Just a typical afternoon in the life of Chris Carradine, male model. After a sushi lunch, he and his coworkers head back to the sumptuous boudoir on 11th Street. Carradine pops a Certs and changes into pajama bottoms. Photographer Uli Rose takes his position behind the tripod.
Carradine's job today is to nuzzle a long-limbed blond wearing various slinky get-ups presumed to stimulate retail consumption among Cosmo girls. Rose's assistant, a stylist and three women from Cosmopolitan -- in whose February issue this lingerie spread will appear -- watch expectantly from out of camera range.
Carradine leans against the back of the blond's chair; he gazes into her eyes; he traces her arm. "That's good. That's nice, very nice," Rose chants from behind the motor-driven Nikon.
Then they're frolicking on the four-poster bed. "Good, that's good," says Rose as Carradine puts his hand on the woman's knee, encircles her shoulders. "Go ahead, make it as erotic as you can." The giggling, murmuring and pillow-fighting continue for several minutes while Rose shoots furiously. "I hate to interrupt this," he says finally, "but let's go on to the next picture."
It's a rough life.
But it pays better than teaching English, which is what Chris Carradine was doing before he signed with Click, the modeling agency that, at the moment, represents most of the best pecs in town. It beats sacking groceries to pay your way through school, which is what Sasha Mitchell used to do before he signed with Click and found himself leaning diagonally across Calvin Klein jeans ads.
These are, fashion people say, heady days for male models. "Men were just props for the women," recalls Owen Hartley, group design director for the Fairchild publications W and M. "Now, the men are taking off their shirts faster than the women."
"There's certainly more work" for male models, agrees Kevin Krier, associate fashion director of the Men's Fashion Association. "There are more menswear designers and manufacturers, more advertising, more magazines." There's also, Krier notes, more competition. And there's the promise, if not yet the reality, of using modeling as a springboard to more recognizable stardom, as women models have. "Every model I know in New York takes acting class," Krier says.
So far the women still outearn and outshine the men. The top men are drawing about $100,000 a year now, according to Click founder and president Frances Grill; the highest-paid women have passed $300,000. None of the in-demand men has achieved the visibility and clout of a Christie Brinkley, a Lauren Hutton, a Cheryl Tiegs or Click's own Isabella Rossellini (who, Grill says, made modeling history by signing a Lanco me cosmetics contract for $2 million over five years).
But they're working on it. Tom Selleck used to model for Ralph Lauren's Chaps cologne, Uli Rose pointed out at lunch. And Ronald Reagan, Carradine chimed in, used to model underwear.
Of course, the president's a little too Wonder Bread for Click. Grill, 57, is somewhat contemptuous of "the blond, blue-eyed, all-American cheerleader look" long championed by agencies such as Ford. She has retaliated by giving the fashion world the first bald woman model (Jenny O from Sweden -- "sensational-looking," Grill says, "like a window mannequin before it's dressed") and men with beards (Carradine, until recently), tush-length hair (Attila) and bumpy noses (Robert Russell).
Grill uses athletes with shoulders that barely fit into the sports coats they are supposed to be peddling (such as Steve Lundquist, Rowdy Gaines and triathlete Maltbie Napoleon, a k a "The Back," familiar from those provocative Calvin Klein fragrance ads). She offers the occasional exemplar of the Rastafarian look, along with women and men with spiked punk heads. "We've broadened the notion of what classic is," she boasts. "We've expanded on what modeling is."
Click "has taken on new styles in people, and that has an influence on what goes on in fashion photography," says Rose, who shoots for French Vogue, The New York Times, menswear designers and ad agencies. "Click fights the cliche'."
The heart of Click, whose offices in Carnegie Hall feature walls of magazine covers graced by agency models, is a pair of round desks where bookers juggle 20 telephone lines. Each desk -- one for the women's division, which represents about 110 "girls," and one for the 90 or so "boys" in the men's division -- surrounds a sort of Lazy Susan containing clipboards of models' schedules.
Models call in three times a day to learn where they'll be working. Simultaneously, a host of photographers, magazine editors, ad agencies, casting agencies, designers, retailers and others trafficking in images of the beautiful call in to arrange assignments or "go-sees" (auditions).
The result is a relentless daylong cacophony of tweedling telephones and loud voices (or, in the case of overseas business, very loud voices).
