Friday, May 26, 2017

Stephen James, Modeling’s Favorite New Hardbody


Stephen James, Modeling’s Favorite New Hardbody, Is Really a Big Softie

 To excel in the modeling industry requires an innate understanding of one’s body, which serves, in the modeling industry, as both your calling card and your instrument. And when it comes to unforgettable bodies, few can compete with rising star Stephen James. 


 A former pro soccer player, James’s sculpted physique is covered in intricate designs, from photorealistic portraits of art icons to swirling geometric patterns, religious idols and various memento mori. More than a blank canvas for ink, James has also built a reputation as a formidable presence in front of the camera for such brands as Calvin Klein and Philipp Plein.  Signed to Storm modeling agency in London, the Hammersmith, London–bred James has quickly become a bona fide male modeling sensation. And the fact that he has followed in the footsteps of Insta-celebs Kendall James and Gigi Hadid hasn’t hurt either; he has personality built up a dedicated online fan base that currently numbers in the millions.


Though he’s in the midst of a “moment,” James insists he’s still a shy guy who’d rather be at home listening to the Smiths. And while on the surface his soft-spoken persona seems at odds with the hard-edged image he often portrays in photo shoots, we’ve come to realize that James has never been one to play by the rules. We caught up with the next big thing to talk about the transition from pro sports to fashion shoots and what he owes his fan sites.

What made you want to become a model?
I was living in Barcelona and playing soccer there when I got hurt, and I was scouted while in rehab for the injury. So modeling was bit unexpected, but I had thought about it prior to that. As I traveled for soccer, I would always pick up modeling cards from different agencies, but it wasn’t until I had the problem with the injury that I decided, Why not give this a try! Luckily it’s worked out so far.

Recently, you hit the million-followers milestone on Instagram —was social media something you were always engaged in?
When I first got started, it was kind of a joke. I was friends with a few guys who were really big on social media and they encouraged me. Getting used to sharing so much was different for me since I’d never had Facebook or Myspace, any of that. I’d had Instagram for a couple of months when I got offered the chance to be in a music video for a Russian singer, Victoria Daineko. From that moment I saw the power of social media; it has the pull to bring in jobs, income, to let people discover you. After that, I started putting in the effort and taking it seriously as a platform.


It slowly builds: One day you get 10 comments, another you get 100, and suddenly you find you’ve built a following. I don’t get to reply to every comment anymore, but the people I try to stay in touch with are [my] fan pages, because at the end of the day I’ve gotten this far thanks to their help. It’s a good feeling to think that people can devote their time and energy in that way. Sometimes they find photos that I haven’t even seen before; they’re incredibly helpful, and it is just nice to know that there are people from all over the world who are interested.


Is there any aspect of your personality that your social media fans might find surprising?
The biggest thing about me is that I’m actually very shy. I’m not confident in certain situations. But with the success I’ve been experiencing, I have learned to be a bit more approachable and open.
You’ve amassed countless tattoos, but which was the very first?
The first tattoo was a Star of David on my right elbow. I got that in Prague. When I was playing soccer, I had friends who were tattoo artists, so I used to spend a lot of time in tattoo shops, but my friends would never give me a tattoo. They’d always tell me that I’d regret it, so I got my first tattoo at a random shop. After that, my friends were fine tattooing me; I think they just didn’t want to do that first one.
I have a whole arm of Dalí [paintings]. When I was in Barcelona, I started studying him and became fascinated with his personality. I found a lot of similarities [between us], given the way he was perceived as being eccentric, and I’d experienced a lot of that playing soccer.

 There are several notable people etched on your body—Morrissey, Salvador Dalí, Queen Elizabeth, Frida Kahlo

Morrissey is on the other arm because I grew up listening to him and the Smiths. I have a big connection to that sort of music and their lyrics. I used one arm as my artistic inspirations, and then my right arm has a British theme—it’s the music I listened to growing up. There is Robert Smith from the Cure, Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees, Ian Dury from the Blockheads. Some of the tattoos are very intricate, so it’s not like I could go to my local shop and get them done. There are a few where I’ve had to travel, or wait months and months in order to get them done, but in the end I’m lucky, as it has all come together very well.
 stephen james 101
Do you ever find that your tattoos get in the way of your work, or that a client won’t hire you for a job because of them?
I’ve been modeling for two and a half years, and it’s funny because I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve seen a real change in the way tattoos are perceived in the industry. When I first started working in Spain, the market was very close-minded when it came to tattoos. They don’t like a lot of edgy stuff, so I had to prove myself two or three times over. Now I find going to jobs is so much easier and tattoos have become the norm, but the neck tattoos and tattoos on the hands and on the head were hard for people to accept, especially for the more conservative brands.
 So what’s next? Any more boundaries to break?
Right now I’m focused a lot on fitness—I was just able to do my first Men’s Health cover [in Spain], and that was a big deal for me. I’d love to one day create my own fitness label and get more involved with that industry as well. Three weeks ago I had a chance to attend the Mr. Universe competition, which was fascinating. Right now that industry is dominated by a lot of guys who are heavily on steroids . . . it would be great to challenge that perception and show that all it takes [to have a career in fitness] is hard work.

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