THE LOOK: Samuelsohn suit, $1,250, Eton shirt, $275, Santoni shoes, $625, Canali necktie, $155, Edward Armah pocket square, $85, VK Nagrani socks, $40, and Martin Dingman belt, $145, all @ Hubert White; turban and mud-cloth scarf, handmade by artist Felix Hampton Brown. Styling by Jahna Peloquin, photos by Patrick Ruddy.
For the past 20 years, Minneapolis modeling agency Vision Management Group has defined itself by its diversity. The agency’s models have appeared in countless advertising and fashion campaigns, on several magazine covers, including Elle México and Bazaar Australia, and on international runways spanning New York and Paris to Singapore and Australia.
This month, the agency’s co-founder and owner Teqen (pronounced teh-ken) Zéa-Aida is shifting gears as he prepares for his second act as an art gallerist and independent consultant. Last year, he opened City Wide Artists, a gallery located on Nicollet Avenue just south of downtown Minneapolis that spotlights inner-city artists and artists of color.
“Changing careers is a bit daunting to say the least,” admits Zéa-Aida, who celebrated his 40th birthday last year. “Especially because my dirty secret is that I never went to college. I literally jumped from high school into this business—I never had to have a résumé, you know?”
In 1995, he began scouting, developing, and photographing models of color with his then–significant other, photographer Nathan Yungerberg, who had modeled in the Twin Cities in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Yungerberg says the decision to emphasize racial diversity in the agency grew out of personal experience. “I was frustrated because I always felt tokenized,” he says. “We both came from multicultural families and we wanted to create a company that matched our upbringing.”
The Look: Engineered Garments parka, $528, and chambray shirt, $180, Raleigh Jones jeans, $198, and Red Wing Heritage boots, $270, all @ BlackBlue; Martin Dingman belt, $145 @ Hubert White; vintage hat, Zéa-Aida’s own
The pair decided it was time to start their own agency after receiving a call from Dayton’s, thanks to a recommendation from esteemed photographer Bill Phelps, and after landing a few campaigns with Aveda, whose founder, Horst Rechelbacher, took a special interest in the fledgling group. Zéa-Aida and Yungerberg borrowed $1,000 from a friend to finance their first studio, in the L.A. Rockler Fur Building in downtown Minneapolis, and in 1996, launched Vision Management Group. The duo threw fashion shows in their studio, salons, and art galleries around town, during a time when such shows were few and far between. “We went from one model to four, from four to 12, and the next thing we knew, we had an agency,” Zéa-Aida says. In the early ’00s, Yungerberg moved to New York, handing over the reins to Zéa-Aida.
Born in Colombia and adopted by a family in Forest Lake, Minnesota, Zéa-Aida legally changed his name at the age of 18 from John to Teqendama. He first visited his birth country at the age of 16, and lived between South America and the U.S. throughout his twenties and early thirties. It was in Colombia that he developed a connection with his homeland that would continue to influence not only his identity, but also his personal style, which he describes as “a mix of aristocratic elegance and third-world chic, with a sense of color, texture and ceremony.”
Last year, when Zéa-Aida was considering his next career move, he realized that Vision’s headquarters and photo studio would be the perfect gallery space. “We are on a great intersection and in a great storefront with a lot of height and wall real estate,” he says. “All of those ingredients added up to the perfect art gallery.”
He plans to rebrand Vision into a fashion consultancy, which would tap his experience in developing talent, photography, and event production. “I want to utilize everything I’ve learned over the years in a more effective way,” he says. “This business is something I know like the back of my hand.”
Tequen Zéa-Aida’s Style Crib Sheet:
On his style dichotomy
“My everyday style is kind of punk-rock chic—ripped-up sweats and a t-shirt,” he says. “As I get older, I feel like I have less to prove, so I like to wear sweats—but I’m always wearing very nice shoes.” When he does dress up, he opts for “very Edward, Prince of Wales looks—elegant, tailored, a tie, a pocket square, the whole nine yards.”
On blending style influences
“I always want to have some Afro-Latino flavor into what I’m wearing,” he says. “I like how the textures can play off finer fabrics. I like to express all the different cultures and aesthetics that I contain—a nod to this, a nod to that.”
On his go-to accessory
“I like to mix in hats, both vintage styles and traditional Colombian headwear,” he says. “When I was younger and had dreads, I always wore turbans. As I get older and my hairline gets further back, I am probably going to return to wearing more headwear.”