Exclusive Feature: Garrett Neff

THE RETURN OF THE MALE SUPERMODEL. They say it is a man’s world, but in fashion it is a whole different thing. Garrett Neff, the hottest face on the male supermodel division, breaks the ladies’ dominance as Ronald Liem catches up with him to elaborate the story behind his modish appeal.

Suit by Dior Homme, shirt by Mugler

It is hard to look at someone like Garrett Neff and not feeling a tad intimidated. His posture, signature tousled hair and innocent expression epitomize the perfect male model. Having nailed campaigns for Calvin Klein, Gant, DKNY, Salvatore Ferragamo and Thomas Pink, Neff is on the first name basis with Karl Lagerfeld, and practically every mover and shaker in the fashion department.

In New York City, place where he calls home, Neff has recently pulled off an amazing photo-shoot session with DA MAN. The then-face of Calvin Klein underwear and fragrance first walked in with an air of confidence. Not so long after, we were all star-strucked; there’s no mistaking how camera really loves the 1984-born. In several frames he channeled the underwear campaign appeal that once catapulted his career. And this was just the beginning…

In the industry where people are on a constant search for the next big thing, Neff cleverly brings more than just a perfect face and body to the table. Even while on top of the game now, Neff is far from resting on his laurels as he is ready to take on more challenges, one pose at a time.

Outfit by DSquared

DA MAN (DA) : How did modeling happen to you?
Garrett Neff (GN) : Just by some huge coincidence, really. I had never ever considered it until my senior year in college when I was first approached by somebody in the business. It was actually another model named Peter who came up to me while I was in the airport traveling from Barbados back to Wilmington, Delaware. He told me about all the traveling he got to do and the prestigious designers he had worked for. He said I was perfect for the same designers and handed me a card with his agency’s number. I called one month later, and they told me to send photos.

At the time when I met him, I was still in college in Pennsylvania. A month later, I was shooting with Bruce Weber in Hawaii, and shooting with Karl Lagerfeld in Paris several months after. It happened so fast. Right now, I’m having a glass of wine in Paris, actually. The work hasn’t slowed down since, except during some exclusive contracts with Calvin Klein when I couldn’t work for other designers.

Outfit by Maison Martin Margiela

DA: What do you think of the fashion industry?
GN: I think the fashion industry is fascinating as it is a fantastic one to be in. It keeps you feeling young and fun. This fashion business is going to be around until humans stop wearing clothes, which isn’t going to happen anytime soon. It mimics life and art, and vice versa. It touches everybody in some way and affects peoples’ perception of each other. It will evolve and then return in some form to the way it was, over and over again. I can’t overstate it. Even when you think you’re not making a fashion decision, you are. And it is interconnected with everything.

Sweat pants by Alexander Wang

DA: How has it changed?
GN: A few major ways come to mind. For one, the Internet has caused some difficulty in determining rates for advertising because exposure can be just as much on the internet, if not more – now that everybody has a screen capable of telling them what to buy at all times of the day. Secondly, there are a lot more videos being shot. Most importantly, “guest designer” has become a thing. It has changed since I started, in the sense that large brands have realized the importance of collaborating with smaller high-end brands. I think Lagerfeld was one of the firsts to own up to it, but so many people have followed: H&M with Lagerfeld, Lanvin, Versace, Maison Martin Margiela, Isabel Marant, the list goes on.

The idea has changed to bringing fashion to the people and propping up the high-end brands during harder financial times. For instance like now, I think consumers realize they’re not going to buy the original highend designers’ wares because there is a lot of similarity in flavor. Instead, a lot of people choose to buy from the big commercial houses for a way smaller price tag, especially when it comes to buying on-trend items.

Outfit by Neil Barrett, watch by Patek Philippe, shoes by Christian Louboutin

DA: You have been listed before by Forbes as one of the most successful male faces in the market. What factors contributed to your success?
GN:
To be honest, I have an obsessive personality. When I want something, I’ll get it even if it means giving up something dear for the sake of experience. It’s hard to do that without ambition and eagerness, though. I’ve seen a lot of models do a lot of things, but by the end of the day it’s about showing up prepared, on-time, ready and willing to collaborate.

I never went to fashion parties or did red carpet events when I first started modeling. I shied away from that world and continued to hang on to the idea that I was a college graduate and an athlete who happened to fall into fashion by accident – which is true. But, I think over time I slowly gravitated to modeling as a form of expression, because I was missing it throughout the middle part of my life. I think my life became a lot more balanced around the time I started modeling; it could have a lot to do with timing.

