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MTV and cigarette smoke: how Demitre Sullivan learnt to break the mould

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The pianist, ballet dancer, and Zegna model speaks on his boundary-breaking career

“I always knew that it would instantly feel like home,” says Demitre Sullivan of his recent move to New York, alluding to the city’s diverse arts scene. Originally from Germany – the scent of cigarettes “shockingly” reminds him of his hometown of Bavaria – Sullivan is a classically trained pianist, dancer, and model, and one of the faces of Zegna’s new XXX fragrance range.

Joining G-K Day-Lewis and Jordun Love as an embodiment of the scent’s boundary pushing disposition, Sullivan equates breaking the mould with paving the way for future generations. So who does he admire for breaking the mould and living their actual best life? “Misty Copeland, who became the American Ballet Theater’s first African American female principal dancer in their 75 year history, which is pretty incredible to me!”

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Signed to New York’s Community – the creative management company redefining talent as catalysts; Aaron Rose Philip and Hunter Schafer are stablemates – Sullivan began dancing as a five year-old and remains wholly committed to the form that shaped him. “Doing what you love with purpose and passion, that’s when I have the most fun,” he says.

This same energy extends to music, through which he derives feelings of power, “lost in frequency through playing instruments, dancing or just listening.” While elsewhere he considers his mixed German-African-Irish background the prompt for his finding beauty in authenticity. “How you present yourself to the world and honoring the body you’re in are also important,” he notes. “I embrace all aspects of myself, because at the end of the day you want to feel as good as you look.”

Below, discover exactly how Sullivan chooses to break the mould.  

Describe authenticity in three words or less.

Demitre Sullivan: Honesty. Originality. Passion.

Which single piece of culture has most inspired how you live today?

Demitre Sullivan: MTV was so cool to me. It provided a space where music, fashion, film, dance all came together in the most exciting way. Around the age of 10/11, I would see artists like Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and Pharrell, and beg my mom to put me in dance classes so I could move like that.

When did you last feel truly inspired or in awe of a person, object or event? 

Demitre Sullivan: I am in awe everyday – of our existence, this planet, human beings and our capacity to be there for one another. Especially after this past year.   

What first led you to dance?

Demitre Sullivan: Since I was kid, I’ve always been shaking, always been moving. I remember watching movies Newsies and Chicago, seeing dancers like Misty Copeland, Roberto Bolle, and Svetlana Zhakarova and dreaming of being part of productions that beautiful. 

“One of my proudest memories will forever be being promoted to principal dancer and becoming one of the first male African American principals with the California Contemporary Ballet” – Demitre Sullivan

And what keeps you dancing? 

Demitre Sullivan: For me it will always be the tranquillity and peace that comes from being able to express myself through music. Music speaks to people in unique ways, and it’s that uniqueness that tends to keep me inspired. 

How do you break the mould?

Demitre Sullivan: I break the mould every day I walk out the door and live my most authentic self, but one of my proudest memories will forever be being promoted to principal dancer and becoming one of the first male African American principals with the California Contemporary Ballet. 

What role does scent play in your life? 

Demitre Sullivan: Scent connects us with our home, our food, nature, and the world we live in, enhancing our lives every day. You can smell a fragrance and get taken back to a different country, a different time in space, a memory with a loved one.