For Fashion Week, Nico and Jakob are living here with three other models. Nico, from Chicago, was discovered at a skating event when he was 15. In 2007, when he was 17, he appeared with Sienna Miller in a Pepe Jeans campaign. He is shy and brooding and pretends to not care about modeling. Jakob, from Leipzig, looks like a rosy-cheeked private-school boy. He was discovered on the street near the Technische Universität in Berlin, where he studies economics. Last season, he became the lead male runway model for Givenchy.
When I visit, the guys are sitting on the big black leather couch watching Back to the Future Part III. The apartment smells like pot, but the boys pretend they don’t smoke it until I mention that I like pot, and then one expertly rolls a spliff. We watch Christopher Lloyd rescue Mary Steenburgen on a steam train.
They say that when they have girls over, the other roommate just agrees to sleep on the couch. But it doesn’t seem like many women have been here.
I notice a composition notebook wedged into a stack of books by the TV, left perhaps by a model passing through. The author takes account of his short modeling history: “The first shit agency. Signing with Ford. Not doing shit for almost 6 months. Then finally having a career, heading home, heading back, losing wallet.”
A few pages later, there is a self-improvement to-do list: “Start studying trends in fashion. Discovering more and more models transfer into acting. Big modeling begins in New York and then branches. Double major in business/acting.
“Thoughts: 1) Modeling is not just earned over time, it’s more being perfect all the time. 2) Take more care of self: working out, diet, skin care. 3) I love the way the static hits the screen and makes Heidi Klum’s tits shake.”
A couple nights later, we are at the Vman party at Indochine, celebrating the model-search winners. There is an ice-sculpture replica of Petey’s cover photo. “Look! I am immortalized in ice!” he jokes. I watch him glad-hand his way around the room. He is dressed up in a slim suit like a fifties greaser.
Jakob and Nico are here as well. Nico, who somehow knows how to exude sexuality like there is a smoke machine around him at all times, is wearing a silver-sequined jacket. All of them were dressed by stylists. “I would never wear this, ever,” says Nico.
Petey introduces me to a girl he is sort of seeing, Nika, who is tall, with a big face that is almost a perfect circle. She is also a model and is dressed in a tight kimono-style dress with heavy-looking earrings and a shiny brooch on the collar. They met a week ago on a photo shoot for a label’s look book. One photo had her topless with her hair in front of her breasts.
Nika’s friend, also a model, is equally tall with red hair and pale skin. I ask her why most female models seem to avoid the men backstage. “It’s because most guy models are douche bags.”
“Is it because they are always hitting on you and stuff?” I ask.
“No! The opposite! I’ll be changing and getting naked in front of them, and they will be staring at their own bodies.”
But here everyone is mingling. AJ, who was one of the finalists for the model search, tells me he was invited by another woman at the party to go upstairs and watch her while she changed clothes.
Another Vman finalist named Adam is wandering the party wearing a dark suit with platinum hair, which makes him look like a beautiful Anne Rice vampire-angel. He’s 18 years old, sweet, open, polite. He tells me he’s staying in a bottom bunk at the Greenpoint model apartment. “Every day I have had castings. Even on weekends,” he says. For the Vman competition, he entered snapshots that his girlfriend took. Like Petey, he broke up with her when he moved up here.
Later, he tells me he met an actress at the party. They both lied about their ages. “She has a small role in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and is up for a role in Gossip Girl.”
Over the course of the fall, Petey, Nico, Adam, and AJ all went back home. It wasn’t that they were giving up. They just missed home, and they couldn’t afford to stay in New York between jobs anyway.
Jakob went back to school in Europe, but he’s been the busiest of all the models, with campaigns for Givenchy, Lacoste, and Trussardi, and runway shows in Paris and Milan. Adam has been in demand as well, although he didn’t go to Europe for the shows because he couldn’t afford the airfare. He just returned to New York and moved into Petey’s old apartment in Williamsburg, with Jesse and two other guys. He plans on staying until May at least, “to lay the foundation and continue to develop the book,” he says, like a serious sophomore returning to school. He is in talks with his agent over the critical decision about whether he should keep his hair platinum or let it go natural. “I’ve dyed it three times so far, so it may fall out. Right now I have some cool roots going on,” he says. He hasn’t made much money yet, but photographers love him. “He’s an editorial star,” says Novak.
Petey’s been to Paris three times since Fashion Week to do work for Yves Saint Laurent. He also did a Joop! Jeans campaign. “It takes so long before I see the money, though. And with 40 percent for taxes, 20 percent for Ford, who knows how much it will be.”
He sounds a little weary, and lonely. “You get up and get on a plane, go through customs alone, your cell phone doesn’t work, you don’t talk to your friends. I’m in a weird state right now. I’m not sure what I really want.”
He’d mostly prefer to stay in Nashville, especially now that he’s trying to rekindle things with Sally. “I was doing some things I shouldn’t have been doing. She is in the process of forgiving me,” he says. “Sally was my first real girlfriend, not one of those three-week high-school girlfriends … I really love her.”
But his agents are urging him to get back to New York, fast. “They told me it’s a vital time in my career,” he says. Vman and Ford just announced the winners of the second-annual Model Search, and the model apartments will soon be filled with a new crop of pretty faces. Last year’s boys will have to hustle.