As I was about finishing school, along with my classmates, I was putting aside my tennis racquets. I was searching out something to replace them. The dedication to school work, along with my fitness routine to keep me in top shape for tennis, helped my transition perfectly. Not to mention, while modeling I had found a part of myself that had been lost for a while. When I was a kid I was always using my imagination, making funny faces and pretending to be superheroes and movie characters. But, I never took theatre classes when I was young because I was so busy with my athletics. I think I’m making up for it now.

Briefs by Calvin Klein

DA: If you’re not modeling, what would you most likely be doing?
GN: I’d be taking more acting jobs. It’s a tough balance to strike with all the traveling but I really enjoy what I do now. There are days when I’ve been working really hard and want to quit forever, but I wake up the next day and go to the next job or have some time off to visit friends and family. Then, I realize that it is a unique job and I have fun every day.

Outfit by Maison Martin Margiela

DA: Where is home to you now?
GN: New York City. I’m away from it so much because of travel for work, but I still consider it home. It’s definitely where my furniture lives.

DA: Does it get tiring jetting off to different continents for work?
GN: Yes. Next question! It’s also the best part of the job, so I tolerate the bag packing, flying, taxiing and jet lag. I have met people and seen things that have changed my life, most but not all for the better. But, I think it has made me a better-rounded person. If it weren’t for modeling, I would never have been able to do it. I love the experience.

Outfit by Tom Ford, watch by Patek Philippe, shoes by Christian Louboutin

DA: I did an interview with a model last year and in it we talked about the difficulty of dating when you are living a nomadic life. How is your dating life?
GN: My dating life… I’ve had some solid, steady relationships because I’m a loyal person and I’ve learned a lot from them. I guess I credit my older sister as being a great example for me when it comes to working through relationship issues. My parents got a divorce when I was about ten, and it forced me to find stability in friendships and relationships. I am still friends with mostly all of
my best friends from childhood.

I was in a six-year relationship with five years of it overlapped into my modeling career. I think it’s possible to make it work with people who are strong enough to handle me. I’m very independent, yet I like having people around and feeling like they’re the most important people in my life, because they are – and that’s the way we should live. That said, I think the job does take its toll. Having to go out of town for a week, sometimes at a moment’s notice, can be difficult for the other person.

When I go to work, I give 100 percent of myself to it. So, even though I don’t work every day, on the days I do work I do not have a lot of extra time or energy to devote to a relationship. If a model is dating another model, they understand each other, but they are busy and rarely around to maintain the relationship. Or, on the flipside, if they’re not a model, it can be hard to understand how little of your day you have for yourself. Sometimes when I finish a shoot, all I want is to fall down face first onto the bed and take a nap, while they want to go out. Too many days like this can definitely lead to fighting.

Pants by Maison Martin Margiela

DA: Dating anyone in particular at this moment?
GN: Yes and no. Yes, there are people in my life who are able to understand that there can’t be strict traditional requirements. But no, I wouldn’t tell my mother about them, no matter how successful, or rich or beautiful they might be. No one is quite at that level right now.

Jacket by Alexander Wang

DA: What is your definition of beauty?
GN: This is a difficult question to answer. I’m going to use a bit of science to answer this one, so I don’t have to take full responsibility for my answer. It may get boring, if so, just Google a picture of Natalia Vodianova, and you’ll forget all about me. When we are young, we are naturally drawn to large bright eyes, symmetry, soft facial features, clear unblemished skin, full hair, warmth and all things that directly correlate to good health. As we grow older, our tastes change based on experience. Some grow to like the exotic and others the familiar, so on and so forth.

Personally, I think what I’m “attracted” to (and this may be different from the definition of beauty, but I believe the two words are closely linked) is someone who is present, in an emotional sense, and is understanding of different cultures and beliefs, but who has all of the traditional physical features of beauty I listed before. I’m trying to be vague here because I don’t want to rule anyone… I find beauty everywhere.

Outfit by DSquared

DA: You have worked with some of the best photographers out there. Any particular favorite?
GN: Yes I have, and actually I did some memory searching and recalled the following list of impressive photographers: Bruce Weber, Peter Lindbergh, Mario Testino, Mikael Jansson, Karl Lagerfeld, Solve Sundsbo, Steven Meisel, Steven Klein, the late Harris Savides cinematographer, David Sims, Richard Burbridge, Karim Sadli, Paola Kudacki, Mert and Marcus, Terry Richardson, Alasdair McLellan. I can’t really pick a favorite. They all bring a unique vision to their photos. In photography, the camera is a device which is limited to capturing what is really there, unlike, say, painting. I think what makes it even more amazing is that these photographers are able to leave a distinct mark on their work. Two of these great photographers could have the same camera and the same subject and still come up with two images that are uniquely their own. I could identify which one was Lagerfeld’s and which one was Sims’. I think that’s so cool.

