Male modeling may seem like an artistic pursuit, but it’s really more of a sport—and it’s cutthroat. Steady employment means auditioning as often as possible, and the inscrutable casting directors and the fickle fashion labels are scattered all over Manhattan, which means leapfrogging from uptown to downtown and back again just to land a job, many of which mean exposure rather than money. And, as it is for their female counterparts, the typical diet for a male model is abstemious. Matt McGlone, who played on a rugby team in his recent student days at Eastern Illinois University, gave up dairy and grains two years ago.
Before they make it, male models are sometimes paid not in cash but in swag. Certain brands have been known to offer runway guys the choice of cash or a gift card. And the nightly rate for the cheerless “model apartments”—which, in most cases, are selected for them by their agencies—is usually pulled from their paychecks by their handlers.
“It’s not digging ditches,” McGlone said, “but it’s not easy.”
McGlone was living in an apartment on the east side of Manhattan, near the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge (Alex Michels rents a place right around the corner), when I met him in April.
It’s a strange neighborhood for someone just getting acquainted with Manhattan. The local landmark is Sapphire, a strip joint and steak house, and at times, on the sidewalks in this part of town, you see only two breeds of humans: strippers and models.
The other day I visited Alex Michels’ one-bedroom apartment, which he shares with another model represented by IMG. The place looked like a teenager’s room. On a table near the flat screen he had a copy of the book World War Z and the Nintendo game Monster Hunter. In the bathroom, a sign above the toilet warned: “Do not overload with excessive amount of toilet paper.” Inside the refrigerator and freezer were eggs, tiramisu laden with fungus, and a bag of frozen blueberries.
Michels said he subsists mainly on chicken nuggets and ramen from the nearby Food Emporium supermarket.
He started on this path in the summer of 2011, when he went to an open audition in San Francisco sponsored by Stars Model Management. It didn’t go that well. “They were like, ‘Next!’” Michels recalled. But one of the agents took an interest in him. When Michels was about to start his second semester at Diablo Valley College in California, the agent arranged for him to fly to New York for a meeting with Ralph Lauren.
Michels was so naïve at the time, he thought that he was going to meet Ralph Lauren himself. “My whole family—my grandmother, me—we all thought I was going to meet Ralph Lauren,” he said. “But you’re not actually meeting Ralph Lauren. I just had a casting at Ralph Lauren.”
He didn’t land a Ralph Lauren job, either, but he did eventually book runway shows with smaller labels, such as Tim Hamilton. He couch-surfed in New York and took a job as a front-door model at Abercrombie & Fitch. “I would open the door for people,” he said. “This was back when I was a chump. Before I was high-class with IMG. You got placed by the door on the main floor, depending on which manager found you attractive.”
Terry Richardson shot Michels (along with 17 other models) for a Vogue Hommes Japan spread. Another veteran photographer, David Armstrong, used him, as did Lady Gaga’s stylist and fashion photographer, Nicola Formichetti. Soon enough, Michels found himself modeling for Louis Vuitton. In November, less than a year after that disastrous first audition, he was appearing at a Calvin Klein presentation along with Matt McGlone; IMG signed him a month later.
Michels said he likes appearing in magazine spreads but they don’t pay as well as advertising work. As he put it, “Tear sheets don’t feed my belly.” During fallow periods he goes back to Walnut Creek. There, not far from Interstate 680, he works long shifts at his grandfather’s rubber and plastic factory. “It’s like an assembly line,” he said. “I get covered in cooling fluids.”
Although his rise in the modeling business has been pretty steep, Michels said he is not sure what he will be when he grows up. “Probably a cinematographer-animator-voice-actor-video-game-artistic-designer,” he said.
Marc Faiella took a different route into the business than did Alex Michels and Matt McGlone. For him, it really is about the fashion. He told me about a Balenciaga fitting he took part in last summer: While the other models were napping or checking their phones, he was looking through the company archives. “The other boys are sleeping,” he recalled. “Meanwhile, I’m like, ‘Oh, my God! Look at this seam finish!’”
When Faiella was 12, his father died. His mother, who sells antiques on eBay, took up with a man a year later, and together they raised him, his older brother, and younger sister. “She’s such a bitch,” Faiella said, “but in the best way possible. She really sticks up for herself. She doesn’t take no for an answer, and that’s where I get it from. Everything I’ve ever have wanted, I’ve gotten because my mom taught me there’s no other way. She’s also the person who said”—and here he takes up a Long Island accent—“‘Marc, where’d you get that jawline from? You should be a model!’”
At age 16, Faiella started taking classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology. He started going to Parsons in fall 2010, majoring in fashion design and women’s ready to wear. He got his modeling break thanks to his part-time job as a clerk at the Soho store of the hip clothing boutique Opening Ceremony, when a company stylist spied him amid the racks and put him in a photo shoot. The following summer, the Long Island kid was in Paris—he had an internship at the label Kenzo—and he landed an appearance in the Balenciaga catalog and the prime spots in the aforementioned Lanvin show.
He is a model—but only for now. His heart is set on being a designer.
After Parsons—he is scheduled to graduate as this issue goes to press—Faiella said he would like to work as a model in Tokyo for a while to pay his student loans before focusing full-time on design. “I want to make sure I have something to show people,” he said. “There’s always that stigma of model turned designer, and that’s not what I want. I worked really hard at design and I get nervous about not being taken seriously.”
For a long time Matt McGlone planned to go law school. He even had Lady Justice tattooed on his left arm to remind him of his commitment. “It was kind of what I wanted to do for a long time,” he said, “but it turns out I can’t sit behind a desk. It’s not for me.”
People had long told him he looked like a prom king, so in May 2012 he went to an open casting call at Chosen Model Management in Chicago—“I figured, why not try it out while I’m still kind of young?” he said—and he was signed on the spot. From there he auditioned for Calvin Klein. “I knew I had a Calvin look,” he said. “I’m an American-looking guy, not too big, not too small. It felt right. I never felt like that for any other casting.”
Soon afterward, in January, he was on a flight to Milan for the Calvin Klein shows. And there he was, splashed over the Calvin Klein Web site in the latest tank tops and shirts and jeans.
He said his father “thinks it’s kind of funny. He’s very supportive. I think my mom likes it a bit more. She likes seeing me in magazines. She goes out and buys whole stacks, sends them to all my family.”
Off the runway, McGlone likes to race bikes. He owns a Suzuki SFV650 and two vintage Hondas, a CB750 and a CB550. “The 650 is the bike I take when I race,” he said. “Racing doesn’t compare to anything else. I like the rush.”
In his tidy but cramped apartment, there was a suitcase, a pouch of American Spirit tobacco, an iPad, and the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which he has read many times. Key refrigerator staple: a bottle of Tito’s Handmade Vodka.
He took me up to the rooftop. He looked out toward the Queensboro Bridge, which was slammed with late-evening traffic. An afterglow settled over the stacked apartment buildings of Roosevelt Island.
He spoke some more about the girl he had gone shooting with in the Poconos: “I can talk to her about anything. She seems pretty cool.” He said he liked watching her fire the weapons. “It’s a little bit of a turn-on. She was kind of scared to use certain kinds of guns, and I was like, ‘No, you’ll be all right.’” He looked off at the traffic. “What gets me going is girls on motorcycles in full leathers.”
I asked him if he liked being a model.
“I’m not really good at too many things,” McGlone said, “but I feel like I could be really good at this. The thought at the back of my head is, it could always end in a heartbeat. It’s as simple as walking into a street and getting hit by a car. The plan is, this is my job right now. I’m going to do it at 110 percent, until it’s no longer my job.”