“I HAVE MY HEAD ON”
NO SINCE ELLE MACPHERSON HEADED TO NEW YORK IN THE 'SOS HAS AN AUSTRALIAN TEENAGER MADE SUCH AN IMPRESSION ON THE FASHION WORLD. BUT, AS MODEL JORDAN BARRETT TELLS STELLAR, IT TAKES MORE THATN JUST WINNING THE GENETIC LOTTERY
Former Gold Coast schoolboy Jordan Barrett has been voted the world’s top male model. As for those uneasy about his ability to handle fame – he tells Stellar he’s got it under control.
Jordan Barrett is a human doodle pad; his body is covered with small, random tattoos. Most were inspired by his friends, and some he got free with tacos. There’s a cardiogram on his torso, plotting the (perfectly healthy) heartbeat of his friend, model Tahnee Atkinson. “PSYCHO” is written across his left arm, a reference to the band Psycho Gypsy. The words “Monica Lewinski” (sic) are scrawled across Barrett’s pelvis, yet they have nothing to do with the former White House intern and presidential paramour of the same name.
“‘Monica Lewinski’ was [written] on a painting I liked, a really nice, weird painting that my friend Jai did,” he says. One of Barrett’s wrists bears the phrase “0% INTEREST”, which was copied from a tattoo sported by his New York agent. “She shakes people’s hands and it’s there,” he explains. “Zero per cent interest – not interested.
“Some days I wake up and I look at [the tattoos] and think maybe I shouldn’t have them. And then…” he shows me another tattoo. It says “WHY NOT”.
It’s a strikingly casual attitude to his body, one that doesn’t stop at tattoos. He has to force himself to go to the gym (“I hate working out”), he cuts his own hair on the plane when he’s bored, and rumours abound about his love of partying. It must make his agents and accountants nervous, because that body is worth millions.
In the world of international modelling, Australian lad Jordan Barrett is an It boy. Since he arrived in New York in 2015, he has been shot by the world’s top photographers, walked in shows for the most sought-after designers, and last year was voted Male Model of the Year at the Models.com Industry Awards. His instant success, his jetsetting lifestyle and his bevy of celebrity girlfriends have also turned him into clickbait; Barrett’s photograph is just as likely to appear on gossip websites as fashion magazines.
Today, during a whirlwind trip home, he’s posing for Stellar where he proves to be a stylist’s dream – polite, biddable and with the ability to turn every stitch of clothing into a work of art. In shots, he lounges across pieces of furniture, looking insouciantly at the camera; between shots, he does the same thing, playing with his phone.
To the naked eye, Barrett is, of course, beautiful. He looks like a cross between a young Leonardo Dicaprio and the
late River Phoenix, with striking, feline eyes and a slender, athletic physique.
But he is not sexy. He is boyish, a little androgynous. At 20, he is still in that awkward phase between child and adult, when young guys seek out mentors, test boundaries, battle pimples, feel invincible and work out – through trial and error – what kind of men they want to be. But instead of doing that in the Gold Coast’s Currumbin, with his fellow Elanora State High School alumni, Barrett is doing it in front of cameras in New York.
He has an apartment in Manhattan’s West Village, which, thanks to a six-month-old gardening fetish, is full of plants. (“I am going to have plants hanging from the roof,” he says. “It’s weird and it’s cool.”) Barrett is rarely there for long enough to unpack his suitcase – he spends most of his time travelling, a different city every few days, and snatches sleep on planes. He parties with Kate Moss, Paris Hilton, and assorted It girls (for this interview, his manager banned questions about Hilton). He works with Tom Ford, has been shot by Mario Testino and walks at the top international fashion shows.
His conversation is peppered with reverent references to his friends, who seem to be much older veterans of the fashion world. “I am always the younger one,” he tells Stellar. “Most of my friends are 30, 40 years old – my closest friend is probably 35,” he says. “My friends are all in the industry now. A lot of them are photographers. I go see my friends and we end up taking photos and doing a shoot. We go over to a friend’s house, we might watch a movie, then at midnight end up taking photos in his living room, like making a little set up.”
Barrett insists his life is not unusual: “My job is, but my life isn’t.”
But “unusual” is relative. He begins his day at an infrared sauna, then works out at The Dogpound, the gym of preference for Victoria’s Secret angels. His modelling jobs often involve surreal photographic pageants, such as the time he channelled the late Chet Baker for Dutch Vogue Men in the Amsterdam hotel room where the jazz musician spent his last moments.
At 20, he’s already met many of his idols. “Tom Ford is a genius, a psycho genius, and I have read all his interviews all the time and I learnt as much as I could possibly learn about him,” Barrett says. “And randomly, by coincidence, he was the first campaign I shot in America. If you look into his life he is the most interesting person, ever.”
Barrett was scouted, or so the story goes, while he was stealing matches from a convenience store at Palm Beach on the Gold Coast. The scout, Kirk Blake, gave the 13-year-old his card, and for a moment Barrett thought he was being busted by the cops. He gave the card to his mother, who followed up on his behalf. “I was just a tall lanky kid,” he says. “I felt awkward, always awkward.”
