Genetics, rice cookers, and not being glamorous: Life as a student model

Jack May 14 October 2014

Chris Jammer is big. By which I mean that he’s huge. He’s 6’6” (and still growing), and has enough muscle on him to strike awe, wonder, and envy into the hearts of Cambridge Blues from Downing to Girton. But if anyone tries to tell you that big isn’t beautiful, introduce them to Chris.

He’s got one of those faces that you just have to stop and stare at for a while, just to take it all in, before you can realistically carry on with everyday life. It’s no wonder, then, that at the age of seventeen, a casting director found him on Facebook and asked him to take part in a shoot for i-D Magazine, a quarterly UK fashion magazine, and one of the industry’s hottest.

For Chris, that was where things started getting weird. “They bleached my hair and put fake tattoos across me, and got in the magazine, which is pretty good. I got signed with D1 [his agency] off the back of that, and it’s just gone from there really." Part of the appeal of the industry for many is the madness of the party lifestyle that is supposed to accompany it, but Chris says “it’s not as glamorous as everyone thinks”, even though he does admit that “the parties are pretty good”. London Fashion Week is a big time in the calendar. “The agencies always arrange these big parties, [with] free drink, [and] pretty good people.”

“I was doing a music video for MIA, [for] her song Bring the Noize, and we were on set from 8am ‘till 12am, so the whole day, and that was until I begged to go home. I was like ‘it’s the last train, let me get home’. You don’t see everything that goes on behind the scenes. I hardly got any airtime off it anyway, and I was there the whole day.”

If you’re in the model business, you quickly get used to the rejection that goes with it. Of all the castings he goes to, Chris reckons he gets rejected “about 80%” of the time, “if not more”. I ask him if he finds it hard, but he just says “I’m used to it really”, with his usual good nature.

“You do wanna go in there with the attitude that you’re going to get it, but realistically the chances are that you’re not. Especially with me being a bit more unconventional.” By that, he tells me that he means he’s “a bit too tall and heavy for it. They don’t go for [such big guys] in fashion really. I’d probably be better suited to fitness modelling, but in fashion they like the Topman, stick-thin, jawline, cheekbones type.”

In terms of his physical fitness, he says it’s all “genetics. I’m so lucky.” The day I sit down with him to talk is the first day he’s trained in about three weeks. “If I get out of shape it’ll come back quite quickly. When I do train I train really hard, just so I can get the muscle in me then, and I do try and eat quite well, which is obviously very difficult at college, with the lack of cooking facilities.

“The cleaners took away my rice cooker, which was like my life, [in] the first week. I wasn’t too happy about that. Everyone asks me like ‘what do you do, what’s your training regime, are you on steroids?’ No. I got to this size realistically when I was seventeen because I worked in a gym for ages and trained like six times a week, and I did eat really well, but [since] then it’s just stayed.”

In many ways, Chris has an easier time of it than many in the business, as he’s able to do it on a part-time basis, and be quite selective as to which castings he attends. For many of his friends who do it full-time, it can be a make-or-break world. “The ones I know who do take it seriously are doing it off the back of having done really big jobs.

“My friend Harris, he used to train at the same gym as I did, [and] in the space of a few months he had G-Star Raw, Topman, All Saints, and Calvin Klein I think. His name was just made off the back of that. So you take it seriously when you know you’re going to do something, and it’s definitely a lot based on what you’ve done and who you’ve worked with. It’s all about reputation, and you just need a lucky break in a lot of cases. Mine has not come yet.”

He laughs at this, but I get the sense that he’s inadvertently exposed something of the dark underbelly of the modelling world, and the monopoly that casting directors can have over the success of individual models, so I ask him more about this. “The business is quite sleazy to be fair. I’ve been on a casting, I won’t say who with, where the casting director has very much put me in underwear and tried to 'rearrange' me.

