Richie Kul isn’t just a model. He’s an Ivy League educated, vegan model with a passion for being a hero. He’s articulate, warm and perpetually using his powers for good. I’d seen Richie in various campaigns from brands like Swatch and VAUTE to organizations like Animals Asia, PETA and Compassion over Killing, so when we finally got to meet in person over some Beyond Sushi in NYC’s East Village, I found that there was much more depth to Kul than first meets the eye.

Joshua Katcher: How did you end up in front of the camera?
Richie Kul: After graduating from Stanford with degrees in Economics and Organizational Behavior, I was convinced that a career in finance was the next logical step. Through stints as an Investment Banking Analyst and Finance Director, I came to realize that a life poring over spreadsheets and company financials wasn’t for me so I reflected back on the times I’d been approached in shopping malls or on vacation about modeling and figured I’d give it a serious go. Ten years, twenty countries and countless memories and friendships later, I’m really glad I took that leap.


JK: I always see photos of you with your dog. What’s her story?
RK: Lily is a rescue and was found abandoned in a foreclosed home in Las Vegas. At the tender age of 4, she’s proven to be a chip off the old block and has already participated in a number of photo shoots and developed quite the extensive portfolio and fan base all her own. In fact, for many of the animal welfare campaigns I’ve shot, it’s been specifically requested that she be featured front and center. She’s vegan as well since I didn’t feel it made any sense to nourish and sustain life at the expense of others. I actively researched how healthy it was to have her on a plant based diet and found that many pups have thrived on them so it was an easy choice. Many people have commented on how energetic and happy she is, and her cruelty free path has inspired others to make similar shifts for their pups and themselves. She’s quite the ambassador for cruelty free living!


JK: Being vegan in the fashion industry can be challenging. Have you ever refused to wear something, or walked off a shoot? Does animal activism and modeling coexist smoothly?
With clients I’ve worked with previously, they’re generally more accommodating and willing to make adjustments. I try to be reasonable and recognize that, with notable exceptions, fashion by and large is not vegan friendly and to help bring about meaningful change, you sometimes have to work from within while sowing well-placed seeds. I have worn products that incorporate wool, silk or leather but if I find that it’s egregious and obtrusive like a leather jacket or fur coat, I’ll opt out. Sometimes stylists and clients are receptive, and sometimes I’ve simply had to walk away. Work is not life and life is not work, but the daily decisions you make contribute greatly to shaping who you are, and at the end of the day you have to be able to put head to pillow knowing you stood up for what you believe in and didn’t compromise your integrity.


JK: What is dating like for a working model with strong principles?
Early on, I was fortunate to have found someone who shares my principles of compassion and non-violence and that’s proven to be a major source of comfort and strength. So thankfully I haven’t had to contend with the dating scene much but I know it’s a struggle in any relationship to strike that balance between standing firm in your convictions while being malleable enough to allow for personal and shared growth.

JK: You’ve been all over the world, what are some of the best spots you’ve found for food, clothing, and culture?
RK: There are always cruelty free options and outlets available if you’re proactive in seeking them out. On the fashion front, the U.S. is light years ahead of its international counterparts. A number of great American brands have emerged here over the past decade so I like to do most of my shopping Stateside. With regard to food though, I’ve found it easier to find vegetarian and vegan fare in Asia when I’m there for work vs. most places in the States or Europe (New York City, Los Angeles, and London being notable exceptions). In Buddhist countries, vegetarian restaurants are more integrated into the fabric of everyday life, and when I was in Bangkok last month, I overlapped fortuitously with the Thai Vegetarian Festival which ran for two weeks this year. It enjoys widespread participation and it was so easy to find tasty options wherever I went.

Style: "Neutral"

JK: In the fashion world, awareness of race and ethnicity is very heightened due to desired aesthetics. Have you experienced any forms of racism in the fashion world?
Workwise, being different from the conventional standard of beauty has proven to be both blessing and curse. Agents regularly send out casting briefs where clients have explicitly stated “No African American or Asian models.” That brazenness initially irked me but in the end I prefer not to commit time and energy trying to appeal to someone who is completely closed off and not receptive to diversity. I’ve also found that particularly in the high fashion world, clients often accentuate stereotypes and when they do incorporate Asian models into a campaign, they’re rather likely to further a cliché aesthetic of porcelain skin and slanted eyes that doesn’t actually represent many Asians or Asian Americans. On set I’ve been lucky to have met and worked with lots of creative, progressive individuals who see diversity as something worth celebrating and actively promoting. They take note of the growing clout of consumers in the Far East and find that incorporating someone of that background into their brand image enables them to better capitalize on those markets and I respect that. In the end, casting decisions are often very deliberate and well calculated and go beyond whether they like you as a person or think you’re attractive. So while I don’t always agree with those decisions, I also don’t take them to heart.

