Blake Gray resembles a new breed of creatives that’s been taking the internet by storm in recent years. The influencer originally rose to prominence in the early days of Instagram, before his hugely popular content on Tiktok helped him explode to millions of viewers across the world.
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Photography and Fashion: Edwin J Ortega
Grooming: Elie Maalouf
Cinematography: Aramis Duran
Words: Jake Wright
Blake Gray resembles a new breed of creatives that’s been taking the internet by storm in recent years. The influencer originally rose to prominence in the early days of Instagram, before his hugely popular content on Tiktok helped him explode to millions of viewers across the world. Now he’s best known for his modeling work, recently fronting Ralph Lauren’s ‘Romance’ fragrance campaign. However, his endeavors don’t just end there, now a regular at fashion week, gracing the cities of Milan, New York, and Paris, alongside ventures to Coachella, Blake is one of the most relevant creatives on the internet right now.
The essence of an influencer isn’t a new one, celebrities had been subtly taking on the role for years, but the prolific nature of Instagram and TikTok unearthed a sea of opportunities that quickly turned into a phenomenon. Blake grew up in a small town in Texas, a world away from LA, where he’s based now, and the very thought of honing such a career was non-existent. In fact, his dreams aligned with many teenage boys growing up – in the world of sports: “I played baseball and football growing up, and I honestly just thought I was going to be a professional baseball player one day.” He proclaims, “That's what my goals were and then I ended up quitting baseball for social media.”
Rather ironically, Blake was pretty late to the party when it came to social media. Originally, he had absolutely no interest in Twitter and Instagram, which back then were still years prior to peaking and very few expected the platforms to have such a cultural impact. Then, around the age of 15, Blake finally caved to endless pressure from his friends, who all believed it was the future. Such friendships certainly proved their worth, and things quickly began to happen. “I remember I grew like 200 followers in a day, and I felt pretty cool about myself. I was like, ‘Oh, this is dope having followers. This is nice. Like, let me see if I can get some more followers.’” Blake explains, “And I started posting videos, and I had a viral video and it kind of led me to leave school and focus on homeschool and then I started traveling.”
Soon after, Blake swapped Texas for California, moving into a content house in LA. Living with four fellow influencers, he described the experience as “Just working out every morning and then make a bunch of content in the afternoon.” Which sounds like the proverbial definition of living your best life. However, such a creative environment served Blake wonders, opening his eyes to a wide range of visually stimulating material that kept his own uploads fresh and engaging.
Much of that content arrived via the app, Musical.ly, the former rendition of TikTok. It was on the platform that Blake could reveal his true personality, and through such an honest portrayal, thousands realized just how lovable the digital creator was. What was obvious from the offset was a lack of any sense of an ego, and the influencer quickly became known for his comical lip syncs. Although, in hindsight, his early material does somewhat baffle him. “I look back on a lot of my videos and I'm like, ‘Huh, what was I doing?’ That's a little weird and cringy.” Blake laughs, “But I owe it my success, I’ll say. When Tik Tok became a thing, I started doing more dances and you know, making up my own trends. And I guess there was a little bit of lip singing. But I feel like it was more focused on dancing.”
However, when Musical.ly shut down in 2018, Blake stepped back from making such content and took some time to recalibrate. In the time that followed, TikTok stepped into the void that Musical.ly’s closure had left. At the time, no one quite knew what to expect from the new platform, and many content creators that had felt so at home at the previous platform kept TikTok at arm’s length, Blake included, as he explains: “I stopped posting for like a year and a half, two years because I honestly didn't think Tik Tok was going to be as big as it is today.” Then, in 2020, the world was hit by a worldwide pandemic, and whilst most of us were stuck indoors, bored senseless, millions across the world turned to TikTok to escape such misery. Blake was no different, making the impromptu decision to start making content again. Given his already huge reach, his videos reached millions and propelled his profile to a whole new level. “I was like, alright, quarantine just started.” He describes, “Let me just make some videos on this app called TikTok, you know, I'm bored in my home all day, let's just give it a shot.”
