They command the fashion runways of Milan and London and their smoldering good looks heat up ads, selling everything from fashion to fragrances. But being a male model in an industry where female models lead the way has its unique challenges.
“I found the only industry where women get paid more than men,” said model David Gandy.
Gandy is perhaps the best known male model in the world, rocketing to icon status with an eye-popping Dolce & Gabbana ad.
But his success pales in comparison to the likes of Gisele, Miranda and Kate.
Forbes.com has examined how much the top male models earn compared with the top female models. No. 1 on the list is Sean O'Pry who earned $1.5 million in the last year. Not bad. But Gisele Bundchen raked in $42 million. And the disparity continues down the ranks.
“On average, male models make around $200,000 to $500,000 a year,” said Vanna Le, staff writer at Forbes. “If they're really, really successful, they'll hit the million mark. And for females, they'll make around $2 million to $5 million.”
Seven years ago, Sean O’Pry was discovered thanks to his Myspace page and his career quickly took off. He has vamped for Vogue, Versace and Hugo Boss and was featured in a Madonna music video “Girl Gone Wild.” He’s ranked as the world’s top male model.
But even with all that, he doesn't begrudge the success of his female counterparts: “Hey, I don't have to wear high heels and I don't have to wear bikinis, so more power to the ladies.”
His people wouldn't confirm or deny his earnings, but O'Pry -- with his fresh face and versatile appeal -- is clearly at the top of his game.
“I'm very happy with my career,” he said. “I'm not going to be complaining about not making $42 million. At the end of the day I'm very, very blessed with what I do.”
There may be a reason female models lead the way.
“The disparity comes from the general idea that women buy twice as much as men do,” said Le. “They’re just bigger consumers so that's what the brands, the clients, that's what they're looking at. The general belief is that there is a lower return on investment when there is a male model campaign.”
For those male models, attaining supermodel status has been no cakewalk. Gandy said male models are misunderstood.
“I think the fashion industry and all models are misunderstood,” he said. “There's many clichés, there’s many stereotypical views of models, but the male models are very easy targets.”
A target that can be summed up in one word: “Zoolander.” Starring Ben Stiller as a dim, vain, self-centered male model, the film included a hilarious reference to Zoolander’s “blue steel” gaze.
“Blue steel,” said Gandy, “Exactly. Ben Stiller killed us in that. But at the same time, I can't help but love that movie.”
But Gandy has also helped change the perception of male models.
“I came into the industry with the Dior guy -- very androgynous, skinny guys were the money makers in the industry,” said Gandy. “I didn't follow the crowd. I didn't follow the trends. I bucked the trends. Everyone was saying you need to be skinny, you need to be skinny. Your legs need to be thinner. And I am not a skinny guy.”
That manly physique is what set him apart. He’s also dabbled in acting -- the short film “Away We Stay” -- and created style and fitness apps, strengthening his brand and his earning potential.
But it remains to be seen if male models will ever close the wide gap with their female counterparts. Regardless, O’Pry only has words of praise: “Good for you, Gisele. Good for y’all. You're beautiful, keep doing what you're doing.”