Wonderland.

KAI-ISAIAH JAMAL

Full circle means just maybe it was always meant to be: the poet writes an open letter to themselves.

Kai Isaiah Jamal wearing blue matching co-ord
Kai Isaiah Jamal wearing blue matching co-ord

Taken from our Winter 2020 issue. Order your copy now.

Kai-Isaiah Jamal is a poet, whose work explores learning and unlearning, identity and the often unspoken. Their voice carries power: to move, affirm, comfort, question, call to action. They are a model and public figure, navigating both spaces in a Black, trans, politicised body. They are a visibility activist. As all of these things, they advocate for authentic dialogue, personal expression, and existing as they are without boundaries or binaries. In doing so, they are making space for others to do the same.

In what they describe as “an intimate poetic open letter, that authentically and directly speaks to a younger version of myself at the start of a pivotal and transitional time,” here they look back to 2017, when they shot their first editorial as Kai with Wonderland. Reflecting on that time and the full circle moment they feel today, Kai says “the piece is a warming reminder to keep going — no matter how high the odds are stacked against you.”

Kai Isaiah Jamal wearing Gucci hat with white tank top
Kai Isaiah Jamal wearing GCDS shirt and fur coat

(LEFT) Hat and cross necklace by GUCCI Talent’s own vest and silver necklace (RIGHT) Hat by ROBERT WUN Jewellery by GCDS, LIJO and ALIGHIERI Coat by XUMU Top by GCDS.

Kai Isaiah Jamal wearing Gucci hat with white tank top
Hat and cross necklace by GUCCI Talent’s own vest and silver necklace Hat by ROBERT WUN Jewellery by GCDS, LIJO and ALIGHIERI Coat by XUMU Top by GCDS.
Kai Isaiah Jamal wearing GCDS shirt and fur coat

Yo kiddo, what you sayin?

I am writing to you from a place that is only moments further than you are now, which feels miles away but I assure you the milestones are worth the climb. Today in your present you have a two-day-old short shape up and you are hand coating your top lip hairs with black thick dye. The southern heat is starting to creep into the early morning hour and sweat is pooling anywhere that dips, but today you have your first editorial shoot for Wonderland and you are smiling.

There’s a lot of uncertainty around you at present, you can’t yet see what within you is worth capturing but you do feel gassed from the bottom of your stomach — that takes some time to see so be easy with it and gassed is a synonym for proud so hold onto that tightly. On the overground, amongst the orange handlebars your foot taps fast and rhythmically whilst your headphones blast whatever tunes are married and joined in this month’s loop. Some things don’t change, they can’t. You will always use music as a safe space and travelling and moving trains will always be familiar.

It is the hottest day of the year, the sun is in the centre of the sky with no shade. I always believe there is a metaphor in almost everything; serendipity will become the word you think is the prettiest. It is the warmest day of summer and your big moment has come in unison, hand in hand skipped into this day. You don’t know it yet but after today something will change. You write a lot about pathetic fallacy and now you can see why.

Kai Isaiah Jamal wearing GCDS top and fur brown jacket
Kai Isaiah Jamal wearing silver chain and black top

(LEFT) Hat and trousers by ROBERT WUN Jewellery by GCDS, LIJO and ALIGHIERI Coat by XUMU Top by GCDS Shoes by TIMBERLAND (RIGHT) Top and trousers by LOUIS VUITTON Shoes by SIMONE ROCHA Stylist’s own durag Jewellery by GCDS, FEATHER PENDANTS and LIJO

Kai Isaiah Jamal wearing GCDS top and fur brown jacket
Hat and trousers by ROBERT WUN Jewellery by GCDS, LIJO and ALIGHIERI Coat by XUMU Top by GCDS Shoes by TIMBERLAND Top and trousers by LOUIS VUITTON Shoes by SIMONE ROCHA Stylist’s own durag Jewellery by GCDS, FEATHER PENDANTS and LIJO
Kai Isaiah Jamal wearing silver chain and black top

