A Cow Called Exctasy: JAMES GILES and AKEEM SMITH Go Bovine

Marked by its hyper-sculpted physique, the Belgian Blue is a cow amongst calves. Its genetic proclivity for muscle growth—described in cattle terminology as “double-muscling”—has endowed the breed with an uncanny, Schwarzenegger-esque beach bod. The fashion story by photographer JAMES GILES and stylist AKEEM SMITH places this unlikely summer goddess in a deranged context, chronicling an intimate game of dress-up between a lonely farmhand and his show cow Exctasy.

032c spoke with stylist and costume designer Akeem Smith about the shoot.

032c: How did this shoot come about? What was your vision going into it?

Akeem Smith: The shoot came about from missing my cat, Risky. I had him from when I was around ten, 11 years old. He died when I was 19. I use to dress him up in chokers, all my grandmother’s jewelry and things like that. So I had this vision of a young boy, dressing up with his favorite animal on the farm. I think James did a great job of capturing all those intimate vibes between a pet and its owner, even though Exctasy didn’t belong to the model. Originally, the concept was to shoot disabled farm animals with a model. But once we found the farm, it just couldn’t work out logistically, and I’m afraid the owner was worried about it being more exploitative than art. James really wanted to shoot in Belgium where he currently resides, so he did some research on farms up there and bumped into Belgian Blue—“Muscle Cow”—breeding facilities.

Tell me about the cows. What’s it like seeing a meme in real life?

I’ve always seen them online, and seeing it in person was actually kind of a disappointment. The ones that you usually see online are young bucks, and we got an old show cow named Exctasy. She was a bit of a Diva, but her handlers—the Garretts—were cool. All the other cows were a bit shy.

The grey, thigh-high cowboy boots in the shoot were very striking. It says they were custom. What was the boot-making process like?

I ordered the boots for myself prior, and then discussing the shoot with James, I thought they would be perfect. First, you pick the leather and color that you like the most. Then you pick the heel height and shape next. Then you measure your leg from heel to toe, all the way up to the thigh circumference. Then they send you images of the boot slowly getting made.

What are your thoughts on cowboy boots as a fashion item? On one hand they have this John Wayne connotation, and on the other hand there’s something so femme about them—the heel, the embroidery. They’re complex.

Cowboy boots can never go out of style. The cowboy-boots-with-everything looks in 2004–06 are one of my favorite fashion moments in my lifetime. It’s a great hybrid of masculinity and femininity—more stable than the “man heel.” Mexicans have really been elevating the shoe lately, creating the extended toe, which was interpreted by Comme des Garcons later on. Now you see a bunch of LED lights within the heel, moving away from the traditional decorative stitching design, and trying it in more experimental fabrics and leathers.

What’s going on for you in New York City right now? Any new projects in the works?

NYC is chill. There is something brewing, but I can’t put my hand on it yet. I’m just focusing on my clients for NYFW and finding a home for my Dancehall fashion exhibition.

Akeem Smith is a stylist and costume designer from New York City.

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