The Strange Rise Of The Male Supermodel

Pity the poor male model, the toned butt of endless jokes, equivalent of the female brickie: incongruous, anonymous, embarrassing. Except, of course, that’s not really the case any more. While male models still don’t earn the recognition or the money of their famous female counterparts, increasingly – as the boom in upmarket menswear reaches a crescendo — the men who wear high fashion on the catwalk and in advertising campaigns are becoming personalities in their own rights.

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Would you be a male model? Traditionally, it’s not something you’d shout about. Like a male nanny or male midwife – or female pilot or plumber – it was one of those jobs that earned you respect if you were one gender and ridicule if you were the other.

“I avoid situations where I have to tell people what I do,” British model Simon Clark says, best-known for his adverts for Mont Blanc fragrances. “It’s boring. The conversation always ends at, ‘Do you get to keep the clothes?’ It stops guys in their tracks because they don’t know how to react at all. ‘Oh my God! Model?’”

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It’s one of the few professions where men earn less than women, the clothes you’re made to wear are frequently ridiculous and the chances are your mates spend their time laughing at you behind your back. The spirit of Derek Zoolander looms large over proceedings. Being a “professionally good-looking” guy is to imply you don’t have much going on upstairs, so you probably couldn’t hold down a proper job anyway. While the female side of the business produces its mononymous megastars – your Kates, Naomis and Christies; lately your Caras and your Laras – the same could not be said for the boys.

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“Anonymity goes with it,” Clark says, of male modelling. “I think I’ve been recognised once in Germany in the last 15 years.”

The occasional chiselled jawline might ring a distant bell as it gazes down from a billboard but, by and large, male models appear to be totally interchangeable. Household names are conspicuous by their absence. Nick Kamen off the Levi’s advert, yes – but people only found out his name after he launched a pop career.

Adam Perry probably has the most famous face, arms and torso in the whole of 20th-century advertising but you’ve never heard of him. He’s known only as Athena Man: the guy cradling the baby in those black-and-white posters from the high-street stationers in the Eighties. He was paid £150, which wasn’t a lot of money, even back then. (The baby received £32, and his parents had to buy their own copy of the photo.)

There’s just something about the idea of a man making his living from having his photo taken that’s hard to take seriously. As one broadsheet writer recently ruminated: think of the classic Herb Ritts photograph of the five female supermodels huddled together naked, then imagine them being replaced by men; “it would provoke general hilarity.”

The fact of the matter is that modelling is a female-driven business. While little girls dream of becoming models in the same way they do of becoming pop stars or princesses, it would be an unusual sort of little boy who came home from school one afternoon to declare his destiny lay on the catwalks of Milan. Most male models have tended to fall into the industry after being pushed into it by partners, or “discovered” doing something else.

Often something unequivocally manly that balances out all that strutting down catwalks – like a builder or a fireman. Even then it’s always “a bit of modelling on the side” and not how they’d define themselves. Certainly not how they’d introduce themselves to a cabbie.

At least, that used to be the picture. Today, the male model finds himself more visible than ever before. In a reversal of the cliché of the middle-aged rock’n’roller out on the town with a younger pin-up, lately it’s been the female celebrities who are likely to be seen stepping out with models: Katy Perry with Chanel model Baptiste Giabiconi; Emma Watson with Burberry model George Craig; Pixie Lott with Oliver Cheshire; a between-marriages Kate Winslet with Louis Dowler, also from Burberry; Lindsay Lohan and 19-year-old Liam Dean.

Adam Perry, the ubiquitous “Athena Man” of the Eighties, earned a mere £150 for posing in this famous poster

In the last few months, the wildly popular TV show America’s Next Top Model introduced men into the competition for the first time. And the rise of the so-called metrosexual and an across-the-board upswing in men’s interest in fashion, grooming and shopping – Dolce & Gabbana, Hermès and Jimmy Choo are busy opening men-only stores; in some markets it is the men’s accessories that now account for half the business, rather than the traditional cash cows of perfumes and handbags – has meant there’s plenty of work to go around.

