For a couple of days earlier this month, the internet was transfixed by the unfolding story of “Tabi Swiper,” a man who purportedly took and later returned a pair of Maison Margiela Tabi Mary Janes from a woman with whom he spent the night. (In between, he supposedly gave them as a gift to his girlfriend.) The woman’s TikToks about the incident introduced the world to a type of dude little-known outside of lower Manhattan: The NYC Clout Guy.
Jean-Luc Lukunku isn’t the Tabi Swiper, but he is famous on TikTok for lovingly satirizing Clout Guys like the Swiper: twenty-something men who idolize models like Evan Mock and Luka Sabbat, name-drop celebrity acquaintances through thick mustaches, and ghost Tinder dates (but only rarely after swiping her $1,000 shoes). In fact, Jean-Luc—who is also a musician and, in his day job, a creative producer here at GQ—first discovered the Swiper when he was mistaken for him on Twitter, where one of his TikToks went viral after being reposted there. In true clout-chasing fashion, Jean-Luc then connected with the women whose Tabis were swiped, Lexus, and made a hilarious TikTok with her.
Born in the Bronx and later raised in Westchester, Lukunku moved back to NYC after college, where he began working in advertising and became immersed in the fashion and media scenes. “There’s a subsection of culture that exists in a lot of cities that attaches itself to social media culture,” Lukunku tells GQ. “When I was in London, Mexico City, Paris, Toronto, and Berlin there were always people that would recognize me for my videos because they recognize people in their lives in my character.”
Lukunku’s videos and songs send up the clout-chasing monster in all of us. Who hasn’t flaunted their proximity to a nice micro-celebrity, bragged about a semi-viral tweet, or broke the bank at a fancy restaurant just to post super chic photos on Instagram? According to Jean-Luc, that sort of social ambition is (mostly) nothing to be ashamed about. He spoke with GQ about shooting his video with Lexus, how to spot a Clout Guy, and what he wants his fellow scenesters to know.
GQ: Where did you get the idea for this character?
Jean-Luc Lukunku: I’m a singer, so I came to the city after I graduated college to be a star, and between chasing my dreams as an artist and then also working at a lot of these different companies that were very fashion- and clout-adjacent, I fell into that world.
Being someone who has had a big dream and has failed a lot of times, you learn to just laugh at yourself and laugh at the situations that you’re in. There’s such stupidity in this whole game of clout and trying to beat somebody when you’re not even anybody yourself. Like, nobody knows any of us but we’re trying to pretend that we’re these celebrities in the scene or whatever.
I think it all stemmed from being on Tumblr in like 2012 and seeing people become famous off of just posting outfit picks, and then they become friends with celebrities and then that takes them to the stratosphere. Then they’re friends with Virgil and they’re doing fashion shows and they’re hanging out at the Kardashians’ house.
I’ve always been trying to aspire to have that lifestyle, so I had this idea to do a TV show that was based around a group of friends—like a modern version of Friends that was diverse—and all the characters had these dreams to make it in the city. It would be similar to shows by Issa Rae and Donald Glover or High Maintenance.
I [thought] it would be funny to make a TikTok version of a web show [and] tease my character in the show and see if people like it or not. I’m about to put together the TikTok web show with the other characters now, but I wanted to build a following first.
Why do you think the clout guy resonates with so many people?
The rise of social media culture reminds me of Andy Warhol’s quote, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” That’s really become true. Fame is just so much more accessible to so many people, so everybody wants to be kind of a star or feel like they’re a star or know somebody who’s famous.
The internet has just made the whole world a smaller place, so many people can resonate with this culture even if you’re not from Soho.
Who are some of your fashion inspirations?
I’m a huge Lenny Kravitz fan, so I’m like a bootleg Lenny, Costco-brand Lenny. Also, my haircut is a Mick Jagger and Lenny hybrid—just like the rock and roll stars of the ‘70s. I love Elton John, Johnny Depp pre-cancellation, and Brad Pitt in the ‘90s. Love making ‘90s and ‘70s styles modern. TikTok is not a bad place to get fashion inspiration. I’m definitely inspired by a lot of my friends that I see online and a lot of my friends’ brands.
