In our ongoing series, Model in the Spotlight, we get up close and personal with the world's leading male models.
In some ways, the most important skill a model can learn is how to kill time. The job is built around waiting—waiting at castings, waiting on set, waiting at shows—an arrangement that would seem to weigh especially heavily on Felix Gesnouin, who recalls being a "very, very hyperactive kid" who picked up a range of out-there hobbies in an attempt to control his energy. Now a favorite of a range of calm and collected houses ranging from Louis Vuitton and Dior Homme to Jil Sander and Hermès, the French industrial design student—who also appears in our April suede story (at bottom)—has clearly come a long way. He may have moved on from racing unicycles, but Gesnouin says he's still always up to tackle something new, a trait that has helped him make the transition to modeling full-time this year while taking a break from his studies. "The best thing is to just go along for the ride and see where it takes you," he reasons. "If you start having expectations in this business, you usually don't do shit."
Height: 6' 2"
Agency: VNY Model Management
How were you discovered? I was scouted on the metro when I was 18 with two packs of beer in each hand. I thought about it for about six months and then decided I should go for it, basically because I needed to pay my rent in Paris and that was the best solution I had. I couldn't do it seriously then because I was just starting at the École des Arts Appliqués and I wanted to finish my bachelor's first. It was really difficult to do both work and school. I would have to take two weeks off to do fashion week and that would usually fall when I had big finals—the usual trouble of a student-model, I guess.
How did you decide to study industrial design? Ever since I was really young, I always really wanted to work with my hands, to do sculpture or something, so I thought the best way was to go into industrial design. I ended up getting into a really good school in Paris, and the program is great. It's a lot of handiwork, a lot of drawing, a lot of understanding how things function and how to make useful things. I think I want to specialize in conceptual design, which is basically building and constructing new ways of thinking through objects, or explaining civilization through simple objects.
Why did you decide to take time off from school this year to focus on modeling? I haven't taken any time off from school since I started when I was six, so I thought it would be a good time right now, because my career is going pretty well. I have a lot of friends who would like to buy a big warehouse together and build stuff and create, and for that we need money, and the best solution for me is modeling. My school let me take a year off before going back for my master's, so I jumped at the occasion and decided I would go to Tokyo and New York and work a bit and put some money aside. I appreciate the traveling a lot, even though, since it's work-related, it's not as enjoyable as it would be if it were my own decision. I don't really choose what I'm doing and I follow around wherever people tell me, and that is a bit difficult. I have a love/hate relationship with traveling—I'm having a lot of fun, but at the same time I miss my friends and my family. There is a bit of sadness sometimes, like in everything, I guess.
What was your first modeling job? The first job I ever had was a show for Thibaud Etcheberry a long time ago, but my first big job was doing the Jil Sander show exclusively, which I did three seasons in a row.
What's the most memorable modeling job you've had? In intensity, I'd say closing the fall 2012 Dior Homme show. I was wearing a massive black cape, which was flying behind me, with a hat and some glasses. There were five doors lined up at the back with the boys coming out and I remember Woodkid was playing and I was the last one to come out and go back, which was probably one of the most intense moments of my life. I think the most intense moments are usually shows. Pictures are quite interesting, but you get yourself into a universe and you don't really feel like yourself, you're playing a role. In a show, you tend to be completely conscious of yourself. It's the real deal.
What's the most surprising thing you've learned about the fashion industry? It's really interesting when you see Raf Simons or Kris Van Assche or Kim Jones' work and see how they build their clothes. The most surprising thing for me is that there is so much passion and such strong references and an immense knowledge in what they're doing. I appreciate it a lot because I love museums, I love seeing art, and I have the feeling these people have the same passion that I have. They accumulate so much information that they are able to translate into beautiful constructions that are wearable, but also much more than that. Fashion is often criticized as an industry whose purpose is just to make people look good, but there is so much going on behind that, and that was very surprising for me. Just look at the Raf Simons show with Sterling Ruby, for example, which was a real partnership between the two artists. It was just unbelievable.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given? The first time I went into my agency, my main booker, whom I love, told me, "Felix, always remember you're just a piece of meat." That's the best advice they've ever told me, by far, and it's great because it is the truth. Even when I get along with someone really well, if he doesn't want to use me for something, it's because he doesn't want to use me. As models, there is no decision-making on our part. We are, at the end of it, almost a market stock, something that can be used or not used, and you can't start taking it personally and trying to decide for yourself what you're going to become. You have no control over it. You're just a piece of meat.
—Jonathan Shia, follow him @JonathanShia