Modelling is one of the few global industries where men earn less than women. According to Forbes, the world's highest paid female supermodel, Gisele Bundchen, earned $47 million (€40 million) in 2013, while the world's highest paid male model, Sean O'Pry, earned just $1.5 million that same year.
This pay disparity comes down to the customer; women spend more on beauty products so brands spend more on advertising them. However, with the male grooming and fashion industry on the rise, so too is the status of the male model. And Irish boys are catching the eyes of the international fashion designers to front their shows and campaigns.
The life of a working international male model is just as glamorous as it sounds
Dubliner Chun Soot was working in a restaurant when his make-up artist uncle encouraged him to try modelling on account of him being "quite tall". One test shoot later, Soot was signed to Distinct Model Management in Dublin and flown to Spain to shoot for high street label Bershka. Fast forward three years, and 24-year-old Soot is now represented by 10 agencies around the world, walking in shows and fronting campaigns for major brands, such as Dolce & Gabbana and DSquared2. But while Soot admits it can be tough to stay upbeat during quiet seasons, he says the life of a working international male model is just as glamorous as it sounds.
“They fly you out, pay for your hotel, give you food, fly you back . . . People treat you like a king, literally. The travel is always nice. You get to see new cities and the brand usually pays for that as well.”
Aubrey O'Mahony began modelling only last September and despite admitting he hadn't ever considered it until "the lads" told him to do it, the 21-year-old's chiselled look instantly caught the eyes of some of the world's biggest designers. In his first season he walked in shows for Ben Sherman, Moncler and Givenchy, alongside models-of-the-moment Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid, and shooting editorials for I-D magazine, Attitude magazine and GQ. While O'Mahony counts skipping nightclub queues and free drinks as the greatest perks to his new career, he says the long hours and fashion folk can take their toll.
“The people in the industry are very different to what I am used to being around so that’s taking some getting used to. The big shows were glamorous but mostly it’s just really stressed people running around. It’s pretty mental, people everywhere. So many make-up artists, hair stylists, dressers and food. Loads of food.”
While food and models don’t typically go hand in hand in an industry constantly on the defence of the size 0 debate, O’Mahony says he hasn’t ever felt the pressure to slim down. “I’m lucky I don’t have a problem with that; I can’t put on weight. I saw a lot of skinny guys at Fashion Week but I don’t know, maybe they are just naturally like that.”
Different weight standards
O’Mahony’s agent, Dean Ryan McDaid of Not Another Agency, affirms that although there is a height guideline, the same weight standards don’t apply to men and women. “For international modelling, boys really do need to be between 6’1”and 6’2”, any shorter or taller and it’s harder for them to book jobs, especially shows because of sample sizes. Obviously male models have to be very fit but it’s much, much harder for girls.
"For boys we look for confidence and a strong look. We like to have boys who can work in Ireland and also boys to develop for overseas. The funny thing is at first the boys we end up signing overseas get no paid work here. It seems a lot of the industry here doesn't understand their look."
Another of McDaid's signings making international fashion waves is 24-year-old Dylan Moran. In just over a year, Offaly-born Moran has signed with seven agencies globally, walked in shows for Alexander Wang, Belstaff and Dries Van Noten. He has starred in campaigns for Adidas and Urban Outfitters as well as being featured in Italian Vogue.
Jack of all trades
Niall Matthews began modelling three years ago as a secondary income to support himself while running his own Crossfit gym. Matthews (29) says that focusing on the Irish industry rather than international runways means he's a jack of all trades, modelling for e-commerce, television, advertising campaigns, promotional work, and even hand modelling. While the Irish modelling industry has been criticised in the past for bikini photocalls on Grafton Street, Matthews says the boys don't escape requests for similar jobs that require very little clothing.
“Usually for those jobs they request ‘a hunk’. I’ve worn some uncomfortable tiny hotpants . . . doing something simple like just greeting people at the door to literally standing in a shop for hours while they bodypaint you. There’s usually a brief moment before you walk out with very little clothes on where you stand in the changing room and just suck it up for a second.”
I think maybe women think it's a bit more okay to make comments or put their hands on me because I'm a guy
But has he ever experienced objectification on the job? “Oh God yeah! Usually people don’t mean anything by it so you just have to have a thick skin. If you’re ever a bit uncomfortable, you just kind of laugh it off and stroll off in a different direction. When I’m doing promotional work, I think maybe women think it’s a bit more okay to make comments or put their hands on me because I’m a guy.”
While most twenty-somethings are only at the inauguration of their career, it's considered relatively old to be starting out in modelling. In fact, McDaid says he's waiting on most of their male signings to finish school so they can properly launch their careers. One Irish schoolboy already walking international runways is Charlie Clinch. At only 17, Clinch is in his third fashion season, having already walked in LFW shows for Sibling and Christopher Shannon.
Clinch says travelling and meeting new people are the best parts of the job and he’s never experienced any negativity from other models or pressures to look a certain way. “I haven’t felt any competition, most of the models I’ve met during the Fashion Week have been so nice. I personally haven’t felt any pressure at all to stay slim or to get bigger nor have I heard anyone talking about it.”
Life after modelling
But while everything is rosy when you’re young and beautiful, what about life after modelling? For O’Mahony it’s about living in the now. “At the moment I’m just giving this a go. I haven’t really thought about life after modelling, let’s just see how much money I make.” Soot agrees it’s about seizing the opportunity for as long as he can. “I think I’m just too mentally immature to work in an office 9am-5pm so when the opportunity comes where I get to travel, get paid for it, have fun, make friends, I’ll take it. Maybe in a few more years when I’m more mature I’ll go back to my degree but I don’t think there’s really a cut-off point for models in terms of age, I’ve met models who are 40 years old and still working, still partying hardcore.”