It’s fashion week. That means high-octane fairyland thrills and sci-fi shock art frills! But when most people think of fashion, behind the sequined glitterball nirvana and heroin chic glamour, they are prone to think of the doe-eyed fair-skinned waifs in gorgeous lighting than the designers themselves. Rarely do that think of the towering, macho man metrosexual plastered in the background. And least likely, are they to think of the rainbow sherbet of ethnically diverse calender men and pin-up women.
Enter Paulo Pascoal. He’s one of the world’s stunning fashion monsters and cinema auteurs. Well-spoken, cultured, wise beyond his years and spellbinding, Paulo is a kindred spirit. After surviving a brain tumor, the proficient African arthouse pop musician from Angola, eminent for his torch songs, lost his eye brows and that signature corona of curly ebony locks of his after collapsing to find he was a diagnosed with cancer. Two years later, despite some weight loss, he’s the epitome of a Giant. And what does a giant to do? They lead.
Talking to several male fashion models of color to discuss the fashion world and its ups and downs, race and culture, we get the skinny on the experience of being diverse in fashion. Shooting a TV series over seas, Pascoal is the first of fashion beaus to shed his hide and take us on a journey behind the runaway. Ladies and gents, fasten your seat belts… its’ going to be a bumpy ride.
Giant: How were you discovered? What age were you? And how do you think you can get more exposure?
PP: I was discovered as a model when I was 15 years old, having coffee [in] downtown Lisbon-Portugal one afternoon by the French photographer Pierre Gonnord. He was working on his Terre de Personne exposition (“Terra Man,” “Earth person”) and invited me to [be] a part of it. Shortly after, I was approached by a model scouter that was visiting my school and landed in my first modeling agency. Exposure, I would like to get for the right reason and that would be by performing well in my assignments.
Giant: What was your first gig?
PP: I was 17 years old; it took me 2 years to decide whether I wanted to take part on the fashion world or not. Besides being very young, being a model [has] never been a part of my or my family’s plan. I had this tickling inside and I wanted to experience it, then my agent sent me over to Shanghai for the casting season and I finally booked my first campaign for Swatch Skin™.
Giant: What is the most attractive trait to have to be a professional model and why is it important?
PP: I think charisma; it doesn’t only matter how physically attributed you are, if you don’t have that energy that engages people, you may be good for a season and totally forgotten for the following one. Plus the strength and the capacity of transforming, adjusting and evolving with what you’re doing it’s really what keeps you on top of the game, enjoying it and being smart about it.
Giant: The modeling world is ruled by women mostly. Is it because they purchase more clothes or is it because menswear is so simple?
PP: Women definitely are bigger consumers than men, they always need something and they are not afraid of assuming it. Therefore, there’s a bigger need for options and that promotes the fashion for them. Men are more relaxed about it, that’s why menswear is simple: We still don’t dare to take risks in fashion and when we do, we’re easily picked on. But that is changing, although I don’t think we’ll ever be bigger than women, most fashion designers love dressing women.
Giant: Other than modeling agencies RED and Benetton, there’s not a lot of diversity. What do you think the fashion world is missing?
PP: Benetton has been a pioneer on diversity and RED is doing an amazing job with their models. More and more, we see commercial brands doing the same because it is important to be aware that if one wants to be successful, one needs to have people relate to our product. Using different ethnicities and races to showcase that, it is the best marketing a company can have. More than missing, I believe there’s more that could be improved.
Giant: Some designers have stated they don’t design their clothes for black people like Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger. Do they hire black models or have you been approached by a fashion house of this caliber?
PP: Those designers attempted to cater to the urban audience, made lines geared towards it and blamed the black people for it’s failure. I still can’t believe how someone would say anything like that when Tommy Hilfiger still books one or two black models out of five for their campaigns, as used Beyoncé—a black icon for the fragrance “True Star” after that statement. Tyson Beckford, who is one of the most successful black male models of all time, is best known as a Ralph Lauren model. I’ve been to a Tommy’s casting and I’ve done a showroom a while back. I don’t know who’s to blame: a thriving model willing for a paycheck and a relevant campaign? The designers? Or the consumers? I guess that is part of the world of fashion.
