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Meet Berlin Jesus: The colourful Instagram sensation

Irfan Ahmad, also known as Berlin Jesus, has made a name for himself by going against the monochrome colour scheme of the city.

Photo: Makar Artemev

Wherever Irfan Ahmad goes, people notice him. It would be difficult not to, with his sleek waist-long hair and jet-black beard, accompanied on the day we met by a hot pink furry coat, matching cowboy hat and neon green trousers that shine like a beacon against the grey backdrop of Berlin winter. As we cross the junction at Schlesisches Tor on our way to a café, a woman in a car rolls down her window and starts filming Ahmad with her phone. On the way back, a teenager in a black puffer comes up to him: “Can I stroke your coat?” he asks. “Yes, sure,” Ahmad replies with a nonchalant smile.

The 15-minute walk feels a bit like being in the presence of a minor celebrity; Ahmad turns heads, both in real life and online. Over 60,000 people follow his Instagram account, @berlinjesus, where he posts photos of outfits that can only be described as a masterclass in colour-blocking.

When I started wearing more colours, I was like, maybe people will find it weird.

What really makes Ahmad an interesting figure in the Berlin fashion scene is his unabashed uniqueness. In a city infamous for eschewing colour and aspiring to levels of excruciating coolness, Ahmad’s bright, serotonin-boosting clothes are a breath of fresh air. “When I started wearing more colours, I was like, I’m not sure, everyone’s wearing black, maybe people will find it weird or [think] that it’s not fashionable. But actually, I’m experiencing the opposite… They’re always kind of happy to see my colourful outfits,” the 32-year-old says.

Still, his looks seem to be better suited to cities like Copenhagen, with its Scandi style – clean and colourful just like Ahmad. “I guess it doesn’t really matter to me now because I’m not deep in [the fashion scene]. My friends don’t even care about fashion or wear anything spectacular… And I also try to keep it a little bit separate, connecting with fashion people and doing my own private stuff,” Ahmad says, explaining that the city he loves living in doesn’t have to be the city he identifies with on an aesthetic level. It even has its benefits. “I have a niche with my colourful stuff. A lot of times, when a brand is looking for someone who has exactly that, then they come to me.”

He is risen

Photo: @berlinjesus

Born to a German mother and a Pakistani father, Ahmad grew up in Hamburg and moved to Berlin in 2012 to study International Business. Shortly after, he made a switch to English and Art History but soon dropped out altogether. “I didn’t focus on school and partied a lot,” Ahmad admits. During his last semester, he took a call centre job and stayed for a few years after leaving university, then came a stint in customer service and finally, he took an HR position in a tech startup.

While pivoting between semi-fulfilling jobs, Ahmad was approached by a street photographer in Kreuzberg and discovered a love of modelling, which led him to pairing up with photographers looking for models for their projects. “There are Facebook groups, where you can find people to shoot with, and then both of you can use the photos,” he explains. “I didn’t really know what I would do with them, but I posted them on Instagram, and it was nice to be creative with [my] outfits.”

One guy – I think it was Karneval der Kulturen – was like ‘It’s Jesus!’ and went on his knees and started praying.

Fashion – and with it, the colourful looks – only became a prominent theme on Ahmad’s page in late 2021, when he decided to do his own shoots together with a friend and focus more on the outfit. “I’ve always liked colourful clothes, but honestly, a lot of times, I was too shy to wear them,” he says, and explains that other colourful creators inspired him to take the leap, going bright and colourful practically overnight. He bought the pieces for his first two identical monochrome looks – one in pastel blue, one in pastel pink – specifically for a shoot. “I really, really liked these outfits. That’s what made me want to wear more colourful styles. And also, people loved them.” A viral reel posted around the same time brought a wave of new people to his page.

From there, Ahmad’s account started growing steadily. That’s when his new persona was born. “I changed my Instagram name to Berlin Jesus. Everyone would just call me Jesus, no matter if it was friends or people on the street. Sometimes I would just walk around, not even in a colourful outfit, and someone would just walk past and go ‘Hey, Jesus’. One guy even – I think it was Karneval der Kulturen – was like ‘It’s Jesus!’ and went on his knees and started praying,” he says, laughing. The concept works: Ahmad’s combination of polychromatic style, eccentric appearance and provocative name have landed him collaborations with big brands, like Zalando, Crocs and G-Star, allowing him to become a full-time content creator in 2022.

Amen can wear pink

Photo: @berlinjesus

Ahmad is soft-spoken, his demeanour gentle. He talks slowly and deliberately, mentioning multiple times that he’s actually very shy – something you wouldn’t necessarily expect from someone clad in layers of attention-grabbing garments. This is something that Ahmad is aware of himself, sometimes feeling the pressure to live up to that first impression. “When I meet new people and they see my colourful outfits, I [feel like] I have to be this crazy person with this crazy personality now.”

It begs the question: does Ahmad even wear his Instagrammable looks in real life? “I definitely also wear colour in private,” he stresses, but he also doesn’t let his influencer persona dictate what he can and can’t wear. “There was a moment recently where I met someone outside and I was not wearing crazy colours. I was wearing some sort of blush pink cargo pants but, like, a white shirt, and they were like ‘You really don’t look like on your Instagram’. And for a while after that I thought, maybe I always have to be exactly like I am on Instagram, but then I realised, I can just wear whatever I want… Sometimes I don’t want to be the centre of attention.”

You get comments from people who hate seeing a man wearing what they perceive as a flamboyant outfit.

These days, Ahmad creates most of his content solo. On shoot days, with his camera, tripod and spare outfits in tow, he makes his way from his Neukölln flat to Regierungsviertel in Mitte, home to all the wonderfully large grey façades that provide the perfect backdrop for his brightly-coloured looks. As he poses, passersby throw curious glances at him.

But while most people have a positive reaction to Ahmad, his looks don’t make everyone happy. “You get comments from people who just hate seeing a man wearing super colourful clothes or what they perceive as a flamboyant outfit… Sometimes that catches me off guard and I get a bit insecure about it,” he says of social media’s downsides. “But at the same time, I try to take it as motivation, because it will also inspire other people to feel like they can wear colours like that.” Maybe the Lord’s work involves neon green trousers and an Instagram account.