Staying Power: Tony Spinelli on his time as the top male model of the Studio 54 era

Tony Spinelli was the quintessential 70’s man. Ultra masculine with a square jaw and dimpled chin, there was rarely an issue of GQ without him in it. Tony dominated the world of male modeling during the Studio 54 era, a time when male models were beginning to emerge as more than just as an accessory to their female counterparts. Men’s fashion and grooming had gone mainstream, and Tony was its face. Below Tony takes us through a few of his most memorable moments on camera (unfortunately his scandalous Playgirl shoot with Pat Cleveland didn’t make the cut!).

Image photographed by Richard Avedon, courtesy Tony Spinelli/Iconic Focus

Vogue US, May 1974
Photographed by Richard Avedon. Styling by Polly Mellen.

One winter morning in 1974, I received a call from my agent, Zoli [Zoltan Rendessey], at Zoli Models. I was requested to participate in a bathing suit test shoot for Vogue magazine. Richard Avedon’s studio. I arrived to meet Rene Russo in the makeup room. This was Ms. Russo’s first editorial photoshoot with Vogue magazine. Makeup artists were applying bronzer to achieve a suntanned look. After 90 minutes of bronzing, we were called to the set to start the test shoot. The shoot took approximately one hour. At this time, Mr. Avedon and Ms. Mellon left for his office to wait for the photos to be produced in the darkroom. The models were told to relax and wait. We changed into our street clothes. While waiting for the photos, we were entertaining ourselves, socializing with the makeup artists, hair stylists and other attendants. After 30 minutes, Mr. Avedon and Ms. Mellon come back to the studio. Mr. Avedon looked at Rene and me and asked “What are you doing next week?” My answer was “Whatever you’d like me to do.” Mr. Avedon explained that he didn’t like the cosmetic result of the bronzing makeup. He informed us that we were heading to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico for the Vogue photoshoot. Us models were sent one week ahead to achieve a natural, deep suntan. One week later, Ms. Russo and I flew to Cabo to tan ourselves to prepare for the iconic shoot. And the rest is history.

Image photographed by Barry McKinley, courtesy Tony Spinelli/Iconic Focus

GQ, December 1973
Photographed by Barry McKinley. Art direction by Harry Coulianos.

In Summer 1972, Pat Cleveland and I boarded the luxury liner Michaelangelo, for its last voyage across the Atlantic. The first week of the shoot was spent on board while traveling. The second week was spent on the island of Capri. Working with Mr. McKinley was always an adventure. His demeanor would often change the moment he picked up his camera. This kept us on our toes and at peak performance as we were never sure what he might do or say. The results, however, were always phenomenal. He had an artist’s eye for detail and style.

Image photographed by Barry McKinley, courtesy Tony Spinelli/Iconic Focus

GQ, June 1977
Photographed by Barry McKinley. Art direction by Harry Coulianos.

After finishing a Halston fashion charity event in Houston, TX., I immediately boarded a plane for Hawaii. There I met Patti Hansen and the rest of the team to begin a three-week editorial photoshoot. Patti and I had worked together prior to this photoshoot, but never on location together. To say the least, it was heavenly.

Image photographed by Hiro, courtesy Tony Spinelli/Iconic Focus

Halston Fragrance, 1970s
Photographed by Hiro.

I worked very consistently for one of my favorite designers; Halston. This shoot was a pleasure as I loved the fragrance, Z-14. And I loved the bottle, designed by Elsa Peretti. This photoshoot took just one day. And the star was not the clothing, but the fragrance. The Halston shorts and towel that draped my body took second stage to the cologne. Working with Halston was pure joy. The Halston models, also known as The Halstonettes, were a cohesive group of models that formed a tight friendship with the designer. I loved the fragrance then and still wear it today.

Image photographed by Bob Richardson, courtesy Tony Spinelli/Iconic Focus

Vogue US, November 1976
Photographed by Bob Richardson.

Having never worked together prior to this shoot, Lisa [Taylor] and I had immediate chemistry. This multi-day shoot was effortless and full of high energy. She had me hypnotized. Although I never let her know…

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