Luka Sabbat on defying labels and doing your own thing: ‘Fit in for what?’

Luka Sabbat stars on In The Know’s digital cover for July 2021. Read below for his accompanying feature article. You can find out more about the Black-owned brands featured in the cover shoot here, and shop the looks here.

As he positions himself in front of the camera for one of the last looks of the day, 23-year-old cover star and creative entrepreneur Luka Sabbat requests Beenie Man radio and says if he were launched into outer space, he’d “probably land on Pluto.”

Despite already being known as a fashion icon from the age of 15, Sabbat is constantly pushing himself to do more, delving into acting with a lead role on “Grown-ish,” starting his own creative incubator called HOTMESS and, most recently, learning how to make furniture in quarantine, which he sees more like sculpture than anything. “I don’t want to be a furniture designer,” he clarifies.

Sabbat, while a master of curation, is no lover of labels. Well, except when it comes to capital “F” Fashion. Dubbed an unequivocal Gen Z ‘It’ boy, he hovers confidently between the often intersecting worlds of fashion, art, music and Hollywood. While making strides in each, Sabbat’s superpower is his ability to remain both undefinable and totally distinguishable all at once. There’s a fluidity to how he manages to move between spaces both professionally and sartorially.

Luka Sabbat on In The Know’s July digital cover. He’s wearing The Elder Statesman crewneck sweater, Bottega Veneta pants and Sunni Sunni boots.
Photo by Shaniqwa Jarvis
Luka Sabbat on In The Know’s July digital cover. He’s wearing a Pierre Blanc linen shirt, Who Decides War pants and Sunni Sunni boots.
Photo by Shaniqwa Jarvis
Luka Sabbat on In The Know’s July digital cover. He’s wearing a Wales Bonner jacket, a Wales Bonner sports jacket and Nanushka Nile pants.
Photo by Shaniqwa Jarvis

Widely known for his provocative style that challenges conventional notions of masculinity, Sabbat embodies a sense of freedom from many of the stereotypes that can stifle Black men in the public eye. He defies the expectations of his generation by cultivating a notably elevated taste level and well-crafted hot takes on everything from “trash” music lyrics to “fire” vintage finds. 

In an intimate cover story conversation with In The Know’s Consulting Editor-at-Large Elaine Welteroth, Luka turns on his Zoom camera from bed in Paris (he’s visiting his mom, the legendary fashion industry vet Jessica Romer who has worked as a stylist for designers such as Dior and Galliano). Wearing a Celine Homme leopard print track jacket, a vintage DIO shirt and Vetements denim while sipping on some apple juice, he gets real about what masculinity means now, growing up in an interracial immigrant family, and how George Floyd’s murder prompted him and his dad to launch his latest passion project to “help change the role of Black people in America.”

Luka Sabbat in a Theophilio blazer, Raf Simons shirt, Yohji Yamamoto trousers and Bottega Veneta shoes.
Photo by Shaniqwa Jarvis

Elaine Welteroth: I’m very fascinated by and drawn to anybody who defies labels. I feel like you defy every label that’s assigned to being Black or white, masculine or feminine, American or international…

Luka Sabbat: That’s probably the best compliment I ever got.

Elaine: Really?

Luka: Yeah, that’s pretty sick.

“Fit in for what?
Nah, I was just always on my own time.”

Elaine: Well, it’s true. I’ve been watching you grow over time, and I’m just like, man, you’re so consistently true to yourself. Where does that come from? 

Luka: I don’t know, I mean, you know, my parents aren’t either rich or famous, but they were both always just free. They were like, “Do what you wanna do and make it your lifestyle at the same time.” My mom would change jobs — like, one day she’d be a show producer, and then she’d be a booker somewhere, and now she’s started a catering company. And my dad, you know, he’d work at Barneys, and then he would do this and that — they just did what they wanted to do, you know? 

Elaine: There was no way you weren’t going to be an interesting human being with interesting style coming from the parents you came from! You pretty much hit the cool DNA jackpot. So, we gotta talk about your dad, because he’s a whole vibe…

Luka: He’s a pretty cool cat

Elaine: So many people who come from immigrant parents talk about how rigidly their parents defined success. But with your dad, part of what makes your dad so fascinating to me is, as a Haitian man who is also a fashion designer, he seems to defy so many of the stereotypes about what an immigrant parent is like.

Luka: Yeah, he did defy all of those things. And his parents were always just like, “You gotta be a doctor.” And my dad was just like, “Nah. I wanna be in fashion.” They used to give him a hard-ass time when he was a kid. The ’80s was a completely different time, especially being an immigrant coming from Haiti. Imagine risking your life moving to a new country, and you just want your kid to be successful, and then he just starts talking about clothes and fashion? Like, what? What are you talking about? Like no, you gotta be a doctor. You know? So yeah, a lot of people wanted him to be a lot of things, but he just did whatever he wanted to do. And my mom’s the same way. She was doing what she wanted to do, and her parents were hippies.

“I definitely think that Black men are held to a higher standard of masculinity. Like, you gotta be tough, you gotta be this, you gotta be that. Said who?”

Elaine: For most of us, it takes time to find comfort within our skin. Was there ever a time in your life where you struggled to fit in?

