Latest recruit to their ranks is Paul Sculfor, described by his PR as a "sex-bomb Brit male supermodel". Mr Sculfor, 25, a veteran of Christian Dior, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Patrick Cox promotions, is currently starring in the latest Levi's ad campaign, which (again in PR-speak) is "set to make him a household name".
In the flesh, Paul Sculfor is indeed unfeasibly handsome; all cheekbones, eyes, tan and teeth, lounging on the sofa at his highly trendy agency, Select in Covent Garden. A flick through his portfolio shows that the expression photographers tend to favour for him is the standard male-model, blank-eyed, slack-jawed, kind-of-quizzical-but-dumb-as-an-ox; which is a shame, because he also has a wide and charming smile (and dimples). Four years ago, modelling had never crossed his mind. "I was working in construction, doing things like refurbishing banks. I'd been approached a couple of times by agencies when I was out shopping, but I had my own life, I was doing my own thing. I weren't interested, basically."
His career was kick-started by his mum, who entered his photo in a competition. He won, of course, and Select just kept hassling him. "Then they just booked me this job in San Diego for a couple of weeks and that's what basically changed my mind. I went there, done the job, it seemed really easy and the money was really good," he says.
Winning the Levi's ad, against global competition, is the zenith of a career that has taken him round the world. "A really nice one was in Mauritius," he recalls. "I think that one was Italian macs. Beautiful place." He says he has been through his stint of blowing loadsamoney on designer clothes, and that his parents in Upminster keep his feet firmly on the ground. But the life of an international model isn't all roses. "It's a free life, but you can't have commitments. For relationships, it's bad."
He would like to be as famous as the girl-pack of supermodels. "The press coverage is all in your own interest. I've got a clean past, so I'm all right. And I'd like to have their money. It's frustrating, sometimes, if you do the same job as a girl, work the same hours, and she gets a few grand more a day or whatever. If you do the same sort of job you should be paid the same." But he's realistic about the prospects of real superstardom. "It's a woman's business and it has been since the beginning."
Quite so. Hence, while images of Kate Moss take their place in the Victoria & Albert Museum's exhibition of Contemporary Fashion Photographs, which opens today, Paul Sculfor last week took his shirt off on the front page of the Mirror, and was then hosed down on the inside pages by a smirking female reporter.
But things are changing, according to Lonneke Broadribb, head of the men's division at Select. "In the past there was a huge discrepancy between the fees and profiles that male and female models could command. But in the past 10 years, men have become far more aware of how they are dressed, and the male model market has expanded. The gap is closing now, and the boys are commanding much higher rates - there are a number of guys who are filling the male supermodel role."
Aha. Who, exactly? "Werner Schreyer - he does the Hugo Boss ads. Jason Lewis. Ludovic, who does the Guess ads and the Gucci ads. Tony Bruce, who does Ralph Lauren. They all have character in their faces that really comes across, so they appeal to men and women. They are more like actors than just static models wearing the clothes." But will they ever really achieve the household-name status of their sisters-in-style? Up to now, only Swedish uber-hunk Marcus Schenkenberg has even come close. "I think a lot of them already have," insists Ms Broadribb. Hmm. Kate Moss can't eat out any more because of the stares of the crowds, but it's a fair bet that Jason Lewis can nibble his tuna carpaccio unhindered.
Annette Russell is the director of So Dam Tuff, which was founded as a male-model agency but now also deals with women. She believes the whole concept of the supermodel is outmoded. "The supermodels were a one-off - Linda, Naomi and Christy - created during the recession to give the public something glamorous to look at and ease the pain of what we had to live through. This continual creation of new 'supermodels' is media hype. I don't feel our industry is about 'supermodels'; it's about being able to work consistently and demand high fees. It's hard work, and it's professionalism that makes the money."
So, Paul Sculfor and his cohorts may make a mint, over time, but they are unlikely to achieve true star status. But should they care? They still have a couple of aces up their Armani sleeves. Male models with classic good looks can keep working almost indefinitely, unlike the girls who are old at 25. Annette Russell's stable ranges from 16-year-olds to 50- somethings. "A lot of men's attractions are to do with money and power," she explains. "They have to look as if they can afford the car or the clothes they are modelling."
And male models don't have to be unnaturally skinny. Russell says she does not take on men who are not "naturally the size and shape designers want" - in other words, husky and healthy, not etiolated and emaciated. Male models may not rise to the dizzy heights of the most pampered divas of the catwalk, or command the same astronomical fees. But a long shelf- life and the chance to eat chips now and again means they probably have the last laugh in the end.Reuse content