Berlin is known for embracing alternative culture, but its fashion industry is still reluctant to promote less conventional faces as the next supermodels. The agency Misfit Models hopes to change that.
Del's unconventional looks made him a popular fashion model
"They all look the same. If you saw them on the street you would never look twice," sighed Del, standing in a well-known fashion store looking at the poster gallery of perfect, airbrushed faces, "It's for sheep - people that follow the herd. But some people want to make an individual statement."
Making an individual statement is something Del - who prefers not to use his last name - has turned into a career. He was spotted more than a decade ago on the streets of London and snapped up by the modeling agency, Ugly Models.
His lanky frame, wonky eyes and startlingly crooked teeth were soon gracing high-profile poster campaigns everywhere and he remains to this day the only model to ever have been featured in ads for three of the major denim manufacturers; Calvin Klein, Levi's and Diesel.
His striking looks and the juxtaposition of an "ugly model" paired with high-end fashion even caught the eye of celebrity photographer David Bailey.
"David Bailey said, can I take a picture of you naked and I’ll give you a picture and it'll be worth 10,000 pounds," explained Del, "I asked my agent, would you buy a naked picture of me for 10,000 pounds? The phone was quiet for a bit."
"Live your life and enjoy it!" says Del to those unsure of their looks
Confidence is secret ingredient
While Del himself admits that his early appearances in fashion campaigns were designed to shock, he doesn't feel that his looks are being exploited in a cynical way.
"The concept of me being a Calvin Klein model is to make people look twice," he said, "rather than have a blank, boring Kate Moss-type model. But the way I see it, they're paying me money. So who's the idiot: me or them?"
After a string of successful professional appearances in the UK - he even turned down a role in the debut video of an unknown girl group called the Spice Girls on the grounds that no one knew who they were - Del relocated to Berlin where he set up his own agency, Misfit Models. He is constantly on the look-out for interesting new faces.
"Characters faces are what I look for," he explained, "be it big, small, fat, skinny, black, white, characters that look like thugs, boxers, gangsters, to little old ladies knitting. But the thing they have to have is confidence in their own body."
You are beautiful
One of Del's most successful clients is Heiko Mersch. By day he's a customer service representative for German airline Lufthansa, but also finds time to do fashion photo shoots, work with Vivien Westwood and appear in top Hollywood movies like "Inglorious Basterds" and "Valkyrie."
"I was always playing the bad Nazi, the German soldier who had his leg blown off!" said Mersch with a laugh.
A collapsing balcony severed Mersch's leg when he was just seven years old. While doctors attempted to save it, it failed to heal properly and he now has an orthosis to support the damaged limb.
Mersch maintains an optimistic attitude: "I said, why not make something positive out of it? It's nothing that really handicaps me."
Mersch's orthosis even caught the eye of Hollywood casting agents
Just be yourself
Del and Heiko are both proof that you don't need conventional Hollywood good looks to make it big in the modeling business. Both are serious about proving that beauty is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder. But they're also keen to offer some words of advice to those who are self-conscious about their looks.
"Don't look in the mirror and think about what other people say about you because everybody has something very special," said Mersch. "If you look in the magazines, the people in the magazines are not real; they are fake. Live your life and try to do the best out of it."
Del is blunter with his words of wisdom. "Stop being a couch potato and get out there and be yourself!"
Author: Gavin Blackburn
Editor: Kate Bowen