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[whitespace] Model
Photographs by Farika
Stylist: Niki Sellers
Grooming: Paris
Model: Francis Taylor of Look

Against All Odds

Harmon Leon wants to be a male model. Who realized that being 'discovered' could cost so much?

By Harmon Leon

I'm sick of male models. What kind of vocation is that?! I don't care if their models can beat up other people's models. I'll kick both their asses! Now coal miner, that's a real job. That's why it's time to expose male modeling for what it is: prancing about in fancy outfits and going to cool, uptight parties. My mission is to sabotage all factions of the industry. I shall hit agencies, managers and modeling schools in order to infiltrate the male modeling world. Nothing must stand in my way. Not even my dignity. Yes, I'm too sexy for my shirt! Fortuna takes a lucky spin! I stumble across a large ad in a weekly San Francisco paper, "Open Call. Management for Models. Experience Not Necessary. Personalized Management Specializing in Established and Underdeveloped Talent." This is where my foot will be put in the door for the trajectory course of dismantling the male modeling industry.

First I need to develop an "über" modeling persona. "Horst" is what I shall call myself. Yes, one name only, please. I'm 20 minutes late for my appointment. This shows ATTITUDE. Having ATTITUDE is important! They can kiss my male model ass, because ATTITUDE will separate me from the pack. Just to mess with their heads, I've added a thick German accent. This creates "exotic appeal," along with the makeshift turban I'm wearing. I'm beyond following trends; I set trends.

"We are auditioning this week only for a limited number of new faces," says the agency's brochure. About 30 potential models wait in the lobby. The majority are parents with child models in various degrees of adorable, groomed and dressed in their Sunday best. Child models disturb me. Some have an entire model family. There are even baby models. Dressing an infant like a model is in the same category as putting clothes on a cat. I stand by a boyfriend/girlfriend potential model couple. Isn't that fucking adorable! I scowl at everyone.

Walking into the room as if it were a catwalk, I sit next to a guy with a huge scar who's wearing a really nice coat. A short man in a bad suit herds us into a larger room with red chairs. The talent in this place is unbelievable! Maybe there's enough potential here to put on a church variety show. The man in the bad suit gives us "model applications."

"Do you feel good about yourself? Rating 1-10."

I put 12+.

"List 10 Reasons Why You Want to Be in This Business." Cheating, I look at the guy with the scar's application:

--To fulfill my dream of being a model.

--To be around exciting people.

--To be in films.

I copy his reasons, adding a few of my own:

--To be more famous than German model Dieter Lietershvantz.

--To date other models and see them naked.

--To wear interesting hats.

Megan, the glamorous head of this agency, is introduced. Ironically, she's dumpy, adorned in strange velvet pants. According to the guy in the bad suit, she discovers really HUGE stars! Stars like Ben Gould from Saved by the Bell: The New Class. Yes, the Ben Gould! Also to her credit, she's responsible for the fame of the Olson twins! Well fuck-me-sideways, if it weren't for this woman, the world wouldn't be blessed with those Olson twins. All the more reason she deserves my wrath.

"Let me ask you a question. Do you have the determination to make it in this industry? How many of you?" Oddly, all hands go up. I throw a Sieg Heil salute.

"Do you have the ability to handle rejection? This business involves a lot of rejection! Unfortunately, not everyone in this room will make it tonight." This is great. Potential models will be crushed this very evening, never experiencing the thrill of strutting catwalks in Paris and Milan.

She departs. The man in the bad suit reads off names for interviews.


I stand. I scowl. I give everyone a look saying "you're not worthy enough to smell my shit." Megan sits at a desk eyeing my application. I scowl.

"Horst, what is your last name?"

"Horst has no last name. Only Horst!"

"And you're from Germany?"

"Ja, this information is correct," I say, using my best Mein Kampf delivery.

"Can you tell me, Horst, are you willing to work hard at your career?" She gestures wildly due to my poor comprehension of English.

"Ja, this is the intention of Horst!"

"How long have you wanted to be a model?"

"Since I was a kinder in Struddelsberg."

I mention my past experience modeling for the German restaurant chain Ein Burger Haus and my fashion show experience with local German designer Helga Wasserstein. Megan looks at my portfolio. She adopts a serious expression and scans shots of me simultaneously wearing two pairs of underwear. I love wasting this woman's time.

"Where do you work?"

"Horst is a trainer for kickboxing!" I strike four different poses.

"Wow, really! I bet you could beat me up!"

"This is not my intent!"

Megan asks if I'm willing to spend money on coaching. When I say ja, she tells me I've made the all-important first cut! With a cocky disposition I go back to the red-chaired room. I throw everyone another "you are not worthy" look.