Blake’s decision to give the app a chance at that exact time was the perfect example of fortuitous timing, and he certainly didn’t expect it to have had such a massive impact in such a short space of time. During my time chatting with Blake, I realized that he trusts his gut when it comes to making decisions and taking chances. It’s something that he certainly agrees with, “There’s something about not knowing what you're going to do in the next 20 years that kind of fascinated me a little bit because I'm very spontaneous.” That exact mindset was the key behind his career kickstarting. His prospects looked incredibly promising in the college sports world, and yet he gave it up to chase the unknown because he had a feeling it was the future. But such a decision led to a backlash, as Blake describes: “A lot of people from my hometown where I grew up, they kind of bullied me about it a little bit, just because of it's because it was so new. And everybody was like, ‘What are you doing? Like, you know, you're playing baseball, and you're going to give it up just for social media, what are you going to do in 10 years or 20 years?’”
Given the aspect of the unknown that initially came with social media, you can envision a sense of shock to such a decision, but to go one step further and bully someone is a toxic, and very much unwarranted reaction. To Blake’s credit, he didn’t let those people falter his mindset despite the potential to dent his confidence and self-esteem. In the time since he’s realized that those doubters have empowered him on his journey to success. “Obviously, it hurt my feelings a lot. But as I grew older, I realized, you know, it kind of made me who I am today.” Blake remarks, “And a lot of these people that used to bully me are now trying to hit me up and befriend me. You know, it's kind of funny how the tables have turned a little bit. But I don't I don't pay any of those people any attention.”
In February, Blake proved any of those initial doubters wrong when he fronted Ralph Lauren’s ‘Romance’ fragrance campaign. It was a moment that really highlighted how far his profile has grown over the last two years and was evidence that some of the world's biggest brands look to Blake for their commercial success. On the experience, he proclaims: “Polo was my first campaign, and it was actually one of the coolest things I've ever done.” Appearing alongside his long-term partner Amelie Zilber, Blake encapsulated a brand that’s embracing the future and a swathe of new customers that come with it. For the influencer, being asked and recognized to do such a gig meant a great deal, particularly given his history with the brand. “That was like a dream come true of mine because growing up I was always very preppy wearing my polo you know.” Blake states, “The Polo khakis - pretty much everybody in my school would wear a polo, and the fact that I could be one of the faces of the brand was really cool for me.”
Such an experience also saw the influencer continue his journey into the fashion world, after numerous influential appearances at fashion weeks across Europe. Although Blake’s front row appearances at the shows of renowned brands Fendi and Prada drew attention. Initially, questions arose online regarding his qualifications to be there, but since, many have realized the power the position of an influencer now holds.
Blake is no different from celebrities that grace the same seats, in fact, his content likely draws in more engagements, so his position is certainly warranted. But the life of an influencer isn’t quite as glamorous as it seems during these events, and he certainly worked up a sweat. “Fashion Week is crazy.” Blake proclaims, “I was not expecting it to be so crazy you know I'm changing in the car. I had to do like six outfit changes in one night for Art Basel and man that was something you know, we would go to one event, leave change in the car and go to another event and we did that six times that night. I was exhausted, but it was fun.”
As Blake stated earlier in reference to Ralph Lauren, fashion has always meant something special to him. What’s now followed in his career, has seen him gain access to the upper echelons of luxury brands. Clothing that was always out of reach in the influencer’s younger years is now a frequent part of his professional life. It’s a sign of just how far he’s come, and in many ways, it’s been a real eye-opener to the unique aspects each high-end brand incorporates which makes them so special. “Even the fact that I'm wearing some of these clothes as I've only dreamed about wearing these clothes.” Blake states, “You know, wearing Prada, wearing very, very high fashion Louis Vuitton, all these different brands that when I was growing up, I wasn't able to afford, or wear, or I would only just see in stores. Now that I'm able to wear these clothes, it's really something.”
Such endeavors in recent years have built a creative foundation that Blake plans to use as a steppingstone, with his eyes now firmly on his next quest - the acting world. What’s been a dream for many years is now showing signs of becoming a reality, with the influencer undertaking acting classes throughout the year to help refine his craft. Already auditioning for roles, Blake is proving yet again to be a fast learner, honing an innate ability to comfortably step into any given situation. But such a talent has been refined through a desire to keep moving forward, which hasn’t always come easy. “You grow from the uncomfortable situations. There were times in my past where I wouldn’t do certain things because I would just feel so uncomfortable with it.” He explains, “Now, when I get an uncomfortable opportunity, like, say, acting classes, for example, I have to be so vulnerable, and it's very uncomfortable. But after I do it, I feel so good about myself. I'm like, ‘Wow, I did it. It wasn't that bad at all.’”
