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A Conversation with Arian Jabbary

We’re lucky to meet many interesting people through our work here at Berg & Berg, and one such person is Arian Jabbary. Working as a lawyer in New York City, Arian dedicates his spare time to a deeply held interest in photography, writing, and travel. His passionate, free-thinking approach to life is contagious, and part of what has made him a good friend of ours over the years. We caught up with Arian via video call to gain insight into his early life, his inspirations, and his hopes for the future.

Words: Nathan Sharp. Photography: Glen Allsop

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m from Roswell, Georgia, originally. I grew up in a suburb outside of the city, and that really framed my whole world for a long time. I always felt like I wanted something more international, more multicultural, having parents who come from different places. I was deciding where to go to law school, and New York was the only thing that came to mind. I’d actually never been to New York, and decided to move there without having ever been, which is kind of like a death sentence for some people. I remember watching some guy on YouTube talk about how miserable New York is [laughs] – to an extent he’s not wrong! It really is a wild place that chews you up and spits you out, and you have to really love it to want to stay here, because there’s a lot of things fighting against you.

So, I moved to New York to go to law school, and to specialise in intellectual property. While I was in law school, I started picking up photography. I was always kind of a hobbyist, but New York is so stimulating in an artistic sense that it encouraged me to take it to the next level, so I started shooting outside of fashion shows. Eventually, after one or two seasons I had created my own publication in order for me to get inside the runway shows. Security wasn’t great, and with a bit of smoke and mirrors I found myself on the risers at New York Fashion Week, with the New York Times Fashion, and Vogue – some heavy hitters – then me just squeezed in the middle.

I did that for a few seasons, and it was fun, but I always loved shooting candid street photography, so I ended up outside of shows again capturing people as they came and went. Not even in the “street fashion” sense, but the sort of Bill Cunningham, voyeuristic sense. My father was a big photography hobbyist as well. He was a career man, but was also really into photography, and I grew up with him always carrying his camera around. He was never shy about taking photos of people in public, and I always found that inspiring. He never really showed anybody, just did it for his own personal photo albums, and he’d take some incredible photos just by not being afraid to go up to people, and having an amicable, soft presence. 

Are there certain common threads that link your interest in menswear to your interests in other areas like writing, travel, and photography?

My interest in menswear was always informed by my greater appreciation for culture and the arts. Lately it feels we have become consumers of culture, whereas in previous generations they were consumers and contributors. It’s important to think about the arts and culture in a sort of ‘take a penny, leave a penny’ way, where you’re not just there to consume it, but to contribute to the greater sense of it, as well. While I enjoy being somebody who can experience all these different aspects of culture and the arts, it’s also something I find I’m drawn to express myself into. Writing is a standout example for me. I’ve always loved verse, and when I moved to New York it was something I started exploring further. In the States you don’t have that education. You may glance over one or two sample texts in grade school, but that’s it. Over time I started writing because it felt good, and it was something that was (and still is) – in my circles at least – a bit wacky, or something that wasn’t relatable to a lot of people. But as you get older, you start caring less and less about how you may come across. I was kind of shedding that layer of trying to be some archetype – a phase of growing we all go through – and started to be more public about my passions. I really love the modernist writers, Ezra Pound, H. D., William Carlos Williams – people who were unabashedly themselves, and paving the way for a new movement in the process. Something I’m exploring more as I get older is doing what I like, no matter the reception. Maybe it will land, maybe it won’t, but at the end of the day I like doing it. It makes me feel good. 

You mentioned a few names, but are there any other writers or artists that have had a real influence on you?

He’s not necessarily my favourite writer, but somebody that stands out to me is Wallace Stevens, who was also in the modernist movement of American poetry. He was also a lawyer, and I just love the thought of him moonlighting as a writer in his downtime. If you see my work notebooks, you’ll see scribbles and thoughts and bits of verse tangled in the margins. I always feel like some of your best writing comes when you’re in the moment. When I want to sit down and write, things don’t necessarily come to me, but when I’m just going about my day, the ideas come. I like to imagine Wallace Stevens in the same light, scribbling in the margins.

You’ve travelled widely. If you could be anywhere right now, where would you be?

I really love the Mediterranean. It’s a place that I romanticise a lot. The terrain, the seascape, the people, the cuisine, the deep history. I’m just so drawn to that region, it’s a sort of longing. And so, if I could be anywhere, it would be somewhere in the Mediterranean – whether that’s in the south of France, Greece, Italy, North Africa, I don’t care – in all linen, on a boat somewhere off the coast, I’d be a happy man.

You’re in New York, of course. What are your favourite local spots?

There’s a little jazz club called Smalls in the West Village. There’s not much signage, just a little door on the street that leads down into a stuffy basement. It’s not big at all, low ceilings, Persian rugs everywhere, you’re crammed in, and you have this awesome jazz scene filling the air.  It’s always buzzing. Whenever I stumble in there, it always feels like a Woody Allen type of New York moment. And I think those are increasingly harder to find, as the town gets evermore commercial. I love Central Park, too. I know that’s a cop out, but I live pretty much on the park, and green space is so important. Sure, it’s a tourist attraction, but it’s also the city’s best kept secret, hiding in plain sight.