Interview: The Swede who's Boss of the male model army
He's one of the highest paid men in modelling, and Alex Lundqvist spends his cash on phoning home. Bless, says Hero Brown
Sunday 20 September 1998
We meet at an intimate hotel in Holland Park. Lundqvist, a typically polite Swede, arrives on time and peers nervously at the dictaphone. Despite previous profiles in Rolling Stone and on MTV, Lundqvist gives a surprisingly novice turn as an interviewee. When he speaks, his voice - both higher than expected and quieter - quivers like a schoolboy's on his first date.
"The commercial's called 'The Dressing Ritual'," he begins, clearing his throat smiling, and showing an impeccable set of teeth. "There's 'Boss Man', who is portrayed by me, and he comes out of the shower, choosing his clothes. And of course making sure he's smelling right and looking good. Then, in the end, he walks into the bottle." He pauses, wondering if I understand. "They do that bit by computers," he adds.
For those who are yet to see the advert, here's a different perspective. Boss Man doesn't just come out of the shower, he flashes a sleek, bronzed, perfectly sculpted torso in the process; he doesn't so much choose which clothes to wear as caress them; as he dresses, the camera manages to focus on his cutesy belly button, before he shrugs into his exquisite suit. Lundqvist is Richard Gere's American Gigolo, but Nineties style - younger, dishier and with better acting. Frankly, he's the sort of man who makes you thank God you're a woman.
His clean-cut, boyish appeal provides an interesting contrast to the macho posturings of fellow supermodel, Cameron, and the rawer, more obvious sexual appeal of that other supermodel (and best friend) Mark Vanderloo. "Lundqvist is perceived as the modern, sensitive Nineties man," says Arena's fashion editor, Tamara Fulton. "He's masculine enough not to be a waif, but not too bulky and testosteroned-up to be appealing." In fact, Lundqvist's regular, chiselled features have made him the male equivalent of Christy Turlington: his look is completely malleable. Two years ago, Lundqvist was a dedicated member of the Ethan Hawke styling school, with long hair, a goatee and a sexy, if rather unwashed, grunge look. He took Mario Testino's advice, chopped off his hair, and picked up the Boss campaign in the process.
Today's look is very boy-next-door. Sipping a Coke and wearing pristine blue jeans and knitted v-neck sweater (his smooth complexion actually making aftershave superfluous to requirements), Lundqvist veres dangerously towards the pretty. On a social level, I've already been warned by a top fashion editor that Lundqvist is "non scene" - he's a normal, clean-living boy, more interested in chatting to his mum on the phone than giving journalists good copy. Lundqvist, it quickly transpires, is kind about everybody and everything. Not only does he praise all the photographers he's worked with ("I've been very lucky to work with creative, talented people") but he's in raptures over his Boss film crew. "There were 40-50 people putting this production together, everyone had an imput. Most people just think, oh wow, that guys looks [he searches for a word] whatever - but it's not as simple as that."
A near idyllic childhood seems to have buoyed this trait. Lundqvist was born in Stockholm (family: two parents, one brother, one sister, one dog), and grew up on one of the islands where "I saw horses running outside the window in the field". I'm beginning to wonder if he also picked flowers on the hillside for his mother, and sang "The Sound of Music" to the assembled bunny rabbits. He'd barely travelled beyond Swedish borders by the time he hit 20.
Instead, he undertook a 12-month stint in the army. "I was a tank commander," he confirms. I perk up, conjuring pleasant images of a muddy Lundqvist in uniform. "I wouldn't want to do it again, but I'm happy that I did it, because I'm never going to get as little sleep, worse or less food, or harder work. So after that everything seems easier." But did you enjoy it? "It was all right, yeah!" he grins. "It was quite fun sometimes, telling the team in my tank where to go, what to shoot at. It was a British tank, a Centurion. The way you know it's British is that there's a tea pot inside, and you have this electrical plug, swear to God! We had a lot of fun with it."
At last - behind Lundqvist's almost bland facade, a sense of humour is starting to flash. The secret, it seems, is not to talk about his success. Attempts to extract personal information have brought little joy. Any mention of money had been vetoed by the PR (Lundqvist is one of the highest paid male models in the business); he's sidestepped talking about his New York apartment: "it's two bedrooms, it's all right, it works for me"; he lives "pretty much" alone; relationship questions he coyly wants to "keep a secret".
But away from danger spots he starts to show a quick wit. Complimenting him on his near-perfect English, I ask if it's his best language. "Well, I speak a bit of Swedish," he deadpans, then smiles, all easy charm. "A little bit of Italian and French that I picked up, German I can handle myself in."
