Mario Acquarulo and Miles Chamley-Watson

Since IMG relaunched its men’s division in 2012, the whole world has changed. Instagram and YouTube have exploded, and everybody looks at social media. Modeling agencies have had to figure out what it all means, and how a model’s social media following could impact their careers.

Mario Acquarulo, director of the men’s division, IMG Models New York; Miles Chamley Watson, Olympic fencer and model, and Cameron Dallas, model, influencer and entrepreneur, sat down with Alex Badia, style director of WWD, to talk about how the male modeling business has changed over the last few years, and how important it is to have a social media presence and a story to tell. Both models are with IMG.

Acquarulo recalled what happened in 2015, when they first met Dallas. The model came to the office and had 10 million followers, and while they thought it was great, they thought “what do these numbers mean?” Acquarulo took Dallas to dinner at Indochine, and there was a table of IMG clients nearby, and he introduced Dallas to them. They weren’t overly impressed. “Then they texted their daughters, and ran back over and said, ‘OMG, I have my daughter screaming on the phone.’” This is the first time they realized what digital could do.

Fast forward to today, and “we all know the power of social media,” Acquarulo said.

After being signed by IMG, Calvin Klein became the first real exposure that Dallas had to the modeling world. In 2016, Dallas, who was 21 at the time, stood on a little balcony in Milan waving to hundreds of screaming fans in the street, wearing his jeans, with his Calvin Klein Underwear sticking out. That exposure “was the modern-day Super Bowl ad,” Acquarulo said. The audience online was 10 million and they were connected and engaged. “It was bigger than anybody could have imagined,” Acquarulo said.

“The experience was really cool. For me, I wanted to bridge the gap between digital and fashion. Everyone with a cell phone has an opportunity to build an audience,” said Dallas, who recently signed a record deal with Columbia and released his first single. The song has had 12 million plays, and the video has had 6 million views.

Chamley-Watson was asked how his career unfolded. He said he was born in London and came to America  when he was 10 years old. He was “a pain in the ass kid,” and was told he needed to pick up an extracurricular activity, and there was tennis, badminton or fencing. He chose fencing and started winning competitions and participated in the 2012 Olympics, where he took home the bronze medal. He said being involved in the fashion world “is a nice little healthy balance.”

“Fencing is big every four years,” he said. After college, he collaborated with Nike, which helped him with his charity to get kids to start fencing. He also recalled being asked to do a shoot for a company, and when he asked which one, he was told “Off-White.”

“It was Virgil [Abloh] six years ago,” he said. “I was a nobody and he helped my career as well.”

All the panelists agreed about the power of storytelling and how it changes a brand.

Acquarulo said one of the biggest things that’s changed is that brands used to come in and were looking for models with certain hair colors or waist sizes. “Now we’re seeing brands come to the table and say, ‘Let’s talk about what storytellers you have and how we can connect and engage in a powerful way.’”

Badia said male models don’t get paid as much as female models. “We’ve seen a lot of different things from 2015 to now. We’re starting to see people with the power to level that playing field,” said Acquarulo, citing both Dallas and Chamley-Watson.