April 17th, 2015
In the modeling industry, the fragrance contract is a holy grail of sorts, and few are quite as precious as Giorgio Armani’s Acqua di Gio, one of the world’s best-known colognes. The Acqua di Gio campaign helped launch the careers of Lars Burmeister and Simon Nessman to new heights, and Jason Morgan is the latest to take his spot in the iconic ads, shot this time around by Matthew Brookes. Morgan’s classically handsome, all-American looks mark a more rugged and mature turn after Nessman’s youthful beauty, bearing all the experience of over a decade in the industry through several ups and downs. The former teacher and accounting headhunter also appears, stripped of his clothes—and, seemingly, any ounce of fat—in Emporio Armani’s latest underwear campaigns. He appears here exclusively on Models.com in this feature by Arnaldo Anaya-Lucca with styling by Gregory Wein. In an interview with Jonathan Shia, Morgan talked about his start in Phoenix, quitting the industry (and coming back), and his current star turn.
My last semester at the University of Arizona in Tucson, my buddy was with the Ford/Robert Black agency in Phoenix and he was telling me about all the money he made, so I was curious. He was like, “You could do it,” and he took Polaroids of me and sent them to his agent and they called me a few days later and then I went to Phoenix and met them. It started from there, but it’s been a long journey. That was twelve years ago.
How did your career go from there?
I finished up school and did a few jobs in Arizona, but I knew you couldn’t really make a living doing that in Arizona. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I went to school to be a teacher, so I taught for a semester. I enjoyed it, but you have to be passionate to be a teacher; it’s got to be your passion, your sole purpose, and I didn’t get that feeling when I did it. I loved it, but I knew there was something else I wanted to do. I wanted to travel more. I wanted to see the world and figure out what I wanted to do, and I thought this would be a good way to prolong being a kid and not having a real job. So I thought Los Angeles would be the next step. An agency in Los Angeles took me on and I moved to Los Angeles right after school, not really knowing the business at all. I lasted probably six months there, because it’s tough to work there. There’s a lot of models there, and the ones who work are the ones who paid their dues and spent time in New York and traveled and established themselves. I shot with a few good photographers and I made strides, but I didn’t even realize it. All I saw was that I wasn’t making money, so I knew I had to go to New York. I commuted back and forth from Philadelphia. I was with Click then, and it was tough. I had no idea what the business was about, and how long it took and how hard it was. I had the wrong attitude about it, and I think Click ended up dropping me because I was difficult. I would be like, “How come I’m not working this week, what’s going on?” After that I was like, “I’m done with this. I have a college degree, I’m going to use it and get a real job.” I ended up getting a job with an insurance company as a headhunter, recruiting financial analysts and accountants. I did that for a year and a half and I hated it. I was miserable. It was a good experience, because it taught me what real life really is. After that, I couldn’t do it anymore and I was like, “I’m going to give modeling one more shot.” Christian at Front in Miami kept emailing me throughout all of this, and he was like, “I think you can have a career in this business,” so when it came time for me to quit and find something else to do, I just moved to Miami and I worked with him for a little bit. Then I shot Abercrombie, I shot with Bruce Weber, and I went back to New York and signed with Wilhelmina. I started to work a little bit. But I had a different attitude, it was more like, “Ok, this is what I’m going to do, I’m going to focus on it and do what I have to do to make it.” Every year got a little bit better. Now I’m thirty-five and this is the biggest year I’ve ever had.
What do you think is behind the change in how your career is going now?
A lot of it has to do with my attitude, with being more patient and actually working on it. I wasn’t working out as hard as I could’ve been. I wasn’t eating right, I wasn’t in the best shape I could’ve been in. I thought I was at that time, but looking back now, I know how hard it is and what you have to do in this business. You have to always be on top of everything and you can’t screw up. There’s a certain way you have to approach treating your agents and your clients, and I think growing up and going through those hard times made me realize it. Some guys work better as they get older. They grow into their look and I think that had a lot to do with it too. I always looked young and like I was in an in-between stage.
