After five years of modeling, the moment has come for me to drown my book. My race is run, my hairline receding. But before I go, I want to leave a short guide to the mostly dark truths of the male modeling world. Suffice to say that I have worked as an editorial model in London, Paris, and Milan for half a decade. I have appeared in some big fashion magazines and done my fair share of shows and small campaigns. I was never at the top of my game, or anywhere close, and I’ve always had other jobs on the side. But I’ve been paying attention. I am writing under a pseudonym, because we live in an age that abhors the truth.
Attitude gets you work. It doesn’t matter how hot you are, no one is going to hire you to promote their products if you act like a kidnapped kitten when you turn up for castings. For editorial models, cockiness is the name of the game. Strut your stuff, make oblique references to “last night,” grin cheekily at every opportunity, and scratch your balls with gusto. They’ll love you for it. However, it’s important to tailor your attitude to the casting—a little feyness goes a long way if you’re going to be sitting on a windswept beach in a cashmere jumper. Commercial models (think Calvin Klein underwear campaigns) can do the cocky thing too, but ‘personality’ isn’t as much of an issue for those guys. A charming smile through the designer stubble is probably enough in most cases.
Castings are pretty dull affairs. Eavesdropping on the egregious bullshit spouted by your fellow models is one way to entertain yourself. Here’s one of my personal favourites, which I had the presence of mind to transcribe at the scene.
A casting for Christian Dior Hommes held at 40 rue François 1er, Paris, on 05/01/2011. Hundreds of models stand waiting on the building’s central staircase. They have been there for a long time. Unrest is spreading. A few rebellious souls begin to smoke, at first crouching down or hiding their cigarettes beneath their jackets, then openly, defiantly. A group of three models are speaking. It is the kind of conversation that is being had up and down the line. Lean forward. Listen.
Alpha Model: Like, I know it sounds stupid, yeah, but, like, I never realised how big my dick was, yeah, until I lost my virginity, d’youknowwhatImean?
Beta Model 1: [Giggles encouragingly. He wants to hear more. He wants to know all about this massive dick, this corpulent member slumbering sweetly next to him like a baby koala in its
mother’s pouch.] Mate! What happened!?
Beta Model 2: [Giggles, blushes. Hint of arousal?]
Alpha Model: So I was fucking for the first time, yeah, and she was, like, moaning and shit, yeah, and I was like, fuck, I’m a born stud, knowwhatI’msaying?
Beta Model 1: [Nods vigorously] Shit man, yeah…
Beta Model 2: [Blushes purple. Pictures Alpha Model in all his glory, perfect bubble butt glistening with fuck-sweat as he goes at it hammer and tongs.]
Alpha Model: Then she starts, like screaming, and hahahahahaha, I’m, like, fuck, I’m good hahahahahahaha…she’s like, clawing at my arse and back hahahahahaha…
Beta Model 1: [Whoops loudly] Yeahyeahyeah
Beta Model 2: [Concentrates on breathing]
Alpha Model: But then she like shouts in my ear ‘STOP STOP YOUR DICK’S TOO BIG, YOU’VE FUCKING DISLODGED MY FUCKING COIL!’ Hahahahahahahahaha!
Beta Models 1 & 2: [Chorus] Legend! Hahahahahaha!
You’ll do a minimum of ten castings for every job you get. Castings are a model’s life. On a good day you can waltz straight in. Your ‘book’ (i.e. your portfolio) is examined and they take some shots of you. You’re out in five minutes. Lovely.
On a bad day—and during castings for fashion week, every day is a bad day—you wait for hours surrounded by morons, only to be summarily dismissed with a smirk by the craven lackey behind the desk. Castings for some brands have become notorious for their wait times. Dior and Jil Sander are legendary on the Paris Fashion Week circuit for the extraordinary amount of time they expect you to linger. Not only is this boring, it also means that you miss other castings. It isn’t uncommon to have ten or more castings a day on the run up to fashion week, so a five hour queue at one of them can really fuck up your day.
Castings have their own language. You almost always know if you’ve got the job. They take photos of you, they linger over an otherwise boring conversation, they grin and nod at one another. Equally, you know when they’re irritated that you’ve even shown up. I once had my Z-card thrown onto the floor in front of me by an angry Italian. I didn’t get the job.
