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Bringing Sexy Back

A bevy of beautiful new boys are about to step into view at New York Fashion Week, and they are the very image of youth, squeaky-clean grooming and good health.

Beauty is back.

Okay, it’s the kind of statement that sends eyes rolling at the alleged inanity and fickle nature of the fashion industry—classical beauty probably never fell out of favor with the general eyesighted public.

But there was a time recently when the fashion industry preferred male models on the extreme side. Everything from rocker/junkies and “bears” to muscle-bound meatheads were celebrated. No more.

A bevy of beautiful new boys are about to step into view at New York Fashion Week, and they are the very image of youth, squeaky-clean grooming and good health.

“Luckily and happily, the beautiful man is back,” says Jason Kanner, director of the men’s division at Major Model Management. “The day of the waif and the 16-year-old English kid, even though there may be a place for that in editorial, is over. The classic beauty, a fit man with a bit of an edge, who’s sexy-sexy-sexy-sexy, is back.”

Agents describe the ideal physique as tall, about 6’1” to 6’3”.

“The body type now is very healthy, very well defined,” says John W. Babin, co-director of Red Model Management. “It’s no longer drugged out, no longer extreme beefcake. There are jobs for both extremes, I suppose. But right now it’s thin, long and lanky with great definition and vascularity that show good health.”

As for the face, the models in demand now have full lips, big eyes and high cheekbones. “Pretty faces are definitely back,” says Babin, pointing to Red standout Stan Jouk, who is appearing in new campaigns for Dolce & Gabbana, Lacoste and Michael Kors. Not only is Jouk good-looking, Babin says, he is educated and engaging.

That’s no coincidence, as agents say good looks are simply not enough to succeed. Making a memorable impression at a go-see (modelspeak for an audition) is awfully difficult without a degree of intelligence, humor, and ability to hold up a conversation.

Kanner points to Blaine Cook, a 20-year-old from Maine whom Major signed just over a year ago and who has walked exclusively for Calvin Klein three times, been on the cover of British GQ and about 100 other pages of editorial.

“This is just based on the wow factor he has. He’s a bit of a smart-ass, and that works for him. He’s not a wallflower,” Kanner says.

And fair or not, agents seem to get a greater kick out of promoting raw, undiscovered talent as opposed to guys who have self-consciously groomed themselves for modeling

“Guys who prep their whole life to be a model are not the ones I tend to choose, because they have a preconceived notion about what modeling should be,” Babin says. Some relative or girlfriend at some point told them they should be a model, and they went along with it. But they’ll never be a top model. The best people we’ve found have been just walking down the street.”

These days, they’re quite likely to be walking down the streets of Russia or Northern Europe. Agencies rely on submissions they get from scouts and overseas agents with whom they establish reciprocal rights to a model, but they also hit a few other locations per year to scout, based on trends.

“We used to have a lot of Brazilians, but then people started calling more for blonds, so we went to Scandinavia and Russia. Right now a lot of guys are coming from Russia,” says Taylor Hendrich, a men’s agent with DNA Model Management, which has been scouting recently in Latvia and Stockholm.

In addition to good looks and personality, “personal style is really important,” says Emily Novak, men’s model agent and scout at Ford Models. “Some are edgy, some are on the preppie side.” To an extent, an agent will steer a model toward jobs based on the look he’s already working. This makes him an easier sell to the right client.

Whatever their provenance or their personal style, a future star requires that undefinable star quality known as “it.”

“As an agent it’s just something you know when you see. Sometimes it takes a little bit of grooming but sometimes they’re ready to go,” Novak says.

First the agency establishes “motherhood,” an exclusive contract for North America. Then they get a card made up for the model and blast it out via e-mail. They try to get the model’s face on Web sites like Models.com and Modellaunch.com, to which people inside the industry pay a lot of attention.

“Typically in a first season we just want them to do as much as possible and meet as many people as possible,” Novak says.

Getting cast in runway shows is a top priority. For new models, the hourly grind of the runway season is no way to make a living. It’s too erratic, and the pay ranges from just clothes to perhaps $1,000 per show.

But the catwalk is a priceless opportunity to get face time with designers and top stylists, in the hope that they will consider a model for a print campaign.

“Most designers book campaigns off the runway. Only Prada and Jil Sander might look for a guy who hasn’t been seen already. With everyone else you need to have walked the runway,” Kanner says.

Of course, the runway also affords a model the chance to impress countless editors and be considered for magazine spreads, which, again, might lead to the lucrative advertising gigs.

“The boys who hit the editorial wave in the strongest magazines and … work with the highest-end photographers become visible to the creative directors worldwide,” who can choose them to become the image of a brand, says Hendrich of DNA. That’s how a star is born. “Then it’s all about maintaining and not overselling the image, so they can ride the wave of their career and keep going forward.”

A good career keeps momentum with a continuous loop of editorial, advertising and runway, with regular cash flow coming from catalogs and retail campaigns.

So far, no male model has approached the longevity of the fairer sex’s supermodels. But as the business grows in tandem with the recent emergence of so many men’s wear designers in New York and the broadening interest in men’s fashion in the U.S., the glass ceiling may yet break. Heaven knows, the young men on these pages are eager to swing some hammers at it.