Gabriel Kikas is a fashion blogger for Aleya Collections who draws his readers in through storytelling and intertwining his memories and life stories into the fashion and photography he is reviewing. His personal touch brings the clothes to life and provides inspiration. Gabriel is an adjunct community college instructor and his interests are in Art, Fashion, History and Politics. Below is our interview with Gabriel.
Where are you from?
I was born in Detroit, Michigan. My mom and my late father came from Greece to the United States in the early 1960s. He came to do residency work in neurology. My family and I lived in Montreal. I was about four years old at the time, but I remembered singing French songs with the other children. I also remembered sharing a strawberry ice cream cone with a friend. Alas, I did not keep up with my French. I know a bit of French, but I am very much a novice. After dad completed his residency training, we moved back to Detroit. My father had a private practice, and my mom took care of my brother and me at home. They were wonderful parents. Two memories stick out for me. First, they took us to see a Charlie Chaplin movie festival. I loved Modern Times and The Great Dictator. Those two movies reinforced my belief in the importance of fighting wrong. Second, my dad and I watched the Detroit Symphony Orchestra play Ludwig Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. His Ode of Joy remains my favorite part of his work.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a cartoonist. One day, I went to the public library, and I found a book of cartoons by the New Yorker cartoonist Syd Hoff. Later, I purchased a book by Al Hirschfeld called Hirschfeld’s World. I studied their drawings, and their cleverness and creativity inspired me. I started to draw cartoons for high school and college. I came up with a basset hound character named “Gabriel.” He is a bit of a romantic. He likes to smell flowers and to eat Chinese egg rolls. I even tried my hand at fashion drawing. I was captivated by Stephanie Seymour’s beauty, and I drew her from mom’s fashion catalogs and magazines. Alas, I have misplaced those drawings. Nevertheless, I am proud of those illustrations because I successfully portrayed her likeness and her physical movements from the various photos. To this day, I love to collect cartoons from the New Yorker. My favorite cartoonists include Peter Arno, Arthur Getz, and Syd Hoff, and James Thurber.
What did your parents want you to be if anything?
My parents wanted me to be an attorney. They thought it would be a great profession for someone who believed in fair play and justice. As I grew up, however, I was drawn to history and political science. Two events cemented my love for these two subjects: reading John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley and watching the 1976 presidential elections. Steinbeck’s book took me in because he observed the nefarious world of the American south during the early 1960s. During the elections of 1976 I had a lot of fun getting to know the candidates. After I got my M.A. degree in history, I worked as an adjunct instructor. I love talking about the Beatniks and the various social movements during the 1960s. I also teach courses in political science. My favorite part is exploring the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court on American politics and society.
I love primary sources. My collection includes fashion photography of Arthur Elgort, Norman Parkinson, John Rawlings, Francesco Scavullo, and Chris von Wangenheim. Sacha Lanvin has been a tremendous sounding board regarding the model Carangi. Sacha and I have exchanged many emails about her book on Gia called Born This Way. Richard Hartz, who I met on Instagram, has been fantastic in sharing his knowledge of fashion photography with me. Kathy Ireland has also been a great source of inspiration for me. Back in July of 2020, I posted a photo card of her on my Twitter account. Kathy Ireland wrote back an exquisite note. “Gabe, thank you for finding this card. An example of last century efforts, seeking work as a model. Receiving more rejection than clients. Great lessons. Still relevant. If we aren’t hearing ‘no’, we aren’t seeking enough opportunities. Pls, always allow rejection to inspire you” Thank you, Kathy.
What influences you?
