Last summer, we lugged it to the Pacific Northwest to document the Portlanders whose style is their story. We've already shared with you Mariah Makalapua, the jewelry designer whose soul is as worldly and free as her loose-fitting tanks and floor-length skirts. Now, we bring you the bananas journey of Iraq-Afghanistan war veteran Aaron Montaigne, who describes his style as "Gucci goth," not because he is monetarily rich or alienated spiritually, but because of the emotional wealth and comfort with darkness that he's acquired from having been to hell and back.
Forced to take ballet with his twin brother by his dancer mom, Aaron was "traumatized" by being referred to as the "ballet boys" in their see-through black tights. By the time he was a in high school, he discovered rebellion in the form of Vivienne Westwood and the authentic punks "who weren't afraid to look weird and cool with creepers and earrings." Soon, the 80s Tom Ford adherent was hanging with Yeah Yeah Yeahs kids and forming bands with Bad Seeds' members. But the partying, music, and drugs began to overwhelm the man whose been "married more times than Elizabeth Taylor." And this is when Aaron's story gets crazy.
Aching for adventure with "danger," control over his 20s self-centeredness, and propelled by one of his idols, Lawrence of Arabia, a year after 9/11, Aaron joined the army. Kissing the rock-n-roll NYC-SF lifestyle goodbye, he practiced tossing grenades and shooting machine guns with an infantry where his voluminous tattoos made him instantly popular with the higher ups. As a member of the 10th Mountain Division -- whose "rad fashion" consists of traditional green-and-brown uniforms, berets, and jump boots that must be shined a certain way -- the "hella patriot" fought for Fallujah in Iraq and dodged bullets 24/7 in Afghanistan. As Aaron says, "War makes you realize that it's hard to be born and easy to die."
We could never fathom killing a human being. But Aaron has. That this man -- who uses the same tailor as Nick Cave and who cries during puppy commercials -- has taken multiple lives, sheds light on what it's like to fight for your life and your country: "If there’s any way through my art or music that I can convince people of the power, magic, and romance in this fucked up democracy that we live in, that would be a good goal." For some REAL perspective, watch the Russian gothic gangster tell all.
Photographed, shot, and interviewed by Elisa & Lily
Video edited by Tony Fisher
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