Defining Youth, (Un)representing sexuality: The eroticism of Leonard Arceo’s Romeo Magazine
When Leonard Arceo graduated with his masterly skilled cohort from Central Saint Martin’s cross-disciplinary course Fashion Communication and Promotion, he presented Romeo Magazine, an elegant publication that reminds you of the playful innocent years of youth, where sexuality and adulthood remained abstract terms. We spoke to its editor-in-chief Leonard Arceo, who thinks that a new male figure is taking over fashion, substituting the Bruce Weber beefcakes that we’ve gotten so accustomed to.
Leonard Arceo was born in the Philippines, but grew up in Tokyo before arriving in London to start his studies at Central Saint Martins. He was attracted to the school’s open curriculum and space for experimentation. “CSM is about pushing boundaries without limits, and to me that was very important for creativity,” he explains over e-mail. Fashion Communication and Promotion, a course he describes to be for the “Jack of all trades kind of creatives,” offered the diversity that Leonard searched for in a creative education, as he wasn’t completely sure which path to choose. “For me, fashion communication offers a different representation of fashion, and it’s also a tool to reflect society. The goal is to put clothes into some type of context making it relevant and current,” he says.
“I WANTED A MAGAZINE THAT REPRESENTS THE NEW TYPE OF YOUTH.”
After assisting Anna Hughes-Chamberlain, the Senior Fashion Editor of Hunger Magazine, for a year, Leonard felt an urge to shift away from styling womenswear, and to focus his final project on menswear and the photographic universe that surrounds it. “I’m a big fan of photographers like Corinne Day, Ryan McGinley, and Matt Lambert, who capture a sense of romanticism and honesty in their photographs,” Roman explains: “I wanted a magazine that represents the new type of youth.” He began researching a variety of interesting or ‘insta-famous’ boys via Instagram. Leonard was fascinated by the extreme following that these young, 16-17 year-olds have acquired simply by posting selfies. As most of these boys follow each other, he began visualising a whole network of young guys, all personifying the same ideal. They seemed to Roman to evoke the youthful, passionate, living-in-the-moment kind of attitude so perfectly embodied by Leonardo Di Caprio in the 1996 film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet – and thus, he had found a name for his publication. As the project grew, he began commissioning and collaborating exactly through Instagram, united as they were through their mutual aesthetic interest. “It’s not just a social media outlet anymore; it’s a platform full of creatives that are interested in the same.”
Despite his digital concept development, research and commissioning, the idea behind Romeo was always a physical magazine — “something people can touch and be connected with, not just through their phone,” he explains. ”There’s nothing better than a magazine printed well on nice paper.” Furthermore, it was important to assimilate the collaborative nature of most publishing work, as he began involving several people from around the world in the project. Sure, he was certain of his concept, but the project only benefitted from sharing it and making it grow: “You have to be open to other interpretation of your ideas. Sometimes I do find that quite hard, but the final product ends up becoming bigger and better.”
“ONE TIME OR THE OTHER, WE ALL WENT THROUGH THAT PHASE OF CARE-FREE, YOUNG, EXPERIMENTAL TEENAGE YEARS.”
Romeo Magazine elegantly explores themes of youth, identity, sexuality and representation, capturing that particular energy which surrounds that period of life. It spans decades of representation, as he interviewed ‘80s punk photographer Derek Ridgershow; it explores youth and politics with the feature on the Ukrainian trio Gorsad Kiev, offering valuable, humorous and honest insight into youth culture amidst political instability. Overall, ‘youth’ is explored from a multiplicity of angles, from the sexual and the aesthetic, to the virtual and the political. “In a way, Romeo prides itself in being a good representation of our youth today. It’s coming from actual real-life Romeos in the most honest and explorative ways. It’s not trying to be anything or something, it just is,” he says.
Flicking through the pages of the magazine, it’s hard not to sense the erotic element to most of the photography; from close-ups of sensuous necks to peeks up shorts with no underwear, Romeoeroticises the fashioned male in a quiet, but insistent way. Is it homo-erotic, I ask him, or is the vague sexuality of the magazine a part of the project? “With youth comes exploration and experimentation and this is something that plays a big part in anyone’s adolescence,” he says. “Romeo offers a different gaze from mainstream fashion magazines. Yes it’s slightly sexual, and perhaps homoerotic. But this was never intentional or calculate: it’s about the freedom and exploration of sexuality. Also, it’s a celebration of different or more ‘real’ male bodies, in contrast to the mainstream “spornosexual” build.” Indeed, Romeo embodies the kind of new fashion photography that purposely critiques and distances itself from the uber-masculine, heteronormative male model that for long has dominated the industry, but now perhaps is changing. “It’s great to see that it’s not all about muscles, abs and sex anymore, with more and more high-end brands steering away from the beefy Bruce Weber sort of body. It’s also great to see the acceptance of transgender models. I think the industry is heading the right way,” Leonard argues. As fashion remains one of the most expressive way of performing gender and sexuality, it also remains as one of the most potentially radical agents for diverse representation.
Romeo Magazine Instagram
While Leonard searches for a job within the industry, he hopes to develop Romeo further, acquiring sponsorship and advertisers in order to get the magazine printed and sold. Until then, we’re free to enjoy the beautiful boys and their bodies of Romeo #1 online.