Ian Jeffrey — the 19-year-old model and brother of social media star James Charles — is certainly making a name for himself in New York City's fashion scene. Between runway walks for Victor Li and Dirty Pineapple, a sizable portfolio of aesthetic-defining portraits and a cover shoot for Visual Tales Magazine, it's safe to say that he has successfully made his grand entrance into the industry. However, there's no doubt that the journey to that point has been filled with its fair share of challenges.
Jeffrey first stepped into the social media sphere when he was only a sophomore in high school in a series titled, "Brother & Sister," on James' YouTube channel, where the two siblings playfully banter back-and-forth about the trials and errors of life. "My brother putting me on his YouTube channel a couple of years ago has kind of allowed me an opportunity to chase my dreams," he tells PAPER. "But when I was that young, I didn't really know what I wanted to do."
Let's be honest; any Gen Zer is going to chase a seemingly perfect career as a social media influencer when the opportunity is presented to them, and that's exactly what Jeffrey did. "I was in California and I was filming YouTube videos and doing the social media thing and I was successful with it, but I was not happy at all," he admits. "I was actually extremely depressed and it was just giving me a lot of anxiety and stress. I was kind of losing myself and I felt like I lost my whole personality because of it. It got to a point where I just couldn't take it anymore."
"The whole YouTube and being known online thing isn't for me."
At age 16, Jeffrey then made the pivotal decision to give up YouTube entirely and pursue a completely different career path: modeling in NYC. Jeffrey packed his bags and flew across the country to test his luck in the fashion capital's competitive modeling market, where he's now signed to one of the industry's top agencies: IMG Models.
"The whole YouTube and being known online thing isn't for me," he says. "I realized through modeling and the fashion world that doing things I actually enjoy is much more beneficial for my mental health, but also people seem to enjoy that, as well. It's fallen into the perfect place because I've always been interested in clothing, and now it allows me to express myself through clothing and through the outfits that I put on."
Jeffrey's style evolution is a whole other feat, too. Though he's always had an interest in fashion, it's evident that the model's once stereotypical "cool-boy" wardrobe has matured into an expressive, boundary-pushing range of statement pieces. One day you'll find him wearing a full military uniform, and the next he'll be in a crop top and bell-bottoms, or perhaps '60s running shorts and a long-sleeve t-shirt. His style has become versatile and consciously random, but Jeffrey himself describes it best: "I wear what I like, and I wear what I feel."
The world took note of Jeffrey's modelesque glow-up last week when Charles posted a photo with him on Instagram for the first time in almost two and a half years — and let's just say, everyone went wild. "It was definitely a funny experience, but also very humbling in the sense that they haven't seen me in the last two and a half years," Jeffrey said of the viral post. "It's not like I've changed my look in the last two weeks just for that picture. I've looked like that for the last couple of months now. It only shows the power of social media — once that picture is posted, everyone's right back on your Instagram."
"I don't like having to feel pressured to post something in order to have my career be doing something."
Nevertheless, looking back on his decision to leave Los Angeles in pursuit of a professional modeling career, Jeffrey cherishes the purpose and meaning that his on-set life now breeds. "For me, modeling and just having something that I can look back at in the future and take inspiration from and look at videos and images of me walking down the runway, just gives me much more gratification," he says.
"Social media stresses me out," he continues. "I don't like having to feel pressured to post something in order to have my career be doing something. Everyone has a lot of struggles and problems that they deal with; social media kind of just blocks those things out and it makes it seem like everything's perfect, but it's definitely not."
So, what's next for Ian Jeffrey? Well, the model has plans to add several hyphens to his title — specifically actor, designer, and mental health advocate. "I'm currently focusing a lot on acting and I definitely want to pursue that, but my main goal eventually is to become a fashion designer and have my own shows," he says. "I would also like to work on a mental health organization where young kids and young adults that are struggling with mental health can come together and have a communal conversation to work out their problems."
Though he might not post too often, follow Ian Jeffrey's journey on Instagram to stay informed on all of his next moves.