THE GRAND REUNION
PHOTOGRAPHY BRUCE WEBER
FASHION DEBORAH WATSON
TEXT KATHARINE K. ZARRELLA
FIVE OF VMAN’S PIONERRING MALE SUPERMODELS GATHER FOR A DAY OF FRIENDS, PHOTOS, AND FUN
Picture this: five of fashion’s top male models, six golden retrievers, a barbecue, an ice-cold pool, and Bruce Weber clicking away with his camera. This was the scene that kicked off the photographer’s latest endeavor for VMAN.
“‘Thoroughbreds’ is a perfect name for these five gentlemen,” says Weber of models Brad Kroenig, Andres Velencoso, Tyson Ballou, Jake Davies, and RJ Rogenski. “They have all that sleekness that Derby winners have and they have all that power that the British royal family equestrian jumpers have, flying high over the fences.”
Over a span of 15 years, this quintet of Adonises—who would no doubt give Zoolander and Hansel a run for their money on the catwalk and off—has posed for everyone from Mert and Marcus to Mario Testino; fronted campaigns for the likes of Abercrombie & Fitch (the shoots for which introduced Brad and Tyson to Weber) and Chanel; stomped the runways in Paris, Milan, and beyond; and dominated the pages of every men’s fashion magazine imaginable. They’re unbreakable beauties and consummate professionals, and they’ve each been integral to the formulation of the VMAN spirit and aesthetic.
Brad covered the first issue of VMAN. The year was 2003, and he posed for Inez & Vinoodh wearing nothing but shimmering black eye makeup inspired by a ’70s biker gang. His work on that inaugural edition led him to meet Karl Lagerfeld, to whom he is now a muse. Andres appeared inside that same issue, smoldering in a Helmut Lang suit and tie, as did RJ, who demonstrated three different ways to wear the perfect F/W ’03 jacket. Tyson joined the party in VMAN 2, shot by Sølve Sundsbø alongside Brad. Jake, meanwhile, made his VMAN debut in 2005 when we named him a member of the “New Model Army” in our fourth issue. They’ve all been part of the family ever since.
While Weber refers to this crop as thoroughbreds, “supermodels” would also be an apt description. Perhaps that’s why Weber recreated his unforgettable 2008 image of Kate Moss, Daria Werbowy, and Lara Stone in bed with these five faces. “It’s never been done before from a men’s perspective,” says RJ, “and there was this sense that something big was happening.”
There is a reason, of course, that Weber titled this story “The Grand Reunion.” Models come and go season after season, but these five have worked side by side for well over a decade. “There aren’t many male models who can say they’ve modeled for 15 years straight. It’s a rare thing, and we all have a great mutual respect for each other’s careers,” says Brad. Jake agrees, noting that “the vast majority of guys I started out with just aren’t around anymore, so it’s great to be able to work with guys that you know and have seen all over the world on various occasions over the years.” Tyson admits that the shoot didn’t feel like work at all. “It was like going to a friend’s pool party—hanging out in the sun, swimming, and playing with the dogs. These guys and I only cross paths every so often, but it’s always like no time has passed.”
Maybe so, but time has passed since these men started their careers, and the industry has changed. “There are a lot more celebrities and athletes to compete with now,” offers Brad. Not to mention the invention of the social media–spawned Instamodel. RJ points out that “today, everything is digital. You have 15 people around a screen and each of them has an opinion. It takes away from the intimacy when you’re on a shoot with a photographer who’s trying to capture a special moment.” Andres concurs. “Nowadays, you can look at a sneak of the screen on the computer, but Bruce is a master. He was shooting film, and that was quite nice.”
It’s clear that the models have a deep admiration for Weber, his process, and his legacy. Unsurprisingly, the feeling is mutual. “Photographing them for me was like going to a school reunion and seeing once again people I adore,” Weber says. “I’m really happy to say that they make me proud.”
HAIR THOM PRIANO AT GARREN NEW YORK FOR R+CO GROOMING REGINE THORRE MODELS JAKE DAVIES AND ANDRES VELENCOSO (FORD), BRAD KROENIG, RJ ROGENSKI, TYSON BALLOU (IMG) PRODUCTION DAWN BOLLER (LITTLE BEAR INC.) PHOTO ASSISTANTS CHRIS DOMURAT, JEFF TAUTRIM, SEAN JACKSON, RYAN BRINKMAN, JORDAN MILLINGTON STYLIST ASSISTANTS CAROLINE SHIN AND HALLE CHAPMAN TYLER TAILOR LARS NORD MAKEUP ASSISTANT MARLENE CASTRO HAIR ASSISTANT LP GIARDINO PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS BORIS MCNERTNEY, REYNALDO HERRERA, LUKE ADLER LOCATION MONTAUK, NEW YORK ACCOMMODATIONS MONTAUK MANOR CATERING DG CATERING