HELLO BIG BOYS!
Plus-size female models are making a mint on the catwalk. Now men want a slice of the pie too...
ACOUNCIL estate kid from Wales wakes up in a plush La hotel room and draws the blinds to stare at the Hollywood sign on the hills beyond. He texts a picture to his mum. He’s a long way from Penarth, the small town in the Vale of Glamorgan where he grew up.
‘I did have to pinch myself,’ Brett Morse admits. ‘My mum cries every time I win a campaign, so I always text her because I know what it means.’
The campaign isn’t political, but fashionbased — the reason Brett, 30, is in La is that he’s one of the most popular new form of model in the world: the plus-size man.
The trend for plus-size female models — defined in the UK as anything above a size 8 — started with Sophie Dahl around 1995, with Crystal Renn making further inroads around 2000, the same year superstars such as ashley Graham came on the scene.
The High Street and the high-end followed, with campaign after campaign until it became the flavour of fashion it is today.
ashley, a pear-shaped UK 12 on top and 18 bottom, weighs around 14 stone and is now worth around $10 million (£15.5 million). american model Tess Holliday weighs 20 stone, wears a UK size 22 and is a millionaire, author and celebrity with two million followers on Instagram. The wins are big if you’re big enough.
Now men are taking up the baton. Brett, a 6ft 3in professional discus player, who’s been British champion five times and competed in the London Olympics, is one of the hottest bookings a brand can get. He weighs 18.5 stone and found himself the face of River Island — somewhere he’d always shopped — two weeks after signing to Bridge Models in January 2017. Since then he’s worked for Burton, Levi’s and Jacamo.
The other men in this new world — builders, gardeners and teachers in their previous lives — have left £30,000 salaries to triple or quadruple their earnings, making up to £3,000 a day while championing male body positivity on luxury shoots around the world.
WITHIN the fashion industry as a whole, plus-size is booming. The womenswear sector is worth an annual £4.7 billion in the UK and menswear £1.9billion, and crucially both are growing faster than the regular-sized sector.
‘When my agent called saying Gillette were considering me for an american advert and the fee was £50,000 I almost fainted,’ Brett tells me. ‘I grew up on a council estate, so hadn’t really seen money before, and suddenly I was getting £7,500 for a few days’ work. My mates couldn’t believe it.’
Unfortunately, the Gillette job didn’t come off, as he had to speak in an american accent in the ad. ‘I studied YouTube videos, but I was terrible,’ he squirms.
Most of the men in our exclusive photo shoot were body-shamed for being overweight as children, but now pull poses in front of the camera as though they always have.
Ben Whit, 27, a 6ft 1in, 21stone, former landscape gardener from Surrey, is heralded as the first plussize male model in the UK and, like the others, fell into it almost by accident. His first shoot was paid for by an ex-girlfriend and he sent those photos to Bridge — the premier plus-size agency in the UK — who were looking for a 2XL model (a UK size 44). His first campaign, for plus-size brand BadRhino, came out a month later.
Since then, Ben has been a body positivity coach for Channel 4’s Naked Beach, a programme that takes body-insecure contestants to Greece for six weeks and tries to build their confidence through various strip-inducing tasks.
Ben and the other hosts were coated in body paint at 5am every morning, then after six weeks finally left bare to show contestants all sizes and shapes are acceptable. ‘Every one of us felt more confident by the end,’ he says. ‘It did work.’
More recently, Ben — who has a rugged look, with nose piercings, a big lumberjack beard and multiple tattoos — has been in New York for Calvin Klein, who wanted to test plus-sized clothes. There’s no date for a campaign, but if they choose him to model he could be ‘a plussize David Beckham,’ he reckons. ‘He’s got as many tattoos as me.’
Brands are also latching onto the ‘plus-size boys’ on Instagram, where Ted Baker has used Ben to model underwear to his 5,600 fans. ‘Six hundred pounds isn’t bad for 25 minutes’ work,’ he says. Some posts are shot in his mum’s bedroom. It’s possible to make £15,000 for a single post, if you have enough followers.
The models also do well online when it comes to the opposite (and same) sex. Ben met his current girlfriend on Instagram after she messaged saying she’d seen the BadRhino shoot, although he ‘thought it was a joke’. ‘I didn’t think that happened to people in real life,’ he says.
‘Most of my followers definitely came from modelling, not discus,’ Brett says, in his lilting Welsh accent. ‘When my River Island campaign came out, I was waking up with 5,000 likes on Instagram pictures each morning, and thousands of new followers — I had to message one asking what was happening and they told me I’d been included in a round-up of the best new plus-size male models on Cosmopolitan’s website.’
RaUL SaMUEL, 27, a former science technician at a London secondary school, is also coy about his new-found attention, but says his popularity is ‘testimony to the fact that people like all shapes’.
He was signed up after approaching his model agency about a blog called ‘big and tall style’ in 2017 and being offered a fashion contract instead. Two weeks later he was on a billboard for Boohoo Man in a London Tube station, which was ‘crazy’ — but the current demand for plus-size models means careers can take off at rocket speed.
at 6ft 1in and 19.6stone, Raul wears a 2XL or 3XL (UK size 46) size and has an undeniable paunch sitting down, but like the rest of our models, doesn’t come across as hugely overweight in person.
according to clinical standards, a plus-size model’s BMI would almost always class them as clinically obese — but then anyone enjoying a couple of bottles of wine a week would be clinically described as an alcoholic.
