On a late night in October 2014, I sat at Think Coffee near NYU with Ben (@benjaminnyc) as we both toiled on work projects. Our pal Patrick Janelle (@aguynamedpatrick) texted that he had just landed from Paris—where he attended numerous Fashion Week shows—and wanted to lay low with friends for the evening. He biked over to join our work session, and we heckled him when he arrived, because it was the same day he had been featured on the front page of the New York Times Style section. Patrick was pictured prominently, wearing a piercing blue wool blazer as he leaned over to mingle with dinner guests at one of his Spring Street Social Society (@springstreetsocialsociety) events. The article, entitled “The IRL Social Clubs” discussed how Patrick, with the help of his business co-founder and creative partner Amy Virginia Buchanan (@amyvirginia), built a somewhat-secret society from a combination of creative friends (entertainers and culinary experts) as well as a huge Instagram following. (At the time he had 276K, and now 440K.) Spring Street started as a small cabaret show in his backyard (on Spring Street, duh), and burgeoned into these ambitious, sensory-overload evenings of gourmet food, craft cocktails, and top-tier performances. They are held in magnificent locations around NYC and LA, sometimes for $200 per head. SSSS recently turned profitable—it employs Amy full-time—and Patrick is able to support himself though sponsored partnerships on his Instagram feed. (You can imagine what some brands must be willing to pay for direct access to that many eyeballs.) But the society, like all of his endeavors in 2014, was barely paying for itself. As we congratulated him on that October evening, he confessed to us that ironically, he had “$0 in savings. Nothing in checking. I paid my way through Paris on credit cards.” He laughed at the fact, almost defeatedly. The barista offered us free sandwiches as the shop closed, and he took a few of them for the road. Here was Patrick, trying to build something from all of his social currency, and a persona that didn’t reveal he ate day-old sandwiches, much less without choice.
Just sixteen months later, Patrick is doing more more than fine. He’s moved out of a shared studio in Nolita and into his own SoHo one-bedroom. His Instagram bio “Man about town” may as well be his professional title, too, because the tides have turned: Between photographs of travels, coffee shops he frequents, fellow creatives, and Spring Street events, there are #sponsored posts for tequila, champagne, beer, hotels, shipping services, home goods, credit cards, suiting companies, fashion houses, and more. He tries to keep each sponsored post under the aesthetic he calls “accessible aspiration.” Says Patrick: “The great thing about working through Instagram is that these companies are integrating into my personal life. So they give me plenty of control about what makes the most sense for me. We often have to meet certain objectives for them, but ultimately for me, it’s about making sure that this advertiser or brand fits into my life. How can their campaign align with what I’m already doing?” I have a handful of acquaintances who have monetized their social media channels, and it always fascinates me how it starts to control their lives or change their behavior, as if they’re suddenly filled with self-importance. The reason I defend Patrick among this particular crowd is that he was authentically living this “man about town” life long before social media took over—even if he once had to do it all on a shoestring budget—and also, he actually lives it, he doesn’t just project it. Take, for example, the bizarre encounters we’ve had: I’ve bumped into him unplanned in Venice Beach and Mexico City(!); I’ve met him in the ocean while swimming at the Rockaways, and once, after I cheekily texted him a photo of my cortado at a coffee shop in Crown Heights (just check #dailycortado for a strange but aesthetically pleasing trend that he started), he walked through the cafe doors within two minutes to greet me, despite living four miles away in Manhattan. It was like I sent out a bat signal. This is Patrick, though, and not just @aguynamedpatrick. He is everywhere, doing everything, knowing everyone. A man about town—authentically so.
To better understand the projection of Patrick’s “accessible aspiration” (and the fact that he’s turned it into a monetized career, with a creative partner, a part-time assistant, and a business manager), you’ve got to know a little about who he was before he was @aguynamedpatrick: He grew up in Colorado in a very Protestant Evangelical home, then attended a Fundamentalist Baptist college in Florida. However, he got kicked out during his senior year (2004) for being gay; only a few people were aware, but the news still made its way to the administration. So, he never graduated. Instead, he rode his Vespa across the country and settled in Los Angeles, in 2005. It was there he found his first and second boyfriends and started a freelance graphic design career. After his second boyfriend was laid off and decided to move home to Germany, Patrick followed to Frankfurt. For 2.5 years, he continued to do graphic design, while feeling somewhat left out of everything back in the US. “I started seeing from afar, on social media, that my friends were making opportunities for themselves. I was living this domestic lifestyle that I had taken on, in a country without knowing the language. It was isolating, especially seeing my friends flourish. I wasn’t jealous but definitely grew discontent. I felt like the only one not growing in a creative way.” In November 2011—a few weeks shy of his 30th birthday—he ended the relationship, and bought a one-way ticket to New York.
This is where Patrick draws a line between his past self, and the more actualized current one. “That previous life, after college and in LA and Germany, was really important to me because I lived in this kind of isolated existence where I grew quickly as an adult but also got a lot of meandering out of my system. So, by the time I moved to New York City, I only cared about doing the things that I knew wanted and needed to do. I was 30, a nice round number for starting over. In my 20s, I was learning about myself, about cultures, about different lifestyles, be it as a gypsy on a Vespa or an expat in Germany with a serious boyfriend. It was my life education, and very fulfilling until it ran its course.” On the ground in NYC, Patrick continued to do freelance design. After just one month, he met the art director of Bon Appetit (@bonappetitmag), and she hired him into a perma-lance role, which he held for two years. “Working there was the thing that ‘set me up’ in a critical way,” he says. “It was a livable wage, and it put me in touch with a world of individuals who were midway through their careers but also at the heart of something with a lot of visibility.” A few months later, in September 2012, Patrick met his now-creative-partner Amy (@amyvirginia) after their jointly favorite barista introduced them at her birthday party. Because Amy is a musician and performer, their very first conversation centered on the fact that Patrick had this amazing backyard on Spring Street, and wanted to host a beautiful showcase of some sort. He didn’t know what kind of event to host, and Amy suggested a cabaret variety show, since she had a network of performer friends. That’s when @springstreetsocialsociety started—he could tap his foodie rolodex—and it was also when his new persona took shape. All that was missing now was Instagram.