It seems a good time to ask about his social life. But Lundqvist apparently has little interest in going out and being seen. Instead, he wants to know what I do in my spare time. "I bet we have 10 things in common immediately," he says. "Well, I go clubbing," I offer hopefully. Wrong answer, Lundqvist looks disappointed. "Oh, well, I'm not into clubbing. What else?" Time to hedge the bets. "Film and theatre?" "Great!" he exclaims, "what was the last film you saw?" Oh God, oh God. Rather ashamed, I feel like I'm going for the million-dollar question, with Lundqvist as dream prize. "I saw The Butcher Boy!" I blurt. He doesn't know it. He's seen Live Flesh, though. I haven't. The subject shuffles back to modelling.
Lundqvist has so far managed his career with - on the surface - very little effort and inconvenience. Having modelled in Sweden , he decided three years ago to accompany a model friend to Milan. "I did a couple of jobs there, and then I met Bruce Weber who was working for Versace. Helena Christensen was on the job, too." He grins widely, seemingly both pleased and embarrassed at his good fortune. "Such an unlucky guy!"
Immediately, he upped and went to live in New York, scoring campaigns for Guess, DKNY, Lagerfeld, Versace and Nicole Farhi. It all sounds incredibly easy. Yet there's a side to Lundqvist that he barely reveals in conversation. It takes some digging around to find out that Lundqvist is known to take his job incredibly seriously. Rumour has it that he sticks to a rigid diet, in which carbohydrates and proteins are like the Capulets and the Montagues. He constantly works out. He manoeuvred his way into the books of the hottest agent in New York. And he is very aware of his image and how it fits with the look of a season. At the moment, he's the standout on the catwalk, where his slim but perfect physique has made him a beacon of hope for body-watchers fed up with Summer 99's penchant for skinny, pale men. As one fashion expert put it, "When Alex came down the catwalk to model swimsuits it was like, phwoar! Thank God for that!"
Despite having this effect, even on perennially bored fashion leaders, Lundqvist seems almost entirely devoid of ego. In a world where Naomi's tantrums rule OK, you at least expect a petulant wave of the hand, or a demand for copy approval. But Lundqvist is friendly and polite. "I gotta tell ya," says his agent in New York, "he's the nicest kid I've ever worked with. You can't fake that sort of thing."
Maybe that's why Lundqvist flinches when the subject of his rather blokey obsession with his six motorbikes (including three Harley Davidsons) - mentioned at length in the PR blurb - comes up. "I didn't write that, OK!" he wails, embarrassed. "I do like bikes," he admits later, "for me it's the greatest way to travel. Have you ever gone on a bike? It's as close to flying as you can come without leaving the ground. You feel the wind, the smells of nature, you feel the temperature..."
This is hardly supermodel talk. But then Lundqvist says he doesn't see himself as a supermodel. Despite being paid handsomely by Boss to advertise their whole range of clothes, from sports and suits to fragrance and underwear ("Alex's body is insane, it's incredible!" laughs his agent), Lundqvist's heart is obviously elsewhere.
"My friends and family in Sweden are everything for me," he says ruefully. "Before, I loved them, but I didn't feel like I do now. We speak quite a lot, I have a lot of high telephone bills, but I wish I could see them more often. I'll just do this for another couple of years and then I'll move back." He means it. Lundqvist is no bimbo, and is already taking a degree in graphic design and illustration by correspondence, his original intention having been to work in advertising, before modelling swept him up.
Maybe the press furore as "Boss Man" will hurry that moment along. Does he realise that even his personal grooming regime will come under media scrutiny? "What exactly are you meaning?" he grins coquettishly, before he cottons on and plugs the product with all the naturalness of a professional model back on autopilot. "All you need is this! That's all!" he says, brandishing the cologne bottle. Then he shrugs his shoulders and giggles, no longer the mannequin. "No, I've got to be honest with you. The secret is to shower as well."
IN HIS OWN WORDS
On his new commercial:
"Boss man, who is portrayed by me, comes out of the shower, choosing his clothes ... making sure he's looking right and smelling good. Then in the end, he walks into the bottle."
On how they filmed the ending:
"They do that bit by computers."
On growing up in Sweden:
"I saw horses running outside the window in the field."
On being a tank commander:
"I wouldn't want to do it again."
On his tank:
"It was British ... a Centurion. The way you know it's British is that there's a tea pot inside."
On his passion for motorbikes:
"It's as close to flying as you can come without leaving the ground. You feel the wind, the smells of nature, you feel the temperature..."
On his modelling career:
"My friends and family in Sweden are everything for me ... I'll do this for another couple of years and then I'll move back."
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