Evan Sung for The New York Times
By HENRY ALFORD
Published: September 16, 2012
I'D love to tell you that my modeling career got its kick-start when the photographer Larry Clark found me skateboarding in a disused swimming pool in Tulsa. Or when Karl Lagerfeld tweeted some photos he had taken of me in my capacity as the towel boy at his day spa.
But in fact, I was standing in the gift shop of the Santa Barbara Zoo when I received an urgent e-mail from an editor at this newspaper telling me to send my chest size.
Having no clue what this measurement is, I asked the woman standing behind the gift shop's cash register for a tape measure. I explained to her that, although I'm 50 and only 5-foot-10 and look like a college provost, I was going to walk the runway at New York Fashion Week. Her expression was that of someone who's just crossed the Atlantic in a rowboat.
Non-models like Gary Oldman (5-foot-10, 54), Willem Dafoe (5-foot-10, 57) and Tim Roth (5-foot-7, 51) all walked the runway for Miuccia Prada last fall, so maybe, my editor had thought, an equally pasty-faced writer could do it, too.
Does the model make the runway, or does the runway make the model? I sought an answer from Michael Bastian, the 2011 Council of Fashion Designers of America men's-wear designer of the year known for his elegant twist on classic American clothes. Mr. Bastian, the former men's fashion director for Bergdorf Goodman, started his own line in 2006 and a collaboration with Gant in 2009. But more important, his runway casting embraces my cheeseburger lifestyle. He said, "I'm anti-scrawny-little-German-guy."
First, Mr. Bastian's business partner, the ebullient Eugenia Gonzalez Ruiz-Olloqui, summoned me to her and Mr. Bastian's airy, white-brick offices in west Chelsea. The dashing, affable-to-the-point-of-huggy Mr. Bastian promised me, "We're going to make you look like a model." I thought, maybe they can merge my age spots into a tan.
Mr. Bastian beckoned me to a two-sided bulletin board on wheels, where he showed me photographs of 47 "looks," all in dusty colors inspired by the paintings of Helen Frankenthaler.
Explaining that most of the show should feel like one of Calvin Klein's haute Fire Island pool parties in the 1970s, Mr. Bastian said he was planning on sending six Speedos down the runway. I said, "That's a lot of package." Mr. Bastian promised that I would not be part of this package. I thanked him heartily.
In the week before my casting session, I put together a "book": a folder of my author photos and contributor photographs from magazines. I got a pedicure. I neither cut my hair nor shaved, as requested of me. Eager to have cheekbones, I juice-fasted away 13 pounds, from 169 to 156. Food deprivation made me peevish and abrupt; I suddenly understood Naomi's Campbell's complicated relationship with telephones.
Nervous the night before my casting session, I slept only four hours. I awoke looking puffy and swollen: Dennis Quaid meets an animé chipmunk.
Though Mr. Bastian and his team would see 132 models to fill the 47 spots, there were only 3 waiting in the hallway when I showed up for my audition. We shot one another sidelong glances....