Interview by Jana Letonja @janaletonja

Matthew Cancel has a resume that belies his age. After working in PR for years, he started his own PR agency Cancel Communications in 2021. He is working with a broad range of talent, from influencers, nightlife legends, pop stars, a fashion photographer and more, which shows his position on the cusp of both the Millennial and Gen Z age brackets. For an editorial collaboration with us, Matthew is being seen in a new role, as a model and creative director.


Matthew, how and why did you come up with the idea of an editorial of all LGBTQ-owned brands, inclusive of Black-owned queer brands, women’s owned queer brands and Latinx-owned queer brands?

The idea started around May, right before Pride. Each year during Pride, we have an influx of allyship and queer visibility, but with the current state of politics we need that support 365 days a year. The queer community is currently under attack and it’s crucial for our community and our allies to find ways to highlight queer excellence, queer joy and queer talent year-round. The policies being passed in some states are trying to make trans and queer people non-existent. It’s terrifying. Through visibility and representation, we’re able to fight back and say “No, you do not have the right to erase, discriminate against or disrespect us.” 

When I thought of what my contribution could be to this mission, I didn’t only look within, but at the network of incredible queer talent around me, and slowly, this idea was born. I thought “Why hasn’t there been a well-produced editorial only utilizing queer brands and queer talent? And why can’t this type of project be launched outside of June?” I’m so excited to have been able to bring this project to life with some of the biggest emerging and established queer designers such as Telfar, LUAR, Eckhaus Latta, Tanner Fletcher, Patrick Church, Sean & Val, ph new york, Bowery Social Club and KVRT STVFF. It’s especially exciting to launch this during a cultural moment like NYFW. 

We can witness a lack of male model diversity within the industry. How does this editorial aim to start a conversation about this?

I started my career in the fashion industry almost 10 years ago. At the time, I got my start by helping in showrooms, working any job I could get at NYFW and assisting with model castings.  At the time, groundbreaking models like Ashley Graham, Teddy Quinlivan, Winnie Harlow, Aaron Rose Philip and more were breaking through, and eventually, we would see models like Paloma Elsesser and Precious Lee step onto the scene and dominate. While runways, editorials and campaigns were slowly becoming so beautifully diverse in terms of size, ability, ethnicity, gender and sexuality, this only applied to women’s modeling. 

In the past 10 years, we’ve seen little to no diversity within the male modeling category. Every runway, campaign or editorial featuring a male model usually highlights someone white, CIS, 5’11 or taller and/or someone incredibly thin and fit. It’s unfortunate that 10 years later, we’re still in the same position. 

Modeling is something I always wanted to do, but never felt confident enough to pursue, mostly because the visibility just doesn’t exist for male models. That’s what compelled me to give this a shot. As a child walking past campaigns in mall windows and seeing the covers of GQ and Esquire, I never saw myself when I looked at these men. I only ever encountered ripped, thin, tall, white men when I was presented with the male beauty standard. The lack of representation led to years of eating disorders, self-depreciation, and body dysmorphia. I hope this editorial can help combat these issues and that one day, a young, short, Latino queer boy walks past a campaign and sees someone like me and thinks of himself as beautiful and never has to question himself. 

Representation in all facets of our lives is necessary, especially when it comes to the messaging/marketing of what we put on our bodies every single day.  Everyone deserves to feel beautiful and seen.

jeans LUAR
necklace (long) CAILEY ELLE JEWELRY

Why is it important in general to break boundaries and step out of comfort zones in fashion?

Everyone deserves to have clothing options that make them feel comfortable. Realistically, the fashion industry impacts all of our daily lives, whether or not we wear designer clothes. The high fashion brands are the ones breaking ground and setting the trends that eventually end up being copied by fast fashion brands. Fashion editorials and campaigns are the ones setting the standard for photography that’s copied by influencers and consumers on platforms like TikTok and Instagram. As hard as you may try, there really isn’t a way to break away from the fashion industry completely. If you wear clothes, the fashion industry has influenced you in some capacity.

Shopping for clothes can be a very stressful and vulnerable experience for young people, especially if you don’t fall within the ‘beauty norm’. As a teenager, something as simple as shopping for a T-shirt was quite stressful. Fast fashion brands are mass-produced to fit tall, skinny boys. l was too husky for a small, but a size medium came down to my knees. I never felt like brands were catering to my body type. I didn’t feel seen and the marketing assets of tall, thin men all around these stores didn’t help. Because I didn’t feel represented or a part of the conversion, I often thought that ‘someone like me’ wasn’t worthy of feeling beautiful or attractive. Throughout adolescence, I was insecure about my height, my ethnicity, my queerness and my body type. All of these insecurities came from the lack of representation within fashion, entertainment and pop culture. As an adult and influential member of the fashion and media industries, I’m consistently trying to ensure that younger generations never experience this lack of representation. 