I’d like to talk to you about debt. Your agency calls. Would you like to do New York Fashion Week? Sure, you say.
Stop right there. Ask yourself how much work you’re realistically going to get out there in NYC, or Paris, or London. How much money will you earn? Will your probable earnings cover the cost of flights and accommodation? Your agency is paying for it all, and like the Medici of old, the day will come when they call in their debts.
It is vital to keep track of how much money you owe your agency. You don’t want to be paying them back until you’re forty. If you do end up owing your agency money then demand itemised receipts for every single service they have charged you for (especially courier fees) and consider paying an accountant to take a long, hard look at them. It isn’t unheard of for unscrupulous agencies to mock up receipts. If an agency can’t provide a genuine receipt, you don’t pay.
While we’re on the subject of money, it needs to be stressed that no reputable agency will ever ask you for a signing fee or make you pay up front for ‘test images.’ If you read this and pay a signing fee anyway then you’re a fucking idiot—you’ll fit right in.
The world of male modeling is strictly segregated between two camps. On the one hand you have commercial models. These are the guys most people associate with modeling. You could grate carrots on their abs. They are the GQ boys, equally at home whether strutting across a moor in a designer gilet or flat on their backs in nothing but push-up budgie-smugglers. Commercial models earn far more than their editorial counterparts and can also work for much longer. It isn’t unheard of for a really successful guy to be going strong into his mid-thirties and beyond.
Editorial models earn less and have much shorter careers. The advantage is that the jobs they do are weirder and darker than the boring old commercial bilge. They are the ephebes, the pseudo-punks, the slutty twinks and the Mick Jagger wannabees. Think Dazed & Confused editorial and you’re pretty much there.
You won’t actually have much contact with female models, even when you work with them. Most sit there listening to music, eyes fixed on a future only they can see. As ever, there are exceptions, but something about the nature of female modellng seems to drain its practitioners of all their vital force. Don’t expect much from them. And be gentle.
Much like the Church of England, the fashion industry is dependent on homosexuals for its continued existence. But gay models shouldn’t think that the abundance of homo designers and photographers will give them an advantage when it comes to booking jobs. Fashion is the commodification of fantasy and the dull truth is that these guys fantasize about unobtainable straight boys wearing their clothes. This won’t be a problem for most of you; contrary to popular opinion, most male models are straight (unless they go to Goldsmiths, in which case ‘chocks away’).
Humiliation is part and parcel of the editorial model’s lot. Get over it or go home. I have been smeared with glycerine and chained to a radiator. I’ve been dressed in a tweed jumpsuit whilst a group of local kids sang the Rupert the Bear theme song, and I’ve been sent home from a shoot by a bewigged Spanish harridan for being ‘too girly.’ I’ve even been blacked up (in an ‘ironic’ way, naturally). It was pretty grim.
When it comes to modeling, Italy means Milan. Milan is a shithole. There are three metro lines, none of which go anywhere useful. There is a picturesque tram system which is fun at first until you realise that it is slow, unreliable, and doesn’t go anywhere useful. This means that you spend all day walking across a city of jaundiced concrete, dying trees, and canals that smell like the underside of a coal miner’s foreskin on an August afternoon. Take some time out to be leered at and groped by old men in a motorway underpass, or to enjoy some of the city’s famously overpriced comestibles. Blow your nose at the end of the day and marvel at the striated, ashen catarrh that limps onto the tissue like a dying amphibian. Some models will say that they actually rather like Milan. These people are attempting to be contrary and should be treated with contempt.
Male models spend most of their time doing all of the boring things that are meant to lead to jobs (castings, getting to castings, test shoots, even the gym). It is therefore a bit of a shock when you actually get one (it was for me, anyway). Jobs can be divided into two broad categories: shoots (on which more below) and shows (i.e. the runway). The castings for shows are horrendous, especially for fashion week, but the catwalk itself is quite fun. You get to prance along to a Northern Soul mix and pretend that you’re worth something. It’s all over very quickly and you can’t see much of the audience beyond the front row. Quick changes are terrifying and hilarious. The lovely stylist suddenly starts swearing at you to bend over so that she can rip the shirt off your back and pipe you into a new one while her minions struggle to untie your bootlaces (‘It’s a double fucking bow! Who the fuck tied them into a double fucking bow?! Fuuuuuuuuuck!’).
