Since making his debut in 2010, Michael Elmquist (who is signed with DNA, Ford Europe and VIVA) has walked for Patrik Ervell, Costume National, Miharayasuhiro, Duckie Brown, and Marc by Marc Jacobs, etc. He has graced the pages of BlackBook, Supplementaire, Contributing Editor, Visual Tales, and New York Times' T Magazine, and starred in campaigns for Iceberg, Levi's, Hugo Boss, and Patrik Ervell - just to name a few. In addition to modeling and making his webseries debut in VFILES' Model Files, Elmquist is a photographer, as well. His work has been featured in Bite, Fashionisto, and Fiasco magazines. He talks to us about why Model Files is genius, why models are characterized as dumb, who he wants to meet, and more ...
The Fashion Law - How old are you and you’re originally from Minnesota, right?
Michael Elmquist - Yes and I'm 25 years old.
The Fashion Law - Prior to being scouted, did you think you were “model material”?
Michael Elmquist - When I was told to send images in to an agency, I was absolutely unsure what modeling was. I'm still a little unsure. I never was interested in what I looked like. I still avoid mirrors, especially the awkward full length ones in bathrooms in front of the toilet. I'm a little terrified that there's a camera behind mirrors and that I'm in the center of some panopticon.
The Fashion Law - Models are often characterized as not being smart. I have found that this is quite often not the case. So many models are pursuing really interesting projects on the side, speak a bunch of languages and are generally quite smart. Any thoughts on this?
Michael Elmquist - A bunch of models are idiots, but that's because a bunch of humans are idiots. If you took any human who wasn't slated as a "model", there's a good chance they're an idiot. Models just happen to have a spotlight on them. Models are a very good example of the entire world. They're from everywhere, with every interest - since you're not in modeling due to your interest (though you can be interested in it, as well). You're born with the capabilities to be pretty and stand for something superficial to other people. It's not obtained by interest alone, is the point. So, you have women and men from all around with all these different likes and dislikes, haves and have nots, blues and reds, this and that, and then they're forced together in the structure of castings or a shoot or the metro or apartments, but we're not told to speak to each other. (In fact, it would probably be more effective if models didn't.) So, those humans cast as models create all the social experiences with each other on their own. It's really goddam interesting.
The Fashion Law - How did you get involved in Model Files? Was it a fun experience?
Michael Elmquist - I think I was a fill in. A B-side. (B-sides are sometimes better. Listen to the B-sides from The Smashing Pumpkins on their Adore album. The best.) Taking life too seriously is weird. It's great to make fun of it, and the things in it, and call them out. Model Files is awkward because it's a "mock-u-mentary" making fun of the things that happen in modeling. However, a lot of what the viewer sees is actually happening. It's so close to just being a documentary, that it's a little uncomfortable. I think that's what they've done well. I really like being on the show. I really like jokes. I really like anything. I can even slightly relate to Roseanne.
The Fashion Law - What are some of the common responses you get from people when they learn you are a model?
Michael Elmquist - I never tell people I model unless they ask. I dodge it like Roseanne dodges the salad bar. (A person I'd really like to meet!!) If it comes to that, then they usually ask how I got started in modeling. However, by the time they're done asking, I've already hitched a ride and am several blocks away.
The Fashion Law - I know that you are a photographer and a musician, and I’ve also heard you design video games. I’ve been seeing quite a bit of photos you’ve taken. Are you shifting your focus?
Michael Elmquist - I think it's important for people to operate on what they can do best. I'm unsure what I'm able to do best. So, I like to try everything I feel like doing to figure that out. If I knew where I was going I would already be there. (I think that's a quote from one of those shitty things people repost and repost and repost and share and share and share on facebook. Usually the font is shit and it's on some neon green or blue background. They make you try and reshare it with guilt, too. "If you don't want your Mom to get cancer, share this!!" - Fuck off.) I don't find satisfaction in something I didn't earn. I didn't earn how I look. I eat garbage food and love whiskey, and so, I don't even maintain it well. I like trying to do things better than other people. If I see a shit image, and I think I can do something better, I'll try.
The Fashion Law - What have you learned about the business of fashion from your work thus far?
Michael Elmquist - Fashion preys on insecurity in people. Okay, if a person doesn't wear clothes in public, maybe they get tomatoes thrown at them, sour oranges or perhaps chinese take-out left in the back of the fridge. Also if it's cold, you should bundle up in layers of lovely wool. So, clothes end up being some sort of necessity in life (though, still not).
Now along comes someone who wants to make money. They see that people "have" to wear clothes and a lightbulb goes off in their head. "I'll make clothes and sell it and buy that hamster I had my eye on." (F*R*I*E*N*D*S reference. (Oh! I would also love to meet Matthew Perry!)) But the question presents itself to the garment maker, "Why buy my clothes over any one else's?" And then comes the attack on insecurity in people. If you want to look like Person A, then you have to buy my clothes. However if you don't, you'll look like shit and no one will fuck you.
The fashion business has made itself seem much more important than it actually is in order to make money; not unlike many other things in the world. It's really just clothes organized different ways. Buy it if you like it.
The Fashion Law - How do you think your work as a photographer is affected by the fact that you have so much experience working as a model?
Michael Elmquist - Getting the truth out of people is easier without asking. Watch people, what they do, what they say instead of what they don't say. They reveal their intentions regardless of whether they realize it or not. That said, watching photographers, stylists, hair people, models, etc. work while modeling myself gives me a profound insight on what other human beings are like. As a photographer, I'd rather take pictures of people in order to reclaim some sort of lost ideal or portray the person inside of that person. Or simply I just like black and white moody images. "Happiness will make you wonder, will I feel OK? It scares the dis-enchanted, far away." That's a Billy Corgan quote. I want to meet him.
The Fashion Law - So far we have Roseanne, Matthew Perry, and Billy Corgan. Who else do you want to meet?
Michael Elmquist - Sufjan Stevens, Tom Waits, Thom Yorke, Bram Vercamer (whom I've met a number of times, but it never gets old) and C418 [a German musician].
The Fashion Law - And last but not least, what are you obsessed with right now?
Michael Elmquist - Minecraft, Sufjan Stevens, and Apple Brandy.