Sunday, August 16, 2015

Lucky Blue Is China’s Favorite Blonde Male Model

That’s what they call male model Lucky Blue in China. (It’s very much a compliment.)
Lucky Blue, who is not a racehorse, as his name might suggest, but rather a six-foot-three, 17-year-old model, is learning how to dance. Basic moves. The grapevine. A decent step-touch. “Just remember when you’re step-touching to lead with this.” Here, Danny, the male dance instructor leading this private lesson at a small Los Angeles studio, pats the side of Lucky’s butt. This makes Lucky blush. He buries his hands in the pockets of his skintight black jeans. Today’s lesson is worst-case-scenario prep for Lucky Blue’s upcoming appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show the following week, in case DeGeneres requests a short boogie from her guest, as she often does. Lucky can’t seem to find the rhythm. His step-touch has a jitteriness that makes it look like he’s tiptoeing around dog poop. “I suck at this!” he shouts good-naturedly. Danny tries another tack: “Take your hands out of your pockets! Use your lanky arms — let them swoop you this way and that.” Lucky starts swinging his arms, his face scrunched in painful concentration. He looks like a very thin monkey. Or any other 17-year-old boy forced by social circumstance to dance.

Lucky is just a kid, after all, which can be hard to square with his smoldering gaze in the new Tom Ford campaign or his Nordic-vampire visage in the Annie Leibovitz–directed Moncler shoot. Signed at age 12, he’s already walked in more than two dozen shows this year, including ones for Balmain and Sacai in this year’s Paris Fashion Week. On the runway, he commands a Bond-villain-esque presence. Lucky is fairly well known here — for a male model, at least — but he’s extremely, and somewhat inexplicably, famous in China, where they call him “Little Fresh Meat,” a common nickname for young good-looking men. Lucky has 350,000 followers on Weibo, one of China’s biggest social networks, and more than a million Instagram followers. “Walking is pretty easy,” he explains as we leave the studio together. “You just have to be confident, like not caring. And honestly, people think about their walk too much, so they try to do something really interesting, but the designers hate it.”
The Smiths at home in Hollywood. Clockwise from top left, Sheridan, Daisy, Dallon,
Starlie, Lucky, and Pyper. Photo: Sandy Kim
I first met Lucky Blue Smith the week before at a roof party held at the L.A. office of his modeling agency, Next Management. A brief digression: You would think that a party of all models would be the craziest party in the world. But here’s a comforting fact — models are just like us. They stand around the food table awkwardly, even more so since they don’t really eat. They dance in little closed circles like high-schoolers. While dancing, they “vogue,” seemingly without irony. Their collective beauty, contained on one rooftop, almost works against them. No one model seems that special. Except for Lucky. His extra-giant stature and bleached pompadour make even the genetically blessed look Kmart-catalogue caliber. When I spot him standing in a far corner, his manager is dusting his shoulders and adjusting his collar like a trainer prepping her show dog about to take the stage.

To be fair, Lucky is taking the stage. He and his sisters, Daisy Clementine, Pyper America, and Starlie Cheyenne (all real names), form a band called the Atomics, and they’re slated to play a couple of songs. The three sisters are models, too, also with Next. Their mother, Sheridan, is a former model. Their dad, Dallon, is not a model, but he does look a little like Kurt Russell. Dallon’s mother was a model, though, as was Sheridan’s. Basically, the Smiths are third-generation professional pretty people. For a band composed solely of models, the Atomics are way better than they need to be. They have a nice if unsurprising surf-rock vibe. They’re proficient on their instruments (Lucky plays the drums) but not quite confident in their stage banter. “Um, you guys can dance, please?” Daisy begs the crowd as they play the opening notes of their final song. “Just tell us our music is okay enough to dance to.”
Lucky Blue shares a bedroom with his three sisters, from left, Daisy Clementine,
Starlie Cheyenne, and Pyper America. Photo: Sandy Kim
Later, when I’m introduced to Lucky’s sisters and parents, they’re so imposingly big-eyed and blond that my Jewish fight-or-flight nerves kick in. “Did you like our songs?” Daisy asks enthusiastically. The room tonight was maybe a tough crowd, but Next has recently started an arrangement to beam the band’s performances to China. “The year Lucky turned 7, we had a rock-and-roll Christmas,” Dallon, who works with the band, tells me. “They all got instruments as gifts and learned how to play them.” A photographer with Next runs over and interrupts the conversation. “Family-picture time!” she exclaims. I start to bow out, but an arm belonging to one of the tall blond children pulls me back in. “Lauren, stay in the picture!” Lucky commands. We all smile for the camera. Then Pyper requests a “funny face” take. The family does what it can to mar their natural beauty — eyes cross, tongues wag — and after the click, Pyper runs over to see how it turned out. “You didn’t make a silly face!” she scolds me. In my defense, I assumed that next to such a physically blessed set, my face would read as funny enough.

