As I ascend to the seventeenth floor of the Ritz-Carlton, I feel something clawing at the inside of my stomach. Could I be worried that Jay Strut won’t like me? Or worse yet, that maybe I will actually like him? It’s not that I went into this with anything against Jay, but when you’re as recognizable as he is — with the doors opened to the city’s most exclusive events and friends at the highest levels of society – and with a relatively short list of tangible accomplishments, he does open himself up to skepticism and jealousy. For starters, he stays in the Ritz-Carlton — for free — every World MasterCard Fashion Week. I’m fairly certain even Stacey Mackenzie has to foot her own Uber bill. With more than a few celebrity interviews under my belt, this is not my first time at the plate chatting with a big shot. My mind begins to race and I take a deep breath to calm down, get my key questions back in order mentally, and remind myself that he’s just a blogger, after all. But is he? He has over 30,000 followers on Twitter, 27,000 on Instagram, 684,333 on Google+, and has rubbed shoulders with fashion royalty in New York, Paris, and beyond. Is this the Jay Strut effect?
For all I know, he could even be younger than I am. A fierce defence of certain private aspects of his life, along with solid genetic stock, has left Jay’s age to a matter of guesswork and calculated estimation. At the end of the day, it’s irrelevant. Jay Strut, a petite man known for his tight pants, plunging tank tops, and killer jackets, has created a persona exponentially larger than his physical frame and relatively few years on the planet. He’s a cultural phenomena… or is he just part of one? These are questions I still ask myself, after the fact.
What can be said of Jay is that he is unassumingly humble, overwhelmingly appreciative, and surprisingly uncertain of his own position. He’s actually fun to be around. Toronto is a city kept afloat on the hot air of self-inflated egos. Most attempts at humility are delivered with the sort of self-congratulatory insincerity that you’d expect from a daytime soap opera villain — or a Ford brother. Either way, Jay Strut seems above it. He’s above the pantheon of pessimism that compels people to take each other down so thoughtlessly in this city. This pantheon is filled with a chorus of “He bought his followers,” “He paid his way in to the industry,” and “He’s a fraud.” Can you really say that about somebody who was handpicked by Chanel and Donatella Versace to be a brand ambassador? Then again, one look at his website shows spelling errors, poor grammar, and content you could find basically anywhere else on the internet. So what makes Jay Strut… Jay Strut?
I reached out to the editor-in-chief of a notable fashion magazine for a quote on Jay and her response, in some ways, was better and more telling than what I was expecting. “Sorry I am not familiar with his work so I don’t feel qualified to comment.” Is this the question on everybody’s mind?
Back to the elevator. I walk into the hallway and knock on his room’s door. It flies open after 15 seconds and there he is: low tank, Gianfranco Ferré sunglasses, and tight jeans. Clearly the party went a little late last night. He tells me to wait for him in the lobby and I am left once again with my questions. After another five minutes, he meets me among the milieu of lost British businessmen and harassed Ritz staff in the hotel’s beaming entranceway. While I feel slightly out of place, he seems as comfortable as though he were at home. This ease transcends the lobby, as he casually strolls into the adjoining restaurant and plops us in the corner without being seated. It’s the last day of fashion week and I ask him if he’s going to catch the next show. “Honestly, I never plan my schedule. I kind of just show up. I go to my main shows, like the brands that I work with, but I never know what my days are going to be like. Especially during fashion week. I kind of just go with the flow… and just have a kiki.” There’s that confident comfort again.
He orders an Earl Grey tea with slices of lemon, while mulling over the menu on food he ultimately does not order. “During fashion week one of my rules is never drink during the day — or really during the week. Only at the fashion parties.” Smart boy.
PM: So how’d you get into all this? What happened to your old blog?
Jay Strut: It was called “For Your Satisfashion.” That was when I decided to make a fashion blog but I always had “Jay Strut.” I decided to pursue fashion blogging because when I was in high school, my mom had a dress store and she would always take me to fashion shows and appointments in New York. I always had a liking towards fashion and design; I just never understood how big it was. I kind of just started blogging and writing about things. General things like fashion, art, architecture, music – music I was making, music people were making. Eventually, fashion PRs started being like, “Hey, you wanna come out [to shows]?”
I don’t tell a lot of people this but I actually make music. I sing, song write, and produce. That’s like my obsession; my love. That’s how I kind of started “Jay Strut.” That was my artist name and it was from there that the blog kind of took off. Now I’m in a place where I can pursue music a little more — which is what I want to do.
PM: So how did you take it from being a one-man fashion blog in Toronto to getting invited to H&M parties in New York?
