Nicola Formichetti’s muse is a walking Mugler moodboard. To Mugler, rare is remarkable. And Genest is nothing if not a celebration of the rare. Decked out in leather and studs, with headphones swung around his neck, he never stops moving, grinning and posing to fully illustrate his ‘Rico the Zombie’ moniker. It’s obvious why Gaga had to have Genest in her ‘Born This Way’ video. Genest has a swagger that brings his tattoos to life.
The 27 year old has come a long way since the last fashion season. To hear to his agent Colin Singer list Genest’s upcoming work proves the tattoo god has found staying power beyond his shock value. The surprisngly affable kid from Canada with a knack for the unconventional turned the world’s fascination with his oddity into a career. His 2013 is chock full of zombie related work in showbiz and fashion, from blockbuster movie cameos to an independent clothing label venture.
But Genest won’t let his fame get in the way of an impromptu interview. Twelv caught up with Rick and his agent in between NYFW appearances to discuss his writing influences, the artful tattoo process, and why his mother approves of his ink.
TWELV: Would you describe yourself as an anarchist?
Rick: Yeah Absolutely. We are our own masters.
Your manager mentioned you’re really into writing? What kind?
It’s for an acquired audience (laugh). I like playing with words. But it’s not like you know, rainbows and puppy dogs.
Do you like being famous? Would you describe yourself as famous?
I seem to be getting attention. Depends what kind of attention though. Some days you wake up on the other side of the bed. Where you don’t want attention.
It’s a double-edged sword. How do regular people respond to you on the street?
Depends on a variety of factors: where you are—if we’re talking about on the bus or in a nightclub—it depends on the time of day or night. It also depends on the kind of person—if we’re talking about the police or a vendor or an old lady— I mean, everyone has a different approach.
So it’s all over the place?
Many different types of remarks. There’s many different types of people who don’t like me (laugh)… Or that do. Everybody has their own opinions.
What sort of music are you listening to these days? Any particular artists you would highlight?
Many many kinds of music. Rock and roll, hip-hop, the blues…. Immortal Technique, Jedi Mind Tricks, Keny Arkana.
Your tattoo artist is in Canada, did you guys come up with the design together?
Well he did all the drawing. It was a freehand project with markers and then you know, it’s like a little bit of draw, erase, repeat.
He’s already creative. Bones is a simple enough concept. Sometimes I got picky and said, ‘how about this instead.’ If I said, ‘oh, I would prefer…’ you know? then he’d adjust. See I got a tarantula in the armpit. Cause I thought of the hair like, tarantulas are hairy so it was a good spot for it.
So are you still doing the freak shows? Or are you too busy for that these days?
I’ve been doing mostly modeling and some DJ. I get the odd underground job. Depends on how much time I have for myself, what jobs have priority.
You committed to the full body tattoos at 19. Was it a progression that you went through?
When I was 19, I got my hands tattooed and that point is the point of no return. You can’t really get a job at Starbucks anymore you, know?
So did you do your arms and your chest first?
Yes I did my arms and chest first. It holds me back from some things but it drives my commitment to moving forward. There’s no stopping now. If you stop now you’re just a common punk.
How does your family feel about it?
I got a joke. So when I was a kid, when I was really young, my mother told me everything goes in one ear and out the other. So my whole life I listened to her. But they’re happy. My mom likes to see I’ve gained a little bit of stability in my life.
Do you get recognized a lot from the Born This Way video?
I’ve been mistaken for Lady Gaga before. People come up to me and they go ‘LADY GAGA!’ And well….I’m not.
Interviewed by Scott Dennen
Bio by Dawn Joyce
Rick Genest, better known as Zombie Boy, has always drawn people’s attention. His body art aesthetics encompass it all; they are all at once significant, inspiring, and shocking. But how did he first capture the attention of the fashion industry? Nicola Formichetti, accomplished fashion director, editor, and frequent stylist for Lady Gaga, noticed Genest and brought him to the extraordinary fashion house of Thierry Mugler, which is where the fascination really took hold.
Genest is one of the most celebrated models working the current fashion circuit. Nevertheless, he is sincere and extremely down to earth while discussing his success. He enjoys life and everything it grants. We caught up with Genest by telephone in Zurich, Switzerland, and talked with the notorious Zombie Boy during the wee hours of the morning about his fame, his fortune, and his future.
Julija: How did your world change when you became famous?
Rick: Well, some things stayed the same. My nomadic lifestyle already had me living out of my backpack, working odd jobs, meeting cool people, as well as often [being] stopped and photographed. That has not changed. What changed was [how] the masses reacted to me. Prior, I had my place among those who understood me; I had the luxury of privacy. Now I often feel that every person either has a question or an opinion, [even] about the way I breathe.
Julija: Do you find great pleasure in your work?
Rick: I love and take pride in giving what comes from my heart. Like any job, some days are brighter than others, but I always count my blessings.
Julija: What are the downsides of your career?
Rick: None easily come to mind!
Julija: Where do you feel art is going? How do you see your role as an artist?
Rick: I am very happy to see art becoming more accepted, as well as other growing tolerances in many aspects of today’s society. I feel that my role is to help this generation think outside to box, to embrace bravery, and control their lives.
Julija: What forms of art do you like besides body art?