Here, we must acknowledge the pioneering work of David Beckham, selling everything from underwear to Swiss watches and proving that striking a pose, even in said underpants, can come as no impediment to manliness.

“When I started as a model scout 13 years ago, I’d be approaching boys at festivals and the sorts of places we scouted at, and there’d be a lot more ‘I’m not interested’,” says Sarah Vickery, head booker of the men’s division at Next Models in London.

“Now we get three or four hundred people submitting their picture to our website every weekend. We get a lot of emails now, generally: I want to be an agent, I want to be a stylist, what other jobs are there…? I think that’s really healthy and a really good sign about the fashion industry in the UK. It’s exciting.”

Beckham aside, if you had to nominate one person who has helped raise the profile of modelling for men more than any other, that person would have to be David Gandy. Often cited as “the first male supermodel” (though this seems to be a category with more than one first, as we shall see) since being unwittingly entered into an ITV This Morning competition by his flatmate, the 34-year-old beefcake from Billericay has been unavoidable.

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Nick Kamen found fame in the iconic 1985 laundromat advertisement for Levi’s 501s, before launching an equally of-the-moment career in pop music

Launching himself with a splash via Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue fragrance ad in 2007, a 30-second clip where he canoodles with a brunette in the bottom of a dinghy moored off Sicily wearing a pair of tight white shorts, he followed this with a staggeringly homoerotic promotional calendar entitled David – a reference to the other buff David, the one by Michelangelo. Overnight, male beauty had a new archetype. The photographer Mario Testino summed up the thoughts of the industry when he noted that Gandy “signifies a real shift in men’s fashion”.

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Since then, he’s the one male model who really has become a household name, via sheer force of will and an impressive raft of extracurricular projects that include journalism, charitable endeavours like Comic Relief, TV appearances on The Jonathan Ross Show and Absolutely Fabulous, talks at the Oxford Union, and his tireless promotion of menswear and London Collections: Men with his seat on the British Fashion Council. He was even quick to see the value in skewering the Zoolander comparisons by making fun of them himself. One of his charities is called Blue Steel Appeal.

“Now a lot more men aren’t afraid to say, ‘Yes, I’m a model’,” Gandy says. “Hopefully, I’ve set a precedent for other guys to come into this industry. I hope other people have followed my lead because it’s not been the easiest thing in the world to do. I’ve worked bloody hard at it.”

This new visibility for the male modelling profession is a bit of a double-edged sword. Time was when you had to be almost comically good-looking to be considered model material. The sort of Norse god who’d stride into a room and immediately make you or I feel like bursting into tears. Nowadays, models come in more shapes and sizes.

“The definition of what makes a good male model is far more varied these days, and certainly more than in the women’s market where you get a big song and dance if they put one plus-size model on the catwalk as a nod to variety,” says Toby Wiseman, editor of Men’s Health, the magazine noted for its shirtless male cover stars, one of whom is a “real man” selected each year by nationwide reader search.

“You’ve only got to look at the male catwalk to see designers playing with the idea of age, and more withered looks. Probably our best-performing cover this year has been Hugh Jackman. Yes, he’s a famous bloke but he’s also in great nick for someone who’s 45. Readers aspire to that.”

Indeed, the days of, as Wiseman puts it, “men with washboard abs smiling a saccharine smile while coming out of the sea” are largely behind us.

Last year, a bearded, redheaded ex-carpenter from Milton Keynes called Johnny Harrington provided the tabloids with a couple of days worth of good sport when he appeared in some adverts for John Lewis, his “urban woodsman” look making him an unlikely candidate to help sell sensible jumpers and coats. “The good news is he looks like Damian Lewis,” noted the Mail Online. “The bad news is he looks like Damian in those scenes where he had just been dug out of a filthy hole, after being incarcerated by the Taliban [sic] for eight years.”

The craze for “real men” (read: non-models, boys-next-door) has become a bit of a thing, too, with agencies entering the market to cater for demand.