Megan comes back in. "If I don't read your name, please get up and leave." This is going to be good! People will actually be humiliated. Some of the younger ones might even be scarred for life!

"If I don't read your name, continue to pursue your dream and never give up!"

Bring on the list, baby! My name is read.


I give a smug scowl around the room: this is modeling social Darwinism at work. The survivors are told to call back tomorrow.

In the elevator, the model with the scar shares with me.

"So you're from Germany! My girlfriend's from Nuremberg."

"It is not so nice there!" The elevator door opens.

"Well, good luck with your modeling career," he says.

The next day I call back.

"There's a good market for you because of your kickboxing training," says Genie from the agency. "Basically, I want to manage you for one year. We'll sign the contracts, and I want to set you up with a film coach and an acting coach. Definitely we need to set you up with a voice coach. Is that feasible for you?"


"Great. The cost for the coaching is $1,950 for one year." The bastards! The agency has chosen me to be one of their gullible students. To hell with those Ben Gould-discovering mothers!

"Ja, I don't know it's possible for Horst to pay today."

"Do you have MasterCard or Visa?"


"I'll tell you what. You seem like a cool guy--I'll spot you one class. Normally two classes would be $2,900." Boy, this "cool guy" wishes he could send a hug over the phone. I promise to pay at a later date.

"Great. I'd like to wrap this thing up tomorrow."

Catwalk Class

My new "manager," Genie, has allowed me to attend a complimentary catwalk class. Hot damn, Catwalk Class! If it works out, I'm going to sign up for Intro to Heroin Chic. Yes, I'll attend her little class along with all the other modeling-monkeys. This will add fuel to the fire of my cunning, subversive plot, allowing me to dismantle the training ground of the modeling machine.

My outfit is a full track suit. I've never walked around downtown in a full track suit. It makes me feel stupid. My catwalk class is comprised of myself, three other guys and about 15 tall, anorexic teenage girls. Wait a minute! Fifteen teenage girls? This isn't so bad after all. In fact this is great! The room has the atmosphere of a slumber party. A spontaneous pillow-fight might break out at any moment.

I slump awkwardly in the back of the room. There's another guy in a full track suit. He talks about cars, trying to give off an overtly heterosexual vibe. Spotting a new face in class, a couple of teenage girls come clear across the room to introduce themselves. This must have been taught the week before.

"Hi, I'm Cindy," says a tall teenage girl with extended hand who looks like she could use a good meal. I imagine her once having this conversation, "Mom, can I go to modeling school? Can I, Mom!? Please?" Class starts. Our instructor, a tall, bitter woman wearing a fur collar, sits in a chair at the end of the long hallway. She critiques our walking. This throws me off. Is it one foot in front of the other? She holds a clipboard, staring with grave attention. A short frumpy guy whose parents might have forced him to attend modeling school goes before me. Following in the skinny footsteps of Kate Moss, I go next.

"There's no set way to do it. Just be creative!" advises our bitter teacher.

We break into two groups to create a mock fashion show. Everyone uses fashion show lingo!

"OK, what if we do singles serious, doubles happy?"

"How about sidewalk doubles?"

"Who knows how to do Chevrons?"

Turning to the girl next to me I whisper, "Do you think my tracksuit makes me look fat?" She flatters me by saying no.

I'm paired with the frumpy guy. "Do you feel more comfortable turning right or left?" he asks with utter seriousness.

"Left!" I say with conviction. I don't think he likes me very much. He kind of mumbles, "Good, because I feel more comfortable turning left." What a bitch!

"Welcome to our fashion show. Now I present the Ralph Lauren Collection," says one of the teenage skinny girls. House music plays. Model classmates strut the catwalk. Some can't walk right. Others look scary. "Go!" says the girl behind me, giving me a little push onto the floor. The frumpy guy and I are supposed to walk in step. Like a chimp, his arms drag at his side. "I'm the shit," I think.

"Walk in step!" he whispers with clenched teeth. Man, he's such a bitch! Modeling isn't just looking pretty with loads of cocaine in the dressing room. One has to know when it's time to crossover, or whether to look happy or angry. I try looking ultra-serious when in fact I feel as ridiculous as a floppy-shoed clown.

Our fashion show ends with all of us walking in a straight line, in order of height, with attitude. This is the stupidest I've ever felt.

When finished, we get feedback.

"Remember to watch your center, try being more relaxed!" says the bitter teacher.

Unfortunately, I'm going to miss next week. "Bring some accessories. We're going to practice changing quickly. If you can take off a coat, bring it," she advises. Damn, I'm going to miss out on how to take off a coat. See, models have many worries. Not just bingeing and purging, but also how to take off a coat.