Brett agrees: ‘Before I got into this world I thought of plus-size as obese, but it doesn’t mean that. None of us is lean, but many of the guys don’t look that big.’
Raul is currently one of the most booked models on the scene. Most of the High Street has hired him: Nike, Levi’s, Next, aSOS, Moss Bros, Lyle and Scott, Debenhams, Jack and Jones. He flies to La to shoot with Nike later this year, and has already been to China, australia and all over Europe.
His huge success means he’s in the process of buying two houses in London — one for his mum, ‘so she can retire’, and another for himself. Yet modelling full-time was a hard decision, as it meant leaving the boys he mentored at the school where he worked.
‘I felt, after the first year, that I could do more to empower young men this way,’ he explains.
‘It’s important for them to see that there are people like them out there, and that they don’t need to
be ripped to be happy. When I was younger, there was nobody doing this and no one to look up to. That really affects your mentality. Since I’ve started working as a model, I get messages saying thank you all the time.
‘Lots of guys tell me they’ve struggled, too, thinking they’d never be seen as attractive. But because I’ve done well they understand that not everyone likes that ripped look.’ He’s got 13,000 Instagram fans for evidence.
Kelvin Davis, 32, a former art teacher from South Carolina and a married father-of-two, is another unlikely candidate for globetrotting model. But with 97,000 followers on Instagram and campaigns with Lush, Toyota and Gap, he’s one of the biggest names in the plus-size world.
He travels so much for work that his eight-year-old daughter thinks he’s a spy — but he still remembers the boyish insecurity Raul talks about.
‘In the U.S, there’s a section in clothes shops for boys bigger than a child’s size, but too small for men’s, called Husky,’ he explains. ‘When I was about 11, this girl I had a crush on said she liked my jeans and I told her they were from the Husky section. She said: “You mean the fat-boy section?” She said I was still cute but fat and I never forgot that.’ After a similar experience as an adult in 2013, when a sales attendant in a clothes shop suggested he was too big to shop there, he set up a blog, Notoriously Dapper, to help bigger men dress.
‘It felt malicious to be bodyshamed as an adult and I realised there wasn’t really another man I felt I could talk to about it, other than my father, so I decided to set up something where I could,’ he explains.
Its success led to a three-book deal, with Notoriously Dapper: How To Be A Modern Gentleman With Manners, Style And Body Confidence released in 2017.
Nemar Parchment, 26, a 6ft 2in London College of Fashion graduate who wears a 2XL, is another millennial at the vanguard of plus-size fashion. After being approached by two other agencies, he signed to IMG in 2017, and quickly won campaigns with Boohoo and Nike. ‘At the beginning I was often the only plus-size model on a photo shoot, and on top of that often the only black model. Despite booking me they often had clothes that didn’t fit, make-up that couldn’t tone my skin, and no one appropriate who knew how to do my hair. ‘That doesn’t happen so much any more. I’m just back from a shoot in San Francisco for Old Navy and it was super professional. The fashion world is changing and I’m interested in the way that changes how people see bigger people, gay people, black people, all of it.’ The plus-size world is not without controversy. There has been a backlash, with some experts — and plenty of online trolls — questioning the wisdom of promoting overweight bodies as fashionable or desirable when there are associated health risks.
YeT many plus-size male models have sporty backgrounds. ‘I get quite offended when people say we must be super unhealthy,’ says Brett.
‘I’m an athlete, Olympian, qualified personal trainer and nutritionist. I trained twice a day, every day, for about 13 years and I still go to the gym a lot, though not so much, because I need to keep my weight up for modelling work now! But I’m still very fit.’
Raul was a teenage star at Tottenham Hotspur football club, and still plays rugby semi-professionally for London Skolars.
When they say they understand the insecurities of young men today, they’re not kidding. Most have had at least a passing brush with mental health issues.
During a shoot for Burton last year, Brett woke on the studio floor, having blacked out in a panic attack. He got them several times a week for months, and sometimes didn’t leave the house for weeks. Ben had a period of bad depression in his early 20s, linked to his father dying when he was a child, and had to overcome a lot of anxiety on set.
Raul admits he was lost, too, after finishing university, and looking for role models that didn’t seem to be out there: ‘That had a big effect on my mentality, I went through quite a bad patch.’
Cameron Greaves — the newest boy on the block, and youngest, at 21 — has a different dilemma.
The former child model, whose clients then included Nintendo Wii and now Jack and Jones and Ralph Lauren for ASOS, was told he had too much body fat for ‘straight’ adult modelling. But now, 6ft 4in, 18stone, with a 48in chest and a 38in waist, he’s accused of not being ‘plus-size enough’ for larger fashion shoots.
‘I’m almost too small to be a plus-size model and I need to be bigger if I want to get more work, but I’m working out a balance between getting the jobs and being a size I’m happy with,’ says the part-time decorator and warehouse worker, who lives in Surrey. ‘I don’t watch what I eat for that reason, because it’s embarrassing to be on a shoot and the clothes be too big.’
Last year Brett had the same problem after losing weight and ‘had to sit in McDonald’s for two weeks trying to put it back on,’ he admits. It’s not a diet traditionally associated with modelling, but then these men are transforming how the fashion world works.
NEMAR Nike BRETT Levi’s KELVIN Gap
RAUL Next CAMERON Ralph Lauren for ASOS BEN Ted Baker