Elsewhere, sportsmen like Michael Phelps (Louis Vuitton) and Bradley Wiggins (Fred Perry), movie stars like Pierce Brosnan (Hackett) and Robert Pattinson (Dior), musicians like Pete Doherty (The Kooples) and David Bowie (Louis Vuitton), the children of movie stars and musicians like Sean Lennon (Zadig & Voltaire) and Otis Ferry (Burberry) – even chefs like Ben Towill (Gant Rugger) – have been landing the big contracts. Prada have used quirky, older film-star names like Christoph Waltz, Willem Dafoe and Benicio Del Toro in their most recent campaigns.

All of this turns out to be a bit of a blow for our classically good-looking male model: the sort who might have been only too happy to be seen coming out of the sea, smiling with washboard abs, etc.
“George Clooney is doing Nespresso and Ryan Reynolds is doing M&S,” David Gandy notes. “Who would ever think M&S were going to sign Ryan Reynolds?”

The David Gandy “brand” was launched with his first global ad campaign in 2007

“Models are always, like, ‘Actors are stealing our jobs now’,” laughs Roger Frampton, who went from working for his dad’s carpentry business as a teenager to a decade of modelling for Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, and now runs Re-Model-Me, a fitness training company exclusively for models. After the 2012 Olympics, one agency reported that three-quarters of all their enquires were for the sportsmen they had on their books.

“It was literally every request I got from magazines, if they weren’t using sportsmen they wanted boys that looked sporty,” Sarah Vickery recalls. “Even things like Fairy Liquid and Head & Shoulders… it was all sportsmen.”

The final insult to our traditional male model may be the new wave of menswear models who aren’t even men. Tilda Swinton, Agyness Deyn and Stella Tennant have all modelled men’s clothing, while the star of the recent Saint Laurent menswear campaign was the female Dutch model Saskia de Brauw.

Last year, 6ft 2in artist Casey Legler was signed to New York’s Ford Models to work exclusively as a male model, despite being a woman. (“We have specific ways in which we identify ourselves as man or woman and I think sometimes those can be limiting,” she suggested.)

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Meanwhile, the Australian male model Andrej Pejić models both men’s and womenswear, and does such a convincing impersonation of a female that he has featured in a Dutch campaign for push-up bras and caused one magazine to be pulled from newsagents’ shelves after he appeared on its cover topless. FHM voted him Number 98 in their poll of “The Sexiest Women in the World”.

“I occasionally get kids from back in Yorkshire asking me for advice,” says the LA-based Sheffield model John Pearson, who hit the bigtime in the Nineties and remains a cover model today at 48. “I tell them not to bother. These days it’s so competitive. I did Brooks Brothers for 15 years, Ralph Lauren for six years, Valentino for four years – and that’s both the spring and fall collections – whereas these days you might do one year with a brand. The turnover is so quick.”

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Then there’s the thorny question of pay.

“It’s one of the only professions where men do get paid a lot less than women,” says Sarah Vickery. “Apart from prostitution, of course.”

And that figure has apparently gone down.

“You used to get some [catwalk] shows that would pay seven grand, just for the show,” says Roger Frampton. “Which was great: it beats being a carpenter on £4 an hour. But the world has changed completely, now that there are so many models. It used to be [brands saying], ‘We want these models’. Now it’s more, ‘You need us. If you get seen doing our show, you’re going to earn more. So you’d better do it.’ Dolce & Gabbana used to pay five grand. Now it’s £1,200. Compare that to one girl I knew who was getting 50 grand for a show. She’s not even someone you’d know.”

Naturally, all modelling requires other sacrifices. You have to stay in shape. And while this is as true of women as it is of men, it perhaps seems that bit harder on a young man about town with all the traditional distractions that brings. In short: the pub.

“Not having a social life helps dramatically,” Frampton says. “If you don’t go to the pub, and you sleep well and you eat all the right foods at the right times, you’ll see the benefits. Alcohol is a huge no-no. And fruit. Everyone says it’s one of your five-a-day. But it’s one of your five sugars a day. And all this takes years of consistency. When my mates are out drinking, I’m training on my own. It might be snowing. But that’s what it takes. I don’t want to say to someone it’s easy. It’s not.”