Are you in the Dimes Square/Soho scene?
I’m sadly in it. One of my really good friends, from when I first came to the city, was this huge clout guy. One day, he Facetimed me [while] he was with Kim Kardashian’s best friend, Jonathan Cheban, getting a massage. I was like, what are you doing? And he was like, “I’m with Jonathan.” I’ve made a lot of friends with people in the scene and become a bit more like them, so I’m laughing at myself in these videos.
How much does this character diverge from who you really are?
When I’m on dates people will always ask that and I probably will say it depends on the episode. I don’t steal from stores or women. A lot of people will ask my friends, “Is he actually like this?” And they’ll be like, “No … actually he kind of is, but he’s just not a douchebag.”
I’m just appreciative to be in these cool spaces with these singers, TikTokers, and designers. It’s dope to see everybody rising up in the scene.
It’s funny that your father is actually from the Congo, because I remember in your video you say, “Oh yeah, My dad’s from the Congo” and the woman behind the camera is like, “I love Wakanda Forever.”
I have to shout out my friend Vanessa for that one because that happened to us. We were on set for a music video and this guy who owned our location was this weird dude who, when she said she’s African, said, “I just saw the Black Panther movie.” So many of the skits come from the real world.
It’s stupid shit like that you hear. It’s like, “Bro, I just broke up with my girlfriend at Lucien yesterday.” They’ll say that shit with a straight face, and then be like, “I just left Tokyo and I’m on my way to Paris. But let’s catch up in L.A. Are you gonna be there or you should come with us to Ibiza?” I’m like, bro, what are you saying?
You had Lexus, the girl who got her Tabi’s swiped, in your video. What were your thoughts on how that went down?
The Tabi-swiper shit is hilarious because I posted on TikTok and then over the weekend my friend is like, “Yo, my sister saw you on Twitter.” Someone reposted my video and it was going viral on Twitter and all the comments were calling me the Tabi Swiper. I was like, what is going on?
Someone sent me Lexus’s TikTok and I was crying because the first video that she posted is literally verbatim a clout guy skit that I did way back in 2022—just like the way that she posted the screenshot and said “Pay attention, ladies!” I did that sketch last year at my friend Emma’s shop.
I saw that video!
Everyone in the comments of my videos was like, we need you to make your own version of the Tabi video. I just was like, OK! I’m in LA now for a wedding but I had one day to do it [before I left New York]. I hit up Lexus on Instagram with a hope and a prayer and was like, I hope she answers. I know she’s getting DM’d by the whole universe right now. But she was so sweet.
So I wrote a script and hit up my friend Elena who’s an actor. We couldn’t find Tabis, so I called Secondary and they let us shoot it in the store.
How can readers spot a Clout Guy?
Well, there’s definitely an outfit—patchwork tattoos, dangly earrings, chokers, a white tank top and baggy pants. If they have a mustache or long hair with bangs—because everyone has the mod look now—then you’re already in scary territory. If they’re name-dropping, you gotta go! Also, if they have a colored buzz cut, you gotta run! If they’re followed by Ray’s Bar NYC [on Instagram] and if they look like an East Village villain, you gotta rethink, guys!
Most of us are not stealing women’s clothes. Most of us are just passionate creative guys.
Do you have a message for the Clout Guys?
Let’s be good to our women, guys. Let’s be good to ourselves, be good to our friends, be good to our ladies—but, you know, let’s clout it up. We’re all chasing these dreams and we’re all trying to be somebody. I don’t think that’s wrong. But at the same time let’s just be good people. If you see somebody at a party during Fashion Week that you haven’t seen in a while, just be like, “Hey man, I forgot your name, but it’s great to see you again.” Let’s just not be weird.