Fashion models on the town

Caught yesterday in the New York Times (p. A22, the back page of the first section of the paper), this stunning full-page ad:

(#1) High-fashion models Anya Taylor-Joy and Alton Mason do ivory / ebony and femme / masc posed as breezing fabulously through the streets of NYC as part of a Tiffany & Co.”Knot Your Typical City” ad campaign (inaugurated last fall) for its collection of knot-motif gold-and-diamond jewelry; they are joined in their fantasy day on the town by fashion model Eileen Gu

The third member of the trio on the town:

(#2) Eileen Gu, wrapped like a sexy birthday present with a big black bow on top, as viewed from within a shop window in the City That Never Sleeps

Where I’m coming from. I’m not plugged into popular or commercial culture, just stumble on stuff as I view the cultural world exploding around me. I didn’t notice the Tiffany Knot Your Typical City campaign (which launched four months ago) until #1 hit me in the face in yesterday’s NYT, and then I failed to recognize any of the three models above, and further, failed to recognize their names when I read them (though, as it turns out, they are all celebrities).

My interest in the things Tiffany sells is not in the gold and diamonds and motifs, but in the objects as exemplars of conspicuous consumption and as art objects, some quite beautiful, some ridiculous. And in their use of high-fashion models to display these objects.

I’m also not plugged into the world of high fashion, in which designers use carefully selected models to create extravagant performance art for commercial purposes. But I am interested in this world, and those models, as displays of gender and sexuality. Each of the three models above is conventionally gorgeous in their way, but the ebony model gave off gay vibes to me, through his stance, the Tiffany earring, and the Tiffany brooch; for a moment I entertained the possibility that he was a woman in admirable male drag (à la Marlene Dietrich). (The short answer is that he identifies as straight, but in fact it’s more complicated than that.)

About the Knot campaign and its models. From the Fashion Gone Rogue site, “Anya Taylor-Joy fronts Tiffany & Co. ‘Knot Your Typical City’ campaign” on 9/27/21:

After being announced as Tiffany & Co. ambassadors in June, [well-known actress, now also model] Anya Taylor-Joy and [American-born freestyle skier, competing for China since 2019, now also modeling] Eileen Gu front the jeweler’s Knot Your Typical City campaign. Captured on the streets of New York City by Mario Sorrenti, they join [dancer and very hot male model] Alton Mason [as three high-fashion models on the town]. They wear designs from the Tiffany Knot collection while exuding the energy of the Big Apple.

“Defined by a knot motif, these new designs feature 18k yellow or rose gold with pavé diamonds, hand set at precise angles to maximize brilliance,” the jeweler states about the line.

In her images, Anya-Taylor Joy wears a black strapless jumpsuit, while Eileen rocks a black mini dress with a bow accent. The accompanying film features New Yorkers stopping to admire their dazzling jewelry.

The little film is clearly a bow to the musical On the Town, a joyous celebration of New York City in which three sailors on leave roam the city in a search, ultimately successful, for female partners. From Wikipedia:

On the Town is a musical with music by Leonard Bernstein and book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, based on Jerome Robbins’ idea for his 1944 ballet Fancy Free, which he had set to Bernstein’s music. The musical introduced several popular and classic songs, among them “New York, New York”, “Lonely Town”, “I Can Cook, Too” (for which Bernstein also wrote the lyrics), and “Some Other Time”. The story concerns three American sailors on a 24-hour shore leave in New York City during World War II, 1944. Each of the three sailors meets and quickly connects with a woman.

(#3) Poster for the MGM film version of 1949

The echo of the musical and its movie bolstered my view of Alton Mason’s character in the Tiffany campaign as gay: the three companions in the romp through NYC, two of them women, would all be looking for sexual companions — they’d be cruising for guys.

Brief remarks on the two women models.

The ethereally beautiful Anya Taylor-Joy appears here with very light blonde hair. Though she’s dyed her hair various shades of brown, blonde, and red over the years, she’s a natural blonde (but not quite so light as here, I think).

Taylor-Joy came to fashion modeling as a sideline to her work as an actress in movies and on tv. Meanwhile, Eileen Gu came to it as a sideline to her life as an athlete of Olympic status, competing for China:

(#4) In her Chinese athlete guise; see Teen Vogue, “Eileen Gu on Working With Tiffany & Co. and Her Love for New York City: The Chinese-American freestyle skier has been tapped as the new ambassador for the iconic brand” by Sarah Li on 6/16/21

And then there’s Alton Mason, who was trained as a gymnast, had a first career as a dancer, and went on from there to become, as a piece in GQ in 2020 put it, “the hottest male model in the world”. He’s 6ʹ2ʺ tall, amazingly agile, strikingly handsome, and now only 24 years old. A 2019 p.r. shot of him:

(#5) Projecting sensuality; note the heavy-lidded facial expression, the torso-baring open shirt, and the long beautiful feet (photo by Meinke Klein for GQ, March 2019)

And then an underwear selfie:

(#6) Mason combines a dancer’s physicality with an actor’s range of facial expressions (going beyond the usual blank glare of high-fashion models), with a whiff of sex appeal thrown in; he’s fun to watch (photo from the Male Model Scene site)

Then there’s the matter of Mason’s sexuality: gay or straight? (This is the customary drastically simplified way of putting things, not allowing for the complexities of sexual desire, sexual practices, and sexual identifications — and more — but I’ll run with this for this posting.)

There’s a fair amount of commentary maintaining, in effect, that someone who’s been a male gymnast, a male dancer, and a male model is pretty much guaranteed to be gay; and that a man who presents himself the way Mason does is surely gay. The latter case is bolstered by interviews with the man, whose speech and gestures read to me as gay, though not flagrantly so.

Against all of this is Mason’s assertion that he’s straight, and has a girlfriend (who he identifies in interviews). Now, we all know men who have feigned straightness, for one reason or another, but many of us also know straight men who’ve picked up indicators of gayness somehow (perhaps from contexts — like dance — where there are some gay men who serve as models for these indicators). So it would be wise to reserve judgment. It’s not like it’s personally important to any of us whether this particular man is gay or straight. There are openly gay role models in the world of male modeling (and gymnastics and dance and so on), so it’s not that we actually need one more. (Admittedly, it would be a kick for the hottest male model in the world to be one of my tribe, but that’s all; I’ve got plenty of tribal pride already, thanks to the way things have gone in the past 50 years or so.)

Meanwhile, I enjoy his extravagant performances as a high-fashion model.

I do wonder about his future. High-fashion modeling is a job for young men — like gay porn acting. Your attractiveness to your audience wears off as you age, so you have to be prepared to shift to something new, in the business (as a fashion designer, say, or a fashion photographer; as a cameraman, director, or producer in gay porn) or elsewhere. It looks like Mason is working on a career as a musician. But even at 24, at the top of a high-energy, high-earnings, high-glamor career, he needs to start thinking about shifting his life once again.


2 Responses to “Fashion models on the town”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    for a moment I entertained the possibility that he was a woman in admirable male drag

    …Which is what I thought when I saw the image, and I didn’t realize my mistake until reading the paragraph from which I’m quoting (having somehow skimmed over his name in the caption).

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