JK: Books, music, art and ideas… What is inspiring you right now?
The growing awareness of the ethical, environmental and health benefits of going vegan excites and inspires me more than anything. Seeing public figures like James Cameron, Ellen Degeneres, Brad Pitt, Cory Booker and fellow Cardinal Griff Whalen extoling the virtues of a plant based diet gives me great hope that through their words and examples, many hearts and minds will awaken to the idea that we as humans should be caretakers rather than exploiters of our fellow animals. Traditionally, I’ve been pretty conventional in my music tastes and usually listen to a lot of top 40 – Coldplay, One Republic, Sam Smith, Train, The Script. But lately I’ve been getting more adventurous and have been digging some great indy artists slightly off the beaten path like Mat Kearney and Andrew Ripp. My favorite though is Ilse Gevaert, particularly her single “I Am Human”. I love her textured voice and her personal story of overcoming struggles in her life and I appreciate the thoughtfulness with which she approaches her craft. On the art front, I really like the work of Mark Humphrey, a NY based artist who incorporates a lot of thoughtful shapes, textures and colors into his pieces. His work is elegant while still being affordable.

JK: Have you acquired a sense of style since working in fashion? What fashion tips do you have for other guys who may not have been dressed by many stylists?
RK: Day to day I’m admittedly very much a cut off tee, shorts and sandals kind of guy. Every now and again there are opportunities to spruce myself up and in those instances I have definitely benefited from seeing talented stylists at work. Top tips I’ve acquired along the way include ensuring that garments really fit and flatter your body type regardless of the size on the label and being premeditated when it comes to big purchases. Go ahead and splurge a little if you feel you’ll get some long-term utility out of something but make it neutral enough that you can pair it with lots of other pieces. Male wardrobes tend to experience less turnover so it’s all about making those decisions smart and impactful.


JK: You’re in your undies a lot – firstly, what’s your favorite underwear, and second, what do you do to maintain such envious abs?
Being a Miami-based model, you shoot a lot of underwear and swimwear jobs. When I first started modeling it wasn’t something I envisioned doing much of, but as a vegan I’ve seized on it as an opportunity to combat the widespread perception of vegetarians and vegans being sickly and emaciated. Modeling has been a platform that’s allowed me to show people that you can live a cruelty free lifestyle while still being healthy and strong. Plus most underwear is cotton based and thus vegan friendly so that’s a major bonus. I’m not obsessive about fitness but I do make it a point to work out every day. Though a lot of my routine centers around lifting weights, I try to mix it up with battle ropes, muscle ups, TRX, Pilates and various targeted abs exercises like planks and hanging leg raises. My daily cardio I have Lil to thank for as we regularly go for jogs along the beach in the evenings.

JK: What must we all try?
I think we’re happier, more interesting people when we proactively seek out our passions in life. I’ve found that tremendous fulfillment can be achieved in reaching beyond ourselves and helping others, and while everyone is different, I derive great satisfaction and purpose in advocating for rescue, animal welfare, and vegan advocacy groups.

The Evolution of Man: James Brett “Lightning” Wilks

“The Evolution of Man” series is based around the feature article Joshua Katcher wrote for VegNews Magazine’s “The Man Issue”. In this episode Katcher interviews James “Lightning Wilks. Now an experienced advocate of high-performance athletic veganism, Wilks claims that two weeks after he stopped eating meat, he lifted more weight than ever in his life. He was chosen for Season 9 of the Ultimate Fighter – UK vs USA. This drove James to train harder than ever before. He won the TUF finale on June, 20th 2009. Visit Wilks website for more info.

Michael Clarke Duncan

Oscar-nominated actor Michael Clarke Duncan is a strong dude. In this video he just released with PETA, he explains how he reversed serious health threats by going vegetarian. He also dishes on the false assumptions that big guys who work out make about meat and protein. Also, check out the book he recommends, Skinny Bastard, by our pal Rory Friedman. If anything, just watch this and enjoy his deep baritone voice.

