Michael The III: Your Naked Fantasy
Creative Mike Rinaldi is a Graphic Designer but you’re probably more familiar with his alter-ego Michael the III, who appears in satirical mise-en-scene and tells riveting fictional stories – often peppered with sexual innuendo – on Instagram. Oh, Michael the III also wears very little clothes in many of the images, that is, if he isn’t butt naked already.
It’s easy to see why Rinaldi has a huge (gay) following – he’s tall, handsome, carries a toned but not ridiculously overworked bod and a posterior that should have its own talk show. What many has failed to see, however, is his sharp sense of humour and dig at social media narcissism, which he talks about here. He also shares his inspirations and thoughts on menswear.
Tell me about Michael the III. I feel like there’s still a strong sense of enigma even though you’ve bared everything on Instagram.
Michael the III is an online character I’ve developed over the last 4 years. It started as a project which allowed me to be more creative with my posts but has since evolved into a commentary of online social personas, especially the presentation of false realities through curation of media. If you’ve never met me, it’s easy to see my account and think that I’m a complete asshole – I’m okay with that.
“As a gay man, I think it’s important for me to showcase content that challenge the norm.”
I think the ones who understand the persona you’ve created would agree that you’re anything but an asshole. What I’m keen to know is, if you’ve taken elements from your life and put a theatrical spin on it or are the stories in your posts purely fictional?
The only reality that Michael the III has is what I’ve given him and it’s a conscious study of social media – over-sharing, self-congratulating and narcissism. Because of this, most of the posts aren’t related to my personal life. I do incorporate aspects of my love life in the captions but it doesn’t go beyond a reference or a sentence that only the former lover could figure out. Still, the written words are developed from my own perspective. Sometimes I do get serious and it’s wonderful to see people reacting to that.
There’s lots of erotic innuendo and glamour about your persona and I can’t help but think about the salacious late 70s/early 80s.
Consciously, I’m not influenced by that era, but I do use a lot of backgrounds with that era’s interiors because of the kitsch factor. I want my images to be comical as well as add fantasy into them. I think when the character is totally focused on himself – which can be hard to relate to – it highlights a sense of warmth.
Are there any particular artists or creatives that you look up to?
I’m greatly inspired by J.C. Leyendecker, an illustrator most famous in the 1920s. He shaped the way most of the Western world saw things when he illustrated for the Saturday Evening Post. His work was also very homoerotic which is an aspect I love. He slipped homoeroticism into a time when it would’ve been deemed unacceptable, and I channel that into my work. As a gay man, I think it’s important for me to showcase content that challenge the norm.
Your posts can range from abstract to absurd. How do you come up with the concepts?
An idea will pop into my head which I’ll carry around for a week, then develop it and produce the final result. This could be a video or a photo or even just a caption. It may start with an image which I then find a caption to compliment with, or I’ll find an appropriate photo to go with the story that I have in my head.
With the way content is being consumed on Instagram (rapid scrolling and binge liking), do you think that has allowed your satirical humour to come across the way it should?
That’s an aspect I’ve struggled with – the fast rate in which content is being absorbed nowadays. I’m sure that a lot of people would skip the caption entirely but I do receive comments which reply to certain parts of the written story so I’m aware that some people do read it. The long caption might be annoying but I try to be descriptive so Michael the III becomes more developed as a character.
“When I’m dressing to go out, I’m always thinking about what kind of villain I would be. I like to look intense and menacing.”
There’s no doubt that some of your followers would rather just see you in the nude.
Sometimes, I do wonder what some of my non-English speaking followers think. Does the translation still get the message across or are they just there for the butt cheeks? The fact that I post half naked pictures or completely nude ones sends a certain statement, so I don’t worry too much about that. I think that’s part of the power.
It was rather interesting to see you almost fully clothed in Ssense’s Guide to Bedroom and Office Fashion. What does fashion mean to someone who spends most of his time in a state of undress?
I love fashion so it was fun for me to play with amazing clothing and inject Michael the III’s over-the-top aesthetics into the Ssense campaigns. I don’t have access to clothes like these normally but that’s how I would dress if I did. I do make it a bit more sassier for the character. Creating these two stories was different because I’m now making a statement where I’m using fashion to frame me, whereas being naked, it shows no particular personal style.
That’s really true about attempting to identify someone’s style if the only reference you have of them is in the buff. Can you describe your personal style then?
When I’m dressing to go out, I’m always thinking about what kind of villain I would be. I like to look intense and menacing. Lately, a Craig Green black shirt with belted aspects on the waist, arm and neck is a favourite piece. I also love wearing platform shoes when I go out partying. I love the added, ridiculous height it gives me.
My family is Italian and I like the idea of self-appropriation. Pushing the limits of the stereotypical Italian-American style, I wear a lot of white tank tops and have my crucifix on during summer. At the same time, I make sure the look doesn’t conform to the full masculinity that the style presents so I camp it up with exposed sock garters and really short-shorts.
What are your thoughts on menswear these days?
Menswear is fun although I’m not thrilled about how so much of it seems templated, like re-working an iconic product from past seasons with some new image on it. I’d love for fashion to be a bit more focused on how society today can be reflected in clothing, but I’m still into most of it. I love womenswear too and have tried so many nice pieces in hopes that it would work – unfortunately most of the stuff I like doesn’t fit well on me.
What’s next for Michael the III?
I plan to do a lot more video work, and release a full book with full nudes that I can’t post on Instagram.