By Adrianna Elias
“Don’t be afraid to be creative. At first, I was a little scared to show myself and my style. But, when I did show who I was, I was like, okay, maybe I am doing something right.”
Jessie Bess, a junior majoring in performance and production, sought more creative outlets outside of classes. While having previous experience with headshots and smaller modeling gigs in the theater world during his younger years, he desired to rekindle that passion as an adult who had discovered his unique style. He had the experience but needed a platform.
Enter Luminescent Magazine.
Jessie discovered Luminescent through an associate turned friend who promoted a magazine spread on Instagram. Intrigued, he decided to venture back into modeling.
Founded in San Marcos, Luminescent aims to be a space where creatives unite to transform ideas and themes into singular art pieces, inspiring individuality. What sets Luminescent apart is that it is independently run by Texas State students.
Unlike other publications focused on fashion and pop culture, Luminescent operates without restrictions on content, without university funding or promotion. Despite this, the magazine has attracted attention and applications from students across campus, seeking a community with a bold presence. To delve into what happens behind the scenes, I conducted interviews with three other models for an inside perspective.
Jessie joined in the Spring of 2023, during the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ theme issue. Recounting his first shoot, themed ‘greed,’ he admitted to feeling unsure about what to wear or how to pose.
“It was the greed shoot for that issue, and they told us to dress bougie. I was like, I have all this jewelry, but what do I do?” Jessie said. He layered it all, and his distinct style caught the attention of the team.
“They put this veil behind me and had people reaching for me through it,” Jessie recalled. “I didn’t know how to pose rich.” Eventually, he embraced the awkwardness and humor, leading to a successful shoot.
“I did it to be funny,” he said. “They were like, that was good, that was good, like, oh, y’all are taking me seriously, I had an excuse to be rich that day.”
Jessie found himself featured prominently in a two-page spread, boosting his confidence. In the next semester, he encouraged his friend Bailey Benoit, a communication design sophomore, to join Luminescent.
“I literally had no idea what Luminescent was until (Jessie) joined. But I loved it. And I thought it was cool.”
Bailey’s debut was in Fall 2023. Luminescent stood out as the perfect match for her as a first-time model on campus.
“Other groups are intimidating; Luminescent was welcoming, and it’s been really comforting. They’re good at coaching people; it’s been a great first project,” she said.
Bailey emphasized how Luminescent encourages expressive individuality while working towards a greater theme. Despite many members being beginners, the confidence displayed gives the impression that everyone knows what they’re doing.
“I think that’s a cool gift to have,” she continued. “You may be a beginner, but it never looks like you don’t know what you’re doing. Carrying that confidence is such a gift.”
This begs the question: How many people are in Luminescent?
Behind the Folded Pages
In a previous interview for this Luminescent series, I spoke to the Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Mya Leffler, and President Brian Willery, providing insights from the executives steering the magazine. We delved into Luminescent’ s history, its essence, and the future it envisions. Now, let’s do some quick math.
Executives: Brian, Ivan, Mya, and Makayla.
The team comprises models, photographers, videographers, stylists, graphic designers, writers, creative directors, editors, social media managers, a business team, and hair and makeup artists. In total, over 80 people, including the 20 officers and four executives, collaborated on the Fall 2023 issue.
“I’m going to be honest; there’s a lot of trial and error—we’re only in our first year,” Mya shared.
Brian echoed her sentiment, “To be transparent, there are a lot of hiccups… I feel it’s important to be honest about that, especially in this setting because it’s usually discouraged. It’s important to say, ‘yeah, we argued about stuff’ and be honest about that.”
Mya, along with Ivan, serve as co-editors, overseeing the magazine and the entire process. Mya, the founder, half-jokingly asked a friend if she should start her own zine. And she did. Approaching Brian via Instagram direct messages, she recalled, “With zero followers,” she joked.
“I thought it was so sketch, I was scared,” Brian added. “My best friend Zane got the same message—I was like, do we go? Are we gonna die? But we went, and now we’re at this table.”
“This table,” referencing the interview with me in the present, about the now well-seasoned third issue of the magazine.