INTERVIEW: Fabrice Penot of Le Labo

by Joshua Katcher

The sophisticated olfactory genius of Le Labo continues to impress most nostrils that come across it. In addition to their most recent writeup in the May issue of W, Le Labo has received international acclaim and garnered a cult following of obsessed aesthetes. From their stores in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Berlin, London, Amsterdam and every other major city you can think of, to Barney’s and Colette, to their exclusive line for Anthropologie – the world of Le Labo fragrances is full of intrigue and desire; it is an art, a science, an obsession. I am reminded of the plot from Tom Robbin’s Jitterbug Perfume where two of the main characters are questing for the mysterious secret ingredient to a 300-year-old fragrance that is believed to posses magical properties.  And there is something magical about this brand. People are mad about Le Labo – and they aren’t ashamed to drench themselves in the stuff, and fill their home with their candles, myself included. All of their perfumes are unisex; Rose 31 and Santal 33 are rituals to my day – and forgetting to spray some on often feels like I’ve left something crucial about myself at home. All of Le Labo’s perfumes are 100% vegan – as are the founders Fabrice Penot and Eddie Roschi (all “musk” and other ingredients are synthesized) – two men that are changing the fragrance industry through their commitment to esthetic olfactology, the environment, and animals.

(On a side note – I will be carrying the entire line of Le Labo on, and rumor has it that an exclusive fragrance for Brave GentleMan is in development. Shh..)

I had a chance to interview Fabrice recently, and this was our conversation:

Discerning Brute: What is it about fragrances, perfumes, odors, and smell that you love so much?
Fabrice Penot: I am not sure… I think I like to express myself through perfume creation because there is something pretty magical by creating an emotion in people through something unseen.

DB: What is your favorite bit of history about perfume, and how does that influence your work?
FP: There are  so many, but the one that pops into my mind since I guess we’ll talk about animal products is the story of maybe the most mythical ingredient in fine perfumery which is “ambergris”.  Ambergris comes from the sperm whale – it smells of a magical thing that you can’t really define, and you find yourself between disgust and attraction. There is a fecal part for sure, but there is also a soft, musky, very white part that is addictive.

In a nustshell, this ingredient can be found on sea shores, as it is the result of the sperm whale’s vomit (looks like a black stone, with the weight of a sponge). The magic happens while the floating “stone” travels on the ocean, being washed by the water, baked by the sun, and eventually ends on the sand near the coast, adding the marine and musky smell to the repulsive original smell of the rejection. Knowing that this has been used for decades in fine perfumery and that it was one of its most precious elements was always fascinating to me as a young perfume student. Even though you did not hurt the animal to produce this, (you actually don’t even see him or her), nowadays the natural ambergris as been replaced by a synthetic version for perfumery use and Eddie, my creative partner, and I are using a lot in almost each one of our creations. Dirty musky notes are part of the secret of every sensual dry-down at Le Labo.

DB: What is Le Labo, and why is it different from other brands?
FP: The dirty musky note! And many other things, too – but I guess the more important one is the intention behind everything we do: we want to make the life of our clients more beautiful through our craft, perfume creation (and do no harm while doing so). Of course, there is a cult around our creations for what they are and we are proud of it, but I think at one point, people don’t only buy what you do, they buy why you do it, and that would explain to me why our clients are so hooked with our creations.

DB: Tell me about your relationship with animals and how that plays into your business?
FP: I don’t know how to answer that. I guess my relationship with animals changed when I understood my belief in and hope for global peace between humans was kind of useless because there was something about this humanity that was rotten in the first place – that mankind was just a piece of the puzzle, and that of course, there will be no peace between humans as long as they will not respect any kind of life on this planet.

I understood you couldn’t believe in the power of non violence and close your eyes to the violence created by your own life style, eating habits, shopping habits or even creation habits on other living things. I think the quote from Tolstoi was kind of a “a-hah” moment for me at that point: “As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields “… And since then, I never looked at an animal the same way. I understood simply that I do not want to hurt anyone. I need peace and harmony for the world and I am hoping to start here, from my home, my family, my creations, my office, my business. So I became vegan a few seconds after I realized that. My girlfriend and I decided to jump together and all became very natural. Our children have been raised vegan. My friend and business partner Eddie is now vegan and deeply committed with me to change the habits of the perfume industry with the few animal ingredients still used, So I feel like the happiness and the beauty in my life comes from the coherence of everything around.

