Fashion falls for homeless Scotsman

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The Independent Online
HEROIN CHIC is dead. Long live homeless chic. A young homeless man, sleeping in a government-funded shelter, is tipped to become one of the top fashion faces of 1999.

Tom Fleming, a 27-year-old Scot who has been sleeping in doorways near the Savoy hotel, London, is being hailed as the "Britboy" for the millennium. The fashion world has been opening its doors to the charismatic young man, who was first spotted in a television documentary about homeless people.

By day, Mr Fleming sits around with other down-and-outs at a cold weather shelter run by the London charity, Look Ahead. At night, he attends star- studded celebrity parties where champagne flows freely and DJs and models crave his company. Glamorous friends have bought him clothes, and a faux diamond studded collar along with a pink Harvey Nichols lead for his dog, Cindy. He is becoming a familiar face at the Hanover Grand, a night club favoured by celebrities such as Mick Hucknall of Simply Red. "You know how much a bottle of champagne is there? pounds 130," he said, "It's the most expensive drink I've ever had. Friends buy them. I'm skint."

Fashion pundits predict that Mr Fleming's "streetwise look" will catch on as young designers are tired of the manufactured faces touted by many model agencies. They believe that, with his Edinburgh accent, made popular by films such as Trainspotting, he could make a smooth transition into television. Already he has a mobile phone and a contacts book filled with the names of models, editors and producers he has met.

"Magazines and designers are looking for a real edge on their fashion pages," said Gareth Scourfield, fashion coordinator for the magazine GQ. "Because so much fashion is coming from the street it makes sense for the models to come from the street. Agencies are looking for idiosyncrasies, which give character."

Mr Fleming was first noticed after appearing in the BBC's Inside Story documentary, "Decent Scum". He then met Saraya Stephan, a 24-year- old fashion model, who was doing voluntary work at a Crisis homeless shelter, which he visited for a hot meal. She saw his "potential" and introduced him to friends, including photographer McVirn Etienne, who has photographed Jamiroquai, Ian Wright, and Patsy Palmer.

"I shot a roll on him with his little mongrel dog in a scruffy jumper. He has a really strong face, a really strong look,' said Mr Etienne. "He has potential. I'm planning to shoot him some more." Next week Mr Fleming will be meeting a magazine editor who is interested in his looks, and also seeing staff at Lamda, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. There is strong demand for "gritty actors with real life experience," said Dominic Tickell of Lamda. "People have this preconceived idea that everyone at drama school is privileged, but that isn't always the case."

Mr Fleming first appeared on stage in Bad at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe while living at a young offenders' institution just outside the city. He was sentenced for three years for acting as the look-out during a robbery.

Later, in "Decent Scum", he was followed by the cameras as he moved around the streets for five months, sleeping in doorways and, at one point, on top of a building near the Savoy hotel. The BBC, reportedly, asked him to remove the studs in his nose and lip - because, with them, he was thought to look too fierce. The story of how he stayed on the streets to support and protect his drug addict girlfriend - although he did not take drugs himself - won the sympathy of viewers. His plight prompted many to write in to the BBC about his predicament.

Now, Select Models Management, which has 200 top male models on its books and represents female catwalk stars such as Helena Christensen, wants to see Mr Fleming. The agency, which also represents actors, said there was a fresh appetite in fashion, advertising and film for expressive faces.

"We've had heroin chic and Mr Gorgeous California LA Guy, now we are looking for something different," said Heidi Corkrum of Select. "His history will definitely add to his character. If someone is not right for the catwalk they are often great for magazines, TV or movies."

Mr Fleming's growing celebrity status is resented by some of the 60 rough sleepers staying in the cold weather shelter where he sleeps. In the former Department of the Environment building there is a ping-pong table and television rooms - one for drinkers and one for those who are "dry". The London offices, where civil servants once drafted briefing papers, have been turned into bedrooms for those without homes. Some of the people here have spent up to 30 years living on the streets.

Mr Fleming's dream is to get a rented flat, paid for by modelling or film work."I was walking down the road one day and a really smartly dressed woman with an identical collar for her dog passed me on the street. She smiled and went 'ooh Harvey Nichols' as though we were part of the same club," he said. "But I'm not part of that club, I never will be. I just want to prove that not everyone on the street is worthless."

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