Blake’s urge to leave his comfort zone struck me as a powerful mindset to have. Often the fear of failing at something can hold us back, but he views that with a sense of defiance. Perhaps that comes from his early experience in Baseball and the competitive nature that comes with sports. In fact, he draws a comparison to such experiences with golf, a sport he’s been getting into a lot more now in LA, and he feels it shares a common ground with the acting world. “You can never just be the best at it. There's always something to improve. Just like golf, you can hit amazing, good shots, and then you can just hit that one bad shot, you're like, ‘Oh, okay.’ Sounds weird. But that's the way I look.” Blake proclaims, “You're always improving. That's what's cool about it because it's always a challenge.”
Now he embraces such an approach to his everyday life, and firmly envisions a career in the acting world as his long-term goal. As such, he now looks at films in a total manner. Currently, he’s engrossed in the Marvel world, watching the entire series in order, and he’s utterly fascinated by the fantasy world that they’ve created. Blake’s certainly taken inspiration along the way, citing the likes of Thor and Ironman as truly unique creative figures, and it really got the influencer thinking about what his dream role would look like. “I would love to be a superhero.” He energetically declares, “I think the cool thing about superheroes is the options for a superhero, they're endless, you know, you can be any superhero you want. I don't know what mine would be, I would definitely want to be able to fly in one of the movies.”
Such a step toward a personal dream marks Blake’s mental progress and particularly his self-esteem. Sure enough, those same people back home who lambasted him for deciding to venture into social media would have ridiculed him in the same manner about entering the acting industry, but none of that matters anymore. Much of that personal growth originated in his leap into the life of an influencer, and the act of constantly socializing with people you’d never met before made Blake incredibly adaptable. Now he’s embracing where he is in life and looking back at his journey in recent years with a sense of pride. “I think in the classes and going to events, my confidence has gone up a lot.” Blake remarks, “Because when you take acting classes, you have to be vulnerable, you pretty much can't care what the other people think. You just kind of have to put yourself all out there. And if you mess up, you just laugh at it.”
Despite the many years Blake has spent in the limelight, he still has more than just a few pinch-yourself moments. Mostly, those experiences stem from being noticed by the public in day-to-day life. With so many millions engaging with social media platforms, the line between internet influencers and celebrities has been blurred, certainly more so now than when Blake started making content. It’s a stark reminder of just how far his content reaches, and the cultural impact it has. “I feel like the most surreal moment was going out and even just like going to McDonald's and the whole line knows who I am, that was really weird.” He states, “Even going to the airport and traveling, a lot of people come up to me. It's always blown my mind that I can post a photo and it can reach millions of people and all these people know who I am. I think that’s very surreal.”
However, those moments also serve as a reminder of the responsibility that comes with being in such a position. Blake has long realized that internet figures are modern-day role models for many aspiring content creators. Whether it’s the brands he chooses to work with, the kind of videos he produces, or the statements he makes, everything Blake does has an impact. But the influencer takes pride in who he is, and the morals he hones, although I did have to ask – is there a feeling of pressure that comes with such responsibility? “I would say so. I mean, I have so much influence, and I can post anything.” He proclaims, “You definitely have to be careful about what you post about what you say. But I feel like overall, I’m a good guy. But there definitely is a lot of pressure.”
Those rare, impromptu meetings with fans have gone a long way in helping Blake overcome the unregulated nature of social media. Sadly, the internet can feel a bit like a toxic wasteland at times, where trolls can freely comment rather horrific remarks. He’s certainly had his fair share of knocks from keyboard warriors, particularly early on, but the unbridled love he’s experienced from his fans has made him see things in a different light. “There's always going to be haters. You know, when I first started out, I would see a bunch of hate comments, and it would really get to me. And I would feel very sad.” Blake explains, “I'd kind of be shy about it. And I wouldn't really tell anybody how I was feeling about it. But now I'll see a hate comment. I'll just laugh at it. I think it's just about getting older and growing up and not really caring.”
During my time with Blake, what struck me above all was his sense of humility. Perhaps for a 21-year-old influencer with over 5 million people watching his every move, I expected at least a tinge of an ego, but it was quite the opposite. It was clear that he never anticipated such a level of success, and by simply staying true to himself, he carved a lane in which he could really spread a sense of joy to his viewers. His initial leap into social media was undoubtedly brave, given the opportunity of a career in sports, but such a gamble has paid off immensely. Above all, Blake’s brand is one of an exceptionally likable soul who has more than proven his worth to some of the world’s leading labels, and you’d certainly expect him to do much of the same in the acting industry. Who knows, you might well see Blake gracing cinema screens sooner than you might expect.