The only hope of making ends meet is to book an ad campaign or catalogue job. But even those are less lucrative than they once were. “Where you used to get $5K for a job, it’s now $2K,” says JD Ferguson, a former model who now works as a fashion photographer. “I remember my booker saying to me, ‘Hey, if you won’t do $2,000, there’s another guy right behind you that will.’ ”
Backstage, a photographer comes over to take a photo of AJ. He makes a stern face—not a clichéd Zoolander pout so much as an expression of vacant cruelty. AJ is from Kentucky, has light-brown hair, steely blue eyes, and an action-hero physique. He is mild-mannered, speaks Arabic, and is studying business. But he wants to be an actor. “I want to be Daniel Craig and be the next 007.”
He and another guy watch a female model as she assumes various poses (shrug shoulders, pretend to laugh, make a peace sign) for photographers. “God, that girl is gorgeous. I would drag my balls though a mile of broken glass to be with her,” says the other guy.
Almost all of the male models I meet seem straight. “Gay models will go down in history as the biggest misconception about the male modeling world,” says Ferguson.
But being straight doesn’t seem to make any difference backstage, where the female models are avoiding the male models like at recess in elementary school. The women are preened over by stylists, surrounded by fashion reporters, while the guys just hang around and smoke. Maybe it’s the discrepancy in income and age—the girls all seem to be highly paid 15-year-olds. “They seem, I don’t know, really serious,” says AJ.
There are some women who are interested in Petey and his friends. The guys call them modelizers. “That’s some girl who will fuck guys according to how many campaigns they’ve had,” Petey says. Apparently there are a lot of them, but Petey’s not that interested. “I don’t know what I am getting into with all this.”
Petey lives in an apartment in South Williamsburg with Jesse, a part-time model in film school, and Tiara, a waitress and aspiring actor. It’s a huge space, for which they pay $2,400. The place looks as if six families lived there and suddenly had to evacuate: clothes all over the floor, cheap furniture, cans of Polar Ice beer arranged in a triangle on the table like billiard balls.
Jesse and Petey sleep in gray metal bunk beds in the back room, and Tiara is sleeping on the futon in front of the TV because she doesn’t have a bed yet. AJ is crashing here for Fashion Week as well. Petey brought him over because otherwise he would have to stay at one of the model apartments. “It’s nuts at those places. They charge like $1,200 a month for a bunk bed,” he says. “There’s all these rules, and the guy who runs it is tense.”
Ford maintains two male-model apartments—one in Greenpoint and one in a high-rise in Chinatown—but agencies have them all over the city. In the Greenpoint apartment, there are five bedrooms, each with at least two sets of bunk beds, plus a central room with a large kitchen and living room that contains a Chuck Norris–style exercise machine. A model named Will Anderson found the place and persuaded Ford to let him be the super and manager. At 36 years old, he is like the stern Mrs. Garrett in the house. He has lived in model apartments for ten years now, and in 2006 he self-published a coffee-table photo book called Apt. 301, a collection of his snapshots of sexy boy models sleeping, eating, and horsing around in messy rooms and rumpled sheets.
Will has placed admonitory signs all over the apartment. “If you use a plate etc. wash it don’t leave it in the sink!!!” says one, hanging above the sink, written on a paper towel in bleeding red letters. On the front door: “To anyone staying here make yourself at home!! Be clean. DON’T FUCK with anything or you will be sent home + lose your contract with FORD.”
At the Chinatown apartment, there’s no such chaperone. It’s more of a Just Put Crap Down When You Are Done With It guys’ dorm. A bowl of soggy, half-completed cereal is left on a desk; a cruddy shelf is filled with self-improvement books (Coaching the Artist Within, Live What You Love); a bottle of Grunge Off, used to clean the sticky resin out of a bong, sits next to the TV. The fridge contains ketchup, Smucker’s Goober jelly–peanut butter, eggs, one slice of American cheese, two Pepsis, and a half-eaten package of bologna. The rent here is $1,000 to $1,200 a month for a bed.