It’s easy to think that beautiful people are graded on a curve, that life is somehow easier for them. That’s not always the case. The Smith family both had luck and made their own (Lucky included). Daisy was actually scouted first, at a casting call in Salt Lake City, an hour from the family home in Spanish Fork, Utah. She was 14. At the time, Lucky was all but ignored. Two years later, though, when the whole clan showed up at Next’s office in their ancient white band van — Dallon had been trying to get them traction as a family band, like a Partridge Family for the aughts — Lucky had grown into his looks, fixed his beaverish front teeth, and developed a slick rockabilly style. Next signed him up, too, and though he was not yet a teenager, he began booking adult campaigns — Vogue Hommes Japan, shot by Hedi Slimane, then a Levi’s campaign that featured him drumming solo under the HOLLYWOOD sign. Two years ago, the Smiths moved to L.A. into a two-bedroom apartment owned by Next in the heart of Hollywood, adjacent to the famous Mann’s Chinese Theatre. All four kids share one bedroom, which is manageable only because they travel so much. But still, they had 4,300 square feet in Utah. And Lucky is not a fan of the location, which his mom gamely calls “gritty.” “It’s the worst place to live. I hate it,” Lucky says. “I want to move to Venice Beach.”
The Smiths praying before dinner. Photo: Sandy Kim
Many of their new friends in L.A. are from church. The Smiths are Mormon, and they try to pray together before every meal. Occasionally Lucky tweets out a Book of Mormon passage to his teen-girl followers, say, “3 Nephi 12:16 Therefore let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father,” which is often met with confused replies like “is this even from the bible LOL.” Lucky will have to decide soon whether he wants to do the traditional mission abroad, which would mean putting modeling aside for at least a year. His parents say it’s up to him. But success seems to be a religion of sorts for the family as well: Other than a few Polaroids, the only decoration in their apartment is a set of inspirational slogans stuck to the kitchen wall — ON THE MOVE and WORK HARD/WORK WELL/WORK TOGETHER — and, on index cards, a series of goals for the Atomics to achieve, like getting their single to No. 1 on iTunes and launching a world tour. The family also meets regularly to discuss each child’s personal goals. “We started calling them three-by-five-card meetings,” Sheridan says. “Whenever someone has a big project, we write it on an index card and it goes up on the wall. And it doesn’t come down until it’s done.”

The siblings play in a band together called the Atomics. Photo: Sandy Kim
After the dance lesson, Lucky offers me a ride in the rust-orange Kia Soul he shares with his sisters, still dented from a recent accident on the Pacific Coast Highway. He’s headed back to the agency, where he’ll take new digitals to show off some recently acquired bicep muscles. “Do you want any music?” he asks, fiddling with his iPhone. He plugs it into the car stereo. “Okay, I hope you like this. A lot of my friends hate my music. I have weird taste,” he says as the first notes of “Hard to Explain” by the Strokes fill the car.

