NEW YORK CITY -- Maxwell Zagorski smiles as he slips his arm around another pretty blonde in a Fifth Avenue clothing store.
The hunky model from East Manatee is the new face of clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch. He poses bare-chested, his shorts pulled dangerously low, with hundreds of fully clothed customers a day.
In between photos at the Manhattan store that thumps like a nightclub and smells of cologne, Zagorski struts around flirting, signing autographs and rubbing his killer abs so seductively you have to stare.
But after work ends, and his shirt goes back on, the Lakewood Ranch High School senior suddenly appears lonely, confused and much younger than 18. He trudges along 57th Street, head down, hands thrust into his pockets.
He's tired and wants to crash in his hotel frequented by glitterati, but he still has to put in an hour or two at the gym.
In his gloomy state, he doesn't even notice two New York cuties who stroll by holding Abercrombie & Fitch shopping bags that bear his likeness in black and white.
"I'm alone. It's business now, not all fun," he says.
Modeling is hard work
The life of a model sounds so glamorous, earning fistfuls of Ben Franklins for creating an image of beauty. They fly to exotic locations, party with celebs.
But go behind the lens, and there is another side, filled with 18-hour days and people telling you what to say and do.
Zagorski raced to the top of this fast and fickle business like an Olympic speedskater. Now, he's figuring out how to survive.
Until last month, he was shooting hoops after school and mugging for yearbook photos at Lakewood Ranch High School. He did small-time modeling work for local department stores, including Bealls and Dillard's.
Then international fashion player Abercrombie & Fitch, which sells beat-up (on purpose) jeans and smart-alecky T-shirts like "I broke up with him," plucked Zagorski from Manatee and named him its new face.
These days Zagorski plays out his life in New York, in a swank hotel with black lights under the beds, in an ultra-popular clothing store near Louis Vuitton and Trump Tower.
The other day, several girls recognized him on the street.
"It's funny. Totally crazy," he says.
From Manatee to Hawaii
He was born in New Port Richey and came to Sarasota when he was 12. Three years later, his family moved to East Manatee, where Zagorski attended Lakewood Ranch High and played on the basketball team.
Last year, a modeling agency in Tampa set him up with a photographer in Miami. The photos were sent to Abercrombie & Fitch.
A week later, his phone rang.
"Want to go to Hawaii?" Abercrombie & Fitch asked.
He did, and his meteoric rise since then is almost unheard of in the modeling world, says the company's Tom Goulet.
"He just had it. He's just so natural; you just fall for him automatically," Goulet says.
"And, if I have to say so, I guess his six-pack helped."
Today, photos of Zagorski appear on shopping bags, catalogs and the Internet. Larger than life posters hang in the entrance of 500 Abercrombie & Fitch stores across the U.S.
"Seeing my photo everywhere was, like, crazy. Like that's me," says Zagorski, who has been photographed by famous fashion photographer Bruce Weber.
Nowhere is he more visible than at the New York store, where $198 jeans are displayed in glass cases like works of art at a museum.
Five days a week, Zagorski greets customers, who can take home a free photo of the encounter in a gray cardboard frame.
Girls in winter coats and scarfs scream and jump when they see the half-naked hottie.
Like, ohmygod, it's him!
Even grannies sidle up and flirt like crazy.
He's got "it"
Some people just sparkle in front of the camera.
He's got this wholesome look, like the boy-next-door -- only hotter. His hazel eyes convey a youthful innocence. Teens want to be friends with this guy, or more.
And oh, that body, chiseled to perfection as if by an artist. There's not an extra ounce on his lean frame.
Girls across the globe are eager to take him home, in one way or another. Last month a 9-foot by 4-foot poster of him -- shirtless, of course -- went for $39.99 on eBay.
But face-to-face, he looks pretty ordinary.
In fact, on the hectic streets of New York, he blends in with all the other boys with hair spiked just so and ripped jeans. He even has a few facial blemishes.
His new life is filled with agents, businessmen, managers. At times, he acts like one of the grown-ups.
He shows discipline in his commitment to tanning and working out at a New York sports club for at least an hour most days. He washes his clothes at a midtown Manhattan laundry. He stays away from fried foods because he knows they're bad for his figure.
Then his kid side shines.
This month, as the temperature dipped to 35 degrees, and a blizzard hurtled toward the city, he strolled into a Starbucks -- wearing flip-flops. "Couldn't find socks," he said sheepishly.
For sure, Zagorski is a finicky teen, complete with mood swings and looking all ill-at-ease discussing his feelings.
One moment Zagorski, who calls his parents every day, opens up and talks about how he misses Florida and how, like never before, people want to hang with him because of what he does, not who he is.
He thinks some friends are jealous of the attention he's receiving.
The next moment, he clams up. He starts answering questions with one-syllable words before disappearing down subway stairs to take care of "something that suddenly came up."
He later ditches an appointment. It was like an invisible shield went up and there was no reaching him.
"He's trying to be model, manager, everything up there," says his dad, Paul Zagorski. "He's a little overwhelmed with the whole thing."
Despite it all, he wants more.
He talks of moving to New York, or maybe Los Angeles, after his Abercrombie & Fitch contract runs out in March. He might model. Or maybe he'll act.
For now, he plans to fly back to East Manatee to walk with his class at graduation (he's taking online courses now).
He says he's not yet famous.
"But I'm getting there," he says.