I first met Jerome in 2006 at a music festival in our shared hometown of Melbourne. At the time I was editor for a fashion magazine and had been charged with taking photos of good-looking people dancing their way through a 41-degree Australia Day. Dressed in a simple blood-orange t-shirt, grey Levi’s and dirty Feivue trainers, he was effortlessly cool but it was his striking facial features that made me want to document his look; clear turquoise eyes set against a face peppered with freckles and just enough facial hair to signal growing it was never an issue. I took as many photographs – discreetly – as I could.
Jerome and I shared mutual friends and, as such, we spent the day together knocking back cheap beer and bobbing along to whatever hipster band happened to be playing at the time. I watched him dance to M.I.A. and thought he had to be the most beautiful boy ever created but the dream shattered when we sat down to talk. He said little but when he did speak it was with an incredible depth of knowledge about subjects I had only a superficial understanding of; art, design, the earliest of early hip hop.
While I rambled on about anything I could recall from my sociology degree and tried in vain to impress him by listing off every ‘cool’ band or artist I’d come across, he seemed completely disinterested and utterly unenthused. His intelligence and indifference was as intimidating as his looks. As night fell and I followed him from one band to the next it became apparent he had absolutely no intention of becoming anything other acquaintances. I walked home that night feeling overwhelmingly deflated.
Six summers later and we’re expecting our first child together. After four years, our wedding bands have become a second skin and the too-cool arrogant art- world snob I initially branded him as has been replaced by a dorky, gentle artist who is curious about the world, modest about his ability and still a little quiet when talking with strangers. Perhaps it’s this last trait that makes this interview – about his job as an international male model – one of his most comfortable.
Fiona Killackey: How did the whole modeling thing even come about? You are the least into-your-looks person I have ever met. You never sought it out, right?
Jerome Rebeiro: No, never, not at all. I’d been asked a number of times but always said, ‘no.’
FK: Which, in the middle of a recession, was pretty daft…
Jerome Rebeiro: I guess. Anyway, then a photographer, Boo George approached me on Oxford Street [London] and asked me to be in Le Monde [newspaper in France]. I actually said no to this too. They wanted me to cut my beard and I wasn’t prepared to do so for a one-off.’
FK: Given you wouldn’t cut it off for me or your mom, that was probably a wise move…
Jerome Rebeiro: Then I was out walking my dog one day. Boo was actually playing football in the same park in the goalie position. All I could hear was someone calling out my name. Whenever I looked at the game or the rest of the park no one was looking my way (I found out later it was because he was trying to concentrate on the game but didn’t want me to leave the park), which was weird. I finally figured out what was going on and waited for the game to end. He asked if I’d be willing to do another shoot and stressed that I wouldn’t have to cut my beard so I agreed. I had no idea what it was for and didn’t know what to expect. To be honest, I guess I kind of thought he’d take pictures of me in his flat or something really amateur.
When I rocked up to the address it turned out to be a studio called MC Motors, which is amazing. I’ve worked there a few times since and it’s just full of great old vintage props and things. The magazine he was shooting for was Arena Homme+, which I’d never heard of. When I got home I googled it and my jaw dropped. Boo then hooked me up with a scout at Models 1 and they signed me shortly afterwards.
FK: So who have you worked with in terms of brands, photographers and publications?
Jerome Rebeiro: There’s too many to mention and I’m a bit crap with names but I guess in brands there’s been Levi’s, Wolsey, H&M, Wrangler, Urban Outfitters, Toast, All Saints, Lyle and Scott, Hudson Shoes, Richard James, Agi & Sam and A Child of the Jago. Photographers – well Boo George of course, Bryan Adams…
FK: The singer?
Jerome Rebeiro: Yeah he’s a photographer now. Um… Tim Barber, Tony Lohr, Luke Stephenson, Hanna Puts, Paul Smith.
FK: And publications?
Jerome Rebeiro: GQ, i-D, Hypebeast, 125, Arena Homme+, The London Times, Twist, Riders Moda, Spray, Grazia, Financial Times, Intersection and Twenty-6.
FK: What’s the strangest experience you’ve had modeling so far?
Jerome Rebeiro: Probably having a live python wrapped around me; that was strange. The handler just threw it over me. I thought there might have been a few words first, bit of a low-down. It was all good though. Also, I recently did a shoot in Germany where they used fake snow and put icicles made of a weird make-up material in my beard and on my face. It looked like I was in the arctic on a twenty-five degree day.
FK: What surprises you most about the job?
Jerome Rebeiro: I guess the level of professionalism and passion that people have towards the art of fashion. It’s really nice to be a part of that and sharing in their vision.
FK: You have an arts background. You studied Fine Arts and also work as graphic designer. What sort of non-modeling work have you been doing in London?
Jerome Rebeiro: I have been working in various studios in roles from Art Director to Graphic Designer to Art Worker over a number of years. Design is something I pursued after Art School, mostly in the areas of publishing, packaging and advertising. I enjoy all facets, some positions carry more weight (and sometimes ego), but to me they are equal, each needs the other to succeed. Having a rounded knowledge is the key I think.
FK: When you’re not working you tend to spend time making art or creating music. Those things just seem to be part of you, you’re not pushing and pushing yourself to do them.
Jerome Rebeiro: I’ll always make art and music in some capacity. It’s a compulsion I can’t seem to shake. I’m not known for either and it’s only a small group of friends that I share my stuff with. My work is not always consistent, I enjoy the act and the pursuit of an idea, whatever that may entail. Self-promotion is something I have yet to learn. To combat this I have set up a small project/site called neverneverforeverever.com. It houses some of my prints and also a micro label of mine. I’ll soon have some paintings on there too.
FK: Some might think you’re ‘living the dream’. Making art and modeling for cash. What are some of the obstacles you have to overcome on a daily basis?
Jerome Rebeiro: I think any time you look at someone else’s life you can tend to think they have it better than you do. I count myself lucky to have had this experience. I’ve definitely learned a lot about myself and become more confident. I guess obstacles are that the job has no real security. One month you could be busy and the next, nothing. Also there is a lot of downtime and having worked full-time for so long I found I had a lot of guilt with the free time.
I always feel I need to be working and making art is a pleasurable pursuit for me, not work. It’s an odd thing to try and explain. We tend to dream of a life without work, or minimal work, but when you get to experience that you realize it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. I guess it depends on the person really, but I could never just be someone who sits around doing nothing.
FK: If you landed a massive campaign and had enough money to never have to work again, filling your days however you wanted, what would you do?
Jerome Rebeiro: Maybe I am living the dream — although it doesn’t feel like it at times – because, to be honest, I think I would still keep going the way I am. Money doesn’t last forever — I’m sure it would make it more comfortable for a while though.
FK: Indeed it would. You’re months away from applying for your UK passport after living in London for a number of years. Do you consider the UK capital your home or will you be looking to move elsewhere?’
Jerome Rebeiro: I still call Australia home.
FK: That was definite.
Jerome Rebeiro: It’s the truth.
FK: So, what’s next for you?
Jerome Rebeiro: Keep on keepin’ on, really. Other than the modeling I’d really like to try more film work. I’ve really liked developing a character for shoots. I’ve worked on a few fashion films too which I’ve really enjoyed. I’m not the best with accents but think with a bit of work it would aid in the development of the character. A massive campaign would be nice too.
FK: Yes it would. It’d be very nice. Um…that’s pretty much it, I think.
Jerome Rebeiro: Done?
Fiona Killackey is a writer and editor who’s worked for Coolhunting, RUSSH Magazine, YEN Magazine, Frankie Magazine and SLASH Magazine, among others. Fiona and Jerome live in East London.