For the past few seasons, we’ve been able to witness the comeback of male models who’ve made the glory of podiums and magazines due to the top model phenomenon. Alongside with Cameron Alborzian, Mark Vanderloo, Marcus Schenkenberg, and Arnaud Lemaire, male model Alain Gossuin is part of an elite which incarnate the symbol of the ’90s. Alain pursued a brilliant carrier doing campaigns for fashion houses like Bruno Cuccinelli, Zegna, and editorials for CR Fashion Book, GQ, Rake, and Ward Magazine. And how can we forget his remarkable presence on Dior and Comme des Garçons runways. The little boy from Brussels has come a long way.

By Stéphane Le Duc

Would you say this profession came to you accidentally? Nowadays, in the new generation, it’s common to dream of becoming a model. Back when I was young, it was not a profession that many people dreamed about.  I’d say it’s a result of many things. I was born in Brussels. My mother was what we would today call a stylist; she was also a tailor, and she worked in a factory that was creating clothing for Pierre Cardin in the early ’60s. 

It was a very family-like environment, and, in my early childhood, I used to spend most of my time there. I can still smell the scent of the machines, the fabrics, and hear the sound of the scissors cutting through the patterns. Today, you would never see children walking around a factory, it was a special time.

My mother dressed me only with the clothes she made. Hence my style was very different, very ’60s, à la Pierre Cardin. It was kind of fun actually – I used to wear overalls, knitted handmade sailor tops, and I loved it!

When you were young, your mother encouraged you to do whatever you pleased in life except work in fashion. But despite her advice, you decided to go to Brussels to study fashion, and then you began designing shirts while working in a Cerruti boutique. So now tell me, how did you end up booking your first modelling contract?  When the boutique owners acknowledged my resourcefulness, they brought me with them to Milan to see the fashion shows and make purchases.

So, there I was, at the Milan Fashion Week attending a party, when a man introduced himself to me, he had bleached hair, an awful British accent and he asked me if I was a model. It was Claude Montana who, at the time, was the star of the fashion industry, along with Thierry Mugler. I had no idea what he looked like. I thought he was making fun of me because at the time, I thought I did not look like a model. I wasn’t muscular, I had a Tintin haircut, my teeth were crooked, and I thought my nose was massive. Plus, I was only twenty years old and thinner than a pencil! He gave me his number, asking me to contact him for the Paris fashion show, but honestly, I simply could not believe it.

Three weeks later, I was in Paris and my friends forced me to call him. I was shy back then. When I called Claude Montana, he literally yelled at me, to tell me he was organizing castings, and that I had to come immediately. I rushed into his office at the Halles, rue Saint-Denis, and I saw all the models who were on magazines. And there I was, alongside these famous models. I got to try the outfits even before them! Montana made me choose five outfits and it was the very beginning of my model career!

How was your first runway show?  I was probably the first ever “skinny fellow” who was doing runways back then. I had a unicorn-like haircut, big sheer glasses, the spotlight was on me for couture fashion shows, but I was terrorized, and I would only look down at my feet because I was walking stiffer than a robot. All the while my glasses were slipping off my face. I never had imagined being a model, but there I was walking the runway.

So, let’s fast-forward a bit – you ended up coming to the conclusion that modelling wasn’t for you and you decided to study at La Chambre syndicale de la Haute Couture de Paris, to really learn the couture techniques. Is that right?  I mean after all, I was bored simply modelling. One day, I went for a walk on Avenue Montaigne, wearing a kick-ass Jean-Paul Gauthier look. Jeans slightly open showing my underwear, red straps, a yellow shirt, and western boots with spurs when a green Rolls-Royce drove by me with tinted windows. The window went down and it was Mr. Giammetti, the owner of Valentino, himself! He gave me his card and told me he was looking for models.

I was flabbergasted because Valentino is a very renowned fashion house. The next day, I went to an appointment with him, and I told him that I didn’t work as a model anymore. So, Mr. Giammetti introduced me to Valentino who then invited me to work for them. But after six months I wanted to go discover Milan.

Would you say that modelling is a gateway to discover the fashion industry? Absolutely, yes, and Giancarlo Giammetti kindly referred me to the biggest fashion model agency.

When I got into the office of Luigi Salvioli, he welcomed me and said very loudly, “You are Valentino’s new gigolo!” I was petrified. I was expecting anything but that! Then, the bookers helped me, and this is how I started. I was skeptical; I didn’t think it could work… But, my first appointments came very quickly. I met on a Tuesday with the photographer Fabrizio Ferri, the founder of Superstudio and le Mondo Uomo. He took three of my photos and asked me to come back on Thursday.

How did your first casting in Milan go? Were you nervous?  I arrived at the studio and five men who were public figures in the industry were staring at me. I was feeling intimidated and asked myself, “What am I doing here?” I found myself panicking, thinking that I wasn’t good enough and that they would change their minds. So, I ended up locking myself in the bathroom! I felt dreadful and only had one desire but to get out of there.

