It comes as no surprise that Kailand Morris has begun his meteoric rise in the creative industries. What does shock is that the 17-year old’s star hasn’t shot off sooner. The son of two creative mavens—his father is famed musician Stevie Wonder and his mother is fashion designer Kai Milla Morris—the Wilhelmina model and forthcoming DJ’s path was well paved.
In one short year, Morris has gone from a relatively fresh-faced model to starring in campaigns for Dolce & Gabbana and walking international runways, from Comme des Garçons to Pyer Moss. And he’s just getting started.
For her latest installment of “The Misfits of Fashion,” COOLS columnist Liliana Nova caught up with Morris at his LA home to talk family, fashion, and the importance of putting in the work.
Your rise in the fashion industry and social media has been incredible. How do you feel about seeing yourself for the first time in print and walking your first show?
“Obviously it was an amazing feeling. It’s weird, though. With me, I feel like I’m never doing enough, so I always want to do more.”
You’ve done so much in such a short period of time.
“I get caught up sometimes in the work and moving forward that I don’t reflect on the past work that I’ve done.”
Tell me more about your background. Where did you grow up? Did your upbringing shape you and your sense of style?
“When I was younger, my little brother and I would always go to all my mom’s shows (she’s a designer) at New York Fashion Week. I never thought anything of it since I was young, but it’s funny: She tells this story all the time of me sneaking backstage to see all the models. I don’t know why I did that, but I did.
“I feel like my mom shaped my style, because growing up, she would always help me pick and choose what I wore. Then, as I got older, I found what I want to wear myself.”
How was it for you to be raised by one of the world’s biggest musicians? Do your parents engage you in your choice of work, to work in fashion?
“My parents would support me in anything I want to do. Growing up, probably when I was 14 or 15, my dad thought I would go straight into music, but I was really into fashion. My dad, being who he is, people are always asking, ‘Oh, are you going to do music?’
“I wanted to take a different look at things and take a different path. I’m glad it worked out because I love fashion; it’s something I enjoy, but [my dad] was super surprised that I chose [it]. He would support me in any way, shape, or form, and my mom; of course, she was already in the business.”
What’s a day in the life during fashion week?
“We got on a flight at like five in the morning, landed at the airport in Milan then went straight to the Off-White show. After that, we went straight to another show. After that, I had two, three castings and a rehearsal.”
What is your personal voice in fashion and style?
“I dress how I feel. I don’t have anything planned out the night before, so I wake up feeling like ‘I’m gonna stun ‘em! All these mother fu-!’ If you want the title of being stylish, you can’t only wear one type of clothing. You have to learn how to adapt.”
What comes first for you, style or fashion? Do you follow trends or do you think your personal style is how you mix things?
“I don’t like to think of it as me following trends. Not to say I’m completely doing my own thing, but I create my own trends in a way.”
What designers do you admire?
“Kim Jones is one of my favorite designers. I like Virgil; he’s cool, creative, and innovative. Also, [Kerby Jean-Raymond of] Pyer Moss, is one of my favorite designers ever. He’s very talented. You can tell he’s a true fashion designer. Today, a lot of people copy each other. Anyone can go and create a brand. Pyer Moss is true to the title of being a fashion designer. I love his stuff.”
You’re kind of blowing up in fashion right now. What makes you different from other male models?
“A lot of people don’t recognize or see this but I’ve been planning how I want to hit the industry and what I want to do.”
Nothing comes from nothing.
“Yeah, constantly putting in the work will work in your favor. I feel like nowadays people can get worn out or played out very quickly. Trends one day can be nothing the month after. It’s being very strategic with what you do and whom you choose to work with, which is very important nowadays.”
I love to hear that. You being so young, and you have this specific plan in your head. I think it’s so important because it shows a lot of character and personality. Nowadays, you can only survive over time if you have personality and the strength to say no to things sometimes.
“As much as it may hurt, of course, people say no to me, but at the same time, if this person I really want to work with is not in my niche, I have to say no. Like, I love your stuff so much and I will definitely support you, but I feel like it’s very important to have longevity. You don’t want to be something one day and nothing the next.”
Hopping around the world for work, commitments on a regular basis, you get the first-hand look on how style and dressing shifts at each destination. Styles are translating differently depending on where you are.
“Yeah, I feel like you don’t want to show up one place wearing something that’s completely opposite of what everybody else is wearing, but at the same time, you want to dress how you feel, you know? You want to feel like wearing something that everybody else isn’t. You want to stick out; sticking out isn’t a bad thing.”
Do you have a stylist telling you what you have to wear or do you do it yourself?
“No stylist for me. I like doing it myself; I’m kind of hands-on. People aren’t going to like me for somebody else’s work.”
[Do you think the internet has] changed people’s perceptions of you? How do people react when they meet you for the first time?
“You know, it’s crazy. Let’s see, probably two weeks ago I was at a restaurant with my friends and [someone] came up to me and asked for a photo. This may sound so lame, but it made my day because I’m not used to people coming up to me; of course, being around my dad all the time, they ask him. I was just shocked. I was like, ‘Me? You want a photo of me?’ So it just shows that a lot of the work I’m doing is having an impact.”
Who are some people, personalities, or idols that you admire?
“A$AP Rocky. I like how he’s different. I like how he’s confident. His confidence is fire. I feel like people have very big egos and that makes me dislike them. But A$AP, I met him a few times, and he is the nicest person; he’s genuine, but at the same time he’s confident. A$AP is the king.
“The first time I met him was at the Louis Vuitton show, and all these people were asking for pictures. He was taking so many photos and I was just mad nervous because I didn’t want him to say no. I kid you not, I don’t fanboy around anybody, but with A$AP, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. That’s how much I love him. He was super-cool; he took the photo and everything. I was like wow, that just made my day.”
What does it mean to you to see more diversity in modeling? Do you have any changes that you would like to see in the future in the industry?
“When I think diversity, I think of the color of your skin. I mean of course, it’s amazing to have African American models, like any type.”
Different looking people…different body types.
“Yeah, different body types. Back then, modeling was just, ‘if you’re pretty and you’re tall, you meet the standard.’ But now, we are looking for people that have personality, people that are influential to the youth.”
Do you see yourself developing in the next few years in different directions?
“Yeah, the plan my team and I have set forth and things that I want to accomplish, personally…it’s much more than modeling. I have a project, probably the biggest project I’ve ever worked on. It’s called Native. I can’t tell you too much about it, but it’s, how do I say this? It’s more than fashion, it’s more than music, it’s more than film making; it’s a brotherhood, it’s a family kind of thing, a creative house between anybody in cosmetics, fashion, music., etc.
“Acting and music are things I want to get into too, but I’m putting my full energy into Native because I feel strongly about it and I love the idea of having a lot of creative minds involved. It’s really hard, especially for people that don’t necessarily have the connections. I know there are hundreds and thousands of people that have amazing ideas that never end up getting out because they don’t have the connections to get them out there. We really want to help those people.”
Last question, what does cool mean to you?
“Cool is just anything people make of it. I feel like you can make something cool from clothing design to pottery. Anything that catches my mind as very unique, I think is cool.
“I feel like personality wise, cool is just, ‘who are you?’ A lot of people build up these barriers and act like somebody they’re not, but I feel like cool is just, ‘if you’re you, then that’s cool.’ There are so many people nowadays that act like somebody they’re not, and it’s rare to find somebody who is just themselves, especially around other people.”