“Some of the younger ones, if they’re off to fresher’s week, it’s hard to keep them on the straight and narrow,” says Vickery of her young charges. “We have a conversation with them and explain it’s a very competitive industry. If you’re seriously interested, this is what you need to do. It’s not brain surgery. It’s ‘a’ and ‘b’. Simple as that.”Really, would you be a male model?


Charlie France is someone who would. At 25, he’s one of the fastest-rising new faces in the business. One afternoon recently, we sat together in a meeting room at Models 1 in London’s Covent Garden, where he showed me his portfolio. Models 1 is one of Europe’s biggest agencies; its books include Linda Evangelista and Agyness Deyn.

France signed up in January 2009 and made his catwalk debut the same month, walking for Jil Sander in the spring/summer fashion shows in Milan, for which he was booked exclusively. (This is a mark of kudos. If a brand particularly likes a model, it can up their fee and book him or her out, so they can’t walk for a rival.)

“I was 17, at college, just finished my last exam and I was leaving for a plane to Milan,” France recalls. “I didn’t know who Jil Sander was. I would count myself like every other teenager at that age. Quite awkward. I was, like, how am I going to make myself look confident like other models?”

Later that year, he became the face of Burberry and starred in their advertising campaign alongside the Harry Potter actress Emma Watson. He still boggles at the unlikeliness of it all.

“I was there eating breakfast and she comes and sits right next to me, because she wants to get to know the guys she’s shooting with. And I’m giving her advice on which horse to bet on for the Grand National… My friends were so shocked: ‘Woah: you’ve been modelling a few months, and you’ve done that? Fair play!’”

France is a wiry 6ft 2in with a 30in waist, brown hair, Frank Sinatra’s eyes and prominent lips. He was discovered at the Boardmasters surf and music festival in Cornwall, popular with model scouts because it attracts a young crowd whose interests veer towards athletic outdoor sports. France, who enjoys snowboarding and skateboarding and holds a scuba diver’s licence, was watching a skateboarding competition on Fistal Beach with his brother, his friends and 5,000 other teenagers.

His future booking agent, Sherrill Smith, picked him out. “And she’s only 5ft 5in,” France says. She told him he had an interesting face, and asked if she could take some Polaroids. He doesn’t remember much more. “To be honest, I was pretty drunk.”

He’d been back at college for a month and had thought no more about it, when an email came through asking him to come into the agency for more photos. Before his test shoot, Smith packed him off to H&M to buy some skinny jeans. “I was scared about the whole thing,” he recalls. “Getting my hair and make-up done for the first time in my life was probably the strangest thing.”

Had people commented on his looks before?

“My teacher used to call me Charlie the Smoothie because on a skiing trip, these girls I was in a chairlift with told me I should go into modelling. And a girlfriend said I should do it but I thought she was just being reassuring. You know, ‘You’re not that ugly’. I always thought I was quite goofy-looking.”

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Since then, he’s been off on trips to New York, Paris and Milan, as well as walking in the London Collections: Men shows. As for what his parents make of it, France says his mum loves it because “she loves fashion” and “likes the occasional gift I might bring back” while his dad “just likes the fact that I’m out there and not in his pocket”. Anyway, he says, it’s not like this is for life. His plan has always been to go to university, where he wants to study marine biology.

Ryan Frost, men’s new faces booker at Models 1, says they picked France because of his “unique and catlike features” but also his “timeless elegance”. “It marks him out as one of the coveted faces for [fashion] shows as well as for editorials [magazine work].”

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When we first speak, there is one job that France has just completed, one that hasn’t been seen by anyone yet and one for which he is still sworn to secrecy. It’s the kind of photoshoot that gets you noticed above and beyond the confines of the fashion industry, because it’s the kind of campaign that gets splashed all over the newspapers.

It’s another one for Burberry, this time alongside Cara Delevingne and a fresh-faced male model even younger and newer to the scene than France. Making his debut in check-lined trench coat and metallic blue clutch bag is 10-year-old Romeo Beckham: the son of David and Victoria Beckham.


