Story by Julia Steele
Photos by Eli Schmidt
The boys— they are always called boys, never men—stand at one end of a cavernous room, a small army of coifed Adonises in white underwear. Photographers and publicists snap pictures and text wildly, but the boys are impassive; their attention is zeroed in on a silver-haired Japanese woman half their size. She wears all black— Commes des Garçons—and the vivid red painted across her lips is her sole splash of color. She is teaching the boys to walk. “Always stay in the center so the cameras can get you,” she instructs. “When you come to the end of the runway, don’t stop, just pause.” She pulls forward a Brazilian named Alex, and he strides at her behest, hitting his cues. “You,” she tells him, “are so hired.” More instructions and then, “We love you!”—a verbal air kiss before the boys head backstage to dress.
Backstage it’s controlled chaos: hair people, makeup people, stylists, dressers. The boys are here from around the world for one reason: They look good in a bikini. They’re about to do a show for men’s leisure and swimwear designer Parke & Ronen, and as Ronen Jehezkel himself confided to me ten minutes ago, “We show a little bit more skin than anyone else, so it’s quite exciting” (that skin, incidentally, is why the boys were in their briefs: God forbid a waistband might leave a crease on one of their pristine torsos). How does P&R choose its models? Ronen, a former Israeli army man who studied fashion in Rome and sewed his first bikini in the Hamptons, knows a thing or two about the male body. He theorizes that there are three types: “The spaghettini, really skinny; the beefcake, a lot of muscles; and the perfect guys. Not too much muscles, not too much bones: That’s the way we cast them.” And the Japanese woman directing the show? Ronen smiles with pure satisfaction. “We like to use a lot of ‘virgins,’ guys who are walking for the first time,” he declares, “and she makes the models walk until it’s flawless. She makes everything effortless.”
In fact, she is so renowned for making everything effortless that she was immortalized on HBO’s Sex and the City. Margaret Cho played her, a fashion show director dubbed as essential as Velcro and Valium. On Sex she was called Lynne, and that’s her real name, too: Lynne Hanzawa O’Neill. As promised, she pulls off the Parke & Ronen show flawlessly, and the minute it’s done she races out of the building, hops in a cab and heads uptown for the Todd Snyder show, which goes live in two hours. It’s the second day of New York Fashion Week and “the Model Whisperer” is four shows down, nine to go.