In His Own World
Interview: Michael Köckritz Photos: Maximilian Baier
Production: Nadine Hanfstein Styling: Peninah Amanda
Mr. Mahfud, how do you separate your private life from Toni Mahfud, the brand?
I’ve made up my mind to keep my private life private. This protects me against attacks. I like to share my thoughts and views, but it’s nobody’s business where I live or who I hang out with.
What’s your take on staging pictures?
I have long been interested in designing things that are not entirely real. When I was twelve or thirteen, I started using Paint [Editor’s note: a graphics software by Microsoft] to draw on things or let them float in space. I wanted to create something you wouldn’t encounter in real life. That’s true for my art and my photography. I put a lot of work into my photos, sometimes spending a whole day or even two days on them.
How do you go about your work?
It’s like a process for me. Looking at something, pinpointing what bothers my eye, where you would look first. This way I create a fictional persona with its own character.
“I get in my car, close the door and find myself in my own world. I even once said that my car was my best friend.”
Is your inspiration part of a greater mission?
I start with myself. What do I want to see, what do I want to read, what do I want to think about? I figure out the answers for myself, and I’m happy when others feel the same way. I think about ways to interpret something or what I think is cool – then I publish it. So I make up my mind myself and am not influenced by other people’s views.
Do you consider yourself a work of art?
What’s really important to me is authenticity. And that includes serious topics. Maybe I can address things that people wonder about even if they don’t talk about them. This way people get to know me even though I don’t share details from my private life and I’m not on TV. It’s really interesting that it works this way. You don’t have to be everywhere all the time; it works on a different level if you dig deeper. I’m always thrilled when somebody writes me to say they felt really understood when they read my texts or that my texts helped them move forward.
You’re often very serious in your photographs. Is this by coincidence or design?
I posted a picture of me smiling only yesterday. But it’s true, that’s rare. Things get personal real fast if you smile, and I don’t want that. But I never consciously decided to never show myself in a happy mood.
“Sometimes, I don’t even drive but just sit in my car and listen to music. It’s such a liberating thing to do. I feel safe in my car.”
How do you pick the brands you represent?
I’m very selective there. I can’t be a huge fan of one brand one day and a totally different one the other day. It just wouldn’t work to end up with ten brands that I all find cool. I have one or at most two brands in every segment.
You also collaborate with the Cupra brand.
Yes, I’ve been working with Cupra almost since it was first established. Now we’re growing together. They don’t only book me; they also ask me for advice. That’s really great. Of course, a brand already has a standing, but I tell them what I think they could add.
What are you inspired by? Books, films, social media?
Everything and nothing. I’m a keen observer. Radio, TV – things that are controlled like that are not really my thing. I like to go for a walk and observe how people move and interact. I’m inspired by music, especially on long drives. Sometimes I sit back and just listen. It might sound a little funny, but I’m inspired by experiences and emotions, including my own. I also try to see the positive in negative things. After all, negative experiences have also shaped who I am today.
“I’m inspired by music, especially on long drives. Sometimes I sit back and just listen.”
What role does driving play in your life?
It’s important to me and always has been. I get in my car, close the door and find myself in my own world. I even once said that my car was my best friend. It takes you where you want to go without any negative interactions with other people. Sometimes, I don’t even drive but just sit in my car and listen to music. It’s such a liberating thing to do. I feel safe in my car.
What’s your next project?
I’m currently working on designing a beautiful home for myself in a loft. I have tons of ideas that I am going to discuss with my architect.
Toni Gabriel Mahfud wurde am 2. Dezember 1994 in Hamburg geboren, bestand sein Abitur bereits mit 16 Jahren und wurde im Netz durch seine realistischen Porträts von Cara Delevingne oder Rihanna berühmt. Heute hat der Künstler und Kommunikationsdesigner zahlreiche Kooperationen mit exklusiven Marken und zählt zu einem der erfolgreichsten Male Influencer in Deutschland.