The first fashion models weren’t women: they were men. Before anyone came up with the idea of using human beings to advertise clothes, French dressmakers would promote their work by sending 30in dolls to tour the foreign capitals, kitted out in their latest designs – petites pandoras.

By the 1820s, Parisian tailors launched their spring looks by getting a handful of handsome young men to parade up the boulevards around the Champs-Élysées and show them off. These models were known as mannequins, a term that wasn’t meant as a compliment.

“Since the late 18th century, [mannequin] has been used to mean an empty-headed, fashionable man of straw,” writes fashion academic Caroline Evans in The Mechanical Smile: Modernism and the First Fashion Shows in France and America, 1900–1929. Le mannequin (the noun is a male one), then, was “a man whose profession was to rent out his body… he had to be elegant enough to appeal to the dandies and poor enough to require a wage”. Such chaps might be called upon to parade a “risky suit”, a “dangerous waistcoat” or even a “contentious pair of trousers”.

By the second half of the 19th century, couture houses had started to use professional female mannequins behind closed doors, and by the end of the 1800s the initial process had been reversed and most models were women.

Though not before male models had accounted for the first use of the term “super model”, in an 1891 interview with the artist Henry Stacy Marks in The Strand Magazine. “A good many models are addicted to drink,” Marks explained. “And, after sitting a while, will suddenly go to sleep. Then I have had what I call the ‘super’ model. You know the sort of man; he goes in for theatrical effect…”

Men were back on the scene by 1915, being used in the new-fangled catwalk shows and in department store catalogues as they made the switch from drawings to photographs. From the pipe-chomping sweater models of the Thirties and Forties, males finally started to gain more respect in the Fifties and Sixties when someone like Tony Barnes, twinkly cover star of everything from Hardy Amies’ landmark book ABC of Men’s Fashion to the Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box, was doing four or five jobs a day. One of only two professional male models in London, he wasn’t quite on the level of a Twiggy or a Jean Shrimpton, but he was still something of a face.

“No one went to the gym but we looked after ourselves,” Barnes, now 74 and still modelling for Marks & Spencer and Jaeger, recently recalled. “And you didn’t turn up at a studio in jeans and trainers. You were immaculate. There was a sign on the wall of my agency that read: ‘Remember you are a model from the moment you open the front door to the moment you close it.’”

Veteran British model Tony Barnes – seen here in the Sixties wearing a “swinging” jumpsuit with detachable legs – is still working today at 74

Modelling really became big news in the Eighties and Nineties, with Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Tatjana Patitz, immortalised by the photographer Peter Lindbergh for a January 1990 cover of Vogue and later that same year by George Michael for his “Freedom! ’90” video, directed by David Fincher.

These female “supers” were joined by equally fantastical male specimens, and the era of the oiled-up muscleman had arrived: Marcus Schenkenberg and Mark Vanderloo, known for their Calvin Klein Obsession ads; John Pearson, the male playing among those five girls in “Freedom! ’90” and another popular recipient of “the first male supermodel” sobriquet; American Bruce Hulse; Alex Lundqvist, and Paul Sculfor, who dated Jennifer Anniston and Cameron Diaz, despite being from Essex. Everything was big, expensive and OTT and here the Zoolander writers would surely have found their source material.

“It’s a business now,” writes Bruce Hulse in Sex, Love and Fashion: A Memoir of a Male Model. “Back then, it was one long party.” A favourite of Calvin Klein, Gillette and the photographer Bruce Weber, in his autobiography Bruce “The Incredible” Hulse details his time spent bingoing “from one explosive physical connection to the next”; rendezvous that included Elle Macpherson, Paulina Porizkova and Andie MacDowell, whose room he almost burned down after an attempt to create some sexy lighting using a T-shirt flung over a lamp went awry, as well as countless Swedes, Asians, Americans, stylists and make-up women.

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“I felt like a mythic hero channelling the spirits of the ancient Greek gods,” he explains. “I had never felt more beautiful or more loved… I was Hulse, I was Bruce Hulse, one of the top 10 models created by Bruce Weber.”