"What kind of guy are you looking for?" asks men's division director Tammy Toye to someone who casts catalogues. "American? A little European? Bertrand!" she decides, suddenly inspired. "The blond French guy. He's 29, very nice, kind of structured face, not too American looking but not incredibly European. Why don't I pull some things together to send you?"
"I just wanted to let you know," Toye confides to a major ad agency a little later, "that Chris Carradine is now clean shaven. He looks incredible, yes, really good. Everyone likes him without the beard. Maybe you should take a look at him. This afternoon? About 2:15?"
"They need guys for a Kent test," men's booker John Giambrone tells Toye. It has, she observes, been an incredible week for cigarette ads. They huddle over their lists.
"I think we should try Richard, Tom . . . "
"Let's send Rory."
"Michael? Shall we try him?"
All of which is jotted down on the clipboards in the Lazy Susan so that when the boys call in, they can be dispatched. Tom with the wavy hair is going to see Marie at Lord & Taylor; nothing for Frederick yet, but he'll call back later; Richard will do the Kent test. A day's work pays from $1,250 to $3,500 plus certain bonuses and residuals. "Editorial" fashion layouts in magazines confer high prestige but low rates; catalogues pay well but are considered less creative work, and advertising falls somewhere in between. Click takes a 20 percent commission.
"No models?" Tammy Toye cries into the phone in horror. GQ is causing general consternation in the modeling business by using real people such as actors and college students in its recent fashion layouts. "He's going to use celebrities after he's seen 5,000 guys? I'm going to send a letter bomb."
Meanwhile, messengers stream in and out ferrying "books" (black vinyl portfolios of photographs) back and forth to clients. And at least 10 people a day drift in and out because someone -- an editor, a photographer, their mothers -- decided they should be models.
"It's a madhouse," Click Vice President Alan Mindel says genially. "Like dealing with a lunatic asylum. I don't mean that in a negative sense. So much creativity comes out of mental misfits." And then Mindel, who could pass for one of Click's exotics with his flowing black hair and red suede shoes, turns to another call.
"Tell Paolo she's never looked better!" he shouts.
Frances Grill doesn't mind the uproar. The former photographer's rep, who five years ago founded Click with a $100,000 investment ("There was a gap in the marketplace; it was one-dimensional"), says that quiet makes her nervous.
A blue-collar daughter of Brooklyn with a raspy voice to match, Grill worked for several top fashion photographers, but her natural sidekicks were longshoremen and, later, the artists and musicians of the Village. She has never been or looked part of the moneyed world that fashion sought to mimic with tilt-nosed models, which may account for her predilection for intense and androgynous faces.
She scans for new ones all the time. Grill has dropped the usual portentous line -- "You ought to be a model" -- to people stepping off the Long Island Railroad as she steps on, people she passes in restaurants and people she spots on 57th Street. She says no one so anointed has declined to sign up.
Seated in her office, where no doors separate her from the bookers' reassuring babble, she recalls that her brainchild did not exactly "take off like a rocket." At first, she says, photographers "did not understand what we were doing."
Though Click now bills "between 8 and 12 million" dollars annually (up from $300,000 its first year), it is far from the biggest agency (that's Ford) or even the runner-up (Elite, Wilhemina and Zoli qualify). The superlative Grill is after is most distinctive. "I think it's the agency that influences the market as opposed to those who service the market," she claims.
Because Click's specialty has been editorial work for magazines, its owners have not particularly cared whether people such as Attila the Hunk ("he looks like he never cut his hair, ever," Grill acknowledges) or Sasha Mitchell ("a very James Dean quality," she says. Translation: He looks like he'd happily ice-pick your tires) modeled for Sears catalogues.
From such specialization has flowed industry talk that Click is too weird to last. "Unique-looking people," a Perry Ellis spokeswoman says of Click -- but Ellis doesn't use its models. "Perry's girls and men have traditionally been all-American." Fairchild's Owen Hartley says that M also is reluctant to use Grill's male models. In its willingness to take on the new and untried, the criticism goes, Click signs up models clients don't want to hire. Jenny O and Attila don't work much anymore.
"Everyone's going for the more conservative, yuppie look," Hartley says. With magazines returning to traditionalism, what becomes of hoods, hippies and other offbeats?
Grill's unworried. She points out that looks that were shocking a year or two ago are unremarkable now. Attila became overexposed and, declining to transform himself with a haircut, moved back to Los Angeles, now an aspiring actor -- but another long-haired man (though not from Click) now models for that very middle-American mall retailer, the Gap.
