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4.20.2009

Arena Homme + #31 (part 1)

"Glamorama : the life of a boy model" is the title of this editorial featuring Luke Worrall, Ash Stymest, Josh Beech, George Barnett and Cole Mohr shot by Alasdair McLellan for the newest issue of Brit fash mag Arena Homme +.
Ash Stymest is doing his hyper-energetic jittery dancing for the photographer. He is aided and accessorised by a constant can of Red Bull; he is unquestionably having a laugh. At the moment he has this thing about taking all his clothes off and tearing around. “When he saw me in Milan, he did this. He was, er, quite happy I suppose !” says Josh Beech.
Both Ash and Josh are musicians and both are from Biggin Hill on the outskirts of London. Josh would definitely have been a friendly older face for Ash in his first show season -Josh is 23 while Ash is only 17. Reports were that Ash kept causing mischief in Milan and Paris. Streaking backstage, smoking on the catwalk, a slight fracas or two… But he is just 17 after all and it’s not like he did this at a UN conference. Ash, like all of the models on this shoot, is really quite a lovely boy. All of the boys here are friends and have an unbreakable sense of camaraderie -not always the way with models; they look out for him and for each other. They all have something special about them.
In the April 1994 issue of The Face, much was made of another waifish-raffish gang of London model boys. This was the ascent of a ‘post-grunge’ generation led by Keith Martin; the article concentrated on his post-modelling aspirations, alongside Matt Rose and Jerome. Having been one of those waves that changes a certain notion of male beauty -they were eternally trashed in nightclubs, attending castings on acid and stage-diving from Walter van Beirendonck’s catwalk in similarly worse-for-wear states -a permanent swirl of salacious gossip surrounded these boys : they actually looked like they lived the lives they led, or ones they might lead. There was no studio transformation from clean-cut young man to ‘orrible urchin. Keith Martin had been a poster boy for the British government’s “heroin screws you up” campaign of the mid-80s. Funnily, this had been his first big campaign, and he went on to become one of the most in-demand high-fashion models of the mid-90s. Even the most pathologically deceitful agent could not make this biography up. For a time those boys changed the face of male modelling, to one infinitely more dissipated and slightly deranged with a certain living-cartoon feel to it.
Fast-forward 15 years and there is a distinct sense of déjà vu looking at Luke, Cole, George, Josh and Ash… They trip off the tongue like a boy band, apart from the fact that, of course, they are not. Like the preceding post-grunge generation, they have defined a new look : there is the same stylised pop element, the same gang mentality and the same idea that they inhabit a life beyond the confines of the fashion industry. Ash is even a member of The Mannequins, the all-model band that is the equivalent of the former generation’s House of Minky. But now, a decade and a half later, there is the ceaseless chatter of the Internet, all those fashion blogs with the constant appetite for new and news, that goes beyond the gossip of London clubs to something infinitely more global and rapidly up for scrutiny. And despite all the oohs and aahs that are attendant with such things, luckily for them, they are far more clean-living than the mid-90s lot. These boys are Internet fan-site pin-ups as much as they are known characters in the real insidery fashion world. They also feel as if they are bound to do different things in the future -this cannot be said of many models, who just seem to exist in the present- and so, all in all, the post-modelling life that awaits them in the end is perhaps not as daunting as it has been for others in the past.
Next Ash is changing the music chosen by George Barnett yet again and George is rolling his eyes as Ash puts on Reel Big Fish on repeat. George knows a thing or two about music; he is the drummer in These New Puritans and was trying to play some of the late-90s neglected period of David Bowie. Not as horrible as Reel Big Fish. ”It’s weird, we used to listen to exactly the same music as Ash at 15, nothing seems to have changed since then”. George is 21 years old now and as somebody who fell into modelling (in large part because of the pictures Hedi Slimane took of These New Puritans for Homme +), he is in a strange and yet enviable position, although he does realise that he cannot be distracted by the model life. Both he and Josh (who plays in Snish) do this for money and put their bands first. Not only is Barnett a fantastic musician, he also designs clothes. “I am not ready to show anyone yet”, says George quite sheepishly. He is very smart, modest and, it appears, a perfectionist. Hedi Slimane thinks Barnett should be a designer -George started training with Slimane before he left Dior- so in this way modelling is quite useful for him. Although, as he adds, “I am not Ash. For me, he is like the male equivalent of Kate Moss. He has that thing about him, that spirit”.
It might seem strange to talk about what is next for these boys when their images seem to be everywhere now. Yet the life of a male model is an odd short-lived on and really an exit strategy should be thought of as soon as this career is entered. In the Through the Looking Glass world of fashion, many things are much harder for boys than for girls : male models earn far less and are infinitely more disposable. At the moment, the “he’s so hot right now” period is about two years for the boys, but in terms of dominating catwalk shows and featuring in prime editorials, it can be as little as two seasons. And despite what Donal McIntyre revealed when he was undercover and not ice-skating, in an industry dominated by women and gay men, they are more likely to be hit and exploited than the girls.
“Kate Moss ?!” says Ash, in something of a surly and incredulous teenage way. “Not sure about that”. Although, as everyone reassures him, that is no bad thing.
“He reminds me of me a few years ago”, says Cole Mohr. “Only he’s much wilder”. Cole is in many ways the big brother of the group, despite the fact that he is something of the odd one out as he is from Texas. Yet he is the oldest hand at all of this, and that is at age 22. Funny, as on first meeting Cole almost two years ago, he was indeed a similarly skinny thing with a propensity to wear little outfits. He looked like a very emaciated version of a Baywatch lifeguard in a yellow vest and red shorts wearing fabric shoes he had made himself -he continues to make his own accessories. Always very intelligent and curious to know as much as possible, now he has a certain confidence and command that goes with that. It feels as if Cole could be a very good actor if he chose to do that; he has that sort of charisma. It is one of the reasons photographers are so drawn to him. Having turned up out of curiosity with his inseparable BFF Luke Worrall on the shoot that became the Homme + cover last Spring, Jürgen Teller just decided to shoot him too. And from that Cole succeeded Luke as the Marc by Marc Jacobs boy. Today though, his near-future ambitions consist of wanting to father a child : “I want to have a baby, I really do. And before you start, it is not because I am overcompensating for something missing in my life !”. He did indeed nip that one in the bud.
Contrary to popular belief, Luke Worrall is not having an affair with Cole Mohr. It is something that Luke laughs about. “Here, have a look at this”, he had said to me earlier, showing me a very well doctored photograph of himself and his fiancée Kelly Osborne, where somebody had replaced Kelly’s head with Cole’s. “Somebody put that on a site. Can you believe the trouble they went to ? Quite funny though”. I first met Luke two years ago when he was 17 and still training to be an electrician in Croydon. Many things have changed for Luke but he still has the same unspoilt nature and is one of the loveliest people you are ever likely to meet. At the moment, he is being teased as he is being shot by the photographer Alasdair McLellan : “Look at you, what happened to you ? You look like a Thundercat !” . Besides being prime material for a live-action remake of Thundercats, Luke now has that kind of celebrity that can open many doors for him. Fortunately he is the kind of person who will forever be grounded and easy-going.
“The better you look, the more you see”, says Victor Ward, the narrator of Brett Easton Ellis’ male-model satire, “Glamorama”. Or if you want to take the comedy version as Derek Zoolander puts it : “I’m pretty sure there’s more to life that being really, really ridiculously good-looking. And I plan on finding out what it is”. No doubt these boys feel the same way too.




Words : Jo-Ann Furniss
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