Meanwhile, the team was looking for me to shoot a special Armani. It just made me more confused and I couldn’t understand what was going on!

The next Monday, I went to the agency, and the boss, Luigi Salvioli, took me in his arms and told me how beautiful I was. He said, “Alain you are fantastic. I love you so much!” He took me for a ride on his motorcycle to go meet clients Armani, Linea L’uomo, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar.

He introduced me directly to Giorgio Armani, and from then on every month, I was filling all the pages of the top fashion magazines! I worked every day non-stop until I was due for my military service.

Throughout all those years, did you ever understand what it was that the photographs and the artistic directors liked about you?  I’ve asked myself that question for a long time, but I guess I’m still not really sure… I think it’s because I was different. I always knew that I was maybe not the most attractive nor athletic, but I realized early in my career that I knew how to work with the camera, with the objective that if I was working well with the client or the photographer, I’d be effective. I could maintain a good cohesion while working with the team, understand the product and the vision of the collection.

It wasn’t easy at the beginning. Sometimes I found myself great at it, sometimes I felt like I was bad at it.  I was definitely outside of my comfort zone. Maybe the others didn’t see it or they found my behaviour charming, but at the end of the day, I wasn’t going to give in to my discomfort or let it stop me.

I analyzed my results and corrected what needed to be fixed. I’ve gotten to know myself very well, I observed my poses in the mirror, learned how to get the light right, and in the end, it wasn’t complicated after all! I mean, you don’t need to have a master’s in science to learn how to work with your face and body.

Working as a model really helped me get out of my shell, I felt transformed! I love to meet new people, to travel, the fabrics, the colours. I understood the collections. I was a natural!

Ironically, however, I never like to dress up. I prefer simple clothing to luxurious expensive clothing. I love good quality when it comes to clothes, I have a profound passion for materials. I enjoy gatherings and have great conversations with notable designers, like Ralph Lauren. Exchange about diverse subjects, for example, our shared passion for ancient cars. As soon as I walked into his office, I saw all of his books which that in itself taught me a lot! Even his brother Jerry, who was the head of the male collection helped me because I wanted to launch my own collection. I’ve learned from all of these designers, directors, and artists who have been so supportive of my brands. I think this is what makes my strength: I’ve always been nice, I always help others. It’s my nature. I never missed a flight, I’ve always been on time, and I wasn’t annoying. I like it when the work is done properly. I guess that’s why people call me back.

So, you’ve worked with the greatest photographers: Ellen Von Unwert, Arthur Elgott, Nick Knight… Which one made the most significant impression on you?  Herb Ritts – I miss him dearly. He became a close friend. I admired his personality, his elegance. He was genuinely good and true. He wasn’t aggressively commercial. His vision was very artistic, even when it came to fashion; he was a true artist to the core. He made his mark. He understood the vision of the people he was working with. Everybody admired him. If you were lucky enough to have your portrait taken by him, you were immortalized, and it would sell! He knew how to deliver a story with his photography. He knew how to make you look magnificent! He was very generous, but when it was time to work, you had to work. He was meticulous.

In the past, you’ve stopped your career as a model, what motivated you to come back?  I stopped because it wasn’t fulfilling anymore, I was tired, and I wasn’t happy with the results. It’s like if I was disconnected with the camera, I had no more fire, I was empty. So, I decided to stop. I guess it’s fate that brought me back to modelling. I moved to an apartment next to a restaurant where agents from the Glamour Agency would go for lunch. One day, I bumped into them and they told me they never erased my file from their agency. In the back of my mind, I still had the reasons why I stopped modelling, but they told me that I looked good and that older men have great careers as models. They offered to cast me on great projects, but I was still skeptical until they made an offer that I couldn’t refuse.

Carine Roitfeld, she wanted me to be photographed for a man I helped at the beginning of his career. It was Tom Ford! Back then, I did his first fashion show when no one wanted to work for them. Carine told me he never forgot how I helped him and he wanted to shoot photos of me with her in his new apartment in London. We ended up shooting 12 pages in his office in London. So, there I was in his kitchen facing him: “Alain, do you remember we worked together for my first fashion show in Florence for Gucci? Nobody wanted to help, but you helped me start a fashion trend. You came even though nobody believed in me. I still have pictures of you at the show, they are in the drawer downstairs!” He never forgot; I was moved, and I discovered in that moment what a sensitive and gentle man he was. Tom Ford, a man who kept his heart beneath his armour. Slowly but surely, I rediscovered the pleasure of shooting. I found out that I was better than before, to be honest. When I was younger, I had a hard time finding myself being good at modelling, but now I’m pleased with my photographs.

So, tell me, what can we wish for you now?  Well, first a long, happy, and healthy life. I feel like I still have so much to do. The world of fashion brought me personal growth. Today, I feel good in my own skin, and I dare to do many more things than when I was young. That’s what matters to me!