I said that jobs fall into two broad categories. I lied. There is actually a third, but I was loathe to mention it because of the effect that it has on my bowels: The Presentation. Everyone hates presentations. If you ever meet a model who claims otherwise then you know he’s a fucking tourist. Presentations involve standing completely still with a bunch of other models while fashion bloggers, advertising people and department store buyers walk up to you and run their hands over your clothes. Creepy. Presentations last for around four hours with a brief comfort break halfway through. Make sure you use your break wisely. Models that piss themselves during a presentation are rarely invited back, though on the bright side, you get to keep the clothes.
The fashion industry presents the Caucasian as the aesthetic ideal. Yet behind the scenes, it boasts a fairly diverse working environment. Such contradictions are to be expected, but this doesn’t mean they should be glossed over. At any given casting, at least 80% of the models present will be white. The remaining 20% will be black or Latin. There is usually a token ‘androgynous Asian’ in the mix too.
These ratios only change when a product dubbed ‘urban’ or ‘edgy’ by bored ad execs is the subject of the campaign (trainers/sneakers and sportswear are the classic examples). In these cases, the percentage of black models will jump noticeably. In other words, we participate in a culture that ties race to particular modes of dress even though we are fully aware that such associations are not borne out by our experience of the world beyond the billboard. This is the return of Victorian ethnography.
I’m afraid to say that this will be a disappointing entry. I have rarely hung out with other models and have avoided the few fashion parties to which I have been invited. The male model’s lifestyle outside of work is therefore a bit of a mystery to me. Suffice to say that there are drugs and girls if you commit to a certain kind of existence, but that you also get loads of guys in monogamous relationships who adhere to a strict vegan regime and talk a lot about ‘creativity.’
The importance of a Mockney accent to a male model’s career cannot be overstated. I’m going to repeat that sentence (in italics!) so that it sinks in: the importance of a Mockney accent to a male model’s career cannot be overstated. The best place to learn Mockney is at private school, or, failing that, Brighton. Central St. Martin’s once offered a diploma in the subject (the Dip. Mock., or ‘DiCk’) but were forced to discontinue the course due to government cuts. Don’t be disheartened if these traditional avenues to mastery are closed to you for reasons of finance or geography—modern Britain offers many other opportunities to become an advanced Moquer. Television and music aimed at teenagers are good places to start, but the serious student should invest in Ritchie’s Mockney for Beginners (3rd edn. 2010, RRP £18.99). It’s worth shelling out the additional £7.99 for the companion audio CD, voiced by the author. His rendition of ‘Wouldn’t it be loverly’ is a timeless classic.
You will come across them from time to time. Hold on to them, for fuck’s sake. Think Leo at the end of Titanic (without the bit where Rose pries his cold fingers off the raft, the bitch. How many years did you spend in medical school, Rose? WHAT IF HE WAS STILL ALIVE????)
What do male models think they’ll be doing in five years’ time?
“Oh, you’re in a band? How’s that going for you? Really well?”
“Oh, you’re going to become an actor? Yeah, I can see that, I really can! What’s that? Your favourite film is Snatch? Well I never! You’re looking for an agent right now? Best of British!”
Worth talking to if you get a chance. The photographer is usually the cleverest person in the room (in the land of the blind…). Unfortunately, they are usually the busiest too. Do try and make an impression though, as they can be very influential when it comes to future casting decisions. Plus you might actually have a conversation that moves beyond small talk.
Quid pro nihilo (or ‘doing shit for free’)
Editorial models spend a lot of their time doing stuff gratis. The rhetoric is this: you work for free, but loads of influential people will see the shoot or show and then throw money at you to wear their new line of crocodile skin jock straps. Occasionally this happens. Most of the time it doesn’t.
Really needing the toilet
If you spend all day racing around a city with only coffee and tobacco to keep you company then your more basic needs are going to come a-knocking. Taking a dump in the Parisian HQ of Yves Saint Laurent was probably the highlight of my modeling career. By the way, YSL, excellent shitter, keep up the good work.