Rick: I’m in love with all positive forms of creativity. As a seed needs soil to beget fruit from a tree, a brush is needed to paint color on canvas to create a full picture.
Julija: If you had to start again, would you create the same tattoos?
Rick: It is difficult to see my life unfold differently.
Julija: When traveling to different countries, have you found any special places where you want to return? Tell us about them.
Rick: As beautiful as the world is, I always miss home [in Montreal, Canada] with my own, where I am [most] familiar and soulful.
Julija: What projects are you currently working on?
Rick: I just did my second guest appearance on the Food Network show, Bitchin’ Kitchen. I am currently in Zurich working on an endorsement contract. I also appear in Zurich at clubs where I give a hand to the DJs. DJ’ing is new for me, but I really enjoy it. I attended New York Fashion Week and appeared in and red carpeted some cool shows. I am also working on a new film project with director Steep Daniels for his NEON Americana series. Later this month I will be heading back to New York for a cover shoot with Rebel Ink. October is a really busy month with amazing projects that will take me to London, Vienna, St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Tel Aviv. Things are rockin’.
Julija: Could you mention a few projects that are slated for the near future?
Rick: I will be in Los Angeles in October for my first lead role in a live production called Hellbreak directed by Michael McQuarn. During some “dark days” I’ll be in Vienna for a guest appearance on Austria’s Next Top Model. In November I will be working with one of the greatest iconic rapper/hip hop artists to become the face of their brand in Europe, so I’m very excited.
Julija: Who has been most pleasurable to work with?
Rick: Recently Sean Ross, a model from New York was fun to work with on our cover shoot and in shows for Berlin Fashion Week. Recently we did a dope shoot styled by the iconic Ty-Ron Mayes, which was shot by my manager, Colin Singer. We are spreading the fun! And of course Lady Gaga, who despite her work schedule is fascinating and very cool. Nicola Formichetti is a class act.
Julija: What is an ordinary day like for you when you’re not flying anywhere or doing a photo shoot?
Rick: I enjoy sharing laughs with my friends around the fire or at shows. As well, I like watching movies, zipping out on my bike, designing and sewing, and listening to music.
Julija: What surprises you?
Rick: How often people can look too hard for answers when things can be so simple.
Julija: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Rick: I would love to be acting in movies, and after work, hanging among fellow misfits around a campfire.
It should come as no surprise that Rick Genest's favorite section of the newspaper is the obituaries.
Having tattooed himself into a living corpse complete with flesh eating parasites, Zombie Boy quite frankly doesn't seem to be afraid of death, or insects for that matter.
But the world simply can't be normal after one takes their skin and inks their living canvas to depict life after death.
In his words, this is an interview with a zombie. A fashionable one at that.
From rags to riches is basically your story. How many couture designer suits have you kept from the runway?
I cannot recall for certain but there have been a few nice pieces from our fashion work.
How has this level of success changed you as a person? Are you ready for more?
Well, I would have to say that I am still very far from my planned goal. I would love to excel in acting, as well as perform in carnivals and freak shows. I always loved horror, and one day wish to make a living in this domain.
Who’s idea was the zombie transformation?
Well, the idea was either my grandmothers or the mailman's; the details of that bikini party are shady at best.
Was there ever a point where you have been scared of what you’ve done to yourself and your body?
Absolutely not! I worked very hard at achieving this goal for over a decade. Whether under the needle, knife, roof, the sun or the moon; this project has been my lifelong ticket to the big tent.
Do you feel more vulnerable or human wearing your inside on the outside?
In all honesty, I see it for what it is; Ink. As paint is to a brush on canvas. Should there be an irrational fear of artistic creation? Rather I feel developed and consequently more experienced than vulnerable.
What is the theme of your body art?
My body art depicts anarchy. As an anarchist, there is a call for revolution. The first stage of a revolution is defiance. Appearing to be dead while alive defies the very laws of nature itself.
To the punk community you want to say “what” about how you’re still a Montreal street punk even though you’re rocking the fashion world
Well, I would have to say that punk is mind state and not a place. I’ve also been to the beach and still felt as the same person. Even more, I have always liked to be described as an artist, philosopher or freak.
Describe your ideal girlfriend. Is she heavily tattooed and modified or the girl next door?
Well, she is most beautiful, fun loving, thoughtful of others, loves animals and happiest when chomping on egg sandwiches.
Some people see body art as a lifetime journey not a destination. Now that you’re basically fully tattooed and have reached that destination, what journeys do you hope lie ahead?
As a bonified geek and faquir, I wish to continue to develop my persona through greater acting and performing.
What makes you happiest in life?
What makes me happiest in life is love. When one fights for good things, freedom and other sincerities follow.
Do you want to be perceived as approachable?
Some what; maybe not by lions or bears…
Live for the moment or plan ahead. Which one fits you best?
Both, but never astray from your righteous path, for we live in the eternal present; that is the way of the samurai.
Favorite section in the newspaper:
The world would be a better place if everybody would just__________ (fill in the blank)
Don’t ever sit next to me on the bus and ask me this……
Who’s driving this thing?
After seeing yourself fully covered up with no tattoos for the making of the Dermablend commercial, was there ever a moment (however brief) you wished you could stay that way?
By Jodie Michalak, About.com Guide