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The beauty of being ugly

BERLIN BEAUTY: In a world obsessed with beauty, Del is the guy cashing in on being ugly. The flipside to our interview with Miss Germany 2010.

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Photo by Tamsin Ross Van Lessen

Arguably Berlin’s most famous ‘ugly model’, Del* takes full advantage of his particular physique. His unique smile reveals a mouth crowded with overlapping crooked teeth – but for a large gap in the front – and the 40-year-old claims to be the world’s only model to be the face of three denim campaigns: Calvin Klein, Levi’s and Diesel Jeans. His memorable appearance earned him enough celebrity for people to stare at him in the supermarket “coz you’ve been on the telly the night before”.

In 2006, Del moved to Berlin where he enjoys his anonymity and has just created his own agency, Misfit Models. At our request we met at a place he finds especially ugly, taking a walk from Hauptbahnhof to the Reichstag for a chat.

Why meet here? You find the Hauptbahnhof and Regierungsviertel, the pride of new Germany, so ugly?

Just look around at that horrible ‘Waschmaschine’ [chancellery building] and those government buildings designed by some architects on too much acid. That, the bureaucracy, and the grim dark winters are killing me.

WATCH OUT! We just crossed a red light! Do you always go against rules?

I’ve always been a rebel, a non-conformist. I didn’t do much of school, and I never liked authority.

So how is your super-modelling career doing now in Berlin?

I was just confirmed for a commercial; I will be the next ‘Peanut man’ for Ültje Erdnüsse. I’m still working for Ugly Models, the biggest character-agency in the world. I go to London for castings every time they call me. But my problem is that my looks are a bit too unique, too memorable. So sometimes it’s hard to get work, especially in Germany. Here, they like the average-looking guy with perfect teeth and an average haircut. Somebody who doesn’t stand out in a crowd.

What do you think of the Germans?

They have a quirky style of their own that is laughed at by the English-speaking world. They think they have a style but they can never carry it off. That’s why there’s not much German fashion stuff. They’ve always been 10 or 20 years behind.

Do you care about fashion?

I just like to wear clothes that are comfortable and practical. They gave me some clothes after the Calvin Klein job but I ended up selling them. I only kept one pair of jeans because they were free, but they were shit.

Did you never think of doing your own fashion label or perfume?

I once thought of giving away dirty socks on the website. But honestly, you need to be more famous for that.

You were famous in London…

Fame is a constant challenge. You still wanna go shopping but all the people wanna know where you go shopping. Here in Berlin a lot of people don’t realize that I’m an actor or a model, which is quite nice rather than being stared at when you are walking down the street coz you’ve been on the telly the night before.

You seemed annoyed during the photo shoot.

It’s just a job I’ve done for almost 20 years now. I’ve gone through weird photo shoots: I ran around on a beach in the winter in swimming trunks; I was painted green to look like a frog. Once I had to get dressed as a medieval soldier and hold a goat with a saddle.

It wasn’t easy to get an interview with you. Are you a suspicious person?

I grew up in the streets of south London where you had to keep an eye on things. I wouldn’t be where I am now if I wasn’t suspicious. I’d be selling drugs on the street corner back in Peckham or running from the police.

You were discovered on the streets of London, right?

That’s right. I was going down the street as a courier and a guy just stopped me in the car. I thought he was gonna hit me. He said, “I wanna take your picture.” Eh? I thought it was strange but I asked, “Are you gonna pay me? And can I keep my clothes on?” This guy turned out to be David Sims, the big fashion photographer who worked for Calvin Klein at the time. He gave me a portfolio and recommended I go to Ugly Models. So I went there and slammed the portfolio on their desk.

What are your tips for being successful in a beauty-driven world?

You have to be happy with the way you look. Like me. I never ever thought I would become a model. But I can do it! I can stand in front of a camera, or on a stage in front of a thousand people. Self-confidence! You can also only have a short shelf life in the fashion world so learn another trick, like juggling.

Give me three reasons you don’t want to be handsome.

One – personality makes it, I have a lot; two – why be a clone of everyone else?; three – if I were handsome I’d be boring.

So you think beauty is boring?

If you look at a model agency’s book, they all look the same. I’ve trouble telling them apart unless they have a bent nose or a monkey eye. Beauty is just too uniform.

What do you think is the most beautiful in you?

Oh, you wouldn’t want to print that. Hmm… my eyebrows are good.

How do you hook up with girls?

I say, “Oi!” I don’t know, it just happens. Often I say I’m a supermodel. Of course I do have my methods. What are you doing later by the way?

*Del doesn’t want his full name to be published.