Blake vividly remembers the encounter. “He was with a young girl, they were in the aisle, and typical to Jordan, he was giggling and having a laugh,” he says. “He was quite tall, even back then. Tall, slender, but it’s the eyes. The eyes and the mouth.” He had the androgynous look that was becoming so popular among high-end fashion designers. “He has always fit that metrosexual look, he is quite feminine.”
At that point, Barrett was a workingclass kid. According to Blake, he had been teased by kids for the androgyny that would later so appeal to the world’s top designers. His parents had separated. His dad was a tradie, and, as would later emerge, a drug boss; in 2013, Adrian Barrett was sentenced to eight and a half years (he ended up serving just under three years) for running a $9 million marijuana business. (It wasn’t Barrett senior’s first offence; his sentencing judge referred to his “serious criminal history”, and mentioned that he had been on parole for another offence while he was running the cartel.)
At the same time, Barrett junior was building his modelling career. He worked in Sydney, then in Tokyo, and at 18 he got his big break in New York. “[Moving to New York was], like, almost overwhelming at first, it was really scary,” Barrett says. “To survive in New York is very tough, I think, [and] I was very young and I was alone. I enjoyed the struggle of it.” (“The challenge,” corrects his manager, who sat in on our interview.)
And so he found himself, barely out of boyhood and with his family on the other side of the world, living in The Big Apple, being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and working with some of the world’s most famous designers, photographers and models.
“I THINK I’VE PROVED TO [MY MOTHER] THAT THERE’S NOT A LOT TO BE WORRIED ABOUT… SHE KNOWS I HAVE MY HEAD ON”
The first time an Australian teenager made such an impression on the fashion world was back in the late ’80s, when Elle Macpherson flew to New York after finishing her HSC. Writer Antonella Gambotto-burke went to school with Macpherson, and watched from afar as the model grappled with the trajectory her beauty had set her on. “Life came at her at warp speed,” says Gambotto-burke, a journalist turned author of Mama: Love, Motherhood And
Revolution. “I think she only really found her emotional footing later, when she learnt to use that objectification to her advantage.”
Much column space is devoted to worrying about young women in modelling, but men are vulnerable, too. “Young men’s brains aren’t fully developed until their early to mid-twenties,” says Steve Biddulph, a psychologist and the author of Raising Boys. “Mentors and role models play an important role in putting the brakes on and guiding with a sense of perspective.”
Biddulph says beauty can be just as dangerous for young men as young women. “If a young person is particularly goodlooking, it’s not a plus for their life, because people behave oddly towards them,” he says. “They are valued, but as an object, not as a person.
“Women have always had this problem, but it’s now affecting boys as well. If fame or success happens before we have a good sense of who we are, then other people’s views can distort that. A strong family, willing to keep your sense of perspective, can help.”
Barrett doesn’t talk much about his family. He’s not willing to discuss his two older brothers, beyond saying they both live at home on the Gold Coast (according to model scout Blake, neither were blessed with Barrett’s good looks). His agent declined Stellar’s request to speak to his mother, Julie.
There was also a protracted off-therecord conversation about exactly what Barrett would say about his father, given he was willing to say far more than others would prefer. The upshot is this: Barrett isn’t embarrassed about his father’s crimes, nor does he think he did anything terribly wrong, given that dope is sold legally across wide swathes of the US. “It’s old news,” is all Barrett can officially say.
Most gossip stories about Barrett have been about which model he was last seen “canoodling” with. Increasingly, however, they are about his lifestyle. During his most recent trip to Australia, Barrett was spotted at Watsons Bay in Sydney amid rumours he was surfacing from a three-day bender. Last year, he was photographed sitting, glassy-eyed, outside a club in Croatia. One fashion insider, quoted in The Daily Telegraph, said, “It has been noted in the industry that he is partying a bit too hard.”
When he’s travelling, Barrett likes to listen to an audio version of Last Night At The Viper Room: River Phoenix And The Hollywood He Left Behind, about the life and untimely death of the actor, who died from a drug overdose on the footpath outside a West Hollywood nightclub in 1993.
But Barrett insists he’s in control of his life. He admits his mother worries about him, but says there’s no reason why she should. “I think I’ve proved to them there’s not a lot to be worried about,” he says. “She knows I have my head on. She’s always making sure I’m healthy and eating. I actually feel very together, in this situation.”
Blake, who has lost touch with Barrett, admits there is concern in the industry. But any attempt to control him would backfire. “Jordan controls the Jordan show,” Blake says. “Jordan is very smart, he will always do what Jordan wants to do.”
Barrett, he believes, is trying to find his feet in a bizarre world. “He lives in a world that we can’t relate to,” he says. “His income is into the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands a year, and he hasn’t even scraped the surface yet. I think he seems to be sort of in control, and not in control.”
Throughout the interview, Barrett’s demeanour of insouciance only cracks once. He seems irritated when I ask him whether he feels his life, with all its glamour and money, is due to a lucky break in the genetic lottery.
“There are a lot of steps along the way where it can go wrong, so you need to be very strategic about what you do,” he says. “It’s not that simple. You have to be smart, with the work you are doing. You are a brand, and you have to be very careful not to damage that.”
“IT’S NOT AS SIMPLE [AS GOOD LOOKS]. YOU HAVE TO BE SMART WITH WORK. YOU ARE A BRAND AND YOU CAN’T DAMAGE THAT”
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