Mazdack Rassi, The Mad Professor Of Milk Studios

1_MazdackRassi02_075Photographed by Winnie Au
Mazdack Rassi talks fast. A short question gets returned a thousandfold with a mile-a-second stream of expansive, inclusive, wandering, and wise talk punctuated by self-effacing chuckles and salted by a faded Iranian accent. We heard he only had a few minutes to chat — running all the various ventures connected with his multimedia beehive, Milk Studios, doesn't give him a lot of spare time. But Rassi — everyone calls him by his last name, like Morrissey — is dumping whole pages of material in our laps, and we're not about to stop him.
"I never look back, and maybe that’s my problem," he says. "I’m always looking forward. Like, I can’t even remember last year, because we do so much and I’m always looking forward." We believe him — it seems there's always a next-big-thing for Rassi. A college dropout (by his own proud admission) from suburban Illinois, Rassi landed in New York and traded working odd fashion jobs, waiting tables, and a stint at the Gap for real-estate sales. That, in turn, led to buying the Meatpacking District space that would become Milk Studios, which would become the shooting spot of choice for Manhattan-based, high-end fashion photographers. "If we didn’t do a studio, we would have probably opened a hotel," he says. "I think it was being a waiter when I was younger or the Middle Eastern thing in me. Hospitality, taking care of people — that’s always been crucial." Before we can take that in, he's rolling with his next thought. "It’s just, I never wanted to be a ‘space for rent.' I think it’s a horrible concept. I wanted to be part of making the ideas. Anyone can give a service, but very few people can be part of making the ideas."
Mission accomplished. Over the last decade, Milk has gone from being a production and events space for hire to a full-service creative beehive doing work in the print, physical, and digital domains. It's launched its own fashion week (MADE Fashion Week, specifically), film-production company (Legs), casting agency, gallery, and more. Basically, except for actually physically making clothes, Milk has become an integrated one-stop shop for building a fashion brand (we assume Rassi will be investing in some textile plants soon). "This whole thing, even today, you know," Rassi says, slowing down for a moment, "still feels temporary to me. Yeah, maybe I’m gonna get bored and move on, and go back to school." We don't believe him.
2_MazdackRassi03_067Photographed by Winnie Au
Early Graduation
“I had this fear that if I graduated from college that I’d have to have a résumé, and then I’d have to go wait in line to get a job. So, by leaving, it forced me to never have a résumé (it was never going to be good enough, anyway) and never wait in line. I had to go out there and get my own nut. It turned out to be a wonderful thing.”
Community Garden
“Today, Milk is more of a content-based creative company. We make content; we create stuff — but what’s nice is we have a real community — MADE Fashion Week particularly. It’s young and fresh and disruptive, and it doesn’t fit into the characteristic of what like, perhaps, Lincoln Center is or other fashion weeks. In the first year, we had all the designers running through the hallways, high-fiving each other. They go to each other’s shows, and there’s a sense of community, friendship, and it’s wonderful, because it was our way of saying, ‘this is how it should be,’ and it worked.”
School Ties
“There’s so many young people that work at Milk, it’s almost like a university or a college — or maybe even high school. It’s because every time you invest in young talent, it pays back a hundredfold. And we’ve mastered that, I think. These kids learn, become better, and most of our alumni work in major companies. And they all said, ‘we learned so much there.’ That’s so powerful and, you know, to teach and foster. I mean, it’s what my parents, who were professors, did their whole lives. But, I mean, there’s an irony, right? I dropped out; I don’t have a college degree. But now, I don’t feel like I dropped out.”
Talking the Talk
“We have a lot of fun, even from a branding point of view. We’re always trying to not be so serious and not be so ‘luxury.’ We’re a little bit, ‘fuck you,’ but, at the same time, we can sit down with really big designers, high-end artists, or filmmakers and be able to talk on their level.”
All In
“Milk still feels like an experiment to me. It still feels like there’s no way we should be here — that’s why I’m constantly pushing. When you don’t know how the hell you got somewhere in the first place, you develop this mentality where you feel you can risk it all again — because, really, what’s the worst that could happen?”
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