Call him the Fantôme Homme. To American audiences, the term may seem like an in-vogue mod chic terminology, but to a young man who was mocked for his alien appearance, “ghost man” is not an encouraging nom de plume. Labeled “Casper” and “Cum” by cruel schoolchildren growing up, 19-year-old Shaun Ross, an albino black model from Bronx, New York who was ridiculed as a child growing up, is not a trailblazer but he is in fact a mounting envelope pusher in fashion. He’s not the first model with albinism but oddly enough, he’s the only one that comes to mind in recent decades. It’s a no-brainer; casting agencies often hire darker-skinned or biracial-looking black male models, a standard set by what is now the idyllic Tyson Beckford paradigm standard. And Ross—who supports an athletic waif swimmer’s physique—is nowhere close in that category. His isabelline “brond” flattop, eggshell pink skin and haunting chartreuse green eyes have been the talk of the fashion world. A mover-’n-shaker who aspired a career in modern dance, he was discovered on the viral talent search phenomenon YouTube by Djamee, a boutique modeling agency in New York in 2008. After being ‘stalked’ on his Twitter account by representatives, he soon shot editorials and campaigns for Patrik Ervell, Tim Hamilton, 3rd Fl., Odyn Vovk, Gap Trace, Another Magazine, British GQ, Paper Magazine and Vogue Italia. What can we say, he adds a level of sex, sophistication, edge and swagger… now, if only the fashion industry could get a clue already!
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. Drifting through the city, Ross, the glitterati riff-raff whispers in our ear about presentation, race and travel. Everything else is strictly confidential.
Giant: How were you discovered? What age were you? And how do you think you can get more exposure?
Shaun: I was discovered by a photographer on YouTube who had viewed my YouTube video of me dancing and asked me what was my height and age. At the time, I was 16. I’m not sure of how I [can] get more exposure, but more exposure is always good exposure!
Giant:What was your first gig?
Shaun: Look Book for [3rd]#rd Floor Menswear!
Giant:What is the most attractive trait to have to be a professional model and why is it important?
Shaun: Being confident; you have to have confidence in everything you do because this industry is all about breaking people down and when you are confident, no one can break you down.
Giant: The modeling world is ruled by women mostly. Is it because they purchase more clothes or is it because menswear is so simple?
Shaun: Yes it is because woman purchase more clothing, plus its more of a woman’s essential.
Giant: Other than modeling agencies RED and Benetton, there’s not a lot of diversity. What do you think the fashion world is missing?
Shaun: Well, Benetton is not a modeling agency it is a clothing brand, “The United Colors of Benetton.” As for RED, I’ve never heard of them.
He smiles eccentrically.
Giant: Some designers have either been rumored to have said or have flat-out 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 fashion house of this caliber?
Shaun: No, I have not. I am not in the commercial field, so I really don’t get to see those clients.
Giant:What do you feel about blacks and other minorities wearing the clothes?
Shaun: I don’t think of it!
Giant:You are often labeled “the albino model”. Are you often hindered of opportunities because of it? Have there been benefits because of it?
Shaun: Yes. Sure. Why not? It has its ups and downs, though.
Giant: How do you feel about the opinion of male models being accessories in fashion shoots?
Shaun: It will never change.
Giant: What does the fashion world need most?
Shaun: A clue!
Giant:You’ve traveled quite a bit. What places have you been to? Any place in particular that you just adore? Have you picked up any skills in your travels? Have you allowed yourself to learn other cultures because of your ability to travel?
Shaun: I have traveled to Paris, Milan, Berlin… [All over the world]. I must say, I love Berlin the most because of the kindness of people there. [And] I always pick up something on my travels, like learning the language.
Giant: It’s a recession. How are you making money in such a harsh socioeconomic zeitgeist as this?
Shaun: [Uh, that’s] classified information.
Giant: Are casting directors and designers a lot harder than they were five years ago because of the recession?
Shaun: Yes, they are doing their job but it does not look good.
Giant: What is the one thing you would change about the fashion world?
Shaun: Actually giving them a clue or a sense of direction.
Giant: Its fashion week, will you be a part of any shows?
Shaun: No, I am sitting out!
Giant: Is there a particular client that you are always happy to work with?
Shaun: Sally Lapointe and Nicholas Routzen.
Giant: Anyone in particular that you are not willing to work with?
Shaun: [Again, that’s] classified information.
Giant: Any labels or clients you’d be smitten to work with?
Shaun: [Sorry, that is also] classified.
Giant: Anything you looking forward to this upcoming week?
Shaun: Yes, seeing the disaster of it all.
Giant:Anything in the future you’re excited about?
Shaun: [Just] wait and you will see.