“It was just insane,” Dutch model Mark Vanderloo tells Esquire of some of those huge Nineties productions. “For Donna Karan in New York they always wanted to have the ‘weather elements’. Two water trucks, ready to go, to wet the streets. We had two police cars with five cops to stop any kind of traffic. It was like, ‘Let’s shoot this block!’ We had four motor homes, and we would cruise through the city to find a block to shoot a picture and then we would block off the street, put the rain things on and [the photographer would say], ‘I don’t feel it’s a wet picture. It’s more about inside…’”

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Bruce “The Incredible” Hulse enjoyed to the full all the fringe benefits of being one of the top 10 male models of the Eighties and Nineties

By 2000, time was called on excesses of muscles and water trucks. In July that year, Hedi Slimane took over as creative director of Dior Homme, and ushered in a widely-imitated new look of nipped-in tailoring and pipe-legged jeans, the after-effects of which haven’t entirely dissipated today, 14 years later.

Sample sizes dropped two sizes from 40 to 36 and modelling was suddenly overrun by barely-there urchins who appeared to have been dragged to the catwalks from the streets because, in many cases, they had been. Slimane left Dior in May 2007. David Gandy’s advert for Light Blue aired the next month.

“Clothing that skinny is not going to fit a normal guy,” Gandy says. “So it wasn’t something that guys could relate to, whatsoever.”

Next thing you knew, David Beckham had stripped down to his pants for Armani, followed by sportsmen Freddie Ljungberg for Calvin Klein and Jonny Wilkinson for Hackett. Tom Ford became the biggest new noise in men’s fashion with an aesthetic that was unambiguously luxurious, grown-up and 100 per cent man. Then the Diet Coke bloke was back on TV, wringing out his T-shirt in front of a water sprinkler. For this unambiguous new approach, advertising executives blamed the recession.

“In hard economic times, people seek simple pleasures,” Jonathan Bottomley, chief strategy officer at Bartle Bogle Hegarty explained. “They like to look at escapist fantasy.”

Today, things are more mixed-up. But even the casual fashion watcher could probably have a stab at matching a model type with the designer. Older models and actors at Prada. Street-cast “real” Sicilian boys at Dolce & Gabbana.

Classic machismo at Versace. Strong-jaws and ripped muscles at Givenchy. And waifs at Saint Laurent, where Slimane is now creative director. Despite these apparent variations, and the sudden currency of beardy models like Johnny Harrington, there are those who believe the male modelling industry still falls way behind the progression shown on the female side.

“Fashion is still largely dominated by gay men,” says Murray Healy, style journalist and author of Gay Skins: Class, Masculinity and Queer Appropriation. “Certain designers and photographers are associated with a particular type of boy or man, usually slightly skinnier because muscle tends to look like fat under clothes, which is why the muscular ones wear fewer clothes.

Maybe this is why male models tend to conform to conventional ideas of good looks more than their female counterparts? In the Nineties grunge era, characters and wonkiness were much more important, but in recent times I can’t think of any male models with unusual looks who’ve been successful. I’ve a feeling designers shy away from faces that are noticeable so as not to overpower the look they’re wearing. Miuccia Prada and Rei Kawakubo are the big exceptions, using actors, eccentrics and elderly men on the catwalk. But then they are clever, straight women.”
Or, as Next’s Sarah Vickery puts it: “Male models tend to look more obviously like models.”


With 45 minutes to go before show time, Charlie France stands backstage inside a vast venue in central Milan and surveys the catwalk floor.

“Carpet makes it a lot easier,” he says. “I’ve walked on a load of different surfaces. Sand imported from a beach was quite crazy. But carpet is a breeze.”

It’s Milan fashion week and France is about to walk for Burberry’s autumn/winter 2013 show, one that will be live-streamed around the world to a global audience.

Three days ago, he had his fitting, where he was given his “looks” – outfits from the new collection. “Ones that best match your face, hair colour, eye colour and so on,” he explains.

Three hours ago, he arrived at the venue for his fitting, a process during which “every single aspect” of his outfits was tweaked.