Luka: I ain’t really felt like I needed to fit in, though. Fit in for what? Like, even if I wanted to fit in, I couldn’t fit in, you know what I mean? With an afro and sh*t, like, how am I gonna fit in? Get a perm? [Laughs] Nah, I was just always on my own time.

Elaine: Being biracial but also somebody who’s very much a global citizen, how do you think growing up with exposure to Paris and Haiti, and traveling the world — how does that influence your racial identity? How has your relationship with your own Blackness shifted over time because of your exposure to different worlds?

Luka: I was raised by my mom, who’s white, and then my grandma who’s white, and my aunt who’s white, but then I’d go see my dad in New York, who was Black, so it was weird. Being one of the only Black kids in my school was like, “Oh, he’s weird.” And then coming to New York, I went to a predominantly ethnic school, and that’s when I realized, this sh*t makes sense. These people get me, you know what I mean? My school was actually mostly Dominicans and Puerto Ricans. And just being with my dad who’s Black, I felt so comfortable when I got to New York ’cause it’s such a melting pot, you know? Like, in France they’ll be elite and racist and stuff like that, but in New York, like, nobody gives a f**k. It’s like, who are you, you know? And that’s when it hit. 

I found it a pretty empowering moment when my dad took me to Haiti. Both of his parents are Haitian, like full Haitian. As a kid, I went to Germany and London, where my mom’s from. She was born in the UK but her dad’s Russian, so, you know, I had experienced that. But when I went to Haiti, I was like, “Oh, sh*t, like, this is where I’m from.” That unlocked something. It also made me realize how much doesn’t matter, like daily complaints and sh*t like that.

Luka Sabbat in a Hood By Air jacket, Hood By Air cargo pants and a Raf Simons top.
Photo by Shaniqwa Jarvis

Elaine: I’m curious if George Floyd’s murder changed anything about how you see your role in the world as a Black person with a platform?

Luka: I went to a bunch of the protests. They needed to happen because they created a huge cultural shift, and people became more aware, and people started to look at things differently. After the protests, that’s when me and my dad started the foundation. We were like, “We’ve gotta do something to change the role of Black people in this country.” Part of the [Rosette] Foundation is we’re gonna connect young Black kids, Latinx kids and underprivileged kids with internships at various companies. So we’re raising money to pay them while they have internships because there’s racism that is systemic racism, so we need more Black people and more people from underprivileged upbringings to end up with bigger jobs.

“My parents aren’t either rich or famous,
but they were both always just free.”

Elaine: Has it changed some of the conversations you’re having with brands that you work with?

Luka: I’m really only working with brands that make a donation to the foundation. It’s like, “All right, you wanna pay me and use my likeness, like, as a Black person, for your company? Okay, then give us money for the foundation.” Like not even for me, but to get other kids that are like me into this industry.

Luka Sabbat in The Elder Statesman crewneck sweater, Bottega Veneta pants and Sunni Sunni boots.
Photo by Shaniqwa Jarvis

Elaine: For this cover shoot, you requested Black designers head to toe. Talk to me about why it’s important to you to wear Black designers.

Luka: First of all, a lot of brands take from Black designers. And we have to showcase Black creativity. Black designers have stories to tell too, and they have a very interesting point of view. You have Martine Rose or Grace Wales Bonner or, you know, Kerby or Virgil. There’s just such a wide variety of designers and types of designs, from couture to streetwear to menswear to womenswear. We look at things in different ways, different textures, different cuts because you’re basing designs off things you’re inspired by and from life experiences, things you’ve seen growing up.

Elaine: Yep, we’re not a monolith, not even in fashion.

Luka: Yeah.

Luka Sabbat in a Pierre Blanc linen shirt, Who Decides War pants and Sunni Sunni boots.
Photo by Shaniqwa Jarvis

Elaine: You’ve said in the past that you don’t believe in gender roles. And you’ve done all kinds of things that defy the traditional concept of masculinity. You’ve been featured in GQ with a face full of makeup. And you’ve worn clothes that are designed for women that look dope on you. Do you think that Black men are held to a different standard of masculinity than other men?

Luka: I’m not the first to do it, but yeah for sure. I definitely think that Black men are held to a higher standard of masculinity. Like, you gotta be tough, you gotta be this, you gotta be that. Said who? Who told you you have to be these things, and what do you gain from it? You don’t gotta be any of that.

And Black men have been challenging this for a long time. So many people have changed what masculinity can mean prior to me. Like, even Prince wearing platforms. And I would never even compare myself to somebody of that stature.

Just do what makes you happy. And some people just don’t wanna redefine masculinity, and that’s fine. Some people aren’t comfortable. But you still have to be open-minded. The problem is when people don’t accept it. 

Elaine: Do you think of personal style as a form of activism in a way?

Luka: Can be. It could also just be what you like. Sometimes there ain’t nothing revolutionary about an outfit. I just like it. [Laughs]

Vera Papisova is a journalist based in Brooklyn.

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Go behind the scenes of In The Know’s July digital cover shoot with Luka Sabbat below:

If you enjoyed our July cover story with Luka Sabbat, check In The Know’s June cover story featuring an intimate conversation between Mj Rodriguez and Chella Man.

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