Shortly after Patrick started at @bonappetitmag, he joined Instagram. “I was initially just trying to be part of a conversation with my friends,” he says. “I felt out of the loop. One friend posted a photo of me, and a random pal of mine from Los Angeles commented on it and said ‘We need to get this guy on Instagram.’ It baffled me that they knew each other through social media. So I saw this opportunity to connect with people—even with strangers, unlike Facebook. At first it was about capturing little moments that were representative of my life. I remember wishing I had something like this as I traveled the US on my Vespa, as a way to document my trip on a map and have people follow along. I saw the value in it right away.” Patrick curated his account beautifully, and was soon made a “suggested user” by the app’s editorial team, so his followers jumped to 22K. “Bon Appetit was featuring my photos a lot, too, since I was working for them, so I was able to grow a little from that,” he adds. “Over the course of the next year, I grew mostly as a food Instagrammer, and all these little press moments grew my following to 80K.” Then, something kind of peculiar happened: The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) awarded him with its first-ever “Fashion Instagrammer of the Year” distinction. We knew he liked photographing the city, his coffee, food, and friends, but never really fashion. There were a handful of people actually TRYING to be fashion Instagrammers, so why him? “I think the committee liked that I wasn’t a fashion blogger. They said it was about the seemingly fashionable lifestyle I was presenting, and the quality of the photos. I think they knew that if they partnered with me, I could give them content that they were interested in.” Fair enough. “That award put me on the map and made a huge change,” Patrick says. “Even if I was paying for my own airfare and housing, I was getting access to Fashion Week in Paris and New York, and feeling included and accepted by these big brands and significant individuals.” Not long after that self-funded Paris appearance, the onslaught of paid partnerships would follow.
In 2014, Patrick launched @theliqrcabinet with his brothers, which has 15K followers (and counting). He describes it as “your favorite bartender, everything you want to know about liquor and cocktails: interesting facts, recipes, uses for a bottle of liquor, and beautiful imagery.” He bought the domain TheLiquorCabinet.com in 2011: “This was a project I always wanted to do, but needed the right things in place first,” Patrick says. “Right now the site is minimal—some information about cocktails and liquor, but we’re launching an app this spring, and it will evolve as the brand does.” Much like @springstreetsocialsociety, it is born of Patrick’s aesthetic…and of his Instagram base. He’s got the social muscle to launch something from nothing and grow it incrementally until it is, in fact, something. I watch with fascination as people find new careers and opportunities from their social reach on technologies like Twitter, YouTube, or Instagram. It feels like the ultimate “fake it ’til you make it” mantra that New Yorkers adopt: If you project something long enough, and you convince yourself that it’s authentic, then eventually you’ll be surrounded by people—some friends, many strangers in your cache of followers—who also believe it true, and suddenly, you’re an “expert”. I don’t say that entirely critically, though. I am, by accident, a “men’s grooming expert” seeing as I’ve been a grooming editor for two and a half years, and since I spend 40 hours a week buried in moisturizers, toners, hair masks, and beard trimmers. It was just a job that I assumed in 2013, and suddenly I’m helping friends plan their long-hair growth journeys, advising on beard styles and skincare regimens, and my own morning routine involves about 15 lotions, powders, pastes, sprays. I really find it fascinating that this happens to most of us in one way or another, and particularly on our own personal channels. I love nothing more than taking a deep-dive into “how people want to be perceived”, trying to read the subtext and see if they’re compensating for something, or trying to be someone they’re not…yet.
Patrick aside, I’m skeptical of a lot of these “Instagrammers” who think having an audience makes them interesting. I find it hilariously offensive that 20-somethings who routinely pose shirtless are also parading themselves as “life coaches” (mostly I feel bad for actual life coaches, whose certifications and educated advice are being bastardized), and that thousands (if not hundreds of thousands!) of people are validating these dweebs with a mix of salaciousness and gratitude. But, give the right (read: wrong) gay editor an assignment, and he’ll go to the first person he thinks of for a quote on personal wellness—that cute shirtless boy in his Instagram feed, the one with all the positive messaging and former-fat-kid #TBTs. Suddenly, with enough back-links and press impressions, that 26-year-old pretty boy actually thinks he’s a life coach, because 140K followers, plus 5K “likes” and 100 comments on a half-naked “Transformation Tuesday” selfie can’t be wrong. Then, there’s the other lot, the type that projects aspirational imagery to seem mysterious, or elevated, or too-fucking-cool-for-school. They’re usually more self-aware than the first bunch, but they spend a disproportionate amount of time on a couch for the “lifestyle” they claim to be #living. I think this rant is a way of saying that I don’t envy Patrick on the one hand, for having to navigate these waters and often keep this company. I do envy him, though, for his entrepreneurial mind, especially given that he wasn’t always entrepreneurial. He waited—he let life sink in a little first, and he didn’t put the cart before the horse. This lifestyle he leads—the one that the CFDA team noticed—is lived with a little extra perspective, and some grounded business acumen. There’s an actualized person behind @aguynamedpatrick, and I don’t think that goes for many of the rest. I hope that someday soon, I can cut ties with these apps altogether. (Understandably, I’ve got a lot riding on Instagram right now.) But, if I cease projecting anything, and if I abandon my nest of followers, then that means I’m the only one accountable for daily affirmations… and where’s the opportunity in that?