Professional Male Models Tell Us How To Break Into The Industry

Professional Male Models Tell Us How To Break Into The Industry

Is it time to hand in your P45?

“I’m a model, you know what I mean, and I do my little turn on the catwalk,” Right Said Fred sang, nipples front-and-centre in a black mesh T-shirt, in 1991.

The singer’s mockery, at the time (and as recently as 2001 with the release of films such as Zoolander), was justified. The idea of men earning a living for simply wearing clothes smacked of unappealing traits – narcissism, unintelligence and a lack of seriousness. But in more recent years there’s been a seismic shift in attitudes.

Not only has male modelling begun to match the status and acclaim female modelling has held since the 1980s, thanks to names like David Gandy, Tyson Beckford and Sean O’Pry becoming celebrities, it is also increasingly seen as desirable work. And the emphasis is on “work”: as well as now being considered a legit career, there is also a wider understanding of what being a male model entails.

“It’s a life choice, and one that takes plenty of discipline: days in the gym, eating properly, avoiding the booze before a shoot and what not. It isn’t just turning up and taking a nice photo,” says Oliver Cheshire, who has fronted campaigns for everyone from Marks & Spencer to Calvin Klein.

Contrary to public perception, the necessary qualities are much more ineffable than simply being classically good-looking. Yes, you typically need to be tall and have good bone structure. But the dynamic of what constitutes a male model is always changing, and it no longer ends at being able to out-pout Ben Stiller.

How To Become A Male Model

Modelling is not a job you apply for (apart from in the case of David Gandy, who applied for and won a competition on ITV’s This Morning nearly two decades ago). So how do you go about making it your career?

“It’s less about looks now and more about how that individual is in themselves, and how that shows in their face,” says Alice Grindley, a model booker at London-based agency Nevs. “Social media has helped build this new emphasis on personality, together with the growing number of smaller menswear brands that are more interested in a creative look – in having the right face for them rather than strict model measurements. The fact is that there are so many male models now who could all, more or less, do the same job that clients are increasingly looking for difference.”

Some agencies hold open days, during which anyone can show up, while others take their chances outside of these hours. “It can work,” says Michael Baker, head of male models at agency Storm. “We had one boy [male models are typically referred to as ‘boys’, regardless of their age] who walked into our office one day and, although he was only 16 so had a lot of development to go through, we signed him on the spot. But that doesn’t happen often.”

Instead, the vast majority of models are scouted: approached by a representative of an agency, or a more experienced model. And these scouts look everywhere: from music festivals to shopping centres to Instagram.

“Social media is a huge shop window for models now, and I’ve personally scouted a few guys that are doing really well,” says Cheshire. “A lot of people are spotted in this way now, so if you’re on the younger side, consider this as a way to boost your promise.”

Though it’s not impossible, few are truly plucked from obscurity to hit the big time. “It’s the old PR game to talk of models being found on a building site,” adds Britain’s Next Top Model judge Max Rogers. “The number of would-be models waiting on building sites is incredible.”

Due to the Blue Steel image of male modelling, often a scout’s approach is rebuffed. “We’re still up against perceptions,” says Baker. But scouting generally works because it’s the agencies that know what works for the fashion industry at the time. Also because, since most male models start young, they need the agency’s guidance.”

The Professional Model Today

A decade ago male models were typically pigeon-holed into a particular kind of work. These categories – commercial, catwalk, fitness and the like – still exist loosely, but changing industry demands and the growing number of brands offering a broader range of menswear have caused a shift away from the use of cookie-cutter types for particular modes of work.

Now, agencies and brands look for distinction: a model with a ‘look’ that will be less generic and therefore more recognisable to the public. Even age is in flux. “If we think we can manage a model and get them shooting regularly, age just isn’t a factor anymore, especially on the men’s side of the business,” says Baker.

Today the varieties of work are the building blocks of a career, and to more lucrative income: catwalk work and editorial work leading to high-profile commercial work.

“What matters more is the level of professionalism you bring, whatever type of work that is,” adds Rogers. “It is a strange industry, and on the surface it looks as though you just turn up and have your picture taken, or walk a bit. But the real work is in what you do around shoot days: you need to look after your fitness and your health, for example. Being ready to work has to become habitual.”

Today’s male model varies wildly, with individual brands favouring a certain ‘look’

For all that, some would describe the rewards as modest. A few big male models make very comfortable, though not eye-watering, incomes (Sean O’Pry is reported to have taken home £1.15m in 2015). Most male models take home something closer to the national average of £27,000 and, even at the top, generally earn 75 per cent less than their female equivalents.

The upside is that men usually have a longer career path, though this is not a given. “It’s something agencies always have to explain: if a would-be male model might not have a long career it might not be best for them to take him on,” says Baker. “And you have to prep them well – because being a successful male model is a process. It’s a craft you have to learn.”

“Becoming a model can mean a major shift in one’s intentions – regarding education and career plans, for example; if you have your heart set on becoming a doctor, ditching that dream for a career which may prove short-lived might not be wise.”

For that reason, it is not as yet easy to succeed as a model without the backing of an agency. There are freelancers. But, in return for their commission on your earnings, “you need an agency’s belief in you, and their plan for you, because you’re a rare person if you have both the skills of a model and an agent,” says Rogers. “You might, for example, want to take on a job for financial reasons, but your agent will know that job will destroy your longer-term career. I was offered 12 major campaigns in my ‘break-out’ year, and my agent made sure I only took one. If I’d have done them all, I’d have been ‘the guy of 2008’ and that would have been it.”

