The Evolution of the Male Model

               Images courtesy of out.com, littlethings.com,and pinterst.com, respectively

How does one define masculinity? Or more so to Fashion Reverie’s interest, what currently defines the look of a top male model. In previous decades, particularly the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, male models looked like very handsome actors. Think of those tall, handsome, Hollywood types—Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Tab Hunter, John Gavin, Ted Danson, and Tom Selleck. (Ted Danson and Tom Selleck actually started out as male models.) The really good-looking actor standard for American male models held for quite a few decades until iconic fashion photographer Bruce Weber came along.

                                          Images courtesy of pinterest.com

Though Weber is controversial, he is still a revolutionary figure in the fashion industry. It was Weber who introduced the all-American Ivy League–like male model to the American consumer, and later to the international fashion community. The quintessential man for Weber was the all-American handsome young man with Disney Prince Charming-like features and athletic jock body. “Bruce kind of pioneered that all-American aesthetic, marrying striking good looks with athleticism. Scouts would [comb] Ivy League campuses and find tall, fit guys who were on the rowing teams, lacrosse, and fencing teams. In the 80s [the US] put males models on the map,” said former model and New York Times bestselling author Brad Gooch in a fashionreverie.com interview.

                                        Images courtesy of essentialhomme.com

During the 1980s male models began to have  V-shapes, and gym-toned bodies. However, in the early 2000s, a dramatic shift happened and a new kind of male model emerged. Male models began to look younger—in some cases they looked like high school students—more svelte—extremely slim with teenage bodies and taller frames. (In previous decades male models ranged in height from 5`10 to 6`1.) The new male model was rarely shorter than 6`0 and could be as tall as 6`4.

Though fashion designer Hedi Slimane is credited for popularizing the slight-framed, teenaged male model, that aesthetic started before Slimane. According to businessinsider.com, “by the early 90s hypermasculinity was out and the everyman was in.” And in fashion that meant sayonara muscled male models, hello skinny grunge boys. (Though Versace continued to use muscular male models for another decade.)

Slimane , who is currently making headlines again for being the next creative director of Céline, served as ready-to-wear director of menswear collections for Yves Saint Laurent from 1996 to 2001. His last show for the brand was fall/winter 2000, and it was considered the debut of “skinny.” The slim cut silhouette (and the ultra slim male model) foreshadowed how Slimane would promote the change in menswear and the face of male models.

 Images Marcus Schenkenberg, Tyson Beckford, and Alex Lundquist courtesy of twitter.com, popsugar.com, and listal.com, respectively

Slimane would move on to the position of creative director for menswear at Christian Dior, and his designs were so acclaimed that Slimane became the first menswear designer to receive the CFDA Award for International Designer. During Slimane’s tenure at Dior, the face of the male models continued to change. The standard of the muscle boys of the 90s like Tyson Beckford, Marcus Schenkenberg, and Alex Lundqvist was passé. The heroin chic look became the order of the day in the new millennium. (If you google heroin chic on Pinterest, you’ll find several Saint Laurent images from the Hedi Slimane era.) It was as if menswear brands had begun putting out calls for male models that said, “Give me your tired, your starved, your single digit body fat men.”

      Images of Chad White and Sebastian Suave courtesy of artpartner.com and pinterest.com

Even top male models of the ‘00s who started off more muscular like Chad White and Sebastian Sauve had to slim down as industry standards for male models changed. In addition to the more svelte look of male models, another trend of gender fluid models began to emerge in the fashion industry.

Images courtesy of popsugar.com, out.com, and photogenics, respectively

Male models like David Chiang, Marcel Castenmiller, and gender ambiguous models like Rain Dove and Andrej Pejic began strutting runways in New York, Milan, and Paris for brands Jean-Paul Gaultier, Richard Chai, Marc Jacobs, Rag & Bone, Kenzo, and PLAYOUT. Other gender ambiguous models like Kris Gottschalk (who identifies as female) and Ruby Rose (who is gender non-conforming) became niche faces of what it meant to be a “male” model. (Andrej Pejic in 2013 transitioned to a female; however, before the transition Andrej was known as the first completely androgynous supermodel.) By the end of the 21st Century’s first decade, the standard men of the runway began to change again. Hedi Slimane was out of Saint Laurent, having left the brand in 2016. The heroin chic look was beginning to fade, and the red carpet was rolled out for the boys with classic good looks—Sean O’Pry, Eian Scully, Garrett Neff, Pierre Woods, Henry Watkins, Cory Baptiste, and Pietro Boselli.With their chiseled bodies, knockout good looks, and charm, this new breed of men began to dominate the industry from runways to top ad campaigns. It was “the return of the male supermodel,” as Soul Artist Management founder Jason Kander so he put it and popularized as a hashtag on Instagram.

However, on the horizon is the return of Hedi Slimane—he’s been named the artistic creative and image director of Céline. As he has planned to introduce menswear to Celine, the ultra slim model could make a comeback. Also, with luxury brands adapting luxury street wear as a design aesthetic, a slimmer male silhouette may experience a resurgence. Only time will tell, let the evolution of the male model continue.

—Kristopher Fraser

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