TSD recently connected with Wilmington native Garrett Neff, who, for the last six years, has been one of the world’s top models appearing in ads for Calvin Klein and the pages of Details Magazine. The former Wilmington Friends School tennis and soccer star tells us about how he found his way into the international fashion scene, his love of Grotto Pizza and what it is like to do a photo shoot on an iceberg in Alaska.
TSD: So how does a kid from Wilmington, Delaware become one of the world’s most succesful models?
GARRETT NEFF: The long answer, when I was 21, before my senior year in college, I was taking a four week summer course in Barbados (yes it WAS as fun as it sounds). Afterwards, on my way back, waiting in Miami for my connecting flight into Philadelphia, just before I got onto the plane, I was leaning up against a wall reading a magazine when this well dressed middle aged guy walked by and stared at me a little too long. I have to say it wasn’t the most comfortable feeling, but he eventually walked past and I resumed reading.
That’s not the end of the story. A few minutes later I look up and he’s walking straight towards me and I look around like, ‘uh are you looking for somebody?’ He quickly introduces himself and hands me his comp card (composite/ photo business card) and tells me he’s been modeling for 25 years and that I should contact his agent because I could do really well in the business; cheap and overheard words but here I am 6 years later with the top men’s agency in New York having a shot at some of the most coveted campaigns with the top fashion photgraphers in the world.
The short answer is I work hard and leave my ego at the door. Delaware isn’t exactly on the map, in fashion terms, so its hard to be pretentious.
TSD: What are you working on now?
GN: I’m working a lot with H&M, Express, Calvin Klein, Gant, Details magazine and the list goes on … I have agencies across Europe that connect me with so many different designers and magazines that it would be boring to list and read them all. And not that I care, but, I’m not to speak about projects before they come out.
What I enjoy most is working one on one with a photographer to portray a character in different circumstances, depending on the inspiration of the shoot. It’s that feeling of living in the moment that makes us present, and although being aware of the light and taking direction can be helpful, on video it’s all about taking on the experiences you and the character share in common as you perform actions between the past and future. That’s what a majority of my time goes to, making sure I have the experiences to give depth to everything I do. Within reason of course.
TSD: Shooting on-location in places like Saint Tropez, Milan and the Caribbean with the world’s most beautiful women sounds like real hardship duty. How do you manage all the stress?!
GN: It shouldn’t be a surprise that travel is one of the major benefits of my work; I’ve seen all the major cities across the U.S. and Europe. You know the ones. However, most of the time I arrive and work early the next day, or two or three days, and then fly out when the job is over. During busy times of the year the jobs are back-to-back in cities that aren’t so close; although I’m in amazing places, and brought there to experience the location, free time isn’t always an option. So there is a bit of stress from flying, but it could be worse. I’m able to see friends whenever I’m back in NewYork after lots of travel, and as I’ve been working in fashion for 6 years, with repeat clients, I’m able to let loose in productive ways during and after the shoot with work friends. Fashion is creative and fun and physical in all the right ways. Oh, and the beautiful women are great too.
TSD: Seriously, a lot of people don’t appreciate the physical rigors of modeling. It is a tough business with lots of people eager to take your place – how much time do you spend on the road and how do you stay healthy and in good shape?
GN: There are times of year, August and mid December to mid January when I’m able to take time to myself and focus less on being available to clients and staying in top shape. The rest of the year though, I’m flying up to twelve times per month and exercising six days a week. I definitely get my money’s worth from my gym membership when I’m in New York, but when away I like to run outside and experience the city at the speed between walking and driving. You can see so much and appreciate the distance between landmarks this way. It’s become an enjoyable and necessary part of my physical and mental travel schedule. If I get lost, my iPhone guides me back to the hotel.
TSD: What are some of the most unusual moments you’ve experienced in your career?
GN: For Saks advertising a few years ago we flew to Alaska and drove 3 hours then took a boat overnight to these massive glaciers. From the boat, about a mile away they look tame, but every now and then a slab would slide out into the water and make such a loud rumble it sounded like an earthquake, and a few minutes after the boat would be hit by a few large waves. It made more sense once we took a whaler over to inspect and realized these glaciers were 50 yards tall. We were floating around and shooting pictures on the broken-off pieces, and in July.
Another unusual one was shooting in drag makeup on a farm in upstate New York. The photographer was shooting me for a limited edition book cover for Bookmarc (Marc Jacobs’ bookstore), I guess the normal cover was too risqué. One of his drag queen friends did the make-up. It takes a while and these queens are seriously talented artists, I didn’t recognize myself. Everyone should try it at least once, it changes how you feel about identity. Which, for some people, is more useful than others. I’ve reserved it for photo shoots and holiday costume parties.
TSD: When you are in NYC, what do you do for fun?
GN: Of all the places I’ve been, New York is seriously the most organized and accessible for entertainment. Plays, movie screenings, parties, concerts, museums, restaurants, mud wrestling, it’s all there and we do all of them on a weekly basis. Well, almost all of them. And, there’s always some new-hot-celebrity-backed thing popping up. Ping pong clubs, competitive stationary cycling, bingo-dancing, dwarf tossing. All the old family favorites with a twist.
TSD: Grottos or Nicolas?
GN: Of course it’s Grottos. It’s iconic. Sweet and savory, I haven’t had pizza quite like it. It’s kind of like Delaware for me; nostalgic and great in small doses.