Jason Fedele was part of the group of American models that dominated the runways in the nineties along with Mike Campbell, Scott Barnhill and Jason Shaw. He has fronted campaigns for Versace, Gucci, Lanvin and Tommy Hilfiger in addition to appearing in numerous fashion bibles. Speaking from his home in Florida, Jason reflected on that magical moment in fashion.
Tell us about how you were discovered.
What’s funny is I did a shoot with Stephen Sprouse for the then unopened Club USA. It was a huge image that greeted patrons as they entered the club. But that didn’t kick-start any discovery. What did, happened a bit later and was straight out of a movie. I was walking down 20th Street in New York City, my hometown, and was discovered by renowned agent Rick Ferrari and Ingrid McAuliffe. As they walked past one of them shouted, “Hey, you look like one of our top models!” which is surprising because my hair, at the time, was long and down to my ass. I was in a heavy metal band at the time. For them to see that through all the mane is obviously what made them experts in their field. They were referring to Mike Campbell, with whom I share very similar looks. My reaction was of typical New York cynicism, “Oh yeah, I don’t feel like a top model” as i pulled out my empty pockets. I had just become unemployed and by divine intervention, the universe brought us together. I’m eternally grateful to them for the opportunity of a lifetime. Rick and I are still friends to this day.
You were part of the group of American models that dominated the runways in the nineties along with Mike Campbell, Scott Barnhill and Jason Shaw. In hindsight what are your reflections on that time?
It was a magical moment that I’m certain we are all appreciative of. It was the last great generation of models both male and female. The camaraderie was strong as we all got along having spent a lot of time together throughout castings, shows, campaigns and editorials in all the major markets; New York, Paris, London and of course Milan. Most of us have remained friends since and Mike Campbell and myself are still best friends. Our running joke over the years has been “different mother, different father, same dog” with regard to our similarity. In fact, when Mike had his son, he had two black labs, Rio and Zoe. At that time, Zoe was too rambunctious for a newborn, naturally, she came and lived with me. So the joke became reality. Life works in magical ways. I’ve been extremely fortunate, thanks to modeling, to have traveled the world, meet amazing people and work with immensely talented artists. I’m filled with gratitude to the many people who provided invaluable wisdom particularly Calvin Klein, Tom Ford and Bethann Hardison for whom I have great respect.
What would you say was the pivotal moment that changed the direction of your career?
I was fortunate that my career took off pretty fast. All of it is due to Calvin Klein who gave me my first big break. After a brief period of testing, he chose me to be the face of Calvin Klein for a 12 page spread in Vanity Fair. From the inside cover on, it was the pivotal campaign that jump started the fast and wild ride that afforded me so many fantastic jobs with Gucci, Versace, Hilfiger, etc. We had a close relationship and I understood his aesthetic. I was able to put his vision to the lens easily. My age had something to do with it I believe. I was a late bloomer in the world of fashion getting my break in the industry late at the age of 25. I had a little more real world experience than most, especially being a New Yorker. I understood the progressive nature of what was cool a bit more than the average Midwestern kid. That really helped me transcend into the Supermodel realm quickly. Tom Ford knew that as well which is why he made me his muse for so long during those amazing Gucci years. Tom and I developed an almost telepathic way of communicating. When you click with someone it’s easy to communicate in ways that allows the art to flow in its most raw, natural state.
You were a part of the pre-internet era. How do you think all of that compares to now in terms of social media and coaching?
The advent of technology, specifically social media, has radically changed the landscape of fashion and modeling as a whole. What was once a coveted, guarded process of discovery, grooming and managing of new talent for agents has flipped. No longer is there an exclusivity to models. Almost everyone has an Instagram account and if a prospect doesn’t have a ton of followers they aren’t considered. Instagram has become the litmus test for scalability and sellability. Kids today can brand and create their own cottage industry as brand ambassadors and cultivate their own businesses. Not to mention, the industry is predominantly celebrity driven. It definitely has marginalized the industry and has done away with the intimacy of creating individuality. Most insiders I’ve talked to agree, the business is not what it used to be. But isn’t that the story of technology? It supplants and replaces old ways of doing things with better (hopefully) and more efficient ways. On the other hand, it has reduced costs for agencies across the board. No longer are Polaroids or comp cards as necessary as they once were and the need for talent scouts is an antiquated job.
How did you deal with the pressures and scrutiny of the industry. Was it difficult for you?
It was probably more difficult for the industry than for me. I was a pain in the ass. Young, brash and fueled by ego, although I don’t carry regret, I do feel bad for the way I behaved in some situations and not taking my duties and responsibilities seriously enough. Since I was a bit older than the average kid, there wasn’t a lot of pressure or scrutiny that had an effect on me. Sure there was plenty of rejection, competition and the rigors of maintaining the “look” but for the most part, it was a lot of fun. I don’t think kids today will ever have the same experience as we did since most fashion houses are filled with corporatists and not artistic visionaries like Gianni or Calvin. There is so much history that these greats carried on and infused into their work. I think the pressures are different, albeit relative. I just didn’t feel them, it was not difficult getting paid huge sums of money to stand if front of a camera or walk a runway for 60 seconds.
What did you discover about yourself through modeling?
I discovered that I had a real, deep love for fashion. As a creative person, I loved the creative process, wearing the clothes and embodying what they represented. Watching the seamstresses ply their skill, designers scratch and replace months of work in an instant. Portray a story, a thought, an idea that was born in someones head and realized through you the model. It was very rewarding, gratifying and personal. Also, I have an androgynous side that was able to flourish in an overly sexualized industry. One of my favorite campaigns was for Gucci. We shot it in Palm Springs with legendary photographer, Mario Testino. Seated against a wall, I was wearing purple sparkle pants and, knowingly, I had my hands placed on the backs of my thighs with an erotic tone of suggestive sexual availability. I knew it would illicit desire and elevate the campaign to meet its expectations. Sex! It was always a joy to express myself in ways that were controversial, outrageous, anything that made the observer stop and remark.
What are you up to these days?
These days I enjoy quiet domestication on the beautiful beaches of the Gulf Coast of Florida. I work in government for a city owned performing arts hall as the Digital Media Director handling all facets of web design and development, social media and digital marketing. Music has always been a strong part of my life prior to modeling and continues to be. Like another dream life, I’ve been blessed to have been a professional musician for nearly 25 years. I write, produce and perform TV spots (jingles), record and tour with famous artists, most recently with the alt-rock band Seether. Occasionally I’ll get a call for a modeling gig that I’m always happy to do. I love fashion, the industry and the people I worked with and more importantly became friends with. It will always be a part of my soul, a love affair that will always have a place in my heart.