Types Of Male Model

Shooting fashion images for magazines and online titles is, as Rogers puts it, “where the art is”. Since the goal is more about entertainment and less about commerciality, it is the kind of work that allows a model to “make more of a statement”.

There are few parameters about height or build for an editorial model with the right look – though being close to what brands refer to as ‘sample size’ (roughly a 32” waist, 15.5” neck, 40-42″ jacket) certainly helps. It’s more about the attitude you bring to the art director and fashion editor’s vision for the shoot.

The work tends to be found only in major cities and pay varies wildly: from £200 to £1,000 per day, depending on the publication; and it does not follow that prestige publications necessarily pay the most.

Catwalk models – those that wear designer clothes for each season’s run of shows in London, Milan, Paris and New York – need to be tall: typically between 6’ and 6’3”, since this works best photographically (and the catwalks are increasingly about disseminating images via social media rather than persuading a buyer to invest).

Allowing for proportionality to height, a catwalk model’s build can vary considerably – depending on the demands of the brand. They also need to know how to walk a runway – a skill in itself. But, perhaps above all, they need to be hardy.

Male models seeking catwalk work may have to go to some 10 castings a day – this is where they are assessed for their suitability for particular work – for several days and in several cities, all without getting paid. “Catwalk is a great introduction to the industry and is it a way to make a name for yourself,” says Rogers. “But it’s a lot about measurements, rather than creativity, doesn’t pay well and is also an absolute marathon each season – a long, hard slog.”

“It is with commercial work that you can really start to think about modelling as being a long-term career,” says Rogers. Commercial work tends to cover a wide spectrum of non-catwalk work for a specific brand. Catalogues, print and online, for example, are considered to be commercial work, as are trade shows and TV shows.

The physical requirements are less rigorous – men are still likely to be over 5’10” – and the work, in turn, less high-profile. But it can be the making of steady, regular employment.

Win a major advertising campaign for an international brand, however, and it can be the ticket to the big time. It’s through ads that a male model will most likely cross the line into celebrity and pick up everything from endorsement deals to appearance fees.

Once considered the more esoteric side of modelling, more savvy fashion brands are waking up to the idea that most guys are not model size; and that, in fact, we’re getting bigger.

As a consequence, the demand for plus-size male models is on the up. As the name suggests, these men are typically heavier than the standard, with larger dimensions (for example, 42”-plus chests, rather than a more typical 38”), and are sometimes but not always taller or more muscular.

The sector is starting to see its star names, the likes of Zach Miko, Ben Whit and Alex Frankel, come to the fore with specialist agencies, like the UK’s Bridge Models, launching too. “In nearly all other areas of male modelling, being bigger than sample size is limiting,” says Grindley, “though more agencies are looking at people who aren’t conventionally sized now.”

Of all the categories, fitness models are most likely to be self-represented. But then they are also most likely to be self-selecting – because while a fitness model might not conform to conventional fashion industry standards of height or ‘good looks’, by definition, his musculature will be the result of nearly full-time dedication to exercise and diet.

The breadth of fitness model body type is wide – from lithe and athletic to the huge and Thor-like – but all will be proportional. Whereas non-modelling fitness enthusiasts build muscle for strength, mass and functionality, fitness models must build for aesthetics, which requires a specific kind of training. It also means looking healthy all over – including hair and (probably tanned) skin. The very top of the field can earn around £370,000 a year.

Yes, if your whole self doesn’t quite make the grade, perhaps a part of you – your hands, or your feet, for example – do. This is the work of the parts model: to keep their particular asset in spectacular form.

Although pay may top £750 a day, and demand is high from companies that want a perfect body part to represent their brand – be it eyes, lips or teeth – agency representation is essential to make a career of it.

Perfection is not an exaggeration, either: while it’s important that a pair of hands be glove/jewellery sample size, they need also be slender, straight-fingered, free of any blemishes, even of skin tone and uniform of nail. It’s not work for builders.

Key Tips For Being A Male Model

“A male model has to be psychologically strong – there’s a lot of rejection,” says Max Rogers. “Even at this stage in my career, I have quiet months. You have to accept that you’re either right for a job or not, and that the whole process is just a matter of someone’s opinion.”
Counter-intuitively, it’s important for a male model not to get attached to the way they look. As soon as you start to like your haircut, the next stylist will want to change it. Likewise, be prepared to wear anything – and feel good in it, at least for the duration of the shoot.
Be ready to have your social life regularly disrupted. Modelling work does not follow the traditional nine-to-five pattern: on the one hand, there can be long periods of not working at all; on the other, you can be expected to be on a plane to the other side of the world next morning. “You get to see some amazing places. You also get to spend a lot of time waiting by the phone,” says Rogers.
Polish your people skills: the successful male model, the one that repeatedly gets re-booked, is the one that can put his ego aside and work well with the rest of the team. Shooting and pulling off catwalk events are major team enterprises.
Learn on the job: take advice from editor’s and photographers to better understand your strengths and weaknesses; they will see you more akin to how the public will, which is often different to how you may see yourself.
“It still happens, but don’t fall for those scams in which someone promises to create a photo portfolio for you that guarantees you work,” says Grindley. “If you have a future in modelling, go with a reputable agency, and feel free to shop around. You need a good relationship with the team behind you.” Likewise, get a good contract. There are shysters out there.
Don’t expect to make a fortune. Modelling is the rare example of an industry in which the pay gap works in favour of women. Models often have to cover their own expenses, too. Think of it like football: Premiership players make a packet, but then there are those in the Isthmian League.

Derek Williams