On my desk as I write this are a half-dozen men's magazines featuring fall and spring fashions, most of which I would never wear and would advise others not to wear unless they were looking for trouble: bee-yellow jumpsuits; blazers with lapels flared like manta rays; plum turtlenecks up to the earlobes.
Who, exactly, wears chrome pants?
Male models do, and what mysterious creatures they are. Whereas ordinary men suffer fits of self-conscious fidgeting if they have to put on a tie, male models wear any couture as easily as skin they have recently wriggled out of. Burberry waistcoat, Gaultier jockstrap, it doesn't seem to matter. Still, the cool, appraising stare, the cheeks sucked in just so, a look that says: I make this jockstrap look good.
What secrets hang on those pouty, pink-glossed lips? I wanted to know. I wanted to be a male model.
With a little legwork, I found Crista Klayman, who runs L.A. Models, one of the largest agencies in the city. She, in turn, put me in touch with Michael Maddox, a runway show producer and Klayman's best model coach, who consented to give me a runway lesson in late February at the agency's office on Sunset Boulevard. Klayman felt sure she could land me a spot in a show during the upcoming Fashion Week.
Inevitably, as I considered this project, I had to come to terms with my own magnificence, or lack thereof. Yes, it's true, I'm tall, fit and retain my full complement of hair and teeth, but I have never been photogenic--"interesting looking" is the oft-heard euphemism tendered by wives and girlfriends--and whatever looks I had disappeared some years ago when, in the words of actor/playwright Sam Shepard, my face fell off.
Fortunately, the bandwidth for male pulchritude is wider than it is for women. While beautiful older women may find work in "lifestyle" print work, runway modeling remains the exclusive domain of anorexic teenage Martians who could make dryer sheets look like the height of fashion.
Though unusual, men can work the catwalk until they are in their 40s, says Klayman, and, in fact--notwithstanding the graphite-lidded androgynes favored by Versace and Dolce & Gabbana--many male models do not grow into their faces until they reach their 30s. Men are allowed to have imperfect, interesting faces; there is even a kind of counter-programming involving the use of striking, rather homely men. This was heartening news.
"People who photograph well believe they are beautiful and sexy," Maddox told me before our lesson. "It comes from attitude and confidence."
Men have an easier time with the walk, too. "For men, the walk is a slight enhancement of the natural walk," Maddox said. For women, catwalking is more stylistic and regionally determined. Show producers in Tokyo like their models to move in a kind of seductive ether, impassive yet complaisant. In Paris and Milan, the girls march in a theatrical, nubile goose step.
I took my lesson in a halogen-lit conference room with three stiletto-wearing girls between 14 and 20 years old. We took turns sashaying back and forth while Maddox studied our gaits like a Westminster judge. He showed me the slow-to-a-stop maneuver models do at the end of the runway, an unfortunately named bit of choreography called the "spread." Maddox encouraged me to get in touch with my inner Zoolander.
"You're creating a dream," he said. "Be in character. Be sexy. Have a presence." This, more than the thousand crunches a day, turns out to be the hardest thing about male modeling: to take yourself seriously as a sexual being, to smolder. It just feels stupid, like something you would be embarrassed to be caught doing in front of the mirror. I admire--yes, admire--the selflessness of any man who can do it convincingly. In the end, the only way I could assume such a face was to think to myself: "I am a dirty girl."
Meanwhile, Klayman was working the phones, trying to get me a booking during Fashion Week. An opportunity came up with a pret-a-porter label called Naqada. I went to the company's website. The men's clothes were scary--pink satin sash belts, capri pants, and one caped outfit that looked like a uniform for the Vatican's rifle-and-flag drill team. The models, though nice-looking kids in their 20s, were not the shredded, gorgeous man-lads of Calvin Klein. I figured I had a chance and e-mailed my head shot to the public relations rep.
Alas, no. Because pictures from the show would be used in the catalog, "all the models have to be uniform to the look we are presenting," the Naqada rep wrote back. Uniform. I get it. In a room with me and a bunch of hot male models, one of these things is not like the others.
The fashion world won't miss me, and vice versa. I am still one of those who believe a good black suit and white shirt can conquer the world. Even so, sometimes, when I'm walking down the hall, I'll catch a whiff of myself, smoldering.