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Matt McGlone, Marc Faiella and Alex Michels are promising young models who are starting to get good assignments and make decent money. They are represented by the powerful IMG Models agency, which relaunched its men’s division last year. But the field they have chosen is treacherous, with no guarantees. For every Sean O’Pry or Tyson Ballou—the rare male models with any kind of staying power—there are thousands of good-looking guys who come to Manhattan and get a taste, only to crash and burn.
On a springtime evening in Manhattan, McGlone, Faiella, and Michels were at a Calvin Klein Collection party at the company’s Madison Avenue flagship store. Still in the same clothes they had worn all day, McGlone, 25, and Faiella, 22, grabbed flutes of Champagne from passing trays. They seemed at ease, although the other guests at this affair, held to advance the cause of marriage equality, included Uma Thurman, Lloyd Blankfein, Neil Patrick Harris, and Jonathan Tisch.
This story first appeared in the June 4, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
McGlone, a brooding-jock type from Park Forest, Illinois, has a fondness for motorcycles and firearms. On his chest he has a pair of tattoos: twin cats in top hats. When I asked him what they signified, he said he really didn’t want to talk about them. He had recently worked a Calvin Klein show in Milan. “Since I did Calvin,” he said, “I haven’t had to even say yes or no to any catalog work. It’s been crazy fast.” He had a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers hanging from the neckline of his Henley shirt and a glass of Champagne in one hand. “I’m here to make a career,” he said. “I’m not here to try it out for a couple of months.”
Faiella, a delicate type with electric eyes who is a student at Parsons The New School for Design, earned some credibility last summer when the French label Lanvin chose him to walk the runway in the first and last positions. “Opening and closing is what put me where I am now,” said Faiella, who grew up in Holbrook, Long Island, and now lives in Bushwick, Brooklyn. “No one cares about the fifth or the sixth look.” Unlike so many of his colleagues, Faiella actually has a love for and deep knowledge of fashion. As he surveyed the room that evening, he recognized all the players, even the insidery figures, such as Bergdorf Goodman head buyer and senior vice president Linda Fargo.
Michels, at age 20 the youngest of the three, stood wide-eyed at the party. He is from the suburb of Walnut Creek, California, where, he said, an exciting night on the town means heading on down to The Cheesecake Factory chain restaurant. Unlike the other two, Michels had actually bothered to clean up for the night. He was wearing a fresh polka-dot short-sleeve shirt from H&M, dark Zara jeans, and a denim jacket he had received (in lieu of cash payment) for modeling at a Rag & Bone presentation. Michels was not drinking Champagne—“I don’t like alcohol,” he said, “it hurts my belly”—but he did help himself to the macaroons. “I’ve had, like, seven,” he said.
The actor Alan Cumming, lately starring in a Cumming-heavy adaptation of Macbeth at the Barrymore Theatre, was standing nearby. I asked him if he wouldn’t mind giving me his impression of male models. “Many have made an impression on me,” he said, “and I have made an impression on a few. But it’s not enough to be young and tall and pretty. All the great models have some spark of personality. They shouldn’t be things to hang clothes on. You should want to be them. Or you should want to fuck them.”
Beyond Cumming, in the crowd was Italo Zucchelli, the 48-year-old director of menswear design at Calvin Klein. He is the man who discovered O’Pry. I sidled up to him and asked what a male model needs to have, needs to do, in order to make it.
“There are very few who have long careers,” he said. “You’re looking for confidence and masculinity and character. I don’t like casting people who are bland, no personality, that cannot carry themselves. When I see them walk, they need to be—boom!—confident.
“One of the most important things, in my experience,” Zucchelli continued, “is how their agency is handling their career. If I have a new guy, and he is amazing, it takes three seconds for me to lose interest. If I see him in a catalog, I don’t want him anymore. I don’t want to see him in a catalog three months after my show.”
I asked him about Matt McGlone, in particular, given that he had recently walked the Calvin Klein runway in Milan.
“I don’t know them by name,” Zucchelli said, almost dismissively. “If you show me the picture, I can tell you.” And then there was a flickering in his eyes. “Tattoos?” he said suddenly. “Two cats?” He gestured toward his chest. “Here—and here?”
Yes, that was it.
“Great face,” Zucchelli said. “Great walk. Great body. Masculine! Athletic! Confident!”
Not much later, when he saw McGlone from a distance, the designer summoned him over and took him in an embrace.
After the party, the three male models, who have gotten to know one another over the course of the last year, took a cab downtown, toward The Standard hotel. They dined at The Standard Grill and, on the way out, Matt McGlone stopped to give his number to an attractive hostess. She told him she had a boyfriend, and I asked him what it felt like, to get turned down.