“Trousers are especially important,” he notes. “Because they’ve already booked models of the right jacket size. So it tends to be the bottoms that need the work.” I wonder if he ever gets distracted on the catwalk.

“The lights are so blinding and everything is too overwhelming to look around. You might be thinking, ‘Oh dear, this show’s going to finish in 10 minutes’ time – and it’s already 40 minutes late and I had to be at the next show 10 minutes ago’. Otherwise, it’s fine.”

This show starts on time: with a bong-ing back projection of Big Ben striking 12 times. The collection is big on a classic Burberry palate of khaki and greens, with an animal print theme running throughout. France gets to model two looks: one includes a pair of leopard print winkle-pickers.

Backstage afterwards, Burberry’s chief creative officer Christopher Bailey is good-naturedly fending off enquiries from the world’s press while the 36 models that comprised the show loll about by their individually-labelled clothes rails. There’s an air of jubilation, of a job well done. Tonight, they’ll all go out to dinner together.

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“I’m one of the older ones here now,” France says. “You know you’ve only got a limited amount of time, so you have to enjoy it when you’re there.” He considers this for a moment.

“There was a model who left just before I started, who worked for Burberry for 20 seasons – 10 years. So in certain circumstances, you can have that longevity. You never know, this might be towards the end of my time with them. Or this might not even be halfway.”

The Romeo Beckham shoot, he says, has had an effect – at fashion parties and events he now gets recognised, and it has helped get him work with other clients.

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“I found out [I was going to be shooting with him] two days beforehand,” France says. “Immediately running through my mind was ‘I’m going to meet David Beckham!’ who is easily in my Top Five People to Meet Before You Die.” Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

“It was only the nanny who was there. But Romeo was loving every second of it. He was having a great time.”


Former Arsenal star Freddie Ljungberg in a Calvin Klein underwear ad campaign, 2006

Models’ pay varies tremendously, from a couple of hundred pounds to walk in a B-list show at London Collections: Men, to the estimated take-home salary for 24-year-old American Sean O’Pry, the world’s best-paid male model, which Forbes recently put at $1.5m. The work, too, can be variable.

“There’s a lot of e-commerce stuff now,” Roger Frampton says. “Literally front shot, back shot, side shot. That is boring. The ultimate job for a model is a fragrance. That’s where the money is at, and that’s where you can make it. So everyone always talks about fragrances, compared to what they have to do for the money. Because guys want to make money.”

Most models say the travelling is one of the best perks.

“My first big job was in Capri with Helena Christensen for Versace,” Alex Lundqvist says. “You can’t really feel bad. And then 10 years later, I shot with Helena Christensen again. We shot completely nude in Miami. Ten years later she still looks amazing. I was just in Sri Lanka. That was very cool. Shooting all around but staying at one of the more famous resorts and shooting for just three hours a day. But I like pretty much everything about it [modelling]. It’s never the same from one day to the next. And, of course, the money isn’t bad.”

Downsides? Some of the clothes can be a bit funny…

“Sometimes you wear clothes when you think, ‘Who buys this?’,” Lundqvist frowns. “Certainly, some pieces that I’ve worn on the runway, I have never seen anyone wearing.”

But then the model’s job isn’t to have an opinion on the clothes. It’s to make those clothes look good.

As for longevity, surviving in an industry that thrives on the new, David Gandy has some strong views on that: “Guys are a lot more replaceable than girls,” he says. “Girls can get away with a lot more. I could never understand that. We’re on the same advertising boards, the women’s market is saturated, and the men’s is expanding.”

That’s why he came up with his cunning plan – copy the girls.

“You’ve got to turn yourself into a brand. From the reaction that [my] Light Blue [fragrance campaign] got, I just copied what the [female] supermodels have done. It’s more important about what you say no to, than what you say yes to. But you can build that brand up, and then you will do one wrong thing that’s seen around the world, because you were attracted to the money aspect of it. You don’t realise what it’s going to cost you.”

Of course, not every model is David Gandy, who, after Sean O’Pry, is thought to be the world’s highest-paid male model, on about £900,000 a year.

