places, the memories you make.
What's the most interesting place that you've traveled to for modeling?
I did a great job in Mozambique on safari for Hermès, which was just phenomenal. We were at an eco-resort with bungalows built in trees, and we went on safari by night. It was a very remote area. It took two puddle jumpers to get there from Johannesburg. It was absolutely humbling to see that raw, primal area of the world that most people never get to see.
Did you think about your longevity as a model when you started?
I didn't really think that far in advance, because I was 22 years old. My idea of the future was pretty immediate back then. I had always heard that there's opportunity for men in the modeling industry to go a bit longer, but I never looked at it as a career.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
My father told me that Albert Einstein said, "A ship is always safe at the shore—but that is not what it is built for." It's the idea of always putting yourself out there. If you allow it to, it can expose you to all kinds of things.
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—Jonathan Shia, follow him @JonathanShia