September 2023 cover star Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Photographed by Norman Jean Roy. Styled by Bill Mullen. Taylor-Johnson wears coat by Gucci, vintage tank, long johns and boots, available at Stock Vintage NYC.
September 2023 digital cover star Genesis Owusu. Photographed by Georges Antoni. Styled by Grant Pearce. Owusu wears jacket, $5700, top, $2900, shorts and socks, both POA, and boots, $1600, all by Dior Men; gasses, Owusu’s own.

I CAN STILL REMEMBER the day. I was all of sixteen but I had the world at my feet. It was my first day of work experience and I had chosen to shadow a criminal lawyer. Not because I was a precocious crusader for the rights of others, or even had a particular interest in the judicial system. Instead, I’d watched Legally Blonde and thought, I could do that. (And by ‘that’, I mean attend Harvard Law in the hope of embarrassing a pretentious ex. Neither of which I ended up doing.) So, channelling Reese Witherspoon in arguably her greatest role, I set off for the Big Smoke.

I arrived early, spoke confidently, shook hands with just the right amount of firmness, and managed not to say anything (too) stupid. Mission accomplished. But as I went to bed that night, my sense of pride had made way for something resembling dread: I have to do this all over again tomorrow?

The thing is, I had put so much emphasis into nailing day one that I’d failed to fully appreciate the actual task at hand. Which is to say, consistency. Turning up, day in, day out, to get the job done. As children, we’re often told the value of a first impression. Sit up straight! Look people in the eye! Firm handshake! But as I get older, I’ve realised how misleading this narrative can be. Sure, first impressions have their place, but without the substance to back them up, they’re a bit like empty promises.

This is something the personalities within this issue understand only too well. After all, the debut album, film or exhibition is often the easiest. You get to distil your life experience up to that point into a body of work that becomes your magnum opus.

It’s exhilarating and rewarding but, finally, when it’s out in the world, that same realisation comes creeping in. You better get ready to do it all over again. For some artists, their initial output represents a peak they’ll never approach again.

Genesis Owusu wasn’t going to fall into that trap. The genre-bending musician’s first album, Smiling With No Teeth, was about the most exciting debut project from an Australian musician this side of the millennium. So, how did he go about trying to replicate that success? He didn’t. Instead, he threw away the formula that made him successful in favour of trying something different, building an entirely new creative universe with his follow-up, Struggler. Some fans will like it and others won’t, but we’re willing to bet, in the long run, Owusu will have the last laugh.

Then there’s Aaron Taylor-Johnson. The British actor made a name for himself as the 18-year-old lead in 2010’s Kick Ass. From there, he’s charted a unique path through Hollywood entirely on his own terms. In each role, he’s unrecognisable, refusing to cash in on his good looks and reputation. If the rumours are to be believed, he’s soon to be rewarded with the most iconic role in cinema. (Bond, that is, not the eagerly anticipated Legally Blonde follow up.)

And so, the lesson is simple: be more like Owusu and Taylor-Johnson and less like an adolescent me. Reject predictability and embrace difference. Then wake up and do it all over again. — Christopher Riley, Esquire Australia Editor-in-Chief.

Editor’s portrait: Tristan Stefan Edouard.

The September 2023 issue of Esquire is on sale now. Buy it here.