If there is any connection between fashion and emotions, it can be seen in the work of Raimondo Rossi (aka Ray Morrison), an internationally renowned stylist and fashion photographer, as well one of the New York Times’ best-dressed men.
He has been featured in some of the world’s leading magazines, and is known for raising questions about perfection, and giving visibility to beauty in every form. In person, he is as warm, honest, and down-to-earth as his art.
An artist is born
Raimondo Rossi was born in Perugia, in-between Rome, and Florence in the Italian countryside, to a very traditional family. They believed a career in literature or art could not earn him a living, so to satisfy his parents, he obtained a Master's degree in mathematics.
“I thought, it’s only four years, I can do this and take care of my passion later,” he said. He admits that traveling during the summer as a child, and helping his mother to take photographs was his first introduction to the art of photography. They would travel around Italy in a caravan, and he would help her to find the best lighting and images. While his interest in fashion only developed later, Rossi says that growing up in scenic Italy may also have influenced his design style.
“Living in Italy, clean lines, arches, and beautiful buildings probably did influence my art. When I take photos or do styling, I go very minimalistic, I look for clean lines. This can be seen in old cities.” At his university, he started to see the world in a different way, and his artistic eye began to develop. After completing his degree, he helped with the family business of running driving schools, and later on, decided to delve into theatre and dance to break his routine.
In 2012 he was invited to model in a video and slowly started to get noticed. According to Rossi, the defining moment in anyone’s career is when you start to believe in yourself and you don’t care anymore about people saying “you are going to fail”, “you should have started sooner”, or “this is not your field.”
“The key moment for me was at the end of 2014 when I dressed in some couture garments for Pitti Men, one of the most important men’s clothing events in Florence. “Those days when I saw myself in GQ, Vogue, the New York Times, Men’s Health, and others, I gained confidence about my sense of style.”
“I don’t like to see tons of fashion shows or works of other photographers. We all have images inside us. We already have harmony inside us. We just have to close our eyes and see the images,” he said.
The Story behind the name
Born Raimondo Rossi, he opted for the stage name Ray Morrison, which appears on social media and some of his online portfolios. I was curious to know where the name came from.
“My nickname was Ray since I was a baby. Only my grandmother still calls me Raimondo. I wanted a stage name, and I picked Morrison after Jim Morrison because he also had a somewhat troubled and complicated life.”
Going beyond the garments
After attending a few fashion shows, Rossi needed a platform to showcase his photography, and The Style Researcher was created as his official website. “I felt that the word fashion is too shallow. It’s all about garments, and I didn’t want to associate with this. Style is more classic, it goes deeper than fashion. I started to take photos backstage to tell those stories, giving a different point of view that was more interesting. So, I decided on the word researcher which was more scientific. Style is not just about how you look, it’s what you have inside,” he said.
Before long Rossi was being invited to fashion shows in Italy, Paris, and LA. He was being noticed by GQ Magazine and the New York Times. He was identified as ‘the man to follow for style’ by the Swiss magazine, NZZ, and was also interviewed by Rolling Stone.
“My style is always changing. Usually, people find things that work, and they use the same style. As for me, I try to change so I can wear clothes by new designers. I think this is a message we should share. We don’t have to think that if we change, we cannot feel confident. I like to take risks but in respect of my inner harmony. I wear different colors. I want to show that we don’t have to belong to anyone, any designer, or any level or stereotype.”
Despite this, Rossi has undoubtedly been influenced and inspired by some of his peers in fashion. He feels drawn to designers in Asia because they use clean lines. One of his favorite Asian labels is Juun J. From the international legends, Rossi has a deep admiration for Alexander McQueen, whom he says connected with his emotions, and expressed these in his designs.
“I like to think that our best friend is our mirror. We must trust our eyes. We can use garments from our grandparents and mix them with something new, avant-garde, or African. For example, I recently saw beautiful African prints and designs in Florence. I’ve always loved the colors of Ghanaian Kente cloth and got some stunning photos backstage. If you watch YouTube videos or fashion shows, it will confuse your mind. When it comes to styling, don’t just copy what you see because it may not fit with your body and your face. Trust yourself.”
In 2017 Rossi was featured on the cover of GQ China, wearing a yellow mantle over a black Japanese-style coat, and a purple Borsalino hat to the Milan Fashion Week. It was one of his model examples of risk-taking. “In Italy, we have two major fashion shows, one in Milan, which is usually very modern, and one in Florence, which is more classic. When I wore this outfit, I was going to the Milan fashion show and decided to take a risk. I knew it was unconventional because it was almost like the Pope’s style, and the mantle is a very old men’s garment, but I liked the look and the colors. A photographer spotted me and decided to do a photoshoot. They loved it.”
His fearless, yet well-constructed style caught the attention of American rapper Cryptic Wisdom. They had both been following each other on social media and Cryptic reached out to Rossi to style one of his videos. “Life gives you these little things, you know. You follow people on social media, then you find in your inbox a message from someone you admire, and who admires you too. It’s confirmation that you are doing the right thing,” he said.
Pushing boundaries, challenging norms
As an artist, and even in his personal life, Rossi has come a long way. From battling inner conflict in his younger days to putting his creativity on hold to please his family, to being bullied at school, he has now burst forward with confidence and is going so far as to try and change stereotypes in the fashion world.
“In photography, it’s hard, because I show backstage portraits. I don’t hide flaws and I don’t Photoshop, so they are strong. Magazines are now portraying cover models with Down’s Syndrome, but this is still fake. This is a moment to show diversity, but I feel that it is still something done for money – it’s not real. This is why I keep pushing to take photos in a real way. It doesn’t have to be clean. A plus-size model doesn’t have to be a celebrity. At fashion shows, I take pictures that tell the stories of models. Sometimes they are waiting for the bus to go home, or maybe they have to go to school. Mainstream does not show these things. I want to break these stereotypes. Fashion doesn’t have to be super perfect.
“A few years ago, I was backstage, and the director of a big brand was there. He wanted to know what I was doing. I said I was doing an editorial, and conducting emotional research. He started to laugh at me, saying there was no such thing in fashion. Now, after six years my work has been appreciated. I would love to know his views of my work now. There is more intimacy and humanity in what I do.”
During COVID-19, Rossi has been working from home, but his plans include doing a collection of portrait photos for an art gallery and photographing a new collection by a UK designer. He also hopes to attend more upcoming shows once things are safer. He lives between Italy and LA but prefers warmer climates.
To young fashion or photography hopefuls, he has this advice: “Whether you want to design clothes, do photography or be a stylist, don’t fill your mind with images. Listen to yourself and try to express what you have inside. If you copy someone else, you cannot have a long career or success because it’s not authentic. Do something that is completely expressing you, and don’t listen to negative people. Believe and try. It’s important to have positive people around you.”
As we wait in anticipation to see what he will do next, and as he waits for the industry to rev its engines into 2021, Rossi will be chilling with his two sons, giving their friends styling tips. His photojournalism galleries can be seen on Vogue.it.
— Photos by Alptekin Top, Giovambattista Latorella, Erina Amari Designer Lin Chen (Academy of Belle Arti, Rome) Shot on location in Perugia, Cortona