Hue: Last fall, you were the breakout star of American Eagle’s advertising campaign for their new Ne(x)t Level Jeans, which they describe as “for the guy who wants extra room in the thigh.” Out magazine called you “The Black Queer Plus-Size Model We Need.” How did the campaign happen?
Coates: On Twitter I was like, “I want to model for ASOS”—this big online company, with a lot of “models of size.” One of my online friends said he could hook me up with casting calls, and I went to one for American Eagle. There I met Lauren, the lady who changed everything. She gave me two pairs of jeans. Trying on jeans is daunting for me usually, but this was like when Cinderella put on that glass slipper. I was excited—not because I was getting cast, but because my jeans fit.
What was the photo shoot like?
It was in this studio in Brooklyn. I met all these professional models from all over the world. They did my beard; I felt all fluffy and fresh. I ate some trail mix, and there was an omelet station and someone asked what did I want in my omelet. And then I’m dancing on a tarp and they’re like, “You can pick the music,” so I put on 99 Percent and then the Backstreet Boys. It was a moment of clarity—distinct clarity.
How did it feel when you saw the ad?
I was like, “I belong!” I don’t mind being the face of something revolutionary.
Now you’re represented by Bridge Models, an agency that aims “to bridge the gap between ‘standard’ and ‘plus size’ in the fashion industry.” How did the partnership come about?
After the American Eagle spot ran, Teen Vogue ran a story on me. Paper picked it up, too. So I knew I had something. I thought I could make more if I had an agency behind me. I Googled “male modeling agencies for guys of size.” I followed Bridge, and they DM’d me: “Congratulations on your American Eagle campaign!” So I said, “Hmm.” Charlotte from Bridge told me, “We’re like a ‘mom agency’—we take care of you like a mom.” And I was like, “This is it!” And then—boom!—I was a Bridge model. So then I got Target’s Goodfellow & Co. campaign, which is their elevated menswear line, and their Warp and Weft campaign for print and e-commerce—it’s an inclusive denim line.
What’s your favorite thing about the Advertising and Digital Design major?
For Professor Rocco Piscatello, we had to create an icon set—it’s a system of symbols that can function in a given environment—and I did one for a frozen yogurt company. I made up all these characters and I created animation. It wasn’t even like homework.
Tell me about this self-portrait you made with Ellen Marsz, Photography and Related Media ’20.
I’ve been working with a lot of self-love, a lot of body positivity. There’s a pink tree. I always have this overarching theme of birds and clouds. They’re pretty happy, because I’m pretty happy.
Were you always so optimistic?
I’ve held on to it. I’m like, “People don’t always view the world like a glass half full?” Some people, their ray of light goes out. I’m at my best when I’m radiating positivity.
Artwork by Coates