The Portfolio: Harmon Leon, a.k.a. "Horst," shows off his many different sides, moods and looks.


The Agency

With experience under my belt, I venture to a modeling agency. My appointment's at 12:30 in the trendy South of Market warehouse district. Again I'm late. Again this shows ATTITUDE. For no reason at all I've dropped the German accent, but added a big furry Russian commissar hat and the overused, asinine catch phrase "Hella great!" I sit in a leopard-skin chair and wait.

"I know I got what it takes," says a model in the next room. An ultra-thin woman named Candace greets me. Unfortunately, she has a voice high enough to peel paint.

"I love the hat! I-love-the-hat!" she comments on my headwear twice the size of my head. We go into her office.

"So why don't you tell me about yourself. Have you had any modeling experience?" I tell her I did a gun & ammo catalog, striking a pose like I'm holding a rifle.

"Oh, great. Do you have a copy of it?"

"No, not anymore, it got lost in a fire. Long story."

She looks at my portfolio book, flips through the pages, intensely studying with a hand on her chin.

"I like this one," pointing to me flagging a bus while talking on a cell phone.

"Hella great!"

"This one's too arty." She refers to the shot of me holding a kitchen knife looking like I just disemboweled a deer. She points to the knife. "Let me show you some examples of the types of shots they're looking for." Candace pulls out a portfolio book containing her model shots. "These are examples of what they're looking for." Inside are pictures of Candace wearing nothing but a bra and panties! I like this. It's rare you meet an attractive woman who shows shots of herself in sexy underwear.

"Erm ... yes, that is nicer."

"You're nice and tall, and lean. And the dreds might be kind of cool, especially for this market; it's kind of funky."

She suggests my place in the modeling world is fashion shows. Great, that's fine and funky. Being on a catwalk and wetting my fancy pants would immediately accomplish my mission.

"You know all I want right now? I definitely would like you to get some more shots. Just do one shoot." Candace schedules me for Tuesday for a photo shoot where I'll "funk out." This involves "funky shirts," "cool bells" and "cool shoes." Great, my first modeling gig!

"What else do you need to know? Oh yeah--I told you, right, our photographer charges $300. You can pay me directly, $300."

How utterly surprising. I have to pay this little pipe-cleaner-with-a-head money! I'll give her money. But not for obtaining a portfolio. Instead, I want to hassle the people who propagate the images.

I say, "Hella great!"

The next day I call and yank her chain further.

"Candace, dear, this is Horst!"

"Horst! How are you?"

"Hella great! Hey, I was wondering if I could put off getting the photos, just because of expenses."

"Um ... really!"


"OK, yeah, we can put it off, yeah, but the thing is, the sooner we get it done, the sooner you'll be doing stuff."

"Exactly!" (pause)

"I thought you said you had savings so you can do it." She snapped at me! I wonder if she'll ask "You have a grandma, right? Can't she give you some money?"

"You see, I was at this party last night, and I met this photographer who said he would shoot pictures of me for free. He even said he would pay me."

"Well, he's probably not good! Most good photographers charge at least $500 per shoot. I'll tell you what, let's do this. Let's reschedule, but let's get it done by the 15th. I definitely want you to do this!"

"Hella great!"

Model Photo Shoot

I must make myself difficult to work with. This will show ATTITUDE. Little stuff like refusing to do things, making unneeded suggestions, and generally being disagreeable will help accomplish my quest. I return to the office with leopard skin seats.

"My goals? My goals are simple--to try and get something in print," says a model from within one of the offices. A fellow male model sits in a chair, having makeup applied. He looks angry. The jolly photographer dressed in overalls comes over and introduces herself.

"Hi, I'm Karen."

I say nothing. She looks through my clothes and tells me what to wear. I tell her I want to wear something else. We go outside by a tram stop. I'm ready to funk out.

"I want you to walk slowly along the platform toward me," she says.

"What's my motivation? Am I walking from work or school?"

She simulates a walk. "I want you to walk toward me with a daydreaming look on your face."

Panic constricts my voice. "Is it a good daydream or a bad daydream, such as about nuclear war?"

"You're just kind of lost in thought."


I pull out a mirror, checking myself, then turn my back and get into character. I begin walking. Karen starts snapping. I stop midway.

"Now, this daydream, can it be a funny daydream?"

"Just walk expressionless!" As an artist, my body and face are my tools. How can I perform without proper direction? Returning to the end of the platform, I pull out my mirror, do a couple of quick breathing exercises and walk in a daydream-state. Then I stop.

