The skater and model joins Document to discuss the importance of community, his upcoming projects with Chocolate Skateboards, and finding inspiration in family
Carlisle Aikens, pro skateboarder and new face in fashion, has fallen into place since living in New York. It’s not his first long-distance move: From growing up in Chicago to living in LA, Aikens has navigated each new city with a strong commitment to community. “I’ve met so many of my friends that I consider family through skating,” he says—and since going pro for Chocolate Skateboards, Aikens has only continued to establish himself in the New York scene.
Aikens attributes much of his inspiration to his mom Toni Shelton, who he describes as “a legend.” He’s now following in her footsteps by entering the modeling world with NEXT Management. After a day spent running around the city, Aikens took a break to chat with Document about how his life has changed, his favorite moments in fashion, and why the people you surround yourself with can make any place feel like home.
Syd Walker: How has your life changed since moving to New York?
Carlisle Aikens: Life has changed dramatically, to say the least. I think [moving to New York] really influenced where I’m at in life right now, both in the skating world and [in terms of] my growth as a person. I’ve been coming to New York since I was a kid, so I knew I always wanted to live here.
Syd: Can you speak a bit on community, and how skating has allowed you to find friendships beyond where you are living?
Carlisle: I think the skating community has become very accepting of whoever wants to try it. We all know how hard it is, so it’s a respect thing. Social media is one of the biggest outlets for us to show off our skateboarding, not only to our friends but around the world. I’ve met so many of my friends that I consider family through skating. To have love come from all over the world is the most flattering and humbling thing.
Syd: You turned pro towards the end of last year. What’s it been like?
Carlisle: It’s been an uphill roller coaster. Turning pro has always been a dream of mine, since I started. It’s insane, [and working with] one of the most iconic skateboarding brands in the world, Chocolate Skateboards, is nuts. It’s been lovely—the love and the hate [laughs]. I appreciate it all. Mostly love, though!
Syd: How’d you decide that your mom would be the graphic for your latest deck?
Carlisle: I pitched it to Sam Smyth and Rick Howard a couple of years ago, before I was even pro. I just thought it would be a cool series. They brought the idea up again. Putting my mom on a skateboard has always been in my head, since I started. I wouldn’t be who I am without her. That photo on the board is actually from her modeling days. She was signed with Ford Models in the ’90s. She was a Budweiser girl.
Syd: Are there any commonalities between Chicago, LA, and New York? Have you found a sense of home in each city?
Carlisle: I think it’s just the people I have in each city that make them all feel like home. Chicago is where I was born, so that will always be home. New York always has been, as well—even more so when I moved here. LA is ’ight [laughs].
Syd: What’s your favorite spot in New York?
Carlisle: It changes so much. But right now, we’re hanging out in the East Village a lot. We have this spot we go to called HQ. It’s not actually called that, but, you know—I guess I’m gatekeeping it.
Syd: You recently got signed to NEXT. What’s it been like, entering the fashion space? Any initial impressions?
Carlisle: It’s been cool and new-ish. I’ve kind of always been in the modeling world. Like I said, my mom was with Ford, so all of my siblings just naturally did modeling. NEXT is great, though. It was intimidating at first, but they’re really good at making sure you are comfortable. It’s family vibes over there.
Syd: Have you always wanted to model?
Carlisle: No, not at all. Getting signed to NEXT just kind of happened. A friend referred me, and here we are.
Syd: Do you have a favorite moment in fashion?
Carlisle: I’m really new to the fashion world. I think the way Virgil [Abloh] came up is super inspiring. Everything he did, and how he paved the way for so many, is beautiful. Especially being Black in the industry. Off-White honoring him in Miami, his last show… That was beautiful. I really like what Thom Browne is doing, as well. It’s all new to me, so I’m just taking it in. Maybe I’ll have more of a solid answer in a couple of years [laughs].
Syd: Best album of all time?
Carlisle: Wasteland by Brent Faiyaz.
Syd: I’ve recently seen some of your photographic work. Is it a personal practice, or do you have bigger plans for your images?
Carlisle: It’s just a way for me to capture life, and have something physical of all the memories. I encourage everyone to take photos, whether it’s an iPhone or with a traditional camera. I plan on doing [an exhibition] in the near future, and I’m working on a book!
Syd: What do you like photographing most?
Carlisle: I like shooting everything. Vague-ass answer, but yeah. There’s so much cool shit going on all the time, it’s nice to have a point-and-shoot on me at all times.
Syd: What’s your greatest source of inspiration?
Carlisle: My mom, honestly. She’s famous for throwing house music parties in Chicago, modeling, and she even owns her own store. Her name is Toni Shelton—Google her, she’s a legend.
Syd: What’s next for you?
Carlisle: I’m working on a couple of different projects right now, including one with Adidas that should be coming out at the beginning of next year. The music for that is from Brent Faiyaz, so it’s gonna be a sick one. I’m doing a video with BADBADNOTGOOD, for my good homie Sagan Lockhart. With skateboarding, I’m always busy. Modeling-wise, I don’t know, I’m trying to get some covers… GQ, Vogue, all that shit [laughs]. I’m also working on a bunch of cool things that I can’t speak too much on, but it’s gonna be lovely, and I’m looking forward to the future.