Creating a new business can be a daunting task, but when you have an amazing group of creative individuals working with you to make your vision come to life, it is sure to be realized in the most stunning way possible. That is exactly what has happened with Dark City Mermen, direct from the minds of Asbury Park residents Jimmy Berry and Celal Ismet. This men’s lifestyle brand was created to support the local LGBT community in Asbury Park, and their 2019 Mermen calendar is a certifiable smash. Working with local photographer Tim Horn and costume styling by Manuel Gonzalez Jr, Berry and Ismet brought stunning and provocative imagery life, courtesy of some of the local men of Asbury Park. I caught up with Berry to talk about bringing DCM to life, why Asbury Park is the best launching pad for their business, and how the creativity of the town is the perfect backdrop
Michael Cook: How did the idea for the Dark City Mermen come to fruition?
Jimmy Berry: The idea for Dark City Mermen came from a group of men out of Newfoundland, Canada who produce an enormously successful calendar for charity. It featured husky, bearded guys dressed as mermen, so I wanted to produce something similar using Asbury Park as a backdrop to raising money for our local charities. So I met with a few friends, talented local photographer Tim Horn for the pics, and gifted costumer Manuel Gonzalez to create the fins. Both agreed the idea was perfect for AP and we had no trouble recruiting local guys to be in it.
MC: How did you decide the imagery that you wanted to capture in terms of photography and design?
JB: The imagery is a very much a collaborative effort between myself, Tim and Manny. We utilized Asbury Parks beaches, iconic architecture and historic landmarks as backdrop for the photos. Tim’s vision and Manny’s styling created the unique feel and look of the calendar. Denis Randal came on board this year as graphic designer, creating our logo and all of the graphics for the calendar. The men featured in each picture gave the pictures their mood and personality. It was almost magical how everything blended together so seamlessly.
MC: How much of your home of Asbury Park is part of the influence of Dark City Mermen?
JB: Asbury Park is the major influence of DCM. Music, art and a unique history is the foundation of this city, creative people are drawn here as a safe haven to honor their crafts. It is the perfect venue for the Dark City Mermen.
MC: What have you found to be the biggest challenge in launching a brand of your own and how have you overcome them?
JB: Thankfully launching DCM here in Asbury Park has been welcomed with great enthusiasm. We’ve had our challenges as far the basic red tape of establishing any new business, but the fact that we are a charitable organization doing good for the local community has helped tremendously in getting the word out. Plus, I feel the brand itself is unique, fun and something that makes people smile. So far the momentum has been steadily increasing with a very loyal customer base.
MC: A number of small businesses have come out of Asbury Park; what do you think it is about the town that fosters creative people willing to take the leap to launch their own brand?
JB: AP is the perfect location to develop new and unique business opportunities. There is a tight-knit community who are very supportive of new ideas and locally grown ventures. People are drawn here for something different.
MC: Asbury Park is a true LGBTQ destination. What are some of your favorite parts of living in this community and being a part of it?
JB: The LGBTQ community is an extremely crucial part of the “Asbury Park rebirth”. Being a part of that movement and seeing AP rise from the ashes over the past 10-20 years has been amazing. Local businesses are thriving and people are flocking here in the summers, where as just a few years ago there was nothing. It is and will always be the epicenter of gay NJ. DCM is honored to be a part of giving back to that community.
MC: The Dark City Mermen calendar has been a huge success. Any idea what you would want to tackle next? Plans on expanding the brand perhaps?
In only one year our brand has expanded tremendously. This year we added other charities, increased the circulation of the calendar, created a website offering on-line ordering and introduced apparel with the Dark City logo created by Denis Randal. We have T-shirts, baseball hats, Hoodies and Skull caps, all of which are available through our website Darkcitymermen.com, as well as the calendar. And of course, we have many, many ideas for future products!
Photos Courtesy of Tim Horn for Dark City Mermen