Jay Strut: Well, I feel so inadequate all the time. I feel like I have so much further to go in everything that I do and it’s so annoying. I say [success is] a blessing and a curse: it’s a blessing cause you always strive for more; but it’s curse because I always feel less-than. I think my biggest thing is my brand alignments. I’ve got to work with some amazing brands. Like, I’ve done #StrutWithVersace, which was a really cool sneaker campaign. Also, Chanel brought me out to Paris and we did a really fun 3-day experience of going to Mademoiselle Chanel’s apartment, going to a show, and doing fittings. And then there was Roberto Cavalli… like all these brands do such an amazing job of taking care of me. As I always say, “Style doesn’t compromise for trend.” I really am my own style. People know me for tight pants, a tank top, and a really cool jacket. I’ve never really wanted to dress to be in trend. I just always wanted to be black, dark, Goth, cool, and street. I just always am me. It’s just who I am. My style icon, Emmanuelle Alt, looks the same all the time but you can tell it’s like cool, luxurious things [that she wears]. I think that’s why these brands reach out to me. They see that I have my own idea of style. It’s also cool because a lot of the time it’s to do womenswear. I’m breaking boundaries, one tranny collaboration at a time. “The bi-sexual blogger.” I’m the biggest hot tranny mess on the face of the Earth… but in a non-invasive way.
PM: Speaking of your style, could you expand a little more on that…
Jay Strut: My style has come to me because I’m more proud of my body. I used to be so embarrassed by my arms. Weird, right? I used to wear long sleeves and baggy pants. Now you can’t catch me after 11pm without half my body exposed. I think I had to start loving parts of myself. Like I love my legs. It’s going to sound horrible to say but… I’m in love with myself. *laughs*
PM: What’ve you been wearing this fashion week?
Jay Strut: I did my party at Shibui the other night, and I wore my Alexander Wang by H&M sport leggings. They contoured the booty to the gods! That’s all I care about, like, “I have my assets showing! Gotta let everybody know about my assets, honey!” Kidding. But seriously, if you got it, flaunt it.
PM: Did H&M invite you to the Alexander Wang catwalk show?
Jay Strut: Yeah, H&M brought me out. I got to stay at the SoHo Grand — it was so gorgeous. It was three fun days of just hanging out, restaurants, got to see friends… and then came home and got ready for fashion week!
PM: Going back to your party at Shibui, I heard it was a huge success.
Jay Strut: You know what’s so crazy? I was so nervous because I feel like in Toronto, it’s not hard to make friends because everybody’s social for the most part but… I feel like a lot of people… Not to say anything rude about anybody, but I feel like it’s kind of scary to put all of your eggs in one basket in this city because a lot of people are so focused on themselves that they don’t find value in supporting other people. It was so nice to know people in the city support me. Thanks for coming guys!
A look inside the life of Jay Strut
PM: What do you think it is about you that draws people in like that?
Jay Strut: I think one of the things I’ve been consistent about is my personality. I’m actually really shy — except when I’m at work. I like to turn it on. Before I go to fashion shows, I get anxiety attacks. I can’t deal with people’s opinions of me, I get super self-conscious. It helps me really want to genuinely interact with people — which I do. Also, I’m very carefree. I’m very blessed in my life, my family takes really good care of me, and have always been super supportive of what I do. I enjoy what I’m doing and people pick up on that energy. It’s not like I have to roll up to the fashion show and be something that I’m not. That doesn’t attract people to want to interact with you. That and I’m the “Twerk Queen of Toronto.”
PM: What do you say to the haters?
Jay Strut: When I first started going to fashion week, people were so mean to me. Like, the editors and writers of the smaller-scale newspapers… the freebies. I always say, “any press is good press” but I do want to be portrayed in a certain way. For me, my brand is so much of who I am. It is who I am. It is what I am. I wake up and I’m Jay Strut; I go to bed and I’m Jay Strut. So, when people are mean, it affects me personally because I wonder what I’m doing wrong. Not so much now but when I was first starting out, they were so mean to me. They called me a seat-stealer. I’ll never forget this one time, I was sitting outside on the benches between shows by myself, and somebody took a photo of me and it ended up in the paper. It said, “Jay Strut’s official front row seat at fashion week… outside on the park bench.” I was still nice to the people who wrote about me. At one point, my mom was like, “You’re being bullied.” I didn’t even care. I think I cared so little, it actually warded them away. So it ended up working out.
PM: What do you say to the social media haters?
Jay Strut: I’ve been so blessed on social media. That my voice could actually mean something to people is motivation enough for me to show people that you can’t care what other people think. I don’t really have haters.
PM: What would you say then to the people who claim you bought your followers?