Brian and Makayla Klien, the president and vice president, mostly oversee the people.
“[Mya and Ivan] are like the Anna Wintours… that’s what I like to say… and [Makayla and I] are like the Joe Biden and Kamala [Harris],” Brian explained.
In their first semester, the team had fewer than 20 people. It has grown significantly since then. Mya noted that there used to be about eight people at their meetings, but now there are 40 to 50 in attendance.
“There used to be a lot of models and not a lot of everybody else. We got a lot of applications, and now we have a lot of photographers and other media people,” Brian added.
Speaking of models, their experience with the magazine and interacting with the team has helped some of them find new perspectives on themselves and a sense of family.
“I’ve gotten to not only be in front of the camera but experience what goes on behind the camera,” Jessie said. “Seeing everybody’s creative process, and like Bailey was saying, I kind of experienced myself in a new light…it’s been very experimental.”
Isaiah Walker, an art and education sophomore, sees modeling for Luminescent as a hobby that fuels the passion he found through social media during the pandemic.
“…it was quarantine; I wanted to change and work on myself. So, I started thrifting clothes, and it kind of started from there,” he shared.
Isaiah lets his love of nature and all things beauty shine through his modeling, turning a hobby into a place where he found community.
“When they handed me their card, and I looked into Luminescent, I was like, I f*ck with this a lot more; this is more my kind of people.”
Starting to work with the magazine in August of this year, Isaiah found the transition from taking his own pictures to having someone else take them to be intimidating but rewarding.
“As I got more comfortable with the people, I was working with, it got easier; they’re really great about cheering you on and making you feel comfortable.”
He continues, “…I’ve just met a lot of cool people there. There are real gems in that [organization].”
Asked about the collaboration processes, Isaiah offered a unique perspective.
“I applied to be a model and stylist… I style myself and other people. Collaboration-wise, it’s great with other models and when it comes to photography.”
However, as a newer member in a rapidly growing organization, communication can be challenging at times.
“I’ve been told it can be overwhelming, so I understand, but sometimes there’s a disconnect. We’re a community, but sometimes it can be hard,” he said.
This echoes the executives’ discussions about the challenges of rapid growth.
“…the more people, obviously the harder it is to manage, but I think the more ideas you get from more people…I like it personally,” Mya concluded. “We go in with a plan every semester, and it doesn’t always go the way we wanted, but it still works.”
This is a universal experience across the board for many larger organizations. It can be challenging to communicate with a large team; Luminescent can find a structure to navigate easily.
Jessie spoke about his first shoot, describing how it gave him the confidence to step into himself. Other models shared stories of their favorite memories while working on the magazine.
Bailey revealed a secret from the ‘Food Fight’ shoot, set to be featured in the December 2023 issue.
“Oh my god, I have a good one,” she said. “Okay… I brought the cheese, the slices of Velveeta. I couldn’t own up to it at the time.”
She continued, “We started throwing them, and everyone started to smell so bad. I’m so sorry, it was me. I brought the stinky slices. It was hot that day. Everyone had icing on them. There was a bunch of odd foods; it was a whole thing – we had to run home,” she explained.
Isaiah concluded their interview with a story that confirmed Luminescent is truly the family they appear to be.
“This wasn’t really behind the scenes, but I was at this event called ‘Bloodbath’ one night. I know that a lot of people from Luminescent were there. And Claire grabbed me. Shout out to Claire. I love Claire,” he said.
Continuing, they said, “The band was playing, and I’m not really the type of person who goes up and dances. But I was having a lot of fun that night. So, I was like, you know, I’m gonna do everything that I may be too scared to do. So, I go up there with her; obviously, we both look great, and she just grabs me by my arm and twirls me around. It was like an Irish dance or something, so fun. It was kind of like one of those surreal, slow-motion moments—you’re with your friends, everyone’s so happy to be there. I really love her. She made my night and brought me out of my shell,” he concluded.
In the same way that Brian trusted Mya’s vision and Bailey trusted Jessie to join the magazine, I can wholeheartedly say that I see and respect the community built by Luminescent.
The community you find here is the most important thing.