The Lutetia Hotel is the nicest building I’ve been to in Paris. It’s not too far from where I’m studying, but the gulf between the student cafeterias I’ve been eating in and the Lutetia’s palatial lobby with its chandeliers and army of primped staff means I may as well be on another planet.
It’s the start of Men’s Fashion Week in the French capital and I’m here to interview two male models, Jordan and Zach Stenmark. At just 19 years old, the twin brothers are making waves across the Industry and are now represented by seven agencies covering the Australian, US, and European markets. They are the new faces of Abercrombie & Fitch, have met personally with designer and “modern gentleman” Tom Ford, and have just returned from Milan where they were the featured models in the Calvin Klein runway show. But this time last year they may have been sitting in your economics lecture at Sydney Uni.
When I arrive in the lobby, I’m half expecting a publicist to saunter out and greet me or that I will at least have to let the receptionist know that I’m waiting for them. But no. To my surprise, the brothers are sitting patiently in chairs by the front door waiting for me.
They are, of course, instantly recognisable. Not because I’ve seen their faces splashed across billboards (yet) but because, well, there’s two of them. Really. It’s uncanny how alike they are. They’re used to the ‘Winklevoss’ jokes by now, they tell me.
They get up to shake my hand, grinning warmly, and take me into the hotel’s lobby. Zach is wearing navy blue chinos and a loose blue and white striped t-shirt, while Jordan sports a retro Beatles shirt from Ben Sherman. I laugh because I own the same shirt and silently congratulate myself on my fashion credentials. We find a place among the crowd, which is full of men in charcoal suits and women in lush coats sipping black coffees.
The boys start telling me how their lives shifted from studying Agricultural Economics at USyd on an AFL scholarship to where they find themselves now. It began with a good friend pestering them to seek modelling representation in Year 12, much to the boys’ amusement. “We had a lot on our plate and didn’t think it was really for us,” Jordan says. But the friend proved persistent. Eventually their curiosity got the better of them and they decided to give it a shot. The first agency they visited, Vivien’s Model Management, signed them on the spot. The roller coaster ride began.
Just two weeks later the boys were sitting in a tutorial when Zach received a phone call from their new agent. He ducked outside to answer it, before coming back a few minutes later to inform his brother they were being flown to Miami for a magazine shoot. “It was crazy,” Jordan says. “One moment we were in uni and a few days later we were flying into Miami. It just felt like two completely different lives.”
The phone calls kept coming. “’I was standing in the street a few weeks later,” Zach says, “and I got the phone call from our agent and she said, ‘Tom Ford just called. You’re flying to London tomorrow.’” Turns out Mr Ford had seen their photos and wanted to meet the boys in person. As surreal as the meeting was, Zach says it was reassuring to find that not all fashion designers have the personality you might imagine: “He’s a very nice guy. Really down to earth. It’s great to see that the guys behind these brands are great people and are not just full of themselves. I know that people think that everyone in the industry thinks a lot of themselves, but I think it’s good to see that there are people like that,” he says.
When most other people their age were wallowing in tertiary studies in order to avoid figuring out what to do with their lives, Zach and Jordan suddenly found themselves at a juncture, having to make some very important decisions about their future. Continue on with their studies at Sydney Uni, while seeing how far they could go with their AFL, or jump head first into this new world of modelling and see where it would take them?
“We really had to sit down and say to our agents, ‘How well do you think we’re going to go? It’s a big gamble’,” Jordan says. “The uni said to us: ‘We’ll give you 18 months, and it’s not going to hurt to go and do this. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Give it a go. See what happens.’”
Meeting Ford made their decision easier, Zach says: “We went there and thought: ‘This is such an amazing opportunity. Let’s take it’.”
Despite leaping into the unknown and then being lauded throughout European and American markets, their philosophy is remarkably down-to-earth. “We are trying to take everything as it comes and not take it too seriously,” Zach says. “We’re trying to take a step back from things, but we’re also thinking we’ll see how the whole 18-month period goes and we’ll make a new assessment then, but as long as we’re still enjoying it, we’re learning and we’re benefiting from it I think we’ll keep going.”
Having friends who still like to take the piss helps a lot, they explain. They’ve also heard every variation on a Zoolander joke you can imagine, but they still make ‘Blue Steel’ and ‘black lung’ jokes. “In the industry, a lot of the models make Zoolander jokes themselves,” Jordan says, “and I think once you’ve been a little bit in the industry, you see a different side to the movie. It’s a really funny movie, but you start seeing the small things that happen that are actually true. You can tell they’ve done a lot of research!”
The brothers say the glamour of the industry belies a life that can be quite lonely for models: travelling from city to city in constant competition with others based on nothing more than your appearance. “It can be hard but you’ve got to realise it’s not personal. It’s just that you’re not right for their look,” Zach says.
“You’re not going to get every brand. In the end, all you can do is put your best foot forward, turn up on time and meet some nice clients. It’s basically like doing a job interview everyday,” Jordan says. “By the end of our modelling we should be pretty good at them.”
In the midst of it all, they say they’re glad to be on this journey together. “A lot of people say that twins have a special relationship and I think as we’ve gone to live together it’s more special than we realised in the past,” Jordan says. “A lot of models don’t have another person to travel around with and it gets really lonely. We’re really lucky to have someone else to help us through a tough period or maybe a bad day. You get off a 27 hour flight and you just feel like you don’t want to do this, but you have someone else saying, ‘No. We’ll do it. We’ll go to that extra casting.’ It helps you a lot.”
It’s refreshing also to hear them speak with candour about the self-doubt that plagues models like everyone else. Zach says it’s easy to think that people on billboards and catwalks possess a super-human confidence, but in reality: “Everyone has insecurities. It’s a part of life. It’s more the fact of you knowing your strengths. Everyone brings something to the table. Whether it’s looks or personality, everyone has a strength. If you can capitalise on your strengths then you’re set.”
Near the end of the interview, I spy a petite Asian woman walk past us who is the spitting image of Yoko Ono: the coloured sunglasses, the bohemian coat, the oversized workman’s hat. I laugh at the resemblance before my brain freezes and my breath vanishes. Holy crap. I think that’s actually Yoko Ono. It is. It must be. It wouldn’t be completely unheard of for her to be in town for such a big week. I interrupt Zach mid-sentence and let him know Yoko Ono is behind us. “Who’s that?” he asks innocently. It’s then I have to remind myself these guys are only 19.