As someone who’s newly self-employed, working freelance, as models effectively are, turning down work might not be so easy.

“It’s a scary prospect,” Gandy agrees. “If you don’t work, you don’t get paid. But you do have to sacrifice certain jobs. You have to have a focus of where you want to be, and you can’t divert from that line. You don’t want to be seen doing a high-street brand when what you actually want is to go and get a fragrance deal. You have to be confident that you’re going to get that money back over the next couple of years. Because, when I say no to something, you know they’re going to come back with more money. And then they come back again. I hated doing catalogues. I was never going to stay in the industry to do catalogues over in Germany. Some people love that, it’s regular work. It’s regular money.”

And like many jobs – though perhaps surprisingly for this one – success lies not in what you know but who you know. The real work happens off the catwalk.

“What most models don’t realise is that on a shoot from eight o’clock in the morning till six o’clock at night, it doesn’t stop there,” Gandy says. “You have to do the networking: it’s the talking, and the going to the parties. What people don’t realise is that if you do your job well and you’re nice to work with, all those other people on the shoot, all those stylists, photographers, and art director have all got other jobs to go on. So if they like you, then of course they’re going to bring you onto the next project.”

John Pearson agrees. “I wasn’t the best-looking guy, and I certainly wasn’t the guy who went to the gym every day,” he says. “My talent was being able to make everyone feel comfortable and get on with everyone. I was comfortable with women and I made them feel good on the shoot. There was a sexual frisson there, and the energy you need to get good pictures.”


One afternoon, I visit Next Model Management in its London offices, near Old Street. The building looks exactly as you’d expect a model agency to: two ground floor, open-plan blocks with plenty of modern-looking glass and concrete. Next represents a number of pop stars, including Professor Green, Pharrell Williams and Conor Maynard, though Sarah Vickery explains that the trend at the moment is for more “ordinary-looking” boys.

“Like, it could be the boy next door,” she says. That said, models with some sort of extra string to their bow are a definite plus for clients. “Artists, musicians, something they can get PR off. And if they can get someone to head up their campaign and in their spare time they’re also a photographer, or they can blog off it, that helps. Because social media is huge and growing. It makes a good story.”

Besides, plenty of models pursue other avenues anyway. They’re conscious that as a model, the clock is ticking. Brad Pitt and Mark Wahlberg started out as models. So did Uri Geller, once considered “the hottest male model in Israel”.

“I was with Nicolas Malleville the other day, who is with Select Models,” says David Gandy, of the property developer. “He now has four hotels in Mexico. You can’t be a thick person if you’ve got four hotels in Mexico.”

“I always wanted to be an actor,” says John Pearson. “I went through that period where I felt emasculated. ‘What am I doing? I’m dressing in frocks every day’. I really wanted something with more meaning.” For a time he quit modelling to study film and theatre in New York. “I turned down so much money.” But he kept coming back to the modelling.

“Nelson Mandela just died and you think, ‘What a life, what a service’. And what have I achieved?’” he says. “But really, I’ve lost that conflict now. I can go out and make a very decent wage which pays for the very expensive private school for my kids. And I know I’m a good dad. It’s OK.”

And anyway, his hero was always Richard Burton: “And he said that he hated being an actor. He always wanted to play rugby for Wales.”


The last time I speak to Charlie France, it’s a few days before Christmas, and he’s in London’s West End shopping with his brother and his brother’s girlfriend. I ask him if modelling turned out to be what he hoped, and if he’s still enjoying it.

“Oh yeah,” he says. “I didn’t ambitiously get into it, as you know. But I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

And I wonder if he shares David Gandy’s views on becoming a brand, and if he’s conscious of the need to keep building that brand up.

“I don’t think I’d ever want to see myself as that,” he says. “Because I enjoy this line of work, and if I go and start seeing myself as a business then I move away from having fun with it. From it being an episode, to it being my entire life. Then I’m not just a human, I’m an organisation.” He gives this a bit of thought.

“Though I suppose I’m a brand to my accountant,” he decides. “To him, I’m Charlie France Limited.”

Taken from Esquire's March issue, on newsstands now.


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