Gender Studies / Society

Male models: the new icons?

The life of a model is comparable to a celebrity routine. Being reproduced, broadcasted and used for industrial process, a model’s image is as far exposed and uncontrollable as a star’s is. Today, models tend to represent the cannons of our society. Yet, models have not the same recognition as stars, especially when models are men.fashion-week-homme

A well paid job?

Paul*— a young man working as a model for a renown agency— goes straight to the point: “at 19 years old and in a few days work for a famous Haute couture brand, I earned more than my father’s made in a month”. Yet, the job has counterparts: “it is an up and down situation. You can have big contracts with the crazy life of a model, then have nothing happening for months”. Still, male models cannot pretend to build a career since their salary equals the third of what female models get. To Ashley Mears —author of Piercing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model— “modeling is disproportionately a female job.(…) Women earn between 25 percent and 75 percent more than men”. This gap explains why male top models are very rare while many female models are many to become famous beyond the fashion world— obvious examples are Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Gisele Bundchën or Natalia Vodianova (see Forbes’ ranking for “the world’s highest paid models“). Nonetheless, as the sociologist underlines: “men bookers are sometimes able to outbid a woman’s fee, on one condition—if the man is a more established name in fashion.”

Runway to fame

gabiconi&karl

Baptiste Giabiconi (right) and Karl Lagerfeld at St Tropez

Because of men’s relative wages, competition is less important between male models and more “friendly” backstage than female modeling :
“staying cool, provocative and playing the guitar backstage after shows is appreciated “, says Paul. Competition exists though, and as one can expect relationships in the fashion field are not so innocent: “those who want to be famous attend fashion and trendy parties, get contacts and fill their address books”, adds Paul. Besides, like many other fields which induce fame and money, modeling is a work where integrity is sometimes forgotten. Sexual harassment at work such as mentioned in Picture Me, also happens when models are men: “this job is full of ambiguity and seduction. Some photographers sometimes take advantage of their position and seduce you openly because they know some models would do anything in order to get good contracts”, claims Paul.

Fashion accessory

“Stars are defined by their attractiveness, their sex appeal, their magnetism and their style”states Shumway in “A New Kind of Star”. Can we say so of male models’ celebrities? As sociologist Nathalie Heinich underlines, “people reading fashion magazines know models’ faces, but most of them don’t know who they are”. 23 years-old French model Baptiste Giabiconi— who begun to work for Chanel in 2009— is an exception. He has appeared on many tabloids and “celebrities” pages of fashion magazines. He also turns towards music, which made him famous beyond the fashion boundaries. Other men such as Tyson Ballou, Werner Schreyer or Tony Ward succeed in having a career (see models.com ranking), but they are not famous for their personalities.

“We all look alike”

The celebrity induced by modeling is very peculiar: the model becomes a consumer product. Models are devoid of persona since they are not fashion designers, but wear what designers made for other people to wear. Like many other models, Paul is definitely aware of being a mere “fashion accessory” whose role is to enhance a product: “we all look alike” he admits in a smile. They have no power over the male cannon: “fragrance campaigns always depicts very manly and virile men, but never androgynous models. Ephebes types are kept for fashion runways, while ‘man’s man’ cannons are used for mainstream campaigns”, regrets Paul.The model is in a way the living add of a brand whose gender can even be different from the image built. (see Casey Legler, a woman model hired to work for the male fashion industry.)

le beau male gaultier

“Le Beau Male”, Jean-Paul Gaultier

“Celebrities are a creature of capitalism”

Modeling is a work where one has to let aside his persona. The model gets his fame from the brand and his agency, not the other way round. The idea of model celebrity is thus very relative. “Celebrities are a creature of capitalism” Kurzman points out. Rather than becoming “stars”, famous models tend to become “people” for tabloids or “icons” for fashion magazines. Unlike David Shumway’s 1960s rock stars, men models are not much “the representation of a generation” but a cultural representation of our consumer society anchored in an “industrial system” which rejects any idea of the model’s persona.

Bibliography

Chenu, Alain. “Des Sentiers De La Gloire Aux Boulevards De La Célébrité ; Sociologie Des Couvertures De ‘Paris Match’, 1949-2005.” Revue Française de sociologie49.1 (2008): 3–53. Print.

Heinich, Nathalie. “La Consommation De La Célébrité.” P.U.F L’année sociologique 61 (2011): 103– 123. Print.

Kurzman, Charles et al. “Celebrity Status.” Sociological Theory 25.4 (2007): 347–367. Print.

Mears, Ashley. “Runway to Gender.” Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model. University of California Press, 2011. Print.

Royer, Anne. “Mannequin, L’un Des Rares Métiers Où Les Hommes Gagnent Moins Que Les Femmes.” Les Inrockuptibles. 28 June 2012. Web. 3 June 2013.

—. “Mannequins : Quelles Perspectives De Carrière Pour Les Hommes ?” 7 Feb. 2012. Web. 3 June 2013.

Shumway, David. “‘A New Kind of Star’, Lecture at University Paris 8”

*The name of the model has been changed. Any resemblance to existing names is fortuitous.

*Images are not related to the model interviewed

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