Sean in L'Officiel Hommes
I met Sean O'Pry years ago, on an editorial shoot for Details by Alexei Hay. At that time he was a baby model; he was just starting out. Alexei and I shot him all over the Upper East Side in our twisted fantasy of a 1950s musical set in New York—not an easy shoot for any of us, but Sean knew instinctively how to play his role. He worked fashion that was easily twenty times as expensive as anything he'd ever bought for himself. Since then I've worked with Sean many times and his raw talent as a model still stuns me. I'm more used to it now but sometimes I still laugh to myself, thinking that Sean would calmly escort Linda Evangelista out of the studio if it meant getting more pictures. He's that good.
ME: Hey Sean how are you doing? Nice to see you.
SO: Nice to see you too.
ME: Congratulations on being named Forbes' Most Successful Male Model.
SO: Well, thank you.
ME: How does that make you feel?
SO: Oh man, pretty good. It's been two-and-a-half years in the making, so I'm proud of that.
ME: You've been doing this that long?
SO: Two and a half years.
ME: It's a real accomplishment I think, being named Forbes' Most Successful Male Model. Especially in today's economy to get to the head of your game in that short amount of time is really exciting.
SO: It would have been nice to be named Forbes' Most successful model in the 90's though. [LAUGHS] The economy wasn't as bad then. But it's all because of my manager Lana [Winters Tomczak].
ME: What do you think makes you successful as a male model?
SO: Lana, definitely.
ME: What about you as a person, your face, your body? What makes you successful? As opposed to the other millions of great-looking guys.
SO: See I'm in as much awe at me being successful as most people, because I don't get it yet. I don't get what's the appeal about me to the business, you know? I guess I'd have to say it's who I am. Because I have to say I know there are hundreds of other good-looking guys with blue eyes and brown hair. I don't know what differentiates me with my look as much as my personality. So I'd go with my personality.
ME: You don't look in the mirror at all and say, "OK, I see what other people see in me and that's what is making me a success."
SO: When I was in middle school I wouldn't turn profile to people, because I thought my nose was so bad that people would just stare at it. I'm still—the appeal escapes me still.
ME: It must be a really hard transition to make, coming from Georgia and being on the football team to suddenly working as a model in New York and other fashion capitals. How hard was that?
SO: I see a lot of guys who come from football or sports have to lose weight. Luckily for me I got mono, so my chances for sports after I got mono was nil. So the transition with the weight, and trying to control the body, wasn't much. But the mentality of it? Coming from a smaller city to the big city, New York City, it's crazy. It's the first time I had ever left the south. I didn't talk for three days and if anyone has ever met me, me not talking for three days is a big ordeal. (LEFT: FROM L'OFFICIEL HOMMES)
ME: That's a lot for you.
SO: It really is.
ME: So it was a big culture shock coming up here?
SO: That's the perfect word to use. It was a huge culture shock, because I come from sweet tea and grits to everything in New York. You have some of the nicest restaurants in the world here. I'm pretty happy with Waffle House back home. It enlightened me a lot and it scared me a lot.
ME: Do you think you've grown as a person on the inside from leaving home?
SO: I think I've been resilient to trying to grow, but I mean it just happens. You're around so many cultured people and it's just what this business offers that allows you to become in the mentality a lot stronger as a person.
ME: Do you think there is a lot of jealousy in the industry about the success you've had-from the other boys?
SO: If there is, I choose not to hang out with those kids. The guys I surround myself with are also very successful. It's not a competition between us; it's kind of a congratulations on what you do.
ME: is there a way to be creative in this job?
ME: Or are you just an object and a clothing hanger? Are you just an object on set?
SO: The last time we shot together [shooting an ad campaign] I got to hang off different things and jump around. I got to do things I learned through sports. I got to make the outfits my own, which was pretty cool, and I try to do that with every shoot I do.
ME: And when a photographer asks you to become a character or a stylist wants you to embody a certain idea do you understand always what they're saying?
SO: Not always, because I've embodied people I've never even heard of. I mean I had to see pictures about that. I did this Charlie Chaplin shoot and they recorded live feeds of Charlie Chaplin going on and on and on from YouTube. Midway through the shoot I got how they wanted me to be through my perception. But it's difficult sometimes to you know-
ME: To understand what people are talking about. There are a lot of references that are maybe obscure that you might not know about.
SO: Yeah, I'm from Georgia-not a lot of that culture of the finer things where I'm from.
ME: Do you think your approach to getting dressed has changed since you've been a model?
SO: Oh yeah. I thought Abercrombie & Fitch was the bee's knees before I started. Now I've lost those roots and I kind of make it my own. The jeans are a lot skinnier than I used to wear, that's for sure. I always try and have a hat in every outfit. That's one thing I keep.
ME: A hat in every outfit.
SO: A hat in every outfit.
ME: Do you think being a male model is a peculiar job to have?
SO: I think it's one of the most peculiar jobs to have.
ME: What's the strangest thing anyone has ever asked you to do?
SO: Hmmm, I did a shoot recently where they asked me to yell like I was a dinosaur. I put my arms in really close like a T-Rex. He was like ‘That's not a dinosaur.' I was like, "But his arms are short. He can't reach." I guess I looked a little bit mentally handicapped doing it, but as you said before it kind of escaped me-that shoot.
ME: What do you think about when you're on the runway?
SO: Honestly, I kind of space out and look into the cameras and don't think about anything else. I'd laugh my ass off if I thought that 500 people were staring at me, because if anyone has ever seen my runway walk, I'm a huge d-bag. I cannot walk for days. That's one thing in my career that I don't understand. I have the worst runway walk. I mean Lana will admit it, that I have a horrible runway walk. I just try not to concentrate.
ME: Did you practice your walk ever?
SO: Oh yeah.
ME: Before you started?
SO: Oh not before I started, but when I started out. Man...
ME: You still practice?
SO: Oh yeah, I practiced. I used to walk like a robot. Now I walk even worse.
ME: Do you update your walk every season?
SO: I have like ten, twelve walks in my repertoire. What are you talking about?
Matthew Edelstein is the founder of theContributingEditor.com.