Inside the life of an international male model
He’s had tea with Jean Paul Gaultier
22, beautiful and famous: three words which rarely go together. For Harvey James, the reality of his life is far removed from what he thought he’d be doing at 22.
Still managing to stay humble, Harvey skyrocketed his way to the top the male fashion industry within the space of a year. He’s spent the past year on a break from studying English at UCL, after he was signed by AMCK the summer after first year. In this time he’s travelled to every inch of the globe walking down catwalks in front of the world’s biggest names. You may have seen him on the wall of your local Topman, or sitting sultrily on an Armani billboard in New York.
We spoke to Harvey on what it’s like behind the cameras – and how he’s kept his cool in all this chaos.
How did it all start?
My scouting was an extremely typical affair. I was simply walking down Oxford Street when I was 17 and some guy from the ASOS street casting team asked if I’d ever considered it.
What were you first thoughts? Did you jump at it or were you hesitant?
Of course I’d considered it! Joking, yeah I was pretty shocked, and despite being pretty keen bean for the first shoot – spending £65 on a train down to London when the shoot only paid £75 – I was fully expecting to be thrown into the back of a van, whisked off into the East End never to be seen again.
My first job for ASOS was a sock editorial, which my face featured very little in. All that confusion and excitement was basically for some wooly socks. My face, nor the faces of anyone else there were featured, and it was a grave anticlimax to the beginning of the career. Surprisingly, my friends have never forgotten that.
So you started from the bottom, now you’re here. Where did it go from there, did someone see the ASOS shoot?
I suppose there was a noticeable abyss in the modelling work between that shoot and then being properly signed after my first year at university in 2013. I did a few more shoots for ASOS, mainly as very minor extras in random Christmas videos. During uni I thought it would probably be the best part time job, so if I could get an agency, why not. I sent some terrible polaroids to some agencies and AMCK’s judgment was sufficiently impaired enough to take me on.
From there, you’ve done catwalks for Prada, Versace, Fendi, almost all the big names, had your face on billboards on Fifth Avenue. Is it all a bit overwhelming?
At the time it was crazy. To even think these brands would want to use me to represent them is barbaric. But I suppose it’s all relative, so when you’ve done a few of these things the charm begins to lessen.
Do you miss university and the normality of it all?
Absolutely yes. The thing I miss the most is being settled in one place for more than a month, or a week or a day. It’s the constant restlessness I have loved, but at the same time I’m looking forward to being stationed in one place. University yes for sure. To be studying and having an intellectual focus will be gruellingly difficult after two years away from the education system, but I absolutely can’t wait.
Do you come across people you don’t enjoy being around?
Of course, there’s characters in everyone’s workplace one will rub up the wrong way against. Unfortunately with fashion there seems to be an unjustifiably inflated ego that goes with some of the characters due to the media attention. But hey, we just laugh about it.
Are you and your fellow models under as much pressure as everyone thinks? Or do you think it varies from person to person?
I think it’s probably the least pressured job. At least for me. It was only probably in the beginning when I was doing lots of editorials the I ever felt pressured to perform or be the lovable, likeable character on set. Now it’s far more relaxed and most the clients are super chilled to work with. If you’re working with a cool team, then it’s a lot of fun.
You’re in Australia chilling now – is the money all good so far from all the work?
Umm yeah I suppose. It is allowing me to travel the world while earning, so as long as I am paying my bills and am not sinking into debt, then I’m content.
I also know you play music, has that been helpful in your downtime from all of it?
Yeah it sounds ridiculous but without my writing and music to fill the spare time, I think I would have lost my marbles a while back. People always have to be occupied, or progressing in something, and they have been my sort of side projects I suppose. It’s kind of great I have the time to still play music and write and still travel and earn with modelling, it’s a nice combination. Most of the time that is.
What’s been the weirdest experience so far then? Anyone in particular you’ve met you didn’t think you would?
By far the strangest experience was right after I left university during Paris Fashion Week. Bearing in mind I was new to the whole scene, so standing around in a €6,000 Berluti suit for an hour drinking champagne and talking to your mates while being PAID was not my idea of normality. It was also rumoured Will Smith was mingling in the crowd, despite not seeing him, so the excitement was pretty high.
Right after the show I rang my agency to see what was going down, and it turned out I booked the Jean Paul Gaultier lookbook shooting the next morning, pretty stoked to say the least. While shooting the next day, low and behold around lunchtime Jean Paul Gaultier himself walks in and introduces himself, shortly followed by Will Smith. I said hello to them and then they had tea and biscuits in the same room I was shooting in discussing the new clothing range. It’s fair to say it was a pretty barmy 24 hours.
You’re always hopping from Milan to London to all over the place. What’s in store next, what does the new year bring?
University is in store for January. I will still be doing direct bookings while studying, so hopefully I can still earn a living. I’ve got an options to do jobs in Portugal in January and Barcelona in February, so we shall see if they turn out favourably. It’s totally unpredictable though.