DB: Is there a code of ethics that is followed at Le Labo concerning people, animals, and the environment? What is it and how to you make sure it is followed?
FP: Well, not everyone in the company is vegan but i can tell you everyone cares. Not only because the owners both are, but also because when they live in the environment we built, they can feel the logic behind it. Everyone has a high level of compassion in our team, and there is no need to recall an ethic code or anything… we are a small company and you can tell when everyone is working with the same quality of intention. The only thing we do is we challenge our suppliers (or even new partners) to commit to cruelty-free ingredients and try to inspire perfumers by using synthetics over naturals for civette and castoreum.

DB: What is something people need to know about the modern fragrance industry?
FP: The good news is the industry is being more and more concerned about environment and cruelty issues.Mainly because of the pressure of consumers and I am glad that works. I am sure some big beauty corporations continue to test their cosmetic products (not perfumes necessarily, but creams for example) on animals secretly, but they know they are taking big risks with the public if this becomes known. I think in a near future this will not exist anymore – one big scandal would be enough to scare them all.  We need a Wikileak on this to solve it. Unfortunately, I have no access to these infos, but what I can tell you is that in the world of perfumery, there are very few animal products left to be used by the perfumers. To my knowledge there is only 2 left: castoreum (which is a by product of beaver) and civette (from a little wild cat that is trapped to extract that smell). There are synthetics available for these 2 products and we are an active force to raise awareness in perfume houses for the use of synthetics over naturals for these ingredients.

DB:  How do people respond to different smells, and how does that influence your recipes?
FP: A perfume is very personal. The sense of smell is very linked to your memories. You can love a fig smell because it relates to a happy memory in your childhood and in the same time I can hate it because my first girlfriend dumped me under a fig tree…you can’t create a perfume anticipating  people’s reaction to it, you just try to reach a certain kind of esthetic, beauty, surprise, elegance, soul with the shape of it. Then, if it is well done, it will connect with the person at a deep emotional level and be worth existing. Or not…

DB: Talk about your favorite aspect of the science and the chemistry involved in our attraction to certain smells.
FP: I am not so much on the science part i have to say. Eddie my partner is a scientist by training (and a poet by choice) so he is more the one who is the expert of that. I am more into the intuitive search of the creation of an emotion. There is actually no science behind that apart from quantum physics maybe, but it is a posteriori, not a priori, meaning after the experience.

DB: You also are very good with presentation – from packaging to the store interior design. How did yo develop this?
FP: It is just Eddie and I trying to marry our love for industrial design, perfumery and the Japanese philosophy of wabi sabi, the art of impermanence.

DB: Which scents do you recommend for men?
FP: All our creations are genderless…but men might connect more with Rose 31, Bergamote 22, Vetiver 46 and our new Santal 33.

DB: What music are you listening to, and food are you obsessed with right now?
FP: Music ( as we speak): my morning jacket, food: Dr Cow’s cheese and your seitan bourguignon!!

DB: Why are you vegan?
FP: Because i think it is key for us to stop taking advantage of other living creatures in the world if we want to see humanity evolve in a more peaceful and sustainable way. I think it might be the most important choice I ever made in my life. Not that I made a lot of them, but still…

Lincoln Center Sustainable Fashion & PINNACLE

A photog from the RightyRightyRight fashion blog and zine snapped some photos of my rad outfit sponsored by CPas & NOVACAS at Lincoln Center, yesterday. In addition to the recycled-poly, hand-tailored blazer and vest, the organic cotton shirt and pants, the recycled-poly and recycled-cotton coat, the organic denim and vegan leather bag, and the NOVACAS vegan boots – I was wearing my April77 vegan biker jacket, carrying a Matt & Nat cruelty-free bag with recycled soda-bottle ultra-suede lining, and sporting my fav vintage sunglasses.

This happened right before I went into Lincoln Center and got interviewed by Robert Verdi. I showed him the PINNACLE Mag, to which he said “I already have that“. I was wowed. Mr. Verdi, are you anti-fur yet?

Huffington Post contributor, Andy Stepanian, wrote a really impressive article on PINNACLE: Reinvent The Icon today, featuring some of the amazing photos by Anthony Two Moons and Gregory Vaughan. PLease check it out and spread the word!