The rise of the male model

Wednesday, 05 February 2014
It used to be that male models walked at least two paces behind their female counterparts. In one of the few industries, they were paid less, lauded less, and generally took a back seat when it came to prominence. When the word 'supermodel' is uttered, we think of Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Linda Evangelista et al. We don't think of Clement Chabernaud, Tyson Ballau, or Sean O'Pry, though all their faces are recognised the world over.

Men's fashion business worth 18 million dollars

As menswear has seen steady economic growth in the past few seasons, an industry now worth 18 million dollars, men's fashion, along with men's modeling, is serious business. A seismic shift has occurred in the men's fashion industry as whole, with both the high street and luxury brands placing a new importance on their collections, advertising and communications.

London Fashion Week last year launched a men's only week, which finally said due attention should be paid to menswear brands, rather than it being a one day event held at the end of the women's shows, when the majority of press had already departed for Milan.

So with menswear booming, the time is apt for the rise of the male model. While we are starting to see a few names become household, such as David Gandy, the face of Dolce & Gabbana, most men remain relative obscure, at least with their clothes on. Take Garrett Neff, the face and body behind the Calvin Klein ads. Neff has been on major billboards for two years, from London to New York, from Moscow to Tokyo. You would be able to point him out in a crowd, though would you know him by name?

“The industry has definitely come to a crossroads,” casting director Edward Kim of the Edit Desk told the Business of Fashion. “When menswear initially began to emerge as an industry a lot of the male models were disposable — props to the women almost — but that has definitely changed. We live in such a developed and expanding celebrity culture that the fact the models are breaking their way into the public consciousness, solely for modelling, is notable.”

Models have become brands unto themselves, all you have to do is look at the meteoric rise of Cara Delevigne, who has 4.1 million followers on her Instagram and is now hounded by the press as much as an A-list actress or reality television celebrity. By contrast, Garrett Neff has 20,000 Instagram followers, and he doesn't have cameramen camping outside his doorstep.

So while the men's campaigns are reaching wider audiences, their faces becoming more familiar, and the industry growing season by season, the gap between male and female models has definitely decreased, though women are still more than a few paces ahead.

Images: Garrett Neff, Clement Chabernaud