Shoots can be great fun, especially when you’re on location and you see things that you’d never get a peek at otherwise. I once found myself in the library of an old country house in the middle of winter. There were holes in the roof and icy water was fizzing through them. All the books were still there, extraordinary books bound in calfskin, many of them printed before the U.S. existed. It was a bizarre, almost apocalyptic sight—these beautiful volumes slowly dissolving into an undifferentiated mass as the cold rain dripped down on to the moldy baize of an ancient billiards table.
Sadly, shoots like that are pretty rare. Most of the time you will be sitting in a white studio while the stylist complains that he needs to get a particular belt in the shot. The photographer will agree and then crop the photograph at the waist anyway. The conversation then happens again. Meanwhile, one of the lights isn’t working properly. The photographer’s assistants have been working on it for half an hour. Oh wait. It isn’t plugged in. All seems to be returning to normal when it is noticed that a model who left for a cigarette an hour ago hasn’t come back. This is because they have locked themselves out of the building. A hilarious comedy of errors ensues: the model attempts to gain entry by going around to the goods entrance at the back of the building, thus missing the search party who are looking out front. And so on, ad infinitum.
At the beginning of a shoot the photographer will outline an extraordinarily detailed plan for how she envisions the finished product. The first couple of shots might take an hour each. By late afternoon, each shot takes five minutes and everyone is desperate to go home before someone gets murdered.
Possibly a bad idea for commercial models, who need to be as clean-cut and adaptable as possible, tattoos can be a good move for editorial models because they show that you’re an individual. I once met a guy who had a large tattoo of the Versace logo in the middle of his chest. He had quite literally branded himself. Sometimes, late at night, I remember that model. I imagine him aging, his pecs sagging, and poor Medusa sagging with them, her skin dribbling like molten wax, her eyes blinded by grey tufts of chest hair. One day she will disappear altogether, suffocated by a pair of old man’s tits. What a fucking chump.
I am thin. I mean really, really thin. Egon Schiele thin. Sleeping with me is like bedding down in a cutlery drawer. The Royal Academy of Music classes my breastbone as a percussive instrument. For years I would only reveal my body to another human with great unease, but five years of stripping off in front of total strangers seems have cured me of my internalised ectomorphobia. I think that’s pretty cool.
Models are occasionally asked to do one of these in aid of a specific campaign or shoot. Avoid them at all costs. You often won’t be paid extra for your trouble, and you will come across as a complete moron. Trust me, I know.
Models, like soldiers, spend most of their time waiting. I shudder to think how many hours I have spent waiting in line at castings or doing nothing while a photographer faffs around with his lights. It’s important to realize that this is actually an opportunity. Read some books, people.
At some point you will be asked to get your cock out. Whether you oblige is your own affair. If you decide to go for it, remember that photos make everyone—and everything—look fatter than in real life. So you’ve only got something to gain, at least in terms of girth.
This is what it’s all about my little ones, so gather round. As a model, you are more involved than most in the defining act of our age: the commercial transaction. You are there to sell things. Things. Inanimate objects. By purchasing them, the consumer believes that an alchemical process will take place. They will become something else, someone else. It doesn’t work, of course. Maybe next time…
In most cases, this isn’t a conscious process. It is unexamined, even automatic. It is there in all of us to some degree, a spider spinning webs in the darkness of a wardrobe.
But how does a model sell things? What makes the consumer bite? A kind of sympathetic magic is at work. By wearing the same shoes or carrying the same bag, the consumer will incarnate the desirable attributes of the model. Our societies assure us that the most desirable attribute of all is youth, from which proceeds sex, freedom, hope, and time.
It is vital to remember that this youth is constructed. It is not real. On many occasions I would look at a picture of myself in a magazine. I would notice the moles that had been removed from my face. I would observe the way that light and shadow conspired to give me pectoral muscles that did not exist. I would look at hair tortured into ‘natural’ waves and at teeth cleaned of tobacco stains. I would not recognize myself. I have learned that it is best not to try. It is better to turn the page.
Z-Cards, also known as ‘hard cards,’ are A-5, well, cards, with some lovely photos of your face and nipples on them. They also record your measurements, some of which may have been ‘massaged.’ You give them out like confetti at castings so that you’re not forgotten quite as quickly.