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Fab abs: Sweden's rippling bodies of work

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Fab abs: Sweden's rippling bodies of work
11:24 CET+01:00
Robert La Bua casts an eye over the multibillion-kronor industry behind the faces - and torsos - of Sweden's male models.

It's that time of year again when thoughts of carefree Scandinavian summer clotheslessness seem lightyears away from the reality out the window, which requires the very serious consideration of a winter wardrobe.

For some men, this is their favourite season—not because they enjoy another hibernal 'unweather', as the Swedes refer to a storm, but because they enjoy fashion. In Sweden especially, fashion is a topic of careful deliberation; any stroll down Birger Jarlsgatan in Stockholm or Avenyn in Gothenburg will tell you that.

Fops and dandies all—is it true? Sweden is a country where many men pay as close attention to their appearances as do women, much to the entertainment of their Nordic brethren; it is therefore not surprising that the male fashion industry is big business in Sweden. What may be surprising is just how big a business it is, and how one Swedish man in particular has been the embodiment of the universal masculine ideal for over a decade.

It seems Sweden is a rich source of top-quality maleness; several of the world's most successful male models are Swedes. But don't conjure any images of thick locks of blond hair framing angelic, fair faces—most of the beefcake comes wrapped in tall, dark, and handsome packages, with some packages more prominent than others.

Foremost among them is Marcus Schenkenberg, inaugural inductee into the Male Model Hall Of Fame, who singlehandedly redefined the standard of male beauty of the age, slimming the beefy and bulky muscle masses of the late 1980s into a more sinuous version for the 90s and 00s, a paradigm still the preferred norm in the industry, and Marcus remains the bench(press)mark of the ideal physique to this day.

He is the highest-paid male model in the world and his transcendence of fashion industry limits has earned him the status of world's first male supermodel. He is also present in the mainstream consciousness as a name, a face, and a set of abdominals recognized by people who wouldn't know an inseam from a Big Mac.

Not that he acts like a stereotyped celebrity in the least; an affably serene man with a background in Economics, Marcus knows exactly what he's doing with his life. He's never been shy about saying he works hard for the money, just like everyone else. He invests wisely and plans for future security. He is Swedish, after all.

There are others who followed in Schenkenberg's footsteps. Alex Lundqvist is a perfect example of diligence paying off. Like Marcus, Alex's career was nurtured by superstar photographer Bruce Weber; Alex's GUESS? promotional campaign catapulted him from a pretty face to a pretty place atop the pile of goodlooking guys strutting their attitudes in print and on runways around the world.

Another Swede on a 'quist' for success in the modelling world is Julien Hedquist, who was born in Miami of Swedish and French parentage. Hedquist is yet another svensk kille who has what it takes to make people stop turning magazine pages and take notice. The face—and torso—of Dior's Higher campaign, Julien went on to cause a stir with work for Boss and Gap.

Jack Ronnovius is famous for his ultradefined muscularity; Beiron Andersson, who these days finds himself behind the lens more often than in front, is still a physical force to be reckoned with.

If you consider tight-fitting genital slings to be fashion, then underclad football star Mr F. Ljundberg figures among the most famous models in the world, endowed with a prominence way off the Swedometer of recognition thanks to the Calvin Klein smalls he presents so well to the world.

And then there is shy wallflower Mats Söderlund, a former model who has morphed into the singing star better known to his audiences as Günther The Pleasureman.

It's not surprising these finely formed men seek to make the most of their attributes; in the modelling world, you've got to get a little bit on the side. Modelling is one of the few occupations in which men are paid less than women; even when on top, it's hard for guys to penetrate The Lass Ceiling.

Of course, the most successful models make a fair amount of money from their primary work, but what other options are there to ensure their fleeting fame is not accompanied by fleeting fortune?

Fitness books and exercise videos are not entirely unexpected, nor are the stints on US soap operas whose fanbases are demographically similar to the devotees of fashion and modeldom.

Tangential earning opportunities are created by the more entrepreneurial men in the business who are smart enough to parlay their fifteen minutes of fame into something longer. Marcus Schenkenberg was the first male model to be offered a book contract (Marcus Schenkenberg: New Rules); he also made a leap into appearances in feature films and television shows.

He has been at the top of the modelling game for well over a decade now, earning a nice little fortune in the process. As well he should; modelling may be glamorous on the surface, but it is a lot harder than it looks.

The fashion world is not short of party boys, but don't count these guys among them; a recurring feature among all these hardworking gentlemen is the Scandinavian work ethic.

Showing up for a photo shoot after an all-night party looking like something washed ashore with the tide is a quick way to develop a bad reputation in the industry. Contrary to popular fantasy, those abs don't stay ripped without strict exercise and diet regimes.

Having a team of make-up artists and hairstylists fawning over you all day may sound nice, but it gets old fast—a fate the models themselves hope to avoid at all costs. The jetset lifestyle does not help in that respect; flying across the globe for a one-day photo session is not at all uncommon, but you better look good no matter how little sleep you had on the plane.

Some of the locations may look cool, but the final image can belie the truth. A famous ad with Marcus sitting on an ice sofa was not easy to shoot: underwear is not the best of insulators. The final image looks very cool; in fact, it was freezing, but a cold behind to stay ahead in the modelling stakes is a small sacrifice to pay when reputations and wads of money are at stake.

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