"Model Boy" Reframes Macho Modeling Culture

"Model Boy" Reframes Macho Modeling Culture

In new web series, editor-turned-auteur Jacob Brown sheds light on industry realities.

In new web series, editor-turned-auteur Jacob Brown sheds light on industry realities.

Text: SAMUEL ANDERSON

Company lore states that Jacob Brown, V and VMAN alumnus, once pitched a then-unknown downtown showgirl for coverage, thus laying track for her 2009 V debut. Like said subject, now universally known as Lady Gaga, Brown has evolved as an image-maker, eventually graduating from print media to the moving image. After harvesting his industry knowledge for a string of shorts, including his 2011 debut Blinders starring model Luke Worrall, Brown has continued to probe behind the curtain. For his new digital series, out today, the writer/director considers fashion's most notorious subaltern: the male model.

Created by Brown, Model Boy follows three fresh faces, played by real-life models Taylor Rosen (VNY), Stanley Simons (Next) and Phoenix Jakob (Click), as they strive to beat the business’s lopsided odds. “Labor economists have a very formal definition of what they call a ‘bad job,’ relating to wages, seasonal nature, unpredictability, lack of benefits [etc.],” Brown says. "Economically [being a male model] is the only high prestige ‘bad job,’ quote unquote.”

The story came to Brown while researching an ill-fated T Magazine feature on two seemingly high-flying talents, whom he’d followed to Milan castings. “One booked no shows at all and [the other] walked in one [because] he had a Prada exclusive,” he recalls. “So that kind of killed my piece, but I [realized] these guys' situation can get pretty fucked up and dramatic.”

While male models have long had the dubious distinction of earning significantly less than their female counterparts, Brown sees them as more than a wage-gap anomaly. “I see Model Boy as a feminist narrative transposed onto male bodies; these are young guys, new to New York, who are suddenly subject to the male gaze and dealing with the threat of sexual misbehavior,” he says. “These are things that of course women deal with constantly, at all times, but I think it’s interesting to see what happens when men and boys are put in that situation.”

Model Boy’s supporting players, including a queer it-photographer and a trans agent played by Victoria Beltran (Sex and the City 2), draw out the show's true-to-life, six-episode narrative. However fictional, the show serves as a multifaceted counter-portrait to the over-it, golden-boy archetype—one Brown suggests may contribute to ingrained power dynamics at play IRL. “[Models] were really excited [by the premise] and to audition, but I think that a lot of these guys, [after] work[ing] in the fashion industry, project a kind of nonchalance, I-don’t-care attitude, which is what people want in a male model,” says Brown. “But yeah, I think that the core theme of the show definitely resonated [because] behind closed doors it’s something they constantly talk about.”

Witness to his share of both success stories and hard truths, Brown remains a card-holding member of the fashion ecosystem, enlisting everyone from Opening Ceremony to CFDA on the production of Model Boy, which is stream-able on YouTube. “The show dovetails well with some of CFDA’s current initiatives around diversity and health and safety for models,” he says. “So they’re hoping to use the next season as a platform to be make [those initiatives] more inclusive of male models.” With the fuel of industry support and his second season mapped out, Brown’s gritty drama seems poised to rewrite the script. Stream the first episode below. 

Still from Model Boy (courtesy: Jacob Brown)

UP NEXT

Tyler, the Creator Announces 'Igor', His New Album