You arrive carrying all the feelings of imposter syndrome on your chest. Pull on garment after garment each sweater leaves a residue of confidence on your skin. Your spine straightens with each frame captured. You shoot down Ridley Road and I know right now it feels overwhelming to be visible, to be looked at, pointed at, sniggered at, but affirmations flutter alongside camera clicks and by the time the day wraps you leave and walk a little lighter. The romantic sky bows as you travel home, you have enough on you to buss a couple pounds on a can of ting. Everything feels content for a moment, savour these moments most. Emancipation and the freeing of oneself is to embrace what has been and too what is to come, so this is why I am returning to this moment in our timeline to further show you the full circle moment I am now feeling.

In our timeline at your current position you are desperately looking for versions of yourself. Finding yourself in others, forcing things to fit, using words that aren’t quite expansive enough but they are all you have access to. You will go through every type of heartbreak and grief in this period of time; for those you want to stay who are leaving, for those who already left, for the parts of yourself you buried and also for the bits you are trying to not let die. You will come away like softening fruit but it will show you your heart and all it can take.

Top, trousers and shoes by BALENCIAGA Necklaces by LIJO and FEATHER PENDANTS

Top, trousers and shoes by BALENCIAGA Necklaces by LIJO and FEATHER PENDANTS

In our timeline at my current position I have just shot the front cover for Wonderland. I am writing this in a house that you never thought you’d ever have the privilege of calling home on the other side of town. This is your third cover in the year — who would have thought it baby? I cannot thank you enough for allowing us to go on this journey, of being open and vulnerable, of finding a way to turn anything into poetry. For being brave. For being braver than me. For putting yourself in all the places that have made you most visible, most targeted, most scrutinised but still have kept a tender heart and a thickening skin. I couldn’t have done any of this without you so I got some of our words tattooed across my thigh. I won’t ruin too much of it for you but it reads;

I will never remove the colours that you painted. I will never hide the shapes you made. I will never stop watering the seeds that we have sewn together.

This is my vow to you, therefore to me, therefore to us. I won’t lie to you, the rain is still pouring but you have found ways to dance in it or find shelter. Balancing is just another word for self-love. You deserve the most for all I put you through. Some days you receive small parcels from even smaller angels that come in the form of messages from all over the world. They remind you that there are so many of us that are waiting for the world to acknowledge we exist — whilst we are here. As a black trans person who survived 2020 and all that came before it; I want to tell you that as the world shifts into a new normal you will be pushed out onto even further fringes, look for those who invite you in from the rain. You’ve survived forever, so now you don’t have to just survive lil’ one. You have to live and live fearlessly and without second-guessing.

It isn’t always easy to applaud yourself and I know you hate a compliment so instead let this front cover be the sound of hands clapping. And they are all for you Kai. You became the mirror you needed — I hope you are as proud of the reflection.

Kai Isaiah Jamal wearing lose navy shirt and black trousers

(LEFT) Top and trousers by LOUIS VUITTON Shoes by SIMONE ROCHA Stylist’s own durag Jewellery by GCDS, FEATHER PENDANTS and LIJO (RIGHT) Shirt and shoes by GCDS Coat by DUNHILL Trousers and tulle by SIMONE ROCHA Jewellery by FEATHER PENDANTS and LIJO

Kai Isaiah Jamal wearing lose navy shirt and black trousers
Top and trousers by LOUIS VUITTON Shoes by SIMONE ROCHA Stylist’s own durag Jewellery by GCDS, FEATHER PENDANTS and LIJO Shirt and shoes by GCDS Coat by DUNHILL Trousers and tulle by SIMONE ROCHA Jewellery by FEATHER PENDANTS and LIJO
Photography
Jack Bridgland
Fashion
Toni Blaze Ibekwe
Hair
Nicola Harrowell at Premier Hair
Makeup
Min Sandhu at Carol Hayes Management
Fashion Assistant
Anastasia Busch
Fashion Interns
Eleanor Juliet Swire and Nami Galvan
Retouched
Melissa Morgan.
KAI-ISAIAH JAMAL