"How about if I run? I could be running and daydreaming!" I mime running in place. She lowers the camera.

"We just need a shot of you walking for now."

"OK, but tell me when you want me to daydream and run, 'cuz I'm ready to daydream and run!"

After I change outfits to a long leather jacket, we go to a location inside a parking garage.

"I want you to stand by the jeep and give me an angry look."

"Now, should I be angry about what I was just daydreaming, like it was an angry daydream?"

She lowers her camera and spews her philosophy. "Listen, Horst: modeling isn't that cerebral."

Primping in my mirror, I keep in mind Karen's valuable advice; try to be dumber than a bag of mud.

"OK--what if you squat down."

"You want me to squat and be angry?"

"Yes, and tilt your head a little."


She insists, telling me it will be "fun." I make a confession.

"I have an old modeling injury that prevents me from squatting. I once fell off a catwalk."

The Professional

With schooling complete, agents met and photoshoot wrapped, I must now come face-to-face with my arch nemesis. Candace has arranged a meeting at the agency with a working male model. A model who's gigged on both coasts. Horst will "network" with a professional. My goal is to gain a mentor. Hopefully, he'll take me under his wing! And most important, spew wise pearls of asinine modeling wisdom.

"This guy was kicking me in the balls," explains Stewart, a tall, well-groomed, muscular model with strong Latin features. He recreates the scenario. "It started with his knee in my groin. I was bent over. It was cool. I like doing action shots," says Stewart, whose career began two years ago when he was discovered by a New York fashion photographer.

"Male modeling isn't all fun and shaving your chest," I ponder. "Hard, demanding work's involved."

Stewart leans back and explains about techniques I can practice at home, like highlighting my jaw by biting down and putting the tongue on the roof of your mouth. I spot Candace in the distance, moving around like a marionette.

"Familiarize yourself with being in front of the camera. Get a handicam and videotape yourself. Because you can get in front of a camera and lose your personality. You clam up or try to be someone you're not."

I lean forward. "What if I were interested in being a heroin-chic model. Would you know where I could get some heroin?" I whisper.

He laughs. I don't. Then he stresses hygiene.

"Stay highly groomed." He stresses eyebrows and nose hairs. "Don't eat McDonald's. Stay healthy, basically like an athlete's diet. Don't be overly obnoxious that you're a model. Keep it to yourself."

Highly groomed nose hairs I can handle, but isn't obnoxiousness half the fun derived from newly acquired modeling status? I want to tell everyone, from my podiatrist to the guy who installs our building's cable TV. In fact, that's how I plan to start all conversations.

Leaning forward, I whisper, "I can't handle rejection. Will this be a problem?"

"If you can't take someone telling you to lose five pounds, or if you can't take "You look scruffy, can you comb your hair" or "When you come in tomorrow, can you wear something nice." If you can't take any of that, you have no business even being a model."

I give the look of a rejected puppy dog.

Candace suddenly appears. She scares the hell out of me. "A lot of people think a blank, glazed stare is all there is to it, and it's not. There's so much more than that," she says in a voice only dogs can hear. "Stewart's very outgoing, very good energy, and it really, really shows. We want men who look like men. We don't want men who look like girls," says Candace, who then raises her pipe-cleaner body and goes away. She especially wants men who look like men and will fork over cash for photos.

"Do you know what would be the ultimate for me?" Stewart asks.

I can't wait to hear about the ultimate.

"I'd love to land a Gap campaign, or endorse Evian water. I'd like a nice campaign--that would be great," he says.

Our man Stew's current dilemma is staying in his day job as graphic designer for a large magazine or becoming a full-time international male model. What's a poor guy to do!

"Horst wants to know your secrets. Please tell Horst."

"You know what, in about five years I wouldn't mind being a spokesman for a TV show. Like a sports show or a commentator." Stewart acts out this scenario. "That's fabulous, Stewart," I say.

"The parties are pretty hardcore," he explains. "We did a three-day Diesel jeans photoshoot. And Diesel threw us this party. It started out with light drinking, and then it was a free-for-all in front of the fireplace. We were wrestling, and the cameras came out and they were taking shots."

"That's fabulous, Stewart!"

My quest is complete. I found what I was searching for. Something which sums up the whole meaning and purpose behind male modeling. They aren't like us mere mortals. They go to "hardcore" parties, where spontaneous free-for-all grappling occurs while cameras flash away at the rambunctious high jinks. We need this to foster equilibrium in our society. It creates an isolated world for these characters so people like rocket scientists and nuclear physicists will not be distracted. Vive le male model!

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From the October 25, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

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