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.

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The alphabet according to Woodkid

As a director, Yoanne Lemoine is known for creating visceral, ultra-stylish fantasy worlds for the likes of Katy Perry, Rihanna and Lana Del Rey. The Frenchman’s dramatic, HD-mythologies have brought budget and narrative back into music video cosmos, which had become a veritable financial desert amidst the music industry’s nosedive and the rise of DIY directing. Since 2010, Lemoine has also been releasing pathos-laden baroque pop under the name Woodkid. ‘Iron’, the single off of his eponymous debut EP, recently served as the inspiration for Dior Homme’s Fall-Winter 2013 collection ‘A Soldier On My Own‘. It’s a logical progression for an artist whose sound is as aestheticized as the images he creates. Woodkid’s debut LP, The Golden Age, is due out later this year.

A as in Advertising
Both my parents worked in advertising, so i grew up playing with Photoshop and hanging around their agencies. Of course, it’s continued to be a part of my life with directing commercials, like the new international Lipton campaign for green tea & white tea. I win awards for this stuff. I don’t feel the need to be especially critical of it.

B as in as in Bonjour tristesse
Françoise Sagan’s first novel . . . I like sadness. The best music is sad, and I would say there’s a strong sense of melancholy and nostalgia in what I do.

C as in as in Clubbing in Paris
I don’t go clubbing often in Paris. Not because I don’t like it, but because I usually don’t have time. However, when I get the chance, I usually go to David Lynch’s club, Silencio.

D as in Director’s Cut
They’re always better.

E as in Eiffel Tower
It was amazing: my first show in Paris and it was on the top of it! Well, first floor, actually. The show was supposed to be streamed live on Vice’s new Noisey platform, but an incredibly rare solar flare took place at the same time and put the satellite out of commission a while, so the show only got broadcast the day after.

F as in Firearms
People think after seeing the video for ‘Iron’ that i’m really into war, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m inspired visually and sonically by soldiers and war and weapons, but I’m not “pro” any of these things. Just because you talk about something doesn’t mean you necessarily endorse it.

G ??????as in The Golden Age
The name of my first album. It refers to the period in childhood when you’re still innocent. The album opens with the end of the Golden Age, the moment when you grow up and have to face society and responsibilities.

H as in Hardcore
I don’t know much about hardcore, but my sound engineer listens to lots of it. That means I often end up with
a really loud and aggressive live sound, which is cool. Believe it or not, there are a lot of metalheads who listen to my music as well.
I as in Iron
‘Iron’ is the single off my first EP. Thematically, it’s like a final sense of destruction that comes after you’ve been building up your character towards adulthood. It’s about when you end up walking by yourself. It’s the journey make where memories become vague and you start developing your own personality.

J as in John Galliano
It’s a sad story, but I guess that’s part of the deal when you’re famous. I don’t know if he meant what he said— I hope not. My friends from the band The Shoes have their drummers ironically calling themselves ‘Das Galliano’ ever since.

K as in Kitsch
Sometimes having bad taste is actually a sign of good taste.

L as in Lana Del Rey
Lana is one of the best singers I’ve ever met, her voice is amazing. I directed ‘Born to Die’ from her new album and most recently ‘Blue Jeans’. She’s really shy and delicate, almost fragile. And that’s something I tried to bring out when directing.

M as in Mythology
My favorite myth is of Icarus, although I also love myths about vanity—like Echo and Narcissus. I love adventure and anything about humans dying because of their own greed and vices. The world I create around Woodkid is a kind of modern mythology, I would say. I try to design new codes, from architecture to religion, and clothing to rituals.

N as in New Jersey
Only when I have to land in Newark.

O as in Occupy movement
I love the idea. You’re always stronger together, and what’s more disturbing than a silent revolution?

P as in Prayer
I’m not religious, not in a dogmatic way I mean. I was raised in a Catholic institution and had to pray every night. But this was bullshit. I’m very spiritual and I pray in my own way, because I do believe in something bigger. I just don’t like to think that this very intimate and crucial metaphysical question—the meaning of life—has to be answered the same way for every human on this planet.

Q as in Quo vadis, music video?
After years and years of having big everything in the nineties—lighting, images, props, costumes, sets, stunts—videos in the noughties became very lo-fi and very conceptual thanks to the Internet and people doing their own thing. The result was a generation of videos where the images were shit, but the concepts were good. Visually it wasn’t stuff you would remember. My videos were always about craft and technical quality, and thankfully, budgets are coming back. Thanks to digital sales, that is. And even if we might hate them, people like Gaga have helped bring back the impact of the video, and production value.

R as in Rock and Roll
There’s nothing rock and roll about what I do. There are no guitars and I’m pretty static onstage. It’s almost like a funeral. It’s not like I don’t like rock and roll, but I’m not much of a showman or a hardcore musician. What I do is more intimate. Also, I don’t take drugs or drink.

S as in Self-fulfilling prophecy
It’s maybe a little scary, but I truly believe that you can decide, thanks to things you believe in, good or bad, how your life will turn out. It would mean that if I am convinced I’m sick, my brain could eventually create the illness I didn’t have. The power of thought should not be underestimated.

T as in Tattoos
I have two tattoos, one on each arm. They’re keys which, when put together, represent my family. I love people with tattoos.

U as in Utopia
It’s good to want to reach things that aren’t attainable. I have managed to accomplish a lot just by believing it was possible.

V as in Video Game Scores
Well, I do play video games, my favorite ones are the Final Fantasy series. I absolutely love Nobuo Uematsu’s work there.

W as in Win-win situation
That’s the best part of being a director as well as a singer: each field informs the other and helps me meet new, amazing artists that help me grow creatively.

X as in Xenophilia
I love having sex with aliens. I often find partners that really make me feel this way.

Y as in YouTube
I watch it more than TV, for sure.

Z as in Zombie Boy
He’s great, and he’s actually really handsome. I met him once at a Mugler afterparty. I feel a little bit sad for him, because he’s been used so much for the Mugler and Gaga campaigns by Nicola Formichetti. Is it temporary? He’s not going to be a top model that somebody wants for a long time. I mean it when I say I think he’s really amazing, but I think he’s like a trend. I just hope he has the time and patience to get through it all. ~

Photo: Trago/Getty Images

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