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He had been bubbling under as an actor since 2013, but it was only early this year that Ashton Sanders’ breakout role came along. When Awards Season graced us in January, Barry Jenkins’ ‘Moonlight’ made history by becoming the first film with an all-black cast, the first LGBT film, and the second lowest-grossing film domestically to win the Best Picture award. Little did we know that we had a rising star in 21-year old Sanders who played ‘Chiron the teenager’, who juggled being bullied by his classmates and figuring out his relationship with his friend Kevin. “’Moonlight’ is almost your classic high school love story — it just takes gender out of it,” he told Teen Vogue. “People carry around all these social masks to fit in. The black, white, Latino [communities] all do it. But Chiron didn’t have the energy to put anything on — he was drained because of his circumstances at home.”

Born in Los Angeles, Sanders was raised by a fashion designer father while his mother, struggling with drug addiction, was not always on the scene. It’s pretty obvious where his love for fashion comes from, “My dad is a fashion designer, so it runs in my blood,” he told Vanity Fair after the publication named him the Secret Style Hero of Awards Season. The budding style icon whose nonchalant style and model-esque appeal has made him a fashion rising star lists Andre 3000 as his style icon. “André is just the G.O.A.T. of style for me. He’s really rad. Everything that he does is really free form and just him, which is what I like about him. I’m very much of an individual myself, and I do things sometimes that the next person probably won’t, or wouldn’t do because they’re not me. So André is just very much an individual . . . major inspiration, major inspiration,” he told Vanity.

His individuality is what has landed him magazine covers and front row seats at New York Fashion Week events, such as the highly coveted Calvin Klein by Raf Simons show. This attribute was also demonstrated when the artist who wants “nothing to do with the façade that is Hollywood” showed up to fashion’s biggest night, the Met Gala with new pal, Raf Simons. The two have been tight buddies following the groundbreaking collaboration which saw Calvin Klein under the leadership of Simons, enlist the ‘Moonlight’ cast to star in the brand’s Spring 2017 underwear campaign. “Since the beginning, Calvin Klein’s underwear imagery has always made big statements about masculinity; the performances of these actors in ‘Moonlight’ affected us deeply and made big statements about masculinity in a different way. Somehow we wanted to bring the two together,” said Calvin Klein creative director Pieter Mulier.

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Ashton has gone on to win the Best Kiss Award with Jharrel Jerome at the MTV Movie & TV Awards for the on-screen kiss between Chiron and Kevin on ‘Moonlight’. According to The Guardian, the vibrant actor is currently filming Captive State, a post-apocalyptic alien thriller and enthuses over where he plans to take his career next: he’s started designing clothes and says he “might start a band”.

Images: Dylan Coulter/Vittorio Zunino/GQ

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