Not knowing much about the industry when you started, did you think you would still be modeling so many years later?
No, if you had told me back then that all of this would be happening now, I would never have believed it. I thought a guy’s career was a few years and that’s it. I really didn’t get into this looking at it like that. It was more of a way for me to see the world and meet interesting people. It just turned into something that I never expected.
I didn’t know, I was really lost. I still don’t know what I’m going to do after this. But the longer I’m in the business, the more I meet guys who are older, who have bought houses and done great things with the business, and it changed my thought process. I was like, “If these guys can do that, why can’t I?” I started to see you actually can have a career with this, but it’s not easy. It took a long time, and there were times, even a couple years ago, where I was like, “What am I doing? My career could be over in a few months and I’ll have nothing to show for it, nothing on my résumé in the real world.” It’s kind of scary, it was a big risk. But I always believed in myself and I was persistent with it and finally things started to happen.
How did you keep your confidence up?
Things really changed when I got with Jason at Soul about four years ago. Once I got with him, I knew he was the right agent for me and I knew it was the start of something that could be really good. He doesn’t BS, what he says is usually the truth, and he’s always like, “You’re going to make money, give it time.” Even when times were really bad, he was always really encouraging. I changed the way I saw things. I focused on what I needed to do, because there’s so much that’s out of your control in this business. I just tried to stay positive, visualize good things happening, and focus on what I could control, like traveling and going to different markets, whatever I could do to keep myself busy, keep myself working. Eventually things fell into place.
After working in the industry for so long, how does it feel to be having this sudden success with Armani?
The past year, I was doing pretty well. I did Ralph Lauren and I did some really good editorials, and I was making a living. People would always ask me, “What’s your dream job?” and it was Acqua di Gio. I don’t want to say I thought it was unattainable, but it seemed really far away. But I did think about it, and it’s something that I wanted and I tried to visualize. Even now that it happened, it’s surreal. It’s kind of hard to believe.
Dress shirt, double-breasted suit, silk tie and silk pocket square, STEPHEN F, www.stephen-f.com. Timepiece, OMEGA, www.omegawatches.com. Watch strap, J.CREW, www.jcrew.com. Portfolio, PASSAVANT & LEE, www.passavantandlee.com. Dress shoes, OLIVER SEWN, www.oliversweeney.com.
They had a plan for what they wanted before I even got there. I know what the brand is, I know what the fragrance is, I had an idea. It’s iconic, usually just a face, timeless, so I kind of knew what they were going for and they explained it to me. We shot the print ad in Sardinia and the video in Sardinia and in London at Pinewood Studios, so it was like being on a movie set. There was an underwater breathing apparatus I had to use and a guy with a walkie-talkie asking me if I needed anything, so I was being treated like a movie star. Everyone was really nice. That was definitely the best experience I’ve had doing a job.
Mr. Armani’s been known to throw things out. You’ll shoot something, and he doesn’t like it, and they have to reshoot it. So I still didn’t believe it was going to happen. I was never comfortable, thinking, “Oh, I got this.” I knew I had it for like two or three months before we shot it, so I was really focused. That’s all I thought about for like two months. I wanted to nail it so we actually got it, so I was nervous and excited. But once everything started happening, you forget about all that and you just go with the flow.
As someone who has had such a long career, what advice do you have for new models?
I think you have to be persistent and go after your dreams and what you want. I see a lot of guys chasing two rabbits. Some are trying to be a real estate agent and a model, or an actor and a model, and it’s very hard. This business is hard enough. My advice would be that you need to focus on one thing. Whatever it is you want, focus on that one thing and be persistent and work as hard as you can. You have to be realistic too, but you have to believe it’s going to happen.
Necklace, CARTOGRAPHY, www.cartography.nyc. T-shirt, double-breasted jacket and trousers, STEPHEN F, www.stephen-f.com. Tie bar, THE TIE BAR, www.thetiebar.com. Silk scarf, BRIONI, www.brioni.com. Timepiece, OMEGA, www.omegawatches.com. Sandals, VINCE, www.vince.com.