Nor does Grill mourn any more over the backhanded compliment paid her twice in the past two years when Click staffers resigned to form their own agencies, taking with them such models as Matt Dillon's brother Paul and Chris Carradine's brother Grant (they're unrelated to the acting family).
"It doesn't matter," Grill says, pointing out that Click has just signed Christopher Lawford, Peter Lawford's 30-year-old son. "An agency moves with the eyes behind it. On the next corner, we will create another face."
"Okay, Sasha, take your sweater off," orders Douglas Keeve ((New York magazine, GQ, Mademoiselle), peering through the Pentax. "Okay, can you take your T-shirt off?"
Sasha Mitchell, now stripped to black pants and shoes and shoulders swollen by 90 minutes a day of lifting weights, is leaning against the blank white wall of Keeve's studio in the afternoon sun. He is exactly what Grill means when she talks about subverting the cheerleader look: Mitchell, 18 and just out of high school, is the juvenile delinquent with the pompadour whom the cheerleader secretly lusted for while going steady with the quarterback.
He has beetled eyebrows and a pouty mouth, and every shift of his weight looks artful even though no one ever taught him how to model. "You just hang out," he shrugs. "You just stand around. Some people take classes to learn how to stand around; I just stand around."
At Keeve's direction, Mitchell stands around in baggy '50s suits, stands around assisting toothpick-thin Lori Vincent with her earrings, picks her up and twirls her around the room. Keeve has an assignment to shoot a '50s-style spread for German Vogue, and this is a sort of dry run, a test that pays no one but may provide everyone with some useful photos.
Mitchell -- who takes business courses at Baruch College, studies acting and pumps iron -- is one of those discoveries Grill makes now and again. "He just walked in here; I don't even know how," she says.
A photographer friend, it seems, showed someone at Click a few informal shots of Mitchell while he was still in military school; Click responded. Similarly, Lori Vincent -- who fled a Latin class in Oklahoma for New York -- ran into a model in Carnegie Hall who said she should go up to Click's offices. "I was planning to finish Cicero," Vincent says; instead, she is just back from runway work in Paris.
Male modeling is a different ballgame in certain respects. The men start later (Carradine was 28 when he began) and are permitted, even encouraged, to have character lines, while photographers and clients still want women models to be teen-agers ("like fresh, stretched canvases," Grill says. "The double standard lives"). As a result, the men tend to work longer (minor compensation for their lower rates) and often have established other careers before or alongside modeling; women generally are models before they're adults and may never do anything else.
That, theoretically, would make modeling less stressful for a man. Yet despite the high pay and the seemingly sexy fringes, earning a living with a commodity as perishable as a face and body -- in a notoriously fickle field where looks go in and out of style, where even agencies are hot and then are not -- is tough on both genders.
"It's not the sort of profession that's much of a challenge if you want to do something with your own creativity," Carradine muses between photographs. "It can give you a false sense of self if you become very successful very young and everybody's fussing about you, how beautiful you are. You can overuse that commodity, your image."
"You're depressed and you gain 20 pounds? You go out the back door," says Uli Rose, who tends towards bluntness.
"You can't count on anything," Carradine adds. "Every day you work, you're grateful. Maybe you make a lot of money. But maybe you only work two or three years. Maybe you're taking yourself off that ladder, out of a job market." He's taking acting lessons, too.
Even Sasha Mitchell -- who can't imagine how life could be much sweeter than having an apartment of one's own (although it's in Queens, because even Calvin Klein models have trouble affording Manhattan), a good set of weights and a new Italian racing bike ("It's the latest and the greatest! I love it, I love it!") -- can't see making a career out of posing for pictures.
"Ah, no. Modeling?" he recoils. "It's just fun and money, that's all. It's not a career, modeling. I mean, I'm having the time of my life, but by the time I'm 21, 22, I'll have to do something real."
Which is part of the reason Grill and her associates are launching a new agency, with offices in New York and Los Angeles, to represent writers, editors, producers, cinematographers and a few actors. "A space to develop a life after modeling, that's how it started," says Grill. It has already signed up Margaux Hemingway and Marisa Berenson, she says. It's going to be to filmmaking what Click has been to the fashion world.
It's going to be called -- what else? -- Flick.