Ever since Yves Saint Laurent posed naked in 1971 to promote his fragrance Pour Homme, men’s designers have been spokesmodels for their own brands. Some — like Jean Paul Gaultier, Michael Kors, Jeremy Scott and Christian Siriano — even took on side gigs as TV personalities.
But as fashion embraces a more collective approach, some designers are setting aside potential rivalries to tap their peers to walk in their runway shows.
Among the creative directors moonlighting as models during the menswear shows in Paris in June were Stefano Pilati, who appeared in Pharrell Williams’ debut show for Louis Vuitton, and Spencer Phipps, who popped up on the runway at LGN Louis Gabriel Nouchi.
Mostly, it’s friends doing favors for friends. For others, modeling emerged as a side gig during the coronavirus pandemic, when physical shows were canceled and booking models for shoots involved complex logistics.
Forced to present his spring 2021 collection online, Phipps fulfilled a childhood dream by starring in his own western, titled “The Spirit of Freedom.” That led to other offers, prompting him to sign with Next Management’s Talent division, which also represents fellow designer Nix Lecourt Mansion.
“It’s really funny because it’s so unexpected for myself,” says Phipps, who sees it as an opportunity to immerse himself in other designers’ work.
“We’re kept very separate, so it’s very rare for me to be in someone’s full environment. Maybe I’ll see something in a store and experience a couple of pieces. Maybe I’ll meet them out and I can say hi to them, but I don’t necessarily go in their work zone, so it’s great. I get to be, like, a full tourist,” he explains.
“It’s actually really refreshing,” he adds of being backstage at the LGN show. “I understand exactly what’s happening because I’ve been in his shoes. I know what they’re freaking out about.”
Sometimes a runway gig leads to something bigger. Having appeared in the film for Boss’ spring 2022 collection, Phipps then partnered with the label on a co-branded capsule line.
For Ludovic de Saint Sernin, whose collections are autobiographical, it made sense to star in his own campaign.
During the first COVID-19 lockdown, he worked with photographer Willy Vanderperre on the images for his fall 2020 collection, titled “Heartbreak,” which showed the designer donning a broken heart-shaped breastplate and posing with his face pressed against a mirror.
“For me to make the leap and move to the other side of the camera is always a very special moment that is full of meaning and personal connections,” he says.
Vanderperre was inspired by the fact that de Saint Sernin often posts pictures of himself on Instagram.
“I think it comes from all the people I look up to, like Marc Jacobs, Rick Owens or Donatella Versace, who built an iconography around their image as designers and who are as recognizable and well known as their brands. I’ve always found that fascinating,” de Saint Sernin confesses.
He decided to toy further with the myth-making process by walking in his fall 2022 show, titled “All the Rumors Are True,” alongside Gigi and Bella Hadid. “I wanted to push to the maximum this idea of a designer showcasing himself, and this reflection on the place of the designer within a brand and a community,” he explains.
Last December, to announce what would turn out to be a one-season stint as creative director of Ann Demeulemeester, de Saint Sernin released a set of images in which he wore items from the Demeulemeester archive dating back to the ’90s.
Yet his biggest thrill to date was closing the Rick Owens spring 2023 show last summer. “I’ve been a fan of his for years and he’s inspired me a lot,” de Saint Sernin says.
“I was incredibly touched by this experience and the new perspective it gave me. It’s a lot more stressful than you imagine, even if you’re in the industry, to be in the shoes of a model and to realize the pressure of being in a Rick Owens show, and all of a sudden all eyes are on you,” he says. “But it’s such a rewarding and unique experience that you want to do it again and again. There’s a rush that is almost addictive.”
Going forward, de Saint Sernin plans to continue to build his image with carefully selected collaborations.
“I greatly admire people like Marc Jacobs or Jean Paul Gaultier, who, beyond their job as designers, have established themselves in pop culture, in television, entertainment and acting. Designers today do a lot more than they originally did, and you have to be very fluid and curious about where it can lead you,” he says.
It stands to reason in a period when designers are prized for their social media following as much as their creative skills. Balmain’s creative director Olivier Rousteing, for example, has 9.7 million followers on Instagram and was among the first to model on the side, appearing nude in a spring 2019 campaign with Cara Delevingne.
For emerging designers operating on a shoestring budget, roping in friends is an economic necessity as well as a way to celebrate a new-gen creative approach.
Victor Weinsanto featured fellow designers including Charles de Vilmorin, Vincent Garnier Pressiat and EgonLab duo Florentin Glémarec and Kevin Nompeix in his spring 2023 show, titled “Common Love.”
“We all inspire each other,” he explains. “It was my way of saying we’re all friends.”
Once his buddies hit the runway, each let his personality shine through. “With Charles, it was this mixture of shyness and fantasy, whereas Vincent was more exuberant,” he recalls. “It allows people to put a face to the designer’s work. It’s like when you see a painting and then you see the artist: you end up understanding a lot.”
Weinsanto believes that the collaborative approach is a necessary consequence of the explosion in new brands.
“Back in the day, there were so few designers that it was a little bit like a school class: there’s only 30 students, and in that group, everyone wants to be top of the class,” he says. “There’s a lot of us now, so we tend to pool our resources.”
Nonetheless, this bunch is not likely to let a loose hemline go unnoticed. “We’re very familiar with each other’s work and we pay close attention to the finish of the clothes, the linings. We tease each other if something’s not right,” he says.
At the end of the day, it’s about helping someone else’s vision come to life. For Pressiat’s first show, Weinsanto took his own turn on the runway, his hair caked in orange paint and a chain clamped to the side of his mouth. “To be completely made up à la Pressiat was quite something,” he says with a laugh. “I was super happy to be part of it because it was an important moment for him.”
De Saint Sernin believes that designers celebrating fellow designers is a sign of the times.
“It shows mentalities are really changing in fashion in general. As designers, we’re responsible for setting an example in that sense. Today, there’s huge solidarity among new generations,” he says.
“I think it’s really beautiful and it inspires future generations not to be afraid of competition,” he adds. “We feed off each other and it’s important to nurture that, because it makes conversations much more fruitful and inspiring.”