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Consumed by the image: an interview with David Metcalfe

David Metcalfe is not someone you’d immediately think of as a model. Despite boyish good looks topping a tall, muscularly lean frame, Metcalfe is heavily tattooed (both professional and stick ‘n’ poke) and intellectually brooding; you’d sooner picture him fronting a powernoise group than walking down a runway. Yet this high-fashion hooligan, still at the beginning of his career, has modeled for Lanvin, met with Dior, and been the subject of countless photoshoots. Tattoos are hardly wild news in high fashion, but it is Metcalfe’s ability to project emotional extremes frighteningly well that make him so sought after. Yet in person he’s quietly charming, a hard-partying lad who’s found himself in a strange and fascinating situation. As a person who makes a living embedded within the music scene, I find it intriguing how little the two worlds collide on a social level, despite often being packaged together. So I sat down with him to get a taste of life behind the runway.


How did you get into modeling?

It was a combination of chance and necessity. I want to earn a living but, like most people, I also want to do it pretty much the easiest way possible. I’d been in Berlin for about two weeks before I was casted on the street just outside Görlitzer Park. I got work in a video for Calvin Harris, which led to other offers. After that, another guy I knew said to me, “I’ve signed up to this agency, come in and see what they say”. Which I did, and they said quite a lot of good things, actually. Within two weeks I was in Paris walking for Lanvin, going to castings and I spent like two and a half weeks or three weeks in Paris. Then from there it’s just been pretty consistent with editorial work. Locally I’ve  just finished a shoot with Matt Lambert for  Nero Homme, as well as  a Lookbook shooting for Darklands.

Had you considered the idea before?

Not at all. I come from a standpoint where I find the whole social area in which the fashion world operates slightly ridiculous. That was my definitely perspective on it before I got involved in it: vain, absurd, self-perpetuating and self-referential—a worldview completely consumed with appearance and image, removed of substance. But, having been involved in that world, I can say that it does afford opportunities that I would not have otherwise. Certain people that I met in Paris that were not directly involved in fashion, had a lot of interesting things to do and say. For example, I met this woman Clara who DJs at Silencio, which is the club designed by David Lynch. We just lived there, rolling with them, being immersed with people that actually know Paris and getting shown around in places that are just beneath this touristic visible level. Like any other job, modeling is a role to be played for the promise of money. But it’s also a very static world, the social validation placed on being a model or being seen as a beautified body is very heavy. It’s very easy to get consumed by that image, which is something I never wanted to be a part of.

It can be like some kind of rock star thing, I see people talking about models the way some people are talking about their favorite musicians and that seems really absurd. It really takes away from the entire point, I think.

This is really a very interesting point, how someone who is in reality not doing very much, not creating anything but literally there as a hollow appearance, a mannequin for other people to put their creative efforts on top of you, layer on top of you.

This is why I really appreciate  Maison Martin Margiela’s jeweled masks. Not only does it remove the element of humanization, but when you remove the predictability of facial expression (which tends to be blank and moody on runway models anyway) it allows the models to express themselves more through movement. A good model should be like an actor, I think.

For sure, it’s a role that you have to learn, that you have to play well to get more work and to keep that going as a career. You have to play by the rules of the game. It’s all about visibility in modeling, how visible you are and on what level. I went to the Givenchy party in Silencio and the view was fucking ridiculous; crowds were fighting out on the street to get into that club, everyone is watching who’s getting in, who’s coming out. It’s like a microcosm of the politics of social validation, which actually I find incredibly interesting.

The diversity of all the weird little social cliques would probably make for a fascinatingly empty study. Like a high school, with better clothes and better drugs.

Even in that incredibly small and confined space of that club, it was easy to spot the specific crowds— from the designers and people working with the designers to kids that are like perpetuating that particular style to the models, to the people who are just associated with it, but not directly involved.

How different would you say it is from a music scene?

I think there are a lot of parallels there, but obviously I would hold music up to be a higher form of art than fashion design. I believe that music is the one art form that most truly reflects life, because it’s not static— it’s dynamic, more directly influencing your experience. Whereas if I see a piece of clothing, I can appreciate it aesthetically but it’s not creating this moving experience. Regardless of the craft or the creativity involved in making that piece of clothing it’s still a material good: it exists for the point of consumption only. But if we are going back to the point of scene politics it’s almost the same thing, just a question of material being used and the art being created. This is also one of the things I’m quite critical of in the fashion world, that it only keeps itself going through self-reference and the constant cycle of seasons. Creating new garments to be sold in a potential future, garments that are just a recycling of what was before. Baudrillard said that we’ve reached the point where we’ve come to the end of history, and now that we are beyond the end there is no end in sight. This works fairly well with the fashion world. I believe the only way to create meaning is with an ending, but with fashion it’s always completely unending.

But as much as I can be critical of the fashion world (which people should be), I’m not dismissive of it, because it has afforded me a lot of opportunities I’m very grateful for. It’s certainly a very seductive world to be in. You’re surrounded by beautiful people with money, people for whom excessive high-living is daily ritual. It’s incredibly harsh to disentangle yourself once you are involved. I’m just there as the image. Not even the medium, the bit just beneath the medium. I’m afraid I could become lost in the image…consumed by it.

Published October 10, 2012.