How did you feel in the new role for this editorial, where we can see you as a model?

I’m excited. I hope this starts an important conversation and a new part of my career. Before this editorial, I did a handful of test shots with some brilliant photographers and I love the different versions of myself that come alive through these images. Every image feels like a different story and character. 

Through my work within the fashion industry, I’ve been able to personally experience the rise of new iconic models that broke boundaries and shook up the norm. Models like Gigi and Bella Hadid, Vittoria, Yves Mathieu, Gabbriette, Shaun Ross, Barbara Palvin, Lineisy Montero, Duckie Thot and more. Their discipline, work ethic and determination inspired me then and now. 

I know some people will be able to relate to this editorial and say “Finally!”, but I also know there will be those who say “Who does he think he is? He’s only 5’7. He can’t be a model”. To those I say “You are quite literally the reason why I feel compelled to do this”. 

sweater TELFAR

You work as a publicist and have started your own PR agency Cancel Communications 2 years ago. Where are you currently standing, 2 years after embarking on your own business path?

I can’t believe it’s already been two years. It feels like 2 minutes and 20 years at the same time. I’ve learned so many important lessons within this time frame. It’s been a massive crash course on business development, finances, taxes, entrepreneurship and business sustainability. Most importantly, I’ve learned that I enjoy being an entrepreneur more than I enjoy being a publicist. In a way, this is just the beginning of the empire. 

Within these two years, in some capacity, I’ve activated around the Grammys, two seasons of the Met Gala, NYFW, The People’s Choice Awards, VidCon, Jingle Ball and The American Music Awards.  I’ve placed clients within Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, ELLE, WWD, Rolling Stone, Numero Netherlands, V magazine, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Interview Mag and many more. I’ve had the chance to work with some of my idols and the biggest names in music, fashion and entertainment. It feels good. I love what I do, but I’ve learned that over-identifying with this job, or any job I’ll have in the future, can be taxing. It’s easy to lose yourself. I used to think my occupation was my life, but I’ve started to let go of that feeling. In a way, I’m ready to have Cancel Comms and Matthew Cancel start to live as separate entities.

How did you get into PR in the first place? What attracted you about this world?

As a teen, I knew I wanted to work in entertainment, but didn’t know in what capacity. When I was applying to colleges, I wanted to be strategic with where I went and what I studied. I knew that my skills comprised of being able to command a room, reading people’s energy and predicting what a large population of people were thinking of a certain phenomenon. It was clear that PR was the route for this type of expertise. 

My rise within PR, and really within fashion, was a bit of an accident. I didn’t grow up as someone who was obsessed with fashion or really knew much about the industry before I started working in it. The first internship I was able to nab at 19 happened to be within fashion and it was off to the races from there. Taking a look back, it wasn’t so much that I wanted to work within fashion, I just wanted to work, learn and grow. And fashion happened first. Once I was interning for about a year, I realized how cutthroat PR and fashion were and how many people around me were jumping ship because they couldn’t handle the pressure. The longer I held out, the more I realized that I had the survival skills, determination and grit to make this into a long-term career. 

As I continued to climb the ranks quickly, I realized that not everyone was able to conceptualize strategy the same way I did. It was almost as if I had a third eye. I was always being told by my bosses that I was thinking too broadly, asking too many questions and not staying within my lane. But I had big ideas and solutions that the older executives weren’t able to come up with. Most people within fashion are taught to ‘fall in line’. The executives at the top are threatened and scared of being replaced by younger, smarter talent. Many people will do just that in order to keep their jobs, but I was the rebel who continuously chose to go against the grain and do things my own way. It seems to have worked out so far. 

tank LUAR
pants TELFAR

You’ve worked alongside PR legend, Kelly Cutrone. What are the most valuable lessons you learned from her?

Kelly really taught me to assert your dominance, not take shit from anyone and never let anyone project their insecurities onto you. It took me years to actually be able to enact this ideology within my life. When people are mean to you, it’s often because you’re a reflection of the things they wished they accomplished. Publicists can be seen as the punching bags within the industry. We get the brunt of the blame whenever things go wrong when in reality, there’s only so much we can control. We’re still human and despite popular opinion, we’re not all-powerful. We too have restrictions and people we need to answer to. 

