The addition of ‘super’ to ‘model’ and the morphing of the model from silent muse to celebrity is generally accepted to have occurred in 1980-1990. Since then, the aesthetic and the boobs have shrunk, but not the idea. Referring to Agyness, Freja, Natalia and Sasha using just their first names demonstrates their fame and familiarity to us (and is also handy for Anglos who have trouble pronouncing Russian-sounding surnames.)
The concept of woman-as-model is a familiar one with a history snaking through artists’ studios as well as catwalks. However the counterpart to these beautiful women, the male model, has yet to become as recognisable a celebrity category. Whilst men do model both clothes and products, they are rarely famous solely for being a gorgeous garment hanger. Often, men who already have other careers in acting or sport are then used as models to endorse designers’ products- a tradition continued with Tom Ford’s employment of actor Nicholas Hoult in his Eyewear Spring 2010 campaign. In contrast to the model-turned-actress/singer/chef career path of many female models, male models frequently do the opposite.
However, there is a well-dressed school of thought believing this dichotomy is disintegrating and the face of this change is David Gandy. Over the past five years, Gandy has risen from humble Richard and Judy roots to Dolce and Gabbana fantasy. His association with the Italian brand began with fronting the Light Blue Pour Homme fragrance in tiny white swimming shorts and has since included a Michaelangelo-inspired calendar and hagiographic book. Recently, Gandy returned to middle class Britain in an A/W 2011 Marks and Spencer campaign.
Although Gandy may be the poster boy of the changing status of male models, there are others accompanying him. Notably, Jon Kortajarena and fellow Spaniard Andrés Velencoso Segura have similarly sculpted careers and have pouted their lips for, respectively, Guess and Chanel, amongst others. It is possible that increased acceptability of male models is in correspondence with a growing tolerance of male grooming and vanity more generally. This change in mores is also reflected in the burgeoning male beauty industry and can be seen in the multiplication of magazines dedicated to men interested in fashion, such as Another Man and Fantastic Man.
One thing Kortajarena, Velencoso and Gandy have in common is that they are as equally credited with transforming the inside of male modelling as much as they have the outside perceptions of it. For although commentaries remain fixated on the concavities of women models, the waif aesthetic has been as much a feature of male catwalks within the last decade as it has the female.
Pretty much invented during Hedi Slimane’s tenure at Dior Homme, the slim line Shoreditch Libertine look was then proliferated by both the designer and photographer himself and a great number of high end and high street fashion brands (particularly Topman.) The stone-carved Mediterranean muscles of the new vanguard were in direct opposition to the indistinguishable Doherty-eyed adolescents usually used in male modelling. Compare, for instance, Hedi Slimane’s 2009 photos of Jethro Lazenby Cave- the androgyny of the model emphasised by appearing partially in drag in some of the photos- with the inflated physique of Gandy in the latest D&G Eyewear 2011 adverts.
Regarding the previously mentioned M&S ads Simon Chilvers, Guardian assistant fashion editor, remarked on the relative oddity of Gandy posing in clothes. This is indeed an interesting point, because much of Gandy’s career has been half-naked and Velencoso and Kortajarena have also been photographed nude. The photographs of Gandy in the D&G calendar, books and adverts are created with one aim, which is to display his fantastic physical form. There is no faux-narrative; he is simply a beautiful object to be looked at.
This places him in exactly the same position some feminists claim women to be the only occupiers of. Similarly, Velencoso took the traditional place of a Playboy girl when his perfected body decorated the cover of a Spanish edition of Vanity Fair in 2010. Consider also, the Tom Ford Eyewear A/W 2010 photos of a naked Jon Kortajarena which entirely echo the famous Sophie Dahl Opium ads. Whatever individual views on the very idea of models and naked pin-ups, it is fascinating to see male models and designers disturbing tired perceptions of gender- pleasing to look at in every sense.