Jay Strut: I started on MySpace. I’ve been blogging for such a long time. I was a YouTube hipster, I was on Black Planet, Friendster… I was on every single outlet. I had my face on everything. I was among the first few hundred thousand people on Twitter. I think people always question [my following] because I had a big following when I first started [in fashion] but I didn’t just come out of nowhere. Maybe in [the fashion] industry I did but I had a big online presence beforehand. My cousins and I would code when I was 13 and I would sell websites and create graphics for people. We would do share for share… the original “Like for like.” To [the people who claim I bought followers] I say… “Whatever, I’m still in my Chanels.” *laughs*
PM: Given that you travel so much, what brings you back to Toronto?
Jay Strut: Well, my family is here and I live with them when I’m here. I’ve thought about moving to New York and I’ve had the opportunity to but… I don’t know. Maybe I’m scared a little bit to take on that big of a journey because it is kind of a big deal. It’s not like I don’t know my bearings there. New York was the first city, before Toronto, that opened their doors to me. I feel like that’s what kind of started me off in fashion. I was there in college for two weeks in the winter semester, just before fashion week, and I was miserable. I was doing it for my family because I didn’t just want to do this blog and have nothing come of it. Or do anything and have nothing come of it and not be in school. I thought I should at least get my education. Basically, a couple weeks before New York fashion week, the PR team of Marc Jacobs reached out to me and took care of me in New York. They took me to the show, took me to the office, they gave me a crazy tour — and that’s what kind of triggered it for me. New York, initially, treated me better than Toronto did. I always say in order to succeed in Toronto, to reach the next level, you have to travel. Look at Tommy Ton.
PM: Why do you think that is?
Jay Strut: I think it’s because we’re so thirsty for America. We’re like her little sister. That’s why I feel like a lot of designers don’t feel like they can succeed in Canada and leave. Like Rad Hourani left to go to Paris and now he’s a couturier. Dean and Dan [Katen, of Dsquared] went to Milan. The saddest part is this outlook. We shouldn’t have it. I was just reading this Jeanne Beker article where she said she wasn’t excited for fashion week. She’s sad to see these designers come and go. I know she’s the “Fashion Queen of Canada” but that’s not the opinion to have of fashion in this city. We need to show our excitement. Our outlook and our energy is perceived by people far and wide — especially if you’re in a point of power. When people ask me if I’m excited for fashion week, I’m like, “Yeah honey, turn it up all week!” I can’t wait. It’s always overwhelming excitement. For people to be like, “Meh,” especially people who fashion in this city is so good to, like, no offence, but there’s a lot of people that take this for granted. Don’t bite the hand that feeds. There should be some sense of joy. If you don’t love fashion, go be a police officer.
PM: Cool, I love how bold a statement that is. Let’s lighten the mood with some fluffy. What’re your go-to designers, Canadian or otherwise?
Jay Strut: I love Sid Neigum, Beaufille… basically all the designers The Collections represents. Internationally, Balmain is my obsession. I am part of the Balmain Army. Versace, Roberto Cavalli, Chanel, and Alexander Wang for H&M. I’m obsessed.
PM: Well, we know about what brands you love now. Your own brand is very flamboyant in a great way…
Jay Strut: It’s flamboyant but I don’t ever consider myself flamboyant. Like yes, I like party, dance, and twerk, but realistically, I’m not obnoxiously loud or a stereotype. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with that, anybody can be who they want to be. I’ve never played on sexuality… I mean, I’ve played with sexuality. *laughs*
PM: Is there a Mr. Strut in the picture?
Jay Strut: Oh, hell no. Ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat! You know what’s the craziest thing? All my life that I’ve been here, I’ve never been on a date, I’ve never been in a relationship, I’ve never connected with anybody here for more than eye contact or a drink at the bar. I feel like people don’t know how to approach me sometimes. I’m very petite, very feminine. I don’t think a lot of people understand it, I don’t think they can process it. But, when I’m travelling, my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard.
PM: So I guess hooking up with foreign men is your thing?
Jay Strut: Well, not hooking up. I’m very innocent. I take pride in my celibacy. I don’t know, what does that even mean? I’m just not a whore. Not that there’s anything wrong with being sexually active, people can do what they want with protection and blah blah blah. People have asked me if I’m asexual but I’ve just never had a desire. Right after I started figuring out who I was, I got into [the blog]. Now I’m so focused on it. I don’t need a relationship… yet.
PM: But you want one in the future?
Jay Strut: It’s so weird but I’ve never seen myself with anybody. I don’t even care.
PM: What is the ultimate goal then? In life? In a career?
Jay Strut: As long as I’m healthy and my family is healthy and the world isn’t blowing itself up, I’m good.
PM: What’re 3 things you can’t live without?
Jay Strut: My iPhone, this cute little gold choker necklace I got sent anonymously, and a crazy pair of a pants. Oh yeah, and my vintage 90s Gianfranco Ferré sunglasses.
PM: Is there anything that you want people to know about you?
Jay Strut: Nope. Everything that you’d need to know is available to be seen… on social media.
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