HIV models target 'positive' purchasers

A Californian modelling agency is pioneering a new frontier by supplying HIV-positive models for advertisers targeting the growing number of people infected with the virus.

Established just over a year ago, the Proof Positive agency is doing brisk business, with 51 HIV-positive models on its list. Its success is testament in part to the growing importance of the HIV-positive population as a largely prosperous and expanding niche market.

"It is a growing demographic and this agency responded to a need of industries wanting to promote products to the HIV community," Keith Lewis, the agency's owner, said. Among his models are Ty Ross, a grandson of the conservative icon Barry Goldwater; Eileen Getty, granddaughter of J Paul Getty; and Rebekka Armstrong, a former Playboy centrefold.

But for Mr Lewis, Proof Positive is about more than money. His main hope is to propagate an image of the HIV- positive community that reflects health and vitality - not the stereotype of bed-ridden patients suffering the ravages of Aids. "Our industry has lost many people to this disease and we want to make a contribution to the stripping away of the stigma," he said.

About three-quarters of the agency's business is for products related directly to HIV and gay living, and appears in the gay press, but there is increasing crossover into the mainstream.

Chris Crays for instance, who tested positive seven years ago, has fronted a national campaign for a nutritional supplement called Advera appearing in magazines such as People and Newsweek.

He is pictured after a workout under the caption: "I never worried too much about nutrition. Then, my doctor told me I was HIV-positive."

In the past advertisements for Aids-related products were obliged to carry disclaimers stating that the model used was not HIV-positive.

So far, no European companies have approached Mr Lewis for a model. He said: "We have firms from Britain and Europe that are clients in other divisions of this company.

"For now most seem surprised that we should be involved in HIV-positive models. But perhaps that will change."

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