In person, Lucky’s demeanor is much more goofy teen boy than Derek Zoolander. At times he even seems a little over his head, like that Anne Hathaway movie where she takes off her glasses and wakes up a princess and is like, “What is high tea?” During our drive, I ask him what it was like to mingle with fashion heads at the age of 16. “I honestly had no clue who I was walking for at first. But now my agency’s like, ‘Okay, this is the photographer you want to talk with,’ or, ‘This is how you pronounce this weird name.’ ” He doesn’t notice the green left-turn signal, and the car behind us honks aggressively. “Sheesh,” he says, zooming through the light. “I hate traffic here.” What were the other models like, I wonder. “Were they nice to you?” I ask. Lucky thinks about it. “Most of them are jerks and stuff like that, until you prove yourself. You gotta prove yourself,” he says. “Some of the guys can get really cocky and rude, but the bigger models are just like whatever, like, ‘You’re cool, I’m cool,’ you know? They’re nicer because they’re not insecure.”
Overlooking Runyon Canyon. Photo: Sandy Kim
Lucky Blue Smith seems to have no trace of insecurity himself. Of course, people have been telling him he’s special since he was old enough to understand language. Now, though still not technically an adult, he’s basically the One Direction of male models. Girls wait for him outside of fashion shows in Paris and Milan. A male model hasn’t had this kind of fame since Tyson Beckford. And even Tyson required a surname. Lucky Blue is just Lucky Blue. And yet he seems generally unfazed by all the attention. His focus is work and the band. He doesn’t even have time for a girlfriend right now. “Girls say they love me and stuff,” he replies with a dismissive shrug when I ask about the kind of messages he receives through social media. Maybe, again, it’s just that he’s a kid. Even down to his culinary sensibilities. Lucky tells me of his recent tour with Adidas in Hong Kong and Shanghai. “They took me to this really traditional Chinese restaurant,” he recalls. “And they served chicken feet! And chicken neck! Basically they put all these random chicken parts in a soup. It was so nasty. I got sick after.”

The sun is shining when we arrive at the agency. Lucky hugs two of the male models in the lobby. One of them suggests that he and Lucky take a selfie. “Will you put this on your Instagram and tag me?” he asks. “I need more followers, man!” Eventually we head out back to the deck with a Next agent, Gino, who is snapping photos. Lucky peels off his sweatshirt, revealing a cool T-shirt with the heads of the Royal Tenenbaumscharacters on it, which I compliment. “I don’t know the Tenenbaums,” he replies. “I just really like this shirt. Someone sent it to me.” He pulls out a jar from his backpack. “This is the same pomade Elvis used,” he says, handing it over for examination. “Even if it was, like, bad, I would still use it. I wouldn’t care.” Gino sets Lucky up on a stool against the concrete wall. He seems fidgety as Gino sets up the camera. Lucky: “You know that thing where you look at the sun with your eyes closed and it’s not as bright? That’s bullshit.” Gino: “Uh-huh. Okay, ready?” And just like that he is. Lucky whips his hand through his hair. He pouts his lower lip. He moves his body ever so slightly for each shot. He knows where to put his chin, where to settle his gaze. He’s so fluid and precise that watching him feels like yoga for the eyes.

The Smiths. Both of Lucky's grandmothers and his mother were models, as are his three sisters. Photo: Sandy Kim

After a hundred frames, Gino calls for a short break so he can set up a different background. Lucky picks up his water bottle and heads over to me. The deck of the agency offers a magnificent view of the city, and the HOLLYWOOD sign is in clear view to the northeast. “I think the HOLLYWOOD sign should move from there to there,” Lucky says, pointing to the mountain range directly in front of him. “It would be way more centered.” I tell him that it wouldn’t, actually. The position is relative. If the HOLLYWOOD sign were moved to the range in front of him, it would just be more centered to his position at this moment, on top of a building in mid-Wilshire. “No, I think it would look cooler over here,” he responds. Oh, to be 17 and king of the world. — Lauren Bans | New York Magazine

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