JOB HACKS | The Chill AF Male Model

Think being a male model is all Zoolander and celebrities? Think again. Max Von Isser shares what it's really like. 

Careers rarely go according to plan. In Job Hacks, we shake down experts for the insights they cultivated on their way to the top of their field. This week, we talked to male model Max Von Isser, who is known for his good looks, but makes money on his hustle.

Name: Max Von Isser

Original Home State: Arizona

Job: Max Von Isser is a model at Fusion NYC, Why Not Milan, Elite London, M Management Paris, and Izaio Berlin.

What are the most common misconceptions about being a male model?

A lot of people assume that we’re making tons of money and partying with Kanye. There can be good money; sometimes you might make five months of rent in a single day and then not work for the next two months. It’s really random. But I think that a lot of people assume we’re getting into a lot more exclusive places than we are. If you’re really dedicated to clubbing, you can party with celebrities. But that’s most club kids — if they hang out long enough, they get friends that will get them in anywhere. Celebrities are certainly sometimes around at shows, but we never really talk to them.

Also, often now clients are booking models less on how they look and more on how many Instagram followers they have. It’s resorted to a lot of models buying their followers so as to appear more successful and appealing to clients. In recent years, social media has changed the way the modeling industry has worked. There are still plenty of clients who book models based on aesthetic alone, but way too often now “insta-famous” models are getting jobs due to the clients hoping they will get extra followers if the model posts pictures of their job.

Max Von Isser 

How many Zoolander jokes would you say you get on average?

It used to be a lot worse like a couple years ago. It had a resurgence for a while when Zoolander 2 came out, but luckily the movie was so bad that not many people saw it, so those jokes died down. I probably make more Zoolander jokes than anything.

Do you only make the jokes to your non-model friends? Is that frowned upon within the industry?

No, I think a lot of guys realize how silly the job is a lot of the time. They have no problem taking the piss out of it. That scene in Zoolander where the photographer is yelling, ‘You’re a monkey, Derek!’ and he’s jumping around, smashing the cymbals — that has popped in my head so many times.

Is it hard not to laugh sometimes?

Walking down the runway, if you see your friend slip in front of you, it is.

Did it take you a long time to refine the walk?

When I first started, I did my walk in front of my agents, and I remember my agent looking over at my other agent and being like, ‘Do we have a problem here?’ I was like, ‘What is wrong with my walk? What on Earth could I be doing that badly?!’ It’s pretty much just determined, reasonably fast walking, and don’t look awkward doing it. Although it is funny, some guys I see at castings forget how to walk when they do it. Especially the new guys — they get nervous in front of the clients and you have to sit there and try not to laugh, because you know it’s going to make it so much worse.

Is that aspect hard to deal with? The self esteem, not just of walking, but of constantly being judged on your appearance for a living?

It’s a lot harder for a female model. For the most part, male models just have to stay in decent shape and show up relatively well-groomed. They don’t need to have a particularly good body, unless they’re that type of model. Girls have to carry heels with them to all their castings, and they’re stricter with their weight. I have a lot of successful model friends, but their bodies are nothing spectacular — they’re just skinny dudes and they can just fit in the clothing.

It’s so much stricter for girls, especially in Tokyo. I work out there sometimes, and the girls get measured pretty much every week. I haven’t been measured since the first time I got there. It’s written in their contract — if they put on more than two centimeters, their contract can be void and they can get sent home. That’s why I don’t have a problem with them making more money. They have a tougher time and people are way meaner online to the girls than the guys.

What’s an aspect of modeling that surprised you once you got into the industry?

I always assumed that models were a lot more famous than they actually are. Not that I wanted to be famous, but I have a friend who does a lot of major campaigns and almost nobody knows who he is really. People see his face everywhere they go, but very few people actually care what that guy’s name is.

I also thought it was interesting that most of the work is for no money. Magazines, castings — you’re just kind of working to build up relationships with people who have more money jobs. But even big campaigns don’t pay that much. My friend was going to do a campaign for a major fashion house, and his agency wouldn’t let him do it because they were going to pay him 700 Euros. It was going to be a worldwide campaign, and it was going to pay him 700 Euros. So you do all these magazines so that you can get these major jobs, but then these major jobs actually don’t pay.

A lot of the time the models are fronting the bill to go out to Fashion Week. Unless someone is direct booking you, you’re paying for everything yourself. There are exclusives for Fashion Week, that usually only happens around the beginning of your career. They’re pretty hard to get. If you get that, then the client flies you out and they put you up in a hotel. Otherwise, all the guys that go out there are putting a lot of money on the line, hoping to work. And there are no guarantees. They might even walk a lot of shows but the shows don’t pay that much — they’re more for exposure than anything — and they’ll come back in debt.

How did you get into modeling?

A friend of an acquaintance of was a photographer back in Arizona and she was looking for guys to shoot. I figured all models were Abercrombie and Fitch dudes — I don’t look like an Abercrombie and Fitch dude, so I thought there was no way I was ever going to be a model. But I did the shoot and she shared the pictures on Facebook. And then a few other photographers started contacting me, wanting to do shoots with me.

Within a short period of time, I ended up in New York and got signed to Fusion. It’s been a really good experience so far — it’s given me a lot of opportunities to travel to cool places I never would have gone to otherwise. A lot of models need a second job to help pay the bills. I’m happy that I’ve been able to do this full-time without needing a second job, but I also live frugally. I live in Bed-Stuy, but when I first moved in here I lived in a model apartment.

What’s a model apartment?

Basically, your agency pays the rent for you and then they take what you’ve earned and bill it to your account. So these places can be a good deal — I was paying $800 a month to stay in this apartment in Greenpoint. It didn’t matter how many guys were staying there, it was always a flat rate that you paid. At first, there were only two other guys living there and there was two and a half bedrooms, one bath. But then it got to the point where there were eight guys living there and everybody expected everyone else to move out after fashion week, but only one guy did. So for six months there were seven guys living in this tiny apartment.

It’s kind of a weird rite of passage that a lot of models go through, living in these shitty model apartments and trying to eventually move out once they have enough money to get their own place.

So to be a model your personality type has to be adaptable?

Absolutely. Most of the guys who make it far are typically easy to get along with. There are obviously some assholes that have big heads that have gotten by because a couple clients really liked them and then they were such major clients that these guys could act however they wanted and people would still book them. Or they say, ‘Oh, this guy’s a rebel! So that’s part of his personality.’ But most of the guys that I know that have lasted for a long time are very easy-going. You have to be good at carrying on conversation and just going with the flow and adapting to all different personality types, because there are a lot of photographers who are good with people and then a lot of photographers who are pretentious, and you have to be able to figure out how to act around both of them. That’s one of those things that you get a better at the longer you do it.