Abercrombie & Fitch Male Model: Matthew Avedon

THE age of male vanity -- the era that has resulted in L'Oréal hair color for men and magazine articles about C.E.O.'s who get oxygen facials -- seems to have wrought little for men who might have the greatest cause to preoccupy themselves with matters of appearance. Here we speak of the injustice that no social movement has arisen to eradicate: the gross disparity between the paychecks of professionally good-looking people belonging to one sex versus the paychecks of those belonging to the other. Female models still take home a lot more money than male models -- sometimes 10 times as much.

Were you to reach the upper echelons of male modeling -- an achievement that most likely still wouldn't render the kind of celebrity that could divorce you from your surname -- you actually wouldn't do too badly. Earnings would amount to $5,000 for a single runway show and six times that for an advertising campaign.The first time Matthew Avedon went to Milan to model in the men's shows that occur twice a year, he skipped his casting calls and spent two days on his skateboard instead, and consequently landed little work. "I disappeared and no one could find me," he said over a sandwich in SoHo recently. "The following year, I went back and made a lot of money."

Matthew Avedon is a grandson of Richard Avedon, but he has the look of someone who could claim Leif Garrett and Bob Dylan in his not-very-distant lineage. And this is a look not without advantage: Mr. Avedon, 18, appeared in 11 runway shows during the men's collections in Milan last month. Michael Thompson photographed him as the exclusive subject of a 10-page shoot in the February issue of Details, which turned up at about the same moment as Versace's Versus campaign, in which Mr. Avedon also stars. Last week Mr. Avedon was in Paris being photographed for Ermenegildo Zegna's new ad campaign; he has also appeared in ads for the Gap and Ralph Lauren. Like most models the world over, he shows up during his off hours in loose jeans, sneakers and a scruffy comportment that says, "I'll probably shower before the next Congressional race, but don't hold me to it."

Mr. Avedon is not in possession of a jaw line the shape of a Sony Trinitron, but he has become the male model of the hour in part because fashion editors and design houses now seem to be chasing the ephemeral quality of realness. As Joe Zee, an influential stylist who was instrumental in the selection of Mr. Avedon for the Details shoot, put it: "First you had the skinny-guy look, then the Abercrombie & Fitch jock hunk, and now I think the trend is toward guys who look regular. I'm not saying Matthew's Everyguy, but he doesn't have those pretty features. He's not super-buff. He doesn't spend five hours a day at the gym."

In fact, Mr. Avedon admittedly spends zero hours at the gym, preferring to skateboard, a passion that has resulted in fractured knees and ankles, among other injuries.

"Since I hurt my ankle, I don't walk straight," he said, "so I fake it, and it turns into this goofy swagger. The limp has become my signature."

For a young man with a legendary fashion photographer in his family, Mr. Avedon took a circuitous route to the world of the $3,000 suit. He grew up in Manhattan, and one day, when he was walking around uptown, he was stopped by a photographer, Arnaldo Anaya-Lucca, who asked to take his picture.

The photographer, as it turned out, knew Mr. Avedon's mother, an author of books about Tibetan Buddhism and the wife of Richard Avedon's son John. Mr. Anaya-Lucca took the pictures to the Next modeling agency, and Mr. Avedon signed with the agency on his 16th birthday.

At the time, Mr. Avedon admitted, he was not working to maximum capacity as a student. He dropped out of St. Anne's School in Brooklyn Heights to attend the High School of Art and Design in Midtown Manhattan.

"Art and Design killed any desire I had to be an artist," he said. He then went on to City-as-School, a public school that puts young people in internships. At City-As, Mr. Avedon worked both as an assistant to a third-grade teacher and as a right hand to the WNYC Radio talk-show host Brian Lehrer, which led him to conclude that "a lot of angry people call radio shows."

And a lot of very animated people work in fashion, Mr. Avedon has now learned. Recalling the Gucci show in Milan last month, he recalled having to chant a mantra with the other models before the show, to get in the mood.

The mantra, part of which is unprintable here, began with the phrase, "I am a Gucci man." The second clause proclaimed the benefit of life as a Gucci man, which is to say that he never wants for sex. "It was pretty goofy," he said.

"They make the girls do the same kind of thing," he added, referring to the models who walk the runway for Gucci's women's shows. "And I don't think they like it very much."

Speaking of, as he puts it, "the girl models," Mr. Avedon isn't crazy about many. "They've been told they're beautiful their whole lives, and they feel really entitled," he said. "A lot of them are pretty stuck up."

Maggie Rizer "is the first nice girl model I met," he said, though he later admitted to having a crush on a new arrival at the Next agency, a young model named Sierra. "She's from Montana," he said, beaming sheepishly.

Assuming that Mr. Avedon's look remains in vogue, he would like to keep modeling as long as the industry will have him. He has been writing short stories, he said, and might eventually want to try it full time. "Male models," he said. "I mean, really, who cares?"

Source: New York Times, February 25, 2001