Despite its size and complexities, the fashion industry is very often reduced to its most glamorous aspects. The players at the highest end—namely luxury brands, though their methods have filtered down to almost every level of the scale—trade on a degree of fantasy and aspiration. At the quiet heart of this lie models, an indispensable element of the industry. On the high and fancy end, models wear the clothes and accessories on the runway, becoming the corporeal embodiment of designers’ creative visions. They star in glossy advertising campaigns, photos splashed across magazine pages and videos played online. On the commercial, more functional side, they wear the clothes that you look at online to consider buying, their persons offering an example (with varying levels of relatability in so far as models are, by design, good-looking) of how things will look on the body.
The word model being applied to a person only really began to take off in the 1800s when the British couturier Charles Frederick Worth showed his designs on actual women. The field has changed a lot since then. Fashion shows—those all important staged events watched far and wide—are far from the trade happenings they used to be. They are now for public entertainment—if not in person, then certainly online, where brands have made live streaming a common practice. It’s certainly one of the biggest stages for a model to get seen and noticed, and some bookings—Prada, for example—have been proven blue-chip career jumpstarts for years.
It’s meant that modelling is a veritable industry, and has been since the earliest agencies (like Ford in 1946, and IMG in 1960) were established. The less talked about aspect of modelling having taken on this structured form of representation, is that its influence on standards of beauty can now be traced. There are definable trends in different eras: Glamazons in the ‘80s, delicate waifs in the ‘90s, Brazilian bombshells and Russian dolls in the ‘00s, and so on.
The glaring omission at this point is, of course, that these trends apply to women. Much like the clothes that are worn themselves, things in men’s fashion change at a slower pace. Think of male supermodels for a moment, and surely David Gandy or Tyson Beckford come to mind. It’s been decades since the heyday of those supermodels, but the image persists. The point being that there is an archetypal look that has (broadly) stayed the same for decades: a classically masculine square jaw and a defined and muscular build.
But that’s just the mainstream picture. A revolution of sorts was started in the ‘90s by two of this generation’s most defining designers: Hedi Slimane and Raf Simons. There is plenty of alleged rivalry between the two because of similarities at the early stages of their careers. But here’s what’s indisputable. Both designers pioneered a skinny, shrunken look for menswear, and put these fashions on ‘emaciated’-looking street-cast boys who looked deliberately out of place on high fashion catwalks. These aesthetic notions would take years to settle into the zeitgeist, but for illustration of its potency, consider that the late Karl Lagerfeld was said to have lost weight specifically to fit into the skinny suits Slimane designed for Dior.
A skinny silhouette would eventually become mainstream in menswear, but for the most part the most recognisable images of male beauty within fashion remained the same. The shift began sometime around 2002 in Cologne, Germany, with an indie modelling agency named Nine Daughters and a Stereo, co-founded by Eva Godel. Unlike the big, networked agencies of Europe who traded on bankable beefcakes, Godel’s agency focused on young, slender, street-cast boys. Some of their earliest bookings were by designers like Raf Simons and Rick Owens. Then, as the taste for skinny, tattooed punk and skater kids grew, she formed the agency Tomorrow Is Another Day in 2010.
Enter French model and actor, Paul Hameline. The 27-year-old French multihyphenate was scouted on the way to an exam in 2014—coincidentally, by an agent for Tomorrow Is Another Day. Hameline had, by then, rejected the approaches of other model scouts several times, but therein perhaps lay the difference of Godel’s agency. While Godel had been successful for a number of years by then, having launched the careers of numerous male models, the time when Hameline came up was fortuitous.
The French model was almost embedded in the inner of the label that has arguably had the greatest impact on fashion in the last decade. Through parties, he got to know the stylist Lotta Volkova, one of the core members of Vetements. That same spring/ summer 2016 season was the very one that Vetements sent its infamous DHL T-shirt down a Paris catwalk, and essentially the beginning of a revolution.
In just one season, Vetements had become the label of the moment. The designs were ironically knowing, and its cast was a complete breath of fresh air. Rather than conventionally attractive models, the people who modelled Vetements looked and felt like an oddball group, alluring because of how interesting and individual each person was. When reviewing the collection for Vogue Runway, Sarah Mower described them as a “freakishly beautiful club of the young and the strong.” Not too long after that breakout season for Vetements, the label’s lead designer Demna was appointed creative director at Balenciaga. Under Demna, Balenciaga became more than just a fashion success. The brand became a cultural force to be reckoned with—novelty items regularly drew attention (and often anger) among the public, who were being introduced essentially to a truly postmodern designer who reassembled sticky questions and notions around taste and luxury to hilarious, high-price results. Hameline—who by 2017 was dubbed a muse to Vetements—walked Balenciaga’s first menswear show under Demna.
By now this new look of male models had proliferated the runways of many top brands. There’s something people use in fashion to explain the significance of what the fancy-schmancy designers do: the trickle-down theory. The idea is that what’s done at the prestigious high-end trickles down, eventually, to be copied by the high street and the masses. Now it is far from an authoritative model of influence—and indeed these days, it seems to flow heavily in reverse—but perhaps this shift in model casting direction proved the trickle-down point.
In quick order, the look and feel of things had changed. The industry-leading clothes being designed and put on the runways for men were taking on more variety, opening up avenues for self-expression and diversity. And the look of the models who modelled these clothes also grew in concert. Miu Miu, ostensibly the girlish of brands, started putting men on its catwalk show. This meant not so much as a return of menswear for the brand (which did in fact exist years before) but as Miuccia Prada’s statement that the clothes were indeed for anyone.
For Hameline, the whole modelling thing may be less of an aspiration and pursuit, and more like successful happenstance. When he was profiled by Vogue in 2016, he was described as having a “shoulder-shrugging attitude” to modelling, and was said to prefer working with friends or on projects that interested him. In fact, since being awarded the industry vote for Model of the Year in 2017 by Models.com, an online platform that tracks the global profession, Hameline’s pace of work has generally slowed. Not to say that he’s getting booked less, but that it seems Hameline is able to now work in the way he’s said he likes. And the manner of his credits in fashion magazines is changing too: he’s been the stylist on a number of shoots, a role reversal that puts him behind the camera.
That’s the story of one model, but proof perhaps of the reach and influence that these faces can have. Diversity, we hope, remains a major conversation in every creative field—and the innocuity of choices and shifts can surprise you. One door can often open another, and before you know it something’s changed. Every which way you look today, it seems the culture is catching up. “To what?” is a difficult question, but here’s one optimistic answer: that years of conversations around representation and diversity are showing their effect at last, and that men can perhaps—taking from aspirational media and celebrity—untether themselves from strictly coded notions of what masculinity looks like.
Photography Ward Ivan Rafik
Styling Xander Ang
Hair Sebastien Richard/Artist using Shu Uemura
Makeup William Bartel/Artist using Suqqu
Set design Enzo Selvatici/ Talent&Partner
Casting director Ikki Casting
Model Paul Hameline/ Success Models
Producer Candice Carcaillon
Digital technician Helene Huet
Photographer’s assistants Jeanne Le Louarn, Wilhelm Martin and Brian Bunting
Stylist’s assistant Yakiv Kotlik
Set design assistant Gauthier Dersigny
The issue of Vogue Man is available for sale online and in-store from 17 May 2023. Pre-order you copy on Shopify today.