Male Supermodels Now

Male Supermodels Now

As a followup to Tim Blanks's 2007 article on male supermodels of the past, Nick Remsen dives into the supermodels of today, who leverage their social media followings and prove you need more than just good looks to succeed. Pre-order your copy of VMAN 37 now.

As a followup to Tim Blanks's 2007 article on male supermodels of the past, Nick Remsen dives into the supermodels of today, who leverage their social media followings and prove you need more than just good looks to succeed. Pre-order your copy of VMAN 37 now.

Text: Nick Remsen

In 2013, Forbes listed Sean O’Pry as the highest paid male model of that year. He made 1.5 million dollars. Up to that point, he had appeared in campaigns for Armani, Hugo Boss, and H&M, and his profile has since risen dramatically: the man features in Taylor Swift’s music video for “Blank Space,” which currently has nearly 2 billion views on YouTube. That’s more reach than he’s ever had—or likely ever will have—through the established conduits of campaigns, catwalks, and so on.

By comparison, Gisele Bündchen made 42 million dollars in 2013. As Tim Blanks said in his “History of the Male Supermodel” piece (VMAN9), the fiscal divide between female and male top earners is significant, and it lives on, at least in the sense of traditional revenue channels. In fashion advertising, the most in-demand women still far out earn the most in-demand men

What has now changed about high-profile male modeling is that, with the emergence of social media, the term “super” is especially timestamped, and its rarity diluted if not destroyed. For women, the definition has simply been updated: Gigi and Kendall are supermodels, with all of the glamor, desire, and extraordinariness afforded by the label, and with mass social followings to boot. Whereas for men, it is a lovely vestige of a more romantic relationship between consumer and promotional effort. And even before the big bang of the vehicles that have shot or spurred so many to fame (Instagram being the most powerful engine here), there was a shift in the late 2000s towards a fresh, accessible look, away from the archetypical, now almost cliché-seeming sexiness of Marcus Schenkenberg, Tyson Beckford, Mark Vanderloo, et al. This emergent taste was a prologue to the more democratic aesthetics that social media would usher in: a man who was bestowed simultaneously with relatable boy-next-door attributes, unique—that is, generally striking—features, and a somewhat intangible energy that went beyond hard abs, a cowcatcher jawline, and great hair. It’s why O’Pry—with his feline qualities—as well as the alluringly melancholy Clément Chabernaud, the swarthy Andrés Velencoso, and the pouty-handsome Simon Nessman would rise through the ranks, and later, why those including Lucky Blue Smith, Jordan Barrett, Francisco “Chico” Lachowski, and even Cameron Dallas, not a model in the conventional sense, would post themselves into the limelight.

This new paradigm of the would-be male supermodel became, ultimately, more relatable: artful or stylish men could see themselves in a more particular-looking Clément versus a more popular-looking Marcus while still also finding a tempered, modern sense of accustomed masculinity. Hunk, but without all the hubris. Some proof: see one of Chabernaud’s first campaigns, shot by Steven Meisel for Roberto Cavalli in 2009. The previous season, the men in Cavalli’s ads were shirtless and essentially sex props. Come Fall, Chabernaud was something different—a more interesting, less shellacked lensing of the male form (though still contextualized in Cavallian decadence). His appearance made the observer consider the possibility of a new male role. The model would go on to become most well known, no surprise, as the face of Prada.

The appelation “supermodel”—as applied to men—would further diminish. The top male model became less exclusive, less deified, and more about connection and inclusion. (Though, unfortunately, the industry remains largely preoccupied by white models.) A more regular sort of beauty was being recognized—narcissistic Adonis worship, not so much. Even Brad Kroenig, Karl Lagerfeld’s male muse, embodied this transition. He partially fit the commonplace mold—unarguably good-looking, unarguably conventionally so. But his edges weren’t quite so knifelike, nor quite so erotic, and this is perhaps part of the reason Lagerfeld latched onto Kroenig so tightly. (The designer has always had an uncanny genius for distilling the affectations of exclusivity into mainstream appeal.) David Gandy, too, wasn’t so much a god as a particularly handsome man. Further, neither Kroenig nor Gandy ever became famous beyond the industry (and industry watcher) confines. And though O’Pry is in the aforementioned Swift video, he too isn’t really a “name.” Rather, he is that newfangled calibration of special-yet-sympathetic, the Southern boy who is clearly blessed but not impossible to attain.

Fast-forward to now, an era unlike anything prior, where the old rules aren’t even being rewritten, they just don’t apply. The new school, men like Smith, Barrett, Lachowski, the Pennsylvanian knockout Matthew Noszka, and former Chanel fixture Baptiste Giabiconi are famous in ways that recent waves never were and never could have been. The same goes for Cameron Dallas, who commands the kind of crowds and hysteria more historically associated with pop stars and young actors. Dallas never intended to be a model, but in his ascent, he has posed for Calvin Klein and Dolce & Gabbana—high-stakes slots, to be sure. Is it because the world can see far more of them than just the fetishized vision of fashion’s elite?

On the one hand, you have Smith, angelic and arresting, and on the other, you have Barrett, devilish and a de facto poster boy of lust and hedonism if you look at his Instagram feed. Men, women, boys, and girls can see themselves in the whole ostensible rainbow. This class is not famous because they are models, super or otherwise. No way. They’re famous because, for whatever factors—and these do extend past good genes, into intangible “it” realms—they engage and cohere with a far more sizable market. Or, put it this way: social media killed the male supermodel, but brought him back to life as a player in the new fame game.

LUCKY BLUE SMITH PHOTOGRAPHED BY MARIO TESTINO AND STYLED BY PAUL CAVACO FOR V103

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