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Now the male models are losing weight to achieve the new boy body ideal: skinny, pale, feminine. Peter Munro reports.
David Sciola was too big for Paris. Weighing just 76 kilograms with a 32-inch waist (81cm), the 188cm-tall model tipped the scales in the French fashion capital.
Working abroad last year, he lost 6kg to strut the catwalks of Milan, but even that was not skinny enough for the Parisian scene - where lean is the new mean.
"In Milan, I trimmed down to about 76kg so I would fit the clothes. I am 6'2", so for me I would say that's underweight," he says. "Paris tends to be even skinnier than Milan. You've got designers like Dior who always go for anaemic, 17-year-old bodies.
"In Milan, I was staying with a guy who modelled for Dior. He was really skinny: he looked like he was going to die. He had been put on the front page of Le Monde for an article about skinny models and male eating disorders. But he assured me it was all totally natural."
As Sciola's size has diminished, so his catwalk stocks have climbed. The 23-year-old model and University of Melbourne media student says that three years ago he looked like a "meat head", weighing a relatively beefy 94kg with a 33-inch waist (83cm) and 42-inch chest (106cm) bulging from weight training.
"I went into Cameron's Models and they said you've got a good look, but you've got to lose weight," he says.
"I thought they'd probably like that big-body look and I would get a lot of work, but gradually I found out they don't go for buff guys."
Sciola has shed up to 18kg over three years, dropping weight training and starting to jog. He eventually downsized to an 81cm waist and 99cm chest. For him to make the cut for high-end fashion labels such as Armani in Europe, it was like a heavyweight professional boxer stripping down three divisions. But, in modelling, slight men punch well above their weight.
"I have never really been told I've been too big, but you work it out for yourself if you are going to castings and you are not fitting the clothes," says Sciola, now back to his Australian weight of 82kg. "I don't even go to Prada castings because I know I'm not going to get the work."
While critical eyes have been fixed on skeletal female models - with jutting ribs and collar bones, pencil-thin pegs and wan complexions - their male counterparts have been quietly wasting away.
As recently as 2000, it was fashionable for guys to come packaged with sizeable pecs, biceps and a six-pack. Now, they are shrinking before our eyes.
The new look can be called willowy or wasted, depending on your take. And it is spreading here, where labels such as Zambesi and Claude Maus, and fashion editorial magazines such as Russh and Yen have a preference for raw-boned men.
And it's going mainstream. Scrawn is the new brawn. And lean guys with chicken-chests and scrawny legs are starting to overshadow the beefcake boys.
Cameron's Models co-director Melinda Collette says skinny, geeky guys are now the poster boys for fashion's leading style makers, particularly from abroad. "We've had guys who are healthy, strapping lads who, if they want to go to Europe or America, have to stop going to the gym and start running to lose weight," she says.
"The 6'3" (190cm) buff model doesn't exist any more. I have one model here who is six foot with a 36-inch chest and a 32-inch waist, and next to him is one with a 34-inch chest and 31-inch waist. They're a lot leaner in the chest and shoulders than perhaps they should be. Formerly, these two guys would have been told to go off to the gym and get a chest, but now we are not so stringent about that."
Chadwick Models' Matt Anderson says he has taken on more lean young men to reflect the shift to scrawny in the male modelling world over the past decade.
"Now skinny guys are seen as being more attractive, which is good for me because I'm a naturally skinny guy with a 30-inch (76cm) waist and 40-inch chest," he says.
"We signed on a guy last week who is 16, tall, skinny, almost androgynous. He grew up in Broadmeadows and is the type of guy who would have been picked on his whole life as being quite scrawny and almost effeminate-looking.
"Now he will feel good about himself for the first time ever. Finally, he will feel, 'You're not a freak'."
Melbourne's market - mostly catalogueues and ad shoots - still suits an athletic build, but designers and retailers are increasingly on the hunt for a hungry, underfed look.
Anderson argues this trend has taken the pressure off male models, who can now happily "stay their runty selves" rather than have to work at getting buff - a pitch that is hotly contested by body-image specialists.
"The types of guys being used now are way more reflective of the general population. Whereas 10 years ago, it was Adonis types with ripped (prominent) muscles and six packs," he says.
Boki Milinkovic, 19, was street-cast for a fashion show for indie label Material Boy when he was in year 12 at school.
Since then, this 66kg uni student (6.3 feet, or 190cm tall) has worked his skinny butt off for other alternative labels such as Alpha60 and Mjolk, which has a following among frail but well-groomed bands including Franz Ferdinand and Scissor Sisters, as well as the scraggy rockers from Jet.
"I never had sand kicked in my face, but most of the scene is now based on kids that were picked on and who were not really that attractive in the media sense," Milinkovic says. "I'm pretty skinny, man, but I'm healthy skinny because I've been athletic my whole life.
"The whole rock'n'roll scene has been trendy for a while: the slim, nerdy guy is looking all cool now," he says.
It is like Revenge of the Nerds on the catwalk. Material Boy's Mic Eaton, a former surfer who has focused on designing since blowing out his knee on a wave, says modelling agencies such as Priscilla's in Sydney are starting to cater more for his label's long, lanky look.
His sample size is a 76cm waist and 86cm chest, which he says suits a younger generation of men more concerned about style than sport.
But if you are still to be convinced that scrawn is the new brawn, try this on for size. Eaton says the lean look is becoming so popular that it might be time for hip labels such as his own to actually upsize.
"I think I will be using fuller models for next season. I try to work against the trend," he says. "Last season, for winter, I did a silhouette change by using wider T-shirts and wider, pleated pants to give a shorter, stumpier silhouette - and it worked quite well."
Wrangler last year brought out a Stranglers fit for especially lean guys after discovering many of its male clients were buying women's skinny stovepipe jeans. Its menswear designer Andy Paltos says the lean look has filtered down from young rockers and European catwalks.
When Paltos was modelling in Melbourne a decade ago, his 81cm waist was considered pretty small. Now, when Wrangler fit out touring groups such as Kings of Leon, they work to 71cm fits.
"I think the whole rock'n'roll look, going back to the Stones, is timeless, but I think there's a line where you can be too skinny and look ill and wrong," Paltos says.
"You can be slim and wear skinny, super-tight jeans and still have a bit of meat on your bones. But I've seen guys locally wearing skinny jeans who are so skinny it's too much. There's nothing on them: it's just bones."
Men's body-image specialist Marita McCabe, a professor of psychology at Deakin University, says the fashionably emaciated look is putting pressure on boys and men to meet an unrealistic ideal.
"If you are trying to attain a healthy body build, that is OK, but these bodies are so lean and so toned and that is what they see as being normal," she says. "What you are getting is men starting to engage in unhealthy eating and exercising practices to try to achieve those ideals."
Collette at Cameron's Models says guys don't need to work at being lean as much as women, who have struggled to achieve the atrophied, "heroin chic" body shape fashion catwalks demand. But she can foresee a time when male models start starving themselves to fit on catwalks and within magazines.
"I have not had any boys tripping over themselves to get skinny, but it will probably get to a point in maybe five years where you see boys living on coffee and cigarettes for fashion."