“It’s a difficult position to be in because you can’t say no to those sorts of people. You have to say no very tactfully, and you won’t get the job. I didn’t get the job because I didn’t do it very well.” I jokingly say “whatever it is”, but I get the sense that it’s not really a laughing matter. “The first time it happened I was a bit freaked out, I was like ‘that needs to stop’. The people in power have a lot of say because for a lot of models it is their life, so if they don’t comply then they’re not gonna get the job. They treat you as an object, really, I think, rather than as a person.”

Unfortunately, getting touched inappropriately by casting directors is only one side of the story. “You do get a lot of unwanted attention I think. Facebook’s quite bad for that. So is instagram.” Chris has just over 2,700 followers, and sometimes random followers will send inappropriate pictures with messages saying ‘hey – send me some naked pictures?’, or ‘hey – cam show?’.

“I have shown some of my friends some messages [on Facebook], and it’s just like ‘what a weirdo’. I can’t remember the last one, [but] you do get some odd offers, and it is attention that you wouldn’t normally receive if there weren’t semi-naked photos of you on the internet.” I ask him if it ever ends up being quite damaging to him as a normal person trying to get on with life, but he laughs again, and says “not at all”. You clearly need a good sense of humour to be in the modelling world, which Chris has. “I’ve never taken it in any sense like that. It’s never affected me or anything. I just see it and laugh at it. [I] take the piss of a lot of it.”

Surprisingly, Chris tells me that his modelling work never really has a big impact on the work he’s able to get through as a second-year Land Economist at Gonville & Caius College.”When they [his agents] call up, the casting will be like the next day, so if you do [get a casting] you do kind of have to a hit on it, and i just don’t tell supervisors if that’s why I’ve missed a supervision. Another excuse will have to come up. It’ll only take a big hit if you’re going to America to do a shoot for 3 or 4 days, which almost happened last year.”

I ask him what happened with that one, but I get a chuckle in response. “Got rejected again. I was very annoyed about that.” When he was eighteen, Chris got a call from ES Collection, a highly successful underwear company who wanted to fly him out to Ibiza to do a shoot for them. “It would have been really cool, like a week in Ibiza, all paid-for.” Unfortunately for him, he was on a family holiday with his parents, and his Dad reportedly said “no, you’re on holiday with us, you can’t do it”, but Chris tells me “that was the only time he’s really stopped me from doing anything, but, fair enough. He did just pay for a holiday for me, and I wasn’t just about to leave.”

“I did have two contract offers in America for 3 years with Red and Aim, two agents out there [in New York].” This was fairly soon after Chris started modelling. “My mum was pretty up for it, but then the University offer came through and it just all got blown out of the water. It would have been fun though. I would have been put up in a house, expenses sorted, but then it would have been full-time, and especially with having [a place at] Cambridge here, there’s just no competition really [between] doing that or this.”

Seeing as talk has turned to Cambridge, I wonder if he plans to take his modelling any further whilst he’s here. “I definitely wouldn’t do it full-time, ever, but I do do stuff here. I’ve worked with The Tab on a shoot, and I’ll be working with the Cambridge University Charity Fashion Show, which they’re doing in February. [That] might be the opening of something, because it’s quite high-profile. It’s the first of its kind so we’ll see how that goes as well.”

Beyond the pearly gates of graduation, thinks become hazier. I ask him what he wants to do in career terms and he laughs again and somewhat cheekily says “be rich?” Reeling off an impressive list of internship applications that he’s sending off at the moment, from asset management to law firms to consultancy, it’s strange to think that this Cambridge student lives this whole other life alongside this one of essay deadlines and candlelit dinners in magic capes. “Hopefully something random comes up that’s a bit more interesting than the bog-standard norm, but I’ll probably do another extra year here as well, until I find out what I really want to do.”

As for the here and now, I’m sure many of us will be pleased to hear that Chris isn’t quite done with modelling just yet. His is a face we’ll all be glad to see more of.