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WoodyWoody, Photography by Tom Mitchell, Creative Direction by Paul Rowland

Introducing the New Age of Male Modelling

As the menswear season begins, legendary casting agent Paul Rowland presents a series of new faces, alongside an interrogation of what male beauty means today

Lead ImageWoodyWoody, Photography by Tom Mitchell, Creative Direction by Paul Rowland

Paul Rowland is a purist. Throughout his career as a model agent, he has sought out and represented women and, to a slightly lesser extent, men who embody beauty in its very purest form. Once a model himself, Rowland represented Kate Moss in her teens and founded super-agency Women in 1988 before going on to start Supreme in 2000 – an organisation built with a more unconventional or, in his words, “intellectual” idea of beauty at its core; one pulled from the canvases of painters such as Amedeo Modigliani and Egon Schiele. From there he went on to work for Ford and now, after emigrating to Morocco with his family, splits his time between Marrakech and London where he's helping his old friend, legendary model agent Carole White rebrand – so to speak – her agency Premier. Though the agency Rowland has worked for has changed over the years, his unique, purist approach to modelling hasn’t.

This extends to male modelling – which, despite being a slightly broader church than its female equivalent – is a field that has been dominated by a boyish breed of man since the mid-00s. This is largely thanks to menswear designers like Raf Simons and Hedi Slimane and the skinny silhouettes that they popularised, which subsequently both demanded and pioneered a new archetype of male model. Unlike the muscly Marky Mark and the Bruce Weber beefcakes of yore, these men – or rather boys –  are slim, svelte and commonly in their late teens. While this trend remains popular to this day, Rowland is hungry for a different kind of male model to come into fashion. “It’s all just a little too twinky for me at the moment,” he says. “I find today’s male models beautiful, but I just feel like [this kind has] been around a long time now. I would like to see an older kind of male model. “In the 70s, there was an agency called Zoli in New York, and their models were men. They weren’t overtly muscly, but they were men, and I think it would be nice to have more of that.”

The fashion industry is currently in flux, in a manner which is having a direct impact on male and female models alike: the so-called ‘social media revolution’ has meant that a talent's most valuable asset is now their following as opposed to their figure or facial features. It’s the age of Instagram It-boys like Lucky Blue Smith, Anwar Hadid and Jordan Barrett; young men with almost immeasurable audiences lying at their fingertips – a power now being mined (and duly paid for) by the many fashion brands who cast them in their campaigns and runway shows. Models are no longer just muses, but a means of brand exposure. “I mean, I realise things change and that fashion is about that, but I’m a purist in the sense that I feel beauty is beauty,” says Rowland of this phenomenon. “The idea that someone’s following dictates your idea of beauty is weird to me. Yeah, I mean [the social media models] seem like lovely people and they're quite savvy, but do I find them beautiful? I mean they’re alright. As a purist, I don't think they're incredible; I think they’re forgettable.”

As well as being an expert in the field of modelling, Rowland is also an adept photographer – a skill that he acquired almost out of necessity when taking Polaroids of those on his books and, later, creating series of images which formed ‘show packages’ (selections of men offered to brands to walk in their runway presentations). Here, he presents a series of portraits of English boys freshly signed to Premier – male models at the very start of their careers. A fan of England because of its rich history of subcultures, Rowland says that there’s a particular diversity among male models hailing from this country and yet something almost undefinable that unites them – and it’s this that he wants to capture for this project. “There's a certain thing that ties them all together,” he says. “If you look at some of the guys that we've shot, there’s quite a variety of looks in them.” There is indeed a variety among them – from the vampiric Vivien who’s currently studying Philosophy at university, to the “super smart” Safari who speaks fluent Persian and Japanese. Alongside each portrait, Rowland expands upon what makes each of these boys so unique.

“You know when people are just really comfortable with who they are? He’s just like that. He’s great looking and super photogenic, but I think he’s just very comfortable in his skin and that’s what makes him so special. He’s just got this ‘fuck you’ kind of attitude.”

“Vivien looks like a complete vampire. I mean, the guy is incredible. He has no colour in his skin. He’s a Philosophy major and he’s really heady. He’s one of those creatures that you just want to keep taking pictures of. He is beautiful.”

On Roman...
“I think Roman’s father used to be a teddy boy and he’s going to school to learn how to make fine watches. He had kind of longish hair, but we cut it like a teddy boy and he really loved it. I loved him too. He’s quite something.”

On Safari...
“Safari has this huge hair. He’s half-Iranian and half-Japanese and speaks fluent Persian and Japanese. He’s super smart... He lives in the UK because he’s learning English. I think he looks like some rare breed of dog, you know, with his hair and his face. He’s incredible looking.”

On Dominic...
Dominic is the epitome of what I think an English boy looks like. He's from the north and plays for a local professional football team. He was just very innocent. These were the first pictures he’d had taken which was quite refreshing because he hadn’t learned all those hideous model poses. He was super open and trusting in front of the camera, and had a sense of self and confidence that he wasn't even aware of. He was super photogenic, and super tall.

On Finlay...
Finlay is just gorgeous. He’s from York and is really into rock music. He reminds me of a young David Sims – he really looks like him, and even speaks like him. He's masculine but also very beautiful. He was very polite and just had this really romantic beauty about him.

Photography by Tom Mitchell; Creative Direction Paul Rowland; Make-up by Janeen Witherspoon; Hair by Tom Berry; Models at Premier Model Management; Film direction by Boldizsar CR