If you aren’t familiar with Cantu’s name, that’s intentional; it’s his art that he wants you to know. As a youth, he spent every weekend visiting Monterrey, Mexico “visioning” with advertisements of Dior and Chanel. Inspired by the world those advertisements conjured, he started creative directing his own photo shoots, learning angles and retouching from YouTube tutorials. With no social life and little distractions, his initial goal was to emulate the very fashion campaigns that inspired him.
“In those days fashion photography was limited in terms of the kind of models they cast, but way out there in terms of creativity. You used to be able to flip through magazines and it felt like cinema,” Cantu recalls. “Between that style of editorial and episodes of America’s Next Top Model, at that time I was experimenting and honing my eye.”
Since 2015, his “eye” has continued to elevate the stunted standards of beauty. While attending Parsons School of Design, he was building his portfolio across social media. Through a series of DMs, models, actors, and founders clamored for his meticulous edit. His first big break was conceptualizing a global campaign for Anastasia Beverly Hills; afterward, stylist Joyce Bonneli reached out asking if he could work on a test shoot with Kylie Jenner. Soon after, he booked projects with Kim Kardashian, Patrick Ta, and Maybelline.
While the accessibility of Instagram has helped further expand his clientele, it’s his future-oriented face-shopping that has remained the draw. The glossy, incandescent shimmer trend that dominated 2015-2016? A Cantu creation. The glacial, surrealist glamour that inspired more than a few makeup brands? Another Cantu creation. From collaborating with digital creators like NikkieTutorials to refining the mirages of Drag-Race maestras like Miss Fame, Cantu has never limited himself to a single aesthetic. He’s worked with everyone from Kim Kardashian and Shay Mitchell to the City Girls and Megan The Stallion.
“I’ve never believed in division, on any level, especially in the creative world,” Cantu says. “When I was growing up I was inspired by directors like Hype Williams, Zak Synder, and Guillermo Del Toro. They were multifaceted and weren’t afraid of embracing individuality. When I was in undergrad at Parsons, I would get so much pushback from instructors about the way I edited and the cast I worked with. Before the industry pivoted there were all these standards that beauty was expected to conform to.”