The irony in helping to launch a new brand strategy for American Express is not lost on actress/writer/producer/model and powerhouse Issa Rae.
“AMEX is one of the first credit cards that I maxed out,” says Rae with her signature laugh. We’re talking at the Live Life Experience pop-up art space at 336 Queen Street West—open until June 9—surrounded by paintings and large scale installations by local contemporary artists working in Canada.
The vibe is certainly more graffiti than gallery with neon sign designs like “You Rock,” by birdO (a.k.a. Jerry Rugg), or mural-inspired large scale works by “Troublesome Troy.” Amex unveiled the space to help spread the brand’s new (what else?) millennial-friendly messaging. Remember the “Don’t Leave Home Without It” slogan from days past?
Now it’s “Don’t do business without it” and “Don’t live life without it.”
This is a refresh for one brand that, while hardly losing business, is looking to move with the times and reach them younger “hybrid” live-work types. Who better than a self-made artist like Rae, who made her name online, to task with getting that messaging out there? In fact the pop-up’s commitment to local art is what sealed the interest of the writer and star of HBO’s Insecure.
“I’m very much about aligning myself with initiatives that support one community or support independent artists,” says Rae. “I have an initiative called Colour Creative that is about uplifting other upcoming creatives.”
And though this was her first trip to Toronto, Rae has a strong connection to the city. “Oddly enough our first season on television was dedicated to a local (Toronto) artist Drake,” she says of the clever way, Insecure would cryptically drop a Drake reference into every episode of season one.
Though there’s a lot of stimulae in the Live Life Experience space, Rae is a major advocate of stepping away from distraction, digital or otherwise. In fact she’s on a bit of break from social media right now. “I’ve logged out of so much social media,” she says, which she instigated with the shooting of season three of her hit show. “I come back on and off whenever I need to. But for the most part I stay unplugged and it helps me create.”
“Shooting is such a crazy time, literally 14, 15 hours of your day is taken,” says Rae, towering above me in sandals, royal blue pants and a long sleeved white T. “But after we wrap up shooting in two weeks. All of the recharging will be happening by way of traveling, reconnecting with friends and just finding myself again.”
And at just 33, Rae seems far from the typical credit card spokesperson bragging about their swish lifestyle. She talks easily about her not so far off days as a young starving artist.
“I remember being broke, trying to hustle and take various side jobs just so I could have the freedom to create,” she says, nodding her head. As for that early brush with AMEX and credit card debt. “I remember this vividly. I was moving, I was broke, I had maxed out that card and I was paying interest. Because they had this ad saying ‘If you’re moving, call us…’ So I called and was like ‘Hey guys…’and they stopped those interest payments.”
Here’s to hoping Issa Rae doesn’t have that problem anymore.