How RJ King & Charlie Knepper Prove That Love Is All You Need
To celebrate Valentine’s Day, VMAN’s Kevin Ponce speaks with fashion’s latest it-couple to discuss their love story, their new YouTube channel, and the need for queer representation in the fashion space.
As the world continues with the global uproar that has been taking up close to a year of our lives, one good thing that’s come out of this whole experience is the dawn of love. The blossoming relationship between models RJ King and Charlie Knepper is a testament to that sentiment. Going from traveling all over the world for modeling gigs to slowing down and shacking up in upstate New York, keeping up with King and Knepper has been quite an adventure—especially for their combined 200K+ followers. As VMAN celebrates the season of love, the boys and I hopped on a phone call to discuss that very love that the world is witnessing before their eyes—seen here as the couple dons Armani Exchange’s upcoming collaboration with National Geographic, featuring a series of nature photography printed t-shirts and sweatshirts by photographer Joel Sartore, reimagined as album covers to raise awareness for species at risk and the protection of biodiversity.
Kevin Ponce: Make me jealous for a second—tell me about your love story!
RJ King: We actually met during the height of the pandemic!
Charlie Knepper: We basically met doing [non-essential].
RJK: I was trying to get [non-essential] off the ground and I had the task of getting all these hats to influencers so Charlie offered to help me. Then, we started working [together] every day and after two weeks, Charlie asked me to come over and help him hang up a whiteboard. Before that night, Charlie had broken things off with this guy he was seeing. So I knew that, but my mind didn’t think that things would be moving [with us].
CK: It did cross your mind!
RJK: I mean, I probably wanted it! But I didn’t think it would happen. We hadn’t talked about it [or] how he felt for me.
KP: Did you feel anything for him at that point?
RJK: Yeah, I did! But I had just gotten out of a relationship like months before that and it was out of the blue. So I was in this place of “I don’t need to be in a relationship right now. This is the time for me to just be with myself.” So we hang up the whiteboard and we lay down on his bed and I’m just talking.
CK: You literally would not stop fucking talking.
RJK: And then I could tell Charlie was not really listening to me anymore and he’s just looking at me. So I started to slow [down] and said “What are you doing? Why are you looking at me like that?” And he said “I’ve been wanting to kiss you for a really long time.”
KP: *screams* Oh my God, that’s so cute! How did you feel?
RJK: I was like “What?!” and then the rest is history!
KP: So you talked about [non-essential] and for the readers who don’t know what that is, how would you describe it?
RJK: It’s a fundraiser disguised as a clothing brand!
CK: All the proceeds go towards getting meals to people in need. We raised over 30 grand in one month.
KP: Wow that’s amazing! From what we saw, you guys really put a lot of effort into it and going from hospital to hospital, delivering meals and pushing through the pandemic. We all loved it so kudos to you guys! How long have you been together now?
RJK: In May, it’ll be a year!
KP: So just under a year—how has it been thus far?
RJK: Oh my God, it’s been transformative! That’s how I would describe it.
CK: So much bad has happened to so many people, but in terms of our own lives, I really think that we have grown together as a couple astronomically. Mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, we’re both in such a better place than where we were when we met. We helped each other grow to be the best version of ourselves.
RJK: We met at a time when we were able to do that together and find someone who can help you do that or live that way. We’ve found a lot of happiness this year.
KP: When it comes to relationships, I feel that the one ingredient you need is happiness but it doesn’t happen too often, especially when trying to find that in yourself. It’s quite refreshing to hear that it blossomed within you both once you guys came together.
CK: Totally! I think before meeting RJ, I always thought I would just settle. I didn’t know the true meaning of what it felt like to be drawn to someone.
RJK: I’ve had a few relationships where I thought that I felt true love before, but not on this level.
KP: You guys went from city living to relocating to the charming, upstate lifestyle—how’s that change been so far and what’s the impact it had on your relationship?
RJK: It’s given us space to be together. Whereas the city, you’re forced into a space. It allows us to have a car, go outside, be in nature, and have a little peace and quiet [in order] to get to know each other and start a life together.
CK: We are human though. I feel like a lot of times people who watch our YouTube and who follow us think that it is all daisies and petunias. But we both go through our own hard times and at the end of the day, we are so grateful and so incredibly lucky to be in our current living situation, living next door to our best friends, and to have each other.
KP: Who brought up the idea of moving upstate?
RJK: It was just a conversation that we were having—my lease was up, so I moved in with Charlie. We went upstate for Charlie’s birthday and a friend of mine owns a farm there. So we were hanging out with our friends and the conversation just kind of evolved to “Well, why don’t you guys move up here?”
KP: In addition to moving in together and relocating, YouTube got in the mix! How did the idea of starting a channel come about?
RJK: We knew how we felt about one another and how we wanted to spend our time and that is with each other. So [we thought] it’s going to take a lot of time doing things together, putting it on camera—are we willing to do that commitment? And the answer was obviously yes. Part of that reasoning is [that now] we get to have the videos for our whole lives. It’s like a little library for our family.
KP: Do you find it hard to capture every single moment of your life?
CK: We figured out that you can’t do it that way. We [learned] that YouTube is only enjoyable [and has] longevity if we enjoy it and if we don’t, then we’re going to burn out. The moment that we do start to do it robotically and without an organic intuition is when you know that’s just not [working] anymore. If you talk about your experience, then people will be inspired and the comments that we get are so nice. You really [start to] see how you help people and [how] you can be an example for people who are going through the same things, like coming out and things along those lines.
KP: Being that you’re both male models in an industry where the standards are traditionally heterosexual and ultra masculine, what would you want the next generation of kids who want to be models and/or come out with their sexuality to know?
CK: As almost all people in the LGBTQIA+ community have struggled immensely in normal life with their identity, I’ve figured out personally that the only way that I’m going to be happy is if I’m living authentically. It might be harder in certain ways but at the end of the day, I’m living my true self.
RJK: This idea of radical honesty [and] letting that guide you in life will [help you] be [true] with yourself and with how you communicate to others. That idea has brought me a lot of happiness. I would say if your heart tells you to do it, then do it and go with your gut—it’s always right.
KP: Completely agree! That’s why we love seeing you guys because you don’t see this openness too often in the modeling industry.
RJK: It is kind of sad when it comes to models. Charlie and I have talked about this a lot and [we’ve both] had enough experience to know that the industry is not fair. Maybe things are changing but it’s not an industry where they hear you’re a gay model and they’re like “Oh yes, let’s hire him!”. So we definitely want to lift up the queer community and help [make it] more visible.
The A|X Armani Exchange x National Geographic Collection launches in stores on April 22nd (Earth Day)!