In our ongoing series
Every career has its pros and cons, but the difference between the two can be especially stark for models. The perks include international travel and—for the lucky few—a modicum of fame and fortune, but the job often requires a complete lifestyle change. For Mariano Ontañon, that meant giving up his beloved sport of rugby and leaving his studies to spend months at a time living on his own in Europe.
But as a favorite face of Givenchy and Dolce & Gabbana, the young Argentine insists that the opportunity to expand his horizons has well outweighed the costs. "If you travel and see the world and cities like Milan or Paris, it's hard to go back to Argentina," he says. "Nowadays, I think there's nothing left in the world that would surprise me."
Hometown: Luján, Argentina
Agency: Re:Quest Model Management
How were you discovered?
I was on my way to class, and when I got off the bus, a guy stopped me on the street and asked if I wanted to try modeling. I'd been scouted when I was 16, and I did three commercials but not really any modeling. So I checked out who the guy was. He was in PR, and he had a lot of friends who were photographers or worked at agencies, so it started there.
How did you decide to study nutrition?
I played rugby for 15 years, so I love sports, and I love food as well. My mom is a food engineer, and I used to want to be a chef. I had all these influences towards sports and food, so I wanted to study nutrition. In my country, rugby is not professional, so you don't get paid to play, but sports nutrition was a way for me to still be close to the sport.
How did you get started playing rugby?
When I was young, I played soccer because it's huge in Argentina, but I was really, really bad. My dad used to play rugby, so I thought I should give it a try instead. I started playing with some friends from school and I couldn't stop. It's hard to explain, but when you go out on the field with 14 other people that you've known for your whole life, it's an amazing feeling. People say soccer is a gentlemen's game played by hooligans and rugby is a hooligans' game played by gentlemen, and it's totally true. I think it teaches you a lot of things about life.
How did you get used to all the traveling involved with modeling?
It was exciting because I went to all these places I'd never been to. I went to Paris to work for Givenchy when I was 21, and that's one of the best things that can happen to you. One of the reasons I decided to leave college to model full-time is because of the travel. I love to travel, but in my country it's hard to because the economic situation is very, very bad. But it's also hard because you can't plan things. You can't plan to visit your family, because you could buy a ticket and then get a job on the other side of the world that you have to do. Still, we know the rules and we accept them, so we just have to deal with that. Modeling is not a stressful job, so maybe that's the only bad part.
Since you studied nutrition, do you have a special diet to stay in shape for modeling?
Actually, I went to dinner with one of my bookers yesterday, and he told me, "You are a fat guy in a fit body." I love food, but when I have to be in shape, I know how to control myself. I love every type of food, but when I have to stick to a special diet, I will have a salad or soup for lunch and maybe vegetables with a piece of meat at night, something light. I love food, and I love to cook as well, so it's hard for me not to eat some things.
What's was your most memorable modeling job?
I've had two really nice experiences. One was opening the fall 2014 Dolce & Gabbana show. I was really, really nervous because I haven't done a lot of shows. At the time, I had only done Givenchy twice, and then I was opening the Dolce show, which was shocking. The other was the Givenchy campaign with Riccardo Tisci and photographers Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott. I didn't realize the magnitude of the situation or how big the photographers were. Now I think about that and I'm like, "That was amazing." I wasn't even modeling full-time then. I was still going to college in Argentina, so I was not thinking about this as a job. Now I think it's more of a lifestyle. It's not just a job, because you have to adapt to it. Sometimes you adapt your job to your life, but with modeling it's the other way around. You adapt your life to your job. I had to leave everything: rugby, my friends, my family.
Why did you decide to quit rugby?
If you know rugby, you know that eventually you will get hurt. If you have a rugby match and a shoot after and you get punched in the face, that's it, you can't do the shoot. It's a normal part of the game. In the beginning, my friends made a lot of fun of me because my town is small and people there are not used to this kind of thing.
What's the most surprising thing you've learned about the industry?
It takes time, but I think you get used to everything. There wasn't anything really surprising, because in the beginning you talk to people and everybody tells you all the things that could happen. I think in the beginning you have an innocence and can get confused in some situations, but if you get into this business, I think you know what you're going to deal with. I could go back to my country this week and have to wait two months or more for my next job, which was a little surprising, but it's part of the game and you get used to it.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
To just be yourself. Don't become someone else, and always remember where you come from. It's very simple, but you can lose track of it so quickly in modeling just because you do a big job or you get a lot of money or you hang out with famous people.
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—Jonathan Shia, follow him at @JonathanShia