Several people have inspired me about fashion. In 2016, I became Twitter friends with Kath McLean, an online fashion boutique owner called Miss Peachy. She and shared photos of our favorite models and photographers. From time to time, I would send out tweets advertising her boutique. In those tweets, I would comment on which blouses and dresses I liked from her collection. Thanks to her encouragement, I started my fashion blog on Google. My inaugural blog post was on Kath’s boutique. I called the piece “From Banking to Fashion.” Around the same time, I met Stephanie Bernstein Shulman. Stephanie, who is very much into vintage fashion magazines, taught me about fashion models and photographers. She encouraged me to watch a movie called Portfolio (1983). I loved it: Carol Alt and Julie Wolfe were exquisite. I continue to learn from Stephanie and her husband, Morley Schulman, through their fantastic podcast called Uncovered – Vintage Fashion Magazine Review. I also became Twitter friends with Steven Miller, the CEO and fashion designer for Orenda Creations in Sydney, Australia. As a novice, I learned (and continue to learn) from Steven about different types of fashion designs and fabrics. Steven and I also discussed the important relationship between the model and the photographer. His comments are worth quoting here: “In a great sense, the photographer and model ‘sell’ the fashion, but my expectations are not that demanding at all. We all have a job to do together, be open about it all, have an opinion, respect, and trust each other to the point of what is/was said to all as a ‘team’… One more thing. If you have a happy photographer and model that love what they do and the fashion they are working with, then that will come across everything, and the public will see it.” Finally, I have learned a great deal from my friend Maria Emma Serrano. Maria and I have talked a great deal about the lovely worlds of Rene Russo and fashion designer Stella Zotis. They are awesome. I feel blessed knowing them.
What makes you blog?
I try to do several things with my fashion blog for www.aleaycollections.com. First, I work hard to describe the presented fashion. Second, I suggest accessories that I think would go well with a dress or a blouse that I am showing. Most of all, I love to tell stories. For my blog, I wrote several “Sophie and Ian” narratives. Sophia owns a boutique in the Grosse Pointes. She falls in love with her close friend Ian. In those stories, I talk about the presented fashion and restaurants and favorite spots I think they would like to visit. It is fun because it adds a personal touch to the posted attire. I hope that my readers enjoy this approach.
I also started a Rosie Vela group page on Facebook. I met Rosie on Instagram and Twitter. She has been a wonderful friend over the past several years. She has shared stories about her time as a fashion model and her love for her dog named Sluggy. Regarding Sluggy, Rosie wrote: “He was Such a Sweet boy. He never knew he was a model in Maybelline TV spots, ads, including Donna Karan, etc. or that he hung out in recording studios with me. He just wanted to be with me so much that I carried him everywhere I went for 12 years before he passed on my pillow to Doggy Heaven along with his family upstairs.” I see my Rosie Vela Facebook group page as an archive where members can share their photographs and stories about Rosie. I am up to about 98 members. Everyone has been fantastic.
What is the funniest event in your life?
It was January 2019. I did some adjunct teaching at St. Clair County Community College in Port Huron, Michigan. To explain, Port Huron has a bridge to Sarnia, Ontario (Canada). I traveled from Detroit to Port Huron on the expressway. If you continue, the expressway takes you to the bridge so you can cross over into Canada. And there is no way to turn around. Well, I missed my exit to campus, and I ended up going to the bridge. I explained to the officer my predicament. He told me not to worry. Up the road, there was a turnaround. I never found the stupid turnaround, and I ended up going to Sarnia. On the other side, I found myself in a panic. What am I going to do, I thought? I had to be on campus soon. I found myself apologizing profusely to the officer, explaining what happened. And I did not have a passport or my birth certificate with me.
Nevertheless, the border officers made me feel comfortable. As I sat in the office, they inspected my car and had me fill out some paperwork. When I reached the United States, I had to present to the officer my paperwork. Unlike his Canadian brethren, he did not see the funny side of all of this. Rudely, he said: “you realize that you went into a foreign country.” I told him I was painfully aware of that, and I promised to be more careful about my exits. He gave me a grunt and let me return to Port Huron. I was happy to be back on American soil.
Where do you want to be in 5 years?
It is hard to say where I want to be in five years. My approach in life is to take it one day at a time. I enjoy my family and friends. Writing my fashion blogs mean a great deal to me. My Rosie Vela Facebook group page provides me the opportunity to collaborate with some incredible people. Rosie has been supportive of my efforts, and I appreciate her love and support. So, we shall see what will happen in the next five years. As Al Hirschfeld said, “Life is an art, not a science. You make it up as you go along.”
Here are are a few of Gabriel favorite models and fashion photographs.
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