During a special shoot in Paris, veteran fashion model Arnaud Lemaire reminisces with DAMAN about his early modelling days and how simply being himself takes him far
Having fronted numerous campaigns by major fashion houses such as Vivienne Westwood, Dior, Carolina Herrera and Giorgio Armani, professional model Arnaud Lemaire has established himself as a strong presence in the fashion world. Born in Uccle, near Brussels, Arnaud Lemarie is the son of Jean-Marie Lemaire, a French actor who initially introduced him to the industry at a very young age. By the time Lemaire was eight years old, he walked for the first time in front of the camera for a small commercial film made by his father for Air France.
Being on a set and in front of a camera has become second nature for the blue-eyed model. If we were to look back to the very beginning of his journey in the world of professional modelling, however, it all began with his step-mother, France Berthou, who introduced him to French photographer Jean- Daniel Lorieux for a test-shoot. It was the very first time that Lemaire found himself on a professional photo set. Later, Lorieux’s secretary would give him a list of modelling agencies and soon afterwards, Success Models signed him on. Lemaire was 17 years old at that time.
But perhaps that step wasn’t all that surprising. As it turns out, even before that very first test- shoot, Lemaire left home when he was 15 years old and, during holidays, he and his best friends would work to make extra money. So, his first modelling jobs actually happened while he was in school. At the time, Lemaire found it to be easy. He got to meet new, nice people and he was getting paid. That people called that “work” made it even better. Fast forward to the present, and Lemaire has made a career of the work he loves. Naturally he has plenty of interesting on-set stories to share.
Perhaps the craziest, most challenging but memorable shoot for him, was suspended 15 feet by a single strap over a road next to a highway by Coutavar in Greece for an “Icarus” story for Mondo Uomo. On another occasion, Lemaire had to fake robbing a gas station in Miami with Parisotto. For that shoot he had wild hair, make up, fishnet tights and a .44 Magnum handgun in his left hand and a Kalashnikov assault rifle under the right arm. The funny thing was that at the time, Lemaire wasn’t old enough to drink in the U.S., but there he was, handling weapons in the studio while completely naked except for makeup.
Moving from shoot to shows, Lemaire has quite a few memorable moments on the runway, too. At the top of the list would be when he walked for Anna Sui, especially since just a few weeks before the show, fashion photographer Stevel Meisel shot Lemaire for Calvin Klien. Lemaire remembered it vividly as it was his 19th birthday, and then Meisel helped him put on the Anna Sui show. He was number four in the lineup and Naomi Campbell was number three. He turned around and found that Linda Evangelista was number five. At one point, she slightly caressed the black velvet jacket Lemaire was wearing. That moment felt surreal for him:
Lemaire recalled how he was totally disconnected and felt as if he was just a “witness” of the moment. “That was the only time I wasn’t scared on stage. It wasn’t real, anyway. I was looking at the girls walking and walking on stage with them. Weird. Unreal.” Furthermore, as he has walked in some of the major shows during various Fashion Week seasons, we simply had to ask Lemaire about what it’s actually like being part of fashion events on that scale. Lemaire admitted that unless you’re actually doing it, you won’t really be able to understand the involvement of the teams and what it takes to set up an actual Fashion Week runway show, not to mention the months of work that goes into it.
Even though he had the chance to accompany the aforementioned teams for some time, especially during the crucial 10-15 minutes before the show, it was just unthinkable. What he really likes during those crazy seasons—where he does between 15-20 shows in Milan and sometimes working 20 hours a day—is how he gets to be in the moment with all the different teams and totally feeling that he’s being part of it. At this point in the conversation, we also wondered if Lemaire, having been in the industry for all those years, still has any jitters before heading to a shoot or runway show. “This feeling kind of left me after a bit, but it felt dramatic throughout my entire career. Now, I enjoy every second of my work and as for the jitters … there’s no room left in me for them.” But then Lemaire also admitted that some doubts still remain.
In Lemaire’s opinion, the industry has changed so much compared to when he first started out. What he sees as his best and most unique qualities, something that the brands see in him, remain the same. In short, it’s his commitment to work and how he does what he does with great casualness. Modelling is, indeed, a highly competitive field. Hundreds of new and young models enter the industry every year, but Lemaire’s not intimidated by them. His way to stand out is simply being himself. He loves what he does and, like many of his peers, he relishes in the most enjoyable part of being a professional model: The traveling—going abroad and meeting new people. But he puts his heart into every job along the way.
Moving on to the present, some of the most recent highlights in Lemaire’s modelling career happened just before the pandemic, when he starred in the Dior Homme campaign, which was shot by Paolo Roversi. Lemaire hadn’t had the chance to work with the Italian photographer for quite a long time. And it was the first time that he appeared in a Dior Homme campaign. Another notable project was working with French fashion photographer Dominique Issermann for Armani. For this one, Lemaire felt particularly grateful for Armani because his life wouldn’t be the same without Giorgio Armani.
Today, Lemaire still looks perfectly in shape, even though he is still recovering from an accident last year. He tries to stay fit by eating less, exercising at home, doing a bit of boxing and swimming whenever he goes to the sea. He also tries to study new things all the time and to maintain his curiousity. After all, Lemaire is not just a fashion model, he is also an actor and a producer. His mother was a model and, as mentioned earlier, his father was an actor. So, he grew up in the “universe of cinema,” as he puts it. He was accepted at a directing workshop in New York University in 2002, not long after 9/11. And then he ran Kemmel Production since 2008, where he explored different types of production such as commercial, theatre, documentary, TV, 3D, and VR, covering a wide range of areas—from banking and brands to energy companies and so on. His first experience as a director was for a French television network, TF1, when he was 23 years old. So far, Lemaire hasn’t don’t any feature films yet, which is something he feels is missing in his repertoire.
Aside from that, Lemaire has also developed several projects for Italian luxury company Brunello Cucinelli for the past four years, with a number of new ones currently in post- production. But the most thrilling venture he’s currently one is the newly opened VR360 lab in Château de Chambord, a castle in Centre-Val de Loire, France, one of the most recognizable castles in the world thanks to its French Renaissance architecture. Lemaire’s company produced beautiful shots in Italy and France, including on the steps of Da Vinci’s double helix staircase in Chambord. They shot Chambord during every season for a year and right now they’re working with Oculus to make their platform accessible to the American market. But one thing for sure, Lemaire enjoys every job he does … and that, above all else, truly shows his level of professionalism.
U.S. BASED CREATIVE DIRECTOR MITCHELL NGUYEN McCORMACK
PHOTOGRAPHY IAN PHILIPS
STYLING KIMBERLY GOODNIGHT
GROOMING MAXWELL M USING SISLEY PARIS
MODEL ARNAUD LEMAIRE/ NEW MADISON MODELS PARIS
PRODUCTION & CASTING INDUSTRY LIFESTYLE CONSULTING
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