Giant: What do you feel about blacks and other minorities wearing the clothes?
PP: I wanted to say that fair would be if all blacks and minorities stopped wearing those clothes, but I have to say that their clothes are affordable. You can find them really cheap in almost every outlet, they have some quality, so everyone is consciously free to place their judgment or not.
Giant: How do you feel about the opinion of male models being accessories in fashion shoots?What does the fashion world need most?
PP: Thinking that we are accessories is diminishing our value. The female may be the focus of the shoot but we are there too. I look at it as another job, that’s what’s important. You’re there; you’re a working model, however humble, it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. I think that is exactly what the fashion world needs, is appreciating people as people and not as a publicity objects.
Giant: You’ve traveled quite a bit. What places have you been to? Any place in particular that you just adore?
PP: Yes, this is [the] year in particular [that] I’ve taken some time off to travel, after recovering from a cancer and I just love doing it, knowing new places, new cultures, meeting people from all over the world: It’s an amazing school… from South to North America, to Africa to Asia. I’ve recently arrived from a trip to France, Italy, Switzerland, [the] Netherlands, Germany and Poland. It’s been almost 2 weeks and I am still exhilarated with all the wonderful surprises that came my way, and the more I see, the more I want to see, as the more I know, the more I realize I know nothing… The world, the earth globe it’s an incredible place filled with wonder and amusement and I wish I could pick one place but I can’t. It’s right here, right now giving this interview to you that I adore being… I love New York and that is why I chose to live there, because it is the capital of the world and you have all that mixture of cultures and it always surprises you. (Pause) I would love to visit Australia, I haven’t been yet.
Giant: Have you picked up any skills in your travels?
PP: Oh, Yeah… I pack a lot faster (laughs). I learned to speak five different languages, I can be polite in a couple more, I’m really at ease with people and adapting myself to diverse surroundings, gosh…I don’t want to sound presumptuous, I’ve learned to keep things simple and respecting the place and belief of others.
Giant: Have you allowed yourself to learn other cultures because of your ability to travel?
PP: Most definitely, that only happens when you are right there among the other culture, because what’s normally internationalized about a culture, after you visit the place, it changes. That’s how I feel; there’s always a lot more to learn, details.
Giant: It’s a recession. How are you making money in such a harsh socioeconomic zeitgeist as this?
PP: I am not! (laughs) … Well, besides of modeling, I am a musician and an actor. The conjunction of the three has helped me manage my career in a way that I can afford to live a little better than check-by-check. I tend to travel to where the work is, and right now [that] is in Africa.
Giant: Are casting directors and designers a lot harder than they were five years ago because of the recession?
PP: Casting directors are always exigent, because they have to make sure that who they pick to represent a label is going to take it to the next level. There’re times they do that by choosing familiar faces: It’s safe, but as an organic movement, recessions bring a need for art and I’m so glad I can see a lot of new talent coming to live.
Giant: What is the one thing you would change about the fashion world?
PP: We are the fashion world, you, me, the readers… I couldn’t change it; I want to contribute more to it.
Giant: Its fashion week, will you be a part of any shows?
PP: Castings started 2 days ago, I still haven’t attended to any… because I am abroad, but hopefully I’ll get there just in time.
Giant: Is there a particular client that you are always happy to work with?
PP: Any client or yet to be, makes me happy to work with. I love this job.
Giant: Anyone in particular that you are not willing to work with?
PP: I couldn’t say that, I’ve always been well-treated.
Giant: Any labels or clients you’d be smitten to work with?
PP: So many, I hope they find me… I’m fully available.
Giant: Anything you looking forward to this upcoming week?
PP: Just the whole environment during the fashion week—the beautiful faces, the clothes, the new trends, the colors, the parties, the glamour, the lights, the active energy of hard workers—and the beginning of a whole new era after that.
Giant: Anything in the future you’re excited about?
PP: I’m excited about the future, whatever it reserves for me; it’s going to be great.