“Just because there’s a goalie doesn’t mean you can’t score,” he replied.
Then it was on to Le Bain, the nightclub located on The Standard’s top floor and rooftop. But first, on West 13th Street, there it was, the velvet rope, the ultimate symbol of who gets in and who doesn’t in New York. Stationed there, too, was a bald bouncer in a black suit who asked the models to show some ID.
McGlone handed the man his Illinois driver’s license and quickly got the nod. He was in. Marc Faiella showed his New York license and he, too, was waved through the door. Alex Michels presented his California card—and got turned away. Perhaps a different bouncer would have let it slide, the fact that he was below the legal drinking age, but not this one. The crestfallen Michels headed uptown, toward his charmless east side apartment. His night was over.
Inside the club, Matt McGlone ordered a Bulleit Bourbon. A photographer from this magazine took aim at McGlone and Marc Faiella, who struck modelish poses without seeming to.
Noticing this, a tipsy young female tourist from China photo-bombed them. Then she asked to have her picture taken with only McGlone and invited her husband to join the scrum. When he stepped into the frame, he looked mere-mortalish in such close proximity to McGlone.
Faiella, sipping a Coca-Cola, looked on.
On the rooftop, Matt McGlone said he had a confession.
“I told the guys I’ve been looking at apartments all day. But, really, I went up to the Poconos to shoot guns with a girl I met at a shoot. She was a stylist’s assistant. All I want to do lately is spend a day with someone, and it was great to spend a day with this girl and just go shoot guns with her.”
When he finished speaking, he was looking at the lighted 1 World Trade Center rising in the distance, almost completely built.
Male modeling may seem like an artistic pursuit, but it’s really more of a sport—and it’s cutthroat. Steady employment means auditioning as often as possible, and the inscrutable casting directors and the fickle fashion labels are scattered all over Manhattan, which means leapfrogging from uptown to downtown and back again just to land a job, many of which mean exposure rather than money. And, as it is for their female counterparts, the typical diet for a male model is abstemious. Matt McGlone, who played on a rugby team in his recent student days at Eastern Illinois University, gave up dairy and grains two years ago.
Before they make it, male models are sometimes paid not in cash but in swag. Certain brands have been known to offer runway guys the choice of cash or a gift card. And the nightly rate for the cheerless “model apartments”—which, in most cases, are selected for them by their agencies—is usually pulled from their paychecks by their handlers.
“It’s not digging ditches,” McGlone said, “but it’s not easy.”
McGlone was living in an apartment on the east side of Manhattan, near the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge (Alex Michels rents a place right around the corner), when I met him in April.
It’s a strange neighborhood for someone just getting acquainted with Manhattan. The local landmark is Sapphire, a strip joint and steak house, and at times, on the sidewalks in this part of town, you see only two breeds of humans: strippers and models.
The other day I visited Alex Michels’ one-bedroom apartment, which he shares with another model represented by IMG. The place looked like a teenager’s room. On a table near the flat screen he had a copy of the book World War Z and the Nintendo game Monster Hunter. In the bathroom, a sign above the toilet warned: “Do not overload with excessive amount of toilet paper.” Inside the refrigerator and freezer were eggs, tiramisu laden with fungus, and a bag of frozen blueberries.
Michels said he subsists mainly on chicken nuggets and ramen from the nearby Food Emporium supermarket.
He started on this path in the summer of 2011, when he went to an open audition in San Francisco sponsored by Stars Model Management. It didn’t go that well. “They were like, ‘Next!’” Michels recalled. But one of the agents took an interest in him. When Michels was about to start his second semester at Diablo Valley College in California, the agent arranged for him to fly to New York for a meeting with Ralph Lauren.
Michels was so naïve at the time, he thought that he was going to meet Ralph Lauren himself. “My whole family—my grandmother, me—we all thought I was going to meet Ralph Lauren,” he said. “But you’re not actually meeting Ralph Lauren. I just had a casting at Ralph Lauren.”
He didn’t land a Ralph Lauren job, either, but he did eventually book runway shows with smaller labels, such as Tim Hamilton. He couch-surfed in New York and took a job as a front-door model at Abercrombie & Fitch. “I would open the door for people,” he said. “This was back when I was a chump. Before I was high-class with IMG. You got placed by the door on the main floor, depending on which manager found you attractive.”
Terry Richardson shot Michels (along with 17 other models) for a Vogue Hommes Japan spread. Another veteran photographer, David Armstrong, used him, as did Lady Gaga’s stylist and fashion photographer, Nicola Formichetti. Soon enough, Michels found himself modeling for Louis Vuitton. In November, less than a year after that disastrous first audition, he was appearing at a Calvin Klein presentation along with Matt McGlone; IMG signed him a month later.
