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It's hard to imagine a more ideal muse for Italo Zucchelli, the menswear designer at all-American Calvin Klein, than the golden-haired Midwest native Clark Bockelman. After finding his way to iconic photographer Bruce Weber last year, Bockelman left his studies and jumped into modeling, as he does with most things, headfirst. With an unprecedented five looks in Calvin Klein's show last summer, the avid mountaineer is now the star of the label's current campaign—as well as our May denim story (bottom)—and is still trying to wrap his head around the whole thing. "There's a lot of guys who become big models with labels that people have never heard of," he says. "I grew up in Indiana, the Bible Belt, but people know the name Calvin Klein, so it's pretty crazy that I'm the face of it. I'm kind of speechless about it."
Height: 6' 2.5"
Hometown: Indianapolis, Indiana
Agency: Wilhelmina Models
How were you discovered?
I wasn't so much discovered as I was referred by a friend of a friend. I had just gotten back from studying abroad in the Caribbean and I was with some friends in Miami, and someone saw me, and that eventually led to meeting Bruce Weber. I started on a Monday, I met Bruce on a Wednesday, and then that Friday I shot a story for CR Fashion Book with Irina Shayk and Alessandra Ambrosio, so I was just thrown right into it.
What expectations did you have for your career before you started?
None, really. I had no expectations for anything, but I took whatever success came. I thought I'd try it out, and it turns out I'm one of the lucky ones. I think it's better not to have expectations because then everything comes as a surprise.
What were you doing before you started modeling?
I was in my junior year at the University of Denver. I was majoring in geography with minors in geology and sustainability. I was actually spending most of that year abroad. I had been on a study abroad program in my fall quarter sailing the Caribbean doing a research project on coral reefs, and I was going to go to Patagonia and do an ecological field studies course backpacking through Patagonia for my winter quarter.
You climbed Cotopaxi (a nearly 20,000-feet volcano in Ecuador) back in February. How did you get into mountaineering?
One day during school in Colorado, a friend and I decided to go up to Grays and Torreys for winter camping. The road ended up being closed because of snow conditions, so it added eight miles to our hike. When we got to the spot to set up camp, it was getting dark, so we had to rush, but we got in and everything was great. Then at about 3 a.m., a really bad storm pushed in and rolled the tent over, so we had to get out and pack up and leave. It was a big disappointment, and it was -20 degrees and we had 80MPH winds, but it's funny, I fell in love with that, so I started to get involved with mountaineering. It's not super technical, it's just really hard work. It's a crazy, crazy sport, but I love it. I have the training and everything for the bigger mountains, but they take 20-plus days, and it's hard to get that time off in this job.
Have you always been so active?
I've been like that as long as I can remember. I played organized sports: baseball, tennis, basketball. I grew up partly on a lake, so I was also really into water sports. My parents always pushed sports really hard, but towards the end of high school, I got into rock climbing and skydiving. When I moved out to Colorado for college, my love for those two sports and the outdoors really took off, then I moved to New York and a lot of it came to a standstill. But after being here a year, I've learned how to get out of the city. The more you get into modeling, the less hectic your schedule becomes, in a way. You might be working more, but they don't need you on 30 minutes' notice. Now I can actually plan things, whereas before, I felt like I was stuck.
How does it feel to think how far you've come in a year?
I don't think about it much because it's the norm now, but if I really stop to think about it, it's pretty crazy. It still doesn't feel real, but I like to think not much has really changed. I spend plenty of time with my family, I'm still in contact with all my old friends, they know who I am and that I haven't changed. The only difference is my picture's in a lot of places.
What was your most memorable modeling job?
It probably has to be the first show that I did for Calvin Klein, Spring 2014. Even with all the crazy sports that I do and all the adrenaline, my heart was beating so hard right before that show while I was standing backstage. I was so nervous. I'd never been that nervous for anything in my whole life. I had four looks and I changed for the finale as well, and I didn't know that that was not the norm. I thought that was just what it was, so I was just going along for the ride. I walked out, came back, and I was sprinting backstage while seven Italian girls were ripping clothes off me and I had to find my way back into line to get back out. It was crazy. It wasn't until afterwards that people were saying they couldn't believe I had five looks because that had never been done before. I thought that was just a regular everyday occurrence.
What's the most surprising thing you've learned about the industry?
I think I would say the design process, how everything works from day one to selling in the stores. I was lucky enough to be a part of the design process of the Calvin Klein Fall 2014 collection, from day one of it being drawn to having it designed on me, all the different fabrics and prints, seeing it get built, the production of it, then the show. Then I did the campaign and then the showroom for the buyers. I didn't realize that much work went into the clothes that you see on a shelf. I saw everything and I feel like I got a glimpse into something that nobody gets to see. It's really rare that somebody holds onto you from the very beginning to the end of a season. They're a huge company, and I'm extremely lucky for them to like me as much as they do.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
I'd have to say the one that probably sticks out the most is, "No matter what happens, always be you." It's probably super cliché and corny, but it sticks. My friends joke with me a lot, "Don't forget us small folk when you become famous." I always tell them I won't, and they're just like, "No matter what, always be you." If you're yourself and people like you, then you don't have to change anything.
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—Jonathan Shia, follow him @JonathanShia