Over the last year, I’ve been very careful with using the word ‘sorry’. When you apologize, you accept responsibility and too often we apologize as a courtesy or to be polite. It’s unfortunate when a client doesn’t land an opportunity they really want and it’s a huge bummer for me too. When they win, I win. But accepting all the blame in these situations can lead to a toxic cycle.

Cancel Communications is constantly aiming to support women, the queer community and POC, throughout all industries. Why is this something you see lacking on the market?

Too often, we see marketing and entertainment executives trying to replicate something that’s already successful and remain risk-averse. Additionally, within the worlds of marketing, PR and advertising, brands and agencies will claim to be inclusive, thoughtful and diverse with their projects, but don’t actually know what those words mean and how to effectively reach the communities they’re looking to speak to. As a queer, Latinx, 20-something, I can smell performance activism from a mile away.

Through my work with Cancel Comms, I love challenging brands and having difficult conversations because they’re important to making real progress and producing thoughtful work. I often ask “How does this actually help the community you’re looking to highlight? Is this a quick activation just to seem inclusive for a cultural moment? How can we authentically work with this community in a way that elevates them, their visibility and their careers?” While it’s important to show up for cultural moments such as Pride Month, Black History Month or Women’s History Month, it’s also important to advocate for these communities 365 days a year because they exist 365 days a year. 


What are the plans for the future of your agency?

I want to continue working with groundbreaking and culturally relevant brands and talent. I’m such a big fan and supporter of all the clients we work with. Sustainable growth is the most important pillar of the agency. I only like to work with about 10 – 15 clients at a time. At my former agencies, we were encouraged to sign as many clients as possible, whether or not we believed in that client’s vision. More was more and every agency was fighting to be the ‘biggest’ in terms of staff and clients, but didn’t focus enough on the quality of work. Cancel Comms doesn’t operate that way. We love being able to chat with clients weekly, strategize with them regularly and grow with their careers. I don’t want anyone to ever feel like they’re one out of a roster of 500 and that their money, time and investment are going to waste. 

In addition to public relations, we’ve also stepped into influencer marketing, photo production, event strategyand creative direction. The influencer economy is growing at a rapid pace and is only going to continue to grow in 2024, especially with actors stepping away from press opportunities during the SAG-AFTRA strike. We’re about to consume social media content the same way we did during the pandemic since original programming on streaming platforms will soon be non-existent. Creator’s profiles are about to be a huge ad space market for every major brand. 

When it comes to event strategy, so many brands and talent want to produce events, but don’t know where to start and what the return on investment will be. My strategy behind event production is to have an intention. Why are we doing this event and what are we looking to get out of it? Once we can align that, we can reverse-engineer the rest. 

In terms of photography production, I want to continue producing editorials like the one you’re seeing and reading about right now. This summer I co-produced a Harper’s Bazaar Vietnam cover featuring my good friend Sixtine Rouyre and client Vincenzo Dimino. It came out stunning. I also produced and staffed this entire shoot myself and I would love to help others do the same. I love to keep finding new ways to work with my network of publications,  photographers, stylists, designers, hair artists and makeup artists. 

speedo SEAN & VAL

Can you share with us what are some of your other passions and aspirations outside of business?

I have dozens of ideas for new businesses in all different industries, but I don’t really like to announce things before they’re ready. For example, I wouldn’t call myself a singer until there was a mastered, well-charting song on Spotify, and I wouldn’t call myself an app developer until there was an in-demand app ready to be launched on Apple Store. 

With that said, after the debut of this editorial, I’m eager and ready to add ‘model’ to my resume. I couldn’t be more honored and grateful to have Numero Netherlands partner with me on this and to launch my first editorial with you. I’m forever appreciative. 

It’ll be incredibly hard to pull away, even saying this makes me emotional, but Cancel Comms is starting to feel like a teenager getting ready for college. I’ve nourished, grown and developed it into a well-oiled machine that may be ready to exist without me. Not in the immediate future, but eventually. 

talent MATTHEW CANCEL @matthewcancel
photographer DEVIN KASPARIAN @devinkasparian
photography assistant ZACHARY OLOWNICKI @zacharyolewnicki
stylist JASMINE FONTAINA @jasminefontaina
styling assistant LEILT DEMISSIE @leiltttt
hair, makeup & grooming STEVIE BARBIERI @stevie.barbieri
production assistants TREY SULLIVAN & JACK RYAN @treyr5 @jackkryan22
editor TIMI LETONJA @timiletonja