Outfit by DSquared

DA: What is your most memorable experience modeling?
GN: The first time I met Karl Lagerfeld, it felt pretty incredible. Without ever meeting me before, he flew me over to Paris to shoot the Lagerfeld ad campaign for Numéro Homme and some other editorials which ended up in Visionaire and V magazine. He printed them for me and sent me home along with a Goyard trunk, Dior Tuxedo, black patent leather Chanel dress shoes, along with jeans, shirts, jackets and a bunch of accessories, but most notably this amazing velvet Comme de Garcons Rolling Stones print smoking jacket. I was so shocked. I would never forget this trip. I stayed in the Chanel Mansion in the center of Paris and was immediately cast to do their Cruise Collection show a few months later when I was back in New York. You’ve heard of zero to 60mph; this was zero to light speed.

Tank top by AllSaints

DA: And your most terrifying experience?
GN: One time while shooting in the Maldives for H&M, one of the models was driving a small, 15-foot motorboat, like one you’d use for skiing. The photographer, his first assistant and the digital tech were at the bow to leave room to shoot backwards towards the three models. Then, there were these huge waves rolling through because we were at the mouth of an inlet between two islands. I think the model realized we were going a little fast and might hit the next wave head on (as you’re supposed to) too quickly, so he threw the motor into neutral. The next thing that happened was all the weight at the front of the boat caused us to nosedive into the oncoming wave instead of ride on it. Water came pouring over the front of the boat and directly onto the laptop and photographer, Mikael Jansson. The images were barely saved from the computer before the hard drive was dried from the salt water. More importantly, we were miles from shore, and I didn’t see life preservers on the boat. Exciting stuff. Even for a seasoned sailor like myself.

DA: What do you think is your greatest achievement?
GN: I hope it’s still ahead of me. But, I do have pride on my ability to maintain integrity and form lasting friendships. I am also proud of the overall range of my work, from shooting Polaroid collages with Jeremy Kost (who has become one of my close friends) to shooting ads that embody perfection like the pristine image of the Salvatore Ferragamo Acqua Essenziale campaign.

Outfit by DSquared

DA: Do you have a signature look?
GN: I don’t think I have a signature look. I have definitely gotten a lot of attention for my body over the years due to some early campaigns where that’s what I showed. Now I think I get booked for everything else I have to offer as well.

DA: How do you stay fit? What is your exercise regiment?
GN: I’m all about mixing it up in the gym. Long cardio days, strength training with my various trainers around the world, classes like Soul Cycle (spinning class) or the large variety of classes that are offered at a gym where I have membership but won’t mention.

Outfit by Alexander Wang, bracelet by Tateossian

DA: What are your grooming essentials?
GN: I wash my face with Anthony Logistics gentle face wash and use Ren face moisturizer with SPF20. L’Oreal is everything for the hair and some Bumble and Bumble styling crème on occasion. When my hair is a bit longer, I put a hat on top. But, I think the most important essentials for my skin and hair are actually my health and fitness routine. Besides genetics, I think the biggest factor is what you eat. What you come in contact with also determines your health and appearance. I completely believe in prevention through steady lifestyle as opposed to implementation of fad diets and miracle creams.

Three-Piece Suit by DSquared, tank top by AllSaints, watch by Nixon

DA: I heard you are working on launching a website in the near future. What is it all about?
GN: Yes. I’m very excited about it. It’s not far away now from ready. In fact, I’m meeting with the developer again this week to finalize some last minute details. It’ll start as an archive and showcase of recent modeling and acting work but will ultimately be a lifestyle site. For me, it’s about collaborating with friends to introduce new and limited items, while reviewing travel experiences, fun times, health and fitness, and it will include some e-commerce. I’m really excited to see where it goes. The working URL is Garrettneff.com. Take a look at it in the next few months.

DA: What do you think is your most marked characteristic?
GN: Dedication bordering on obsession, loyalty and stubbornness.

Swim briefs by Osklen

DA: What is your idea of happiness?
GN: I think happiness is having full and fulfilling days, as often as necessary. Happiness is reaching goals and taking just enough time to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment before moving on to reach new goals. More importantly, it’s about helping others reach their goals as often as possible.

DA: What is your current state of mind?
GN: Collaborative and welcoming.

DA: What is your life motto?
GN: “Don’t stop!” Except in the case of this interview, because it’s going to end right now.

Leather jacket by Calvin Klein, shirt by Alexander Wang, leather pants by Mark McNairy, shoes by Alexander Wang

Photographs: Mitchell Nguyen McCormack
Styling: Joseph Turla

Location: YOTEL New York

 

Click here to see all the photos.