Michels said he likes appearing in magazine spreads but they don’t pay as well as advertising work. As he put it, “Tear sheets don’t feed my belly.” During fallow periods he goes back to Walnut Creek. There, not far from Interstate 680, he works long shifts at his grandfather’s rubber and plastic factory. “It’s like an assembly line,” he said. “I get covered in cooling fluids.”
Although his rise in the modeling business has been pretty steep, Michels said he is not sure what he will be when he grows up. “Probably a cinematographer-animator-voice-actor-video-game-artistic-designer,” he said.
Marc Faiella took a different route into the business than did Alex Michels and Matt McGlone. For him, it really is about the fashion. He told me about a Balenciaga fitting he took part in last summer: While the other models were napping or checking their phones, he was looking through the company archives. “The other boys are sleeping,” he recalled. “Meanwhile, I’m like, ‘Oh, my God! Look at this seam finish!’”
When Faiella was 12, his father died. His mother, who sells antiques on eBay, took up with a man a year later, and together they raised him, his older brother, and younger sister. “She’s such a bitch,” Faiella said, “but in the best way possible. She really sticks up for herself. She doesn’t take no for an answer, and that’s where I get it from. Everything I’ve ever have wanted, I’ve gotten because my mom taught me there’s no other way. She’s also the person who said”—and here he takes up a Long Island accent—“‘Marc, where’d you get that jawline from? You should be a model!’”
At age 16, Faiella started taking classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology. He started going to Parsons in fall 2010, majoring in fashion design and women’s ready to wear. He got his modeling break thanks to his part-time job as a clerk at the Soho store of the hip clothing boutique Opening Ceremony, when a company stylist spied him amid the racks and put him in a photo shoot. The following summer, the Long Island kid was in Paris—he had an internship at the label Kenzo—and he landed an appearance in the Balenciaga catalog and the prime spots in the aforementioned Lanvin show.
He is a model—but only for now. His heart is set on being a designer.
After Parsons—he is scheduled to graduate as this issue goes to press—Faiella said he would like to work as a model in Tokyo for a while to pay his student loans before focusing full-time on design. “I want to make sure I have something to show people,” he said. “There’s always that stigma of model turned designer, and that’s not what I want. I worked really hard at design and I get nervous about not being taken seriously.”
For a long time Matt McGlone planned to go law school. He even had Lady Justice tattooed on his left arm to remind him of his commitment. “It was kind of what I wanted to do for a long time,” he said, “but it turns out I can’t sit behind a desk. It’s not for me.”
People had long told him he looked like a prom king, so in May 2012 he went to an open casting call at Chosen Model Management in Chicago—“I figured, why not try it out while I’m still kind of young?” he said—and he was signed on the spot. From there he auditioned for Calvin Klein. “I knew I had a Calvin look,” he said. “I’m an American-looking guy, not too big, not too small. It felt right. I never felt like that for any other casting.”
Soon afterward, in January, he was on a flight to Milan for the Calvin Klein shows. And there he was, splashed over the Calvin Klein Web site in the latest tank tops and shirts and jeans.
He said his father “thinks it’s kind of funny. He’s very supportive. I think my mom likes it a bit more. She likes seeing me in magazines. She goes out and buys whole stacks, sends them to all my family.”
Off the runway, McGlone likes to race bikes. He owns a Suzuki SFV650 and two vintage Hondas, a CB750 and a CB550. “The 650 is the bike I take when I race,” he said. “Racing doesn’t compare to anything else. I like the rush.”
In his tidy but cramped apartment, there was a suitcase, a pouch of American Spirit tobacco, an iPad, and the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which he has read many times. Key refrigerator staple: a bottle of Tito’s Handmade Vodka.
He took me up to the rooftop. He looked out toward the Queensboro Bridge, which was slammed with late-evening traffic. An afterglow settled over the stacked apartment buildings of Roosevelt Island.
He spoke some more about the girl he had gone shooting with in the Poconos: “I can talk to her about anything. She seems pretty cool.” He said he liked watching her fire the weapons. “It’s a little bit of a turn-on. She was kind of scared to use certain kinds of guns, and I was like, ‘No, you’ll be all right.’” He looked off at the traffic. “What gets me going is girls on motorcycles in full leathers.”
I asked him if he liked being a model.
“I’m not really good at too many things,” McGlone said, “but I feel like I could be really good at this. The thought at the back of my head is, it could always end in a heartbeat. It’s as simple as walking into a street and getting hit by a car. The plan is, this is my job right now. I’m going to do it at 110 percent, until it’s no longer my job.”