Phil Witts: a model student

By Deirdre Cedrone

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I had never met a male model before. I glanced around nervously, tapping my nails on the table in front of me. The Campus Center was bustling, both with students excitedly buying merchandise for homecoming weekend and exuberant guides leading campus tours.

Karl Lagerfeld/Numero Homme Issue 26

As I sat patiently outside of Blue Wall, I wondered how University of Massachusetts junior and model, Philip Witts, would present himself. I expected a “Zoolander” type: entirely absorbed within himself and all too aware of his good looks. But within five minutes of speaking to Witts, Derek Zoolander was miles from my brain. Soft spoken and well-mannered, Witts told me about his ascent from normal college student to high-fashion male model.

While modeling will gain you high esteem within the fashion industry, for a young man attending college in western Massachusetts, it doesn’t quite fit the bill. (As a student studying fashion, I can vehemently state that it has yet to be taken seriously as a topic of discussion at UMass.) All it took was an innocent visit to Six Flags, where Witts and his friends saw a talent search tent. With a keen interest in a response – and in humoring his friends – Phil decided to try modeling, and was unexpectedly told he had great potential. Within the span of a month or so, an entirely new door had opened for him.

Mainly invested in sports journalism, Witts felt that taking advantage of his modeling potential could help him to gain access to the journalism field. In an effort to kick-start his career, he worked with two agencies in New England. After seven months with Model Club Inc., located in Boston, and New England Models Group in New Hampshire, Witts had yet to receive any exposure or substantial modeling opportunities. On his own, he decided to enter V Magazine’s VMAN Ford Model Search, a contest for new and upcoming modeling talent.

With that decision, his career was made. Witts was the top finalist in the VMAN search, entitling him to the grand prize: a photo shoot in V Magazine by the highly-esteemed Karl Lagerfeld. (While Lagerfeld is mostly known as head designer for Chanel and Fendi, he is also widely respected as a photographer.)

“Karl was great to work with,” Witts said, “and he seemed to like me, especially since he chose me for additional ads and spreads.”

While to many this may seem silly, gaining the approval of fashion royalty such as Lagerfeld is no easy feat. He demands a certain uniqueness and je ne sais quoi, if I may.

Following his win, Witts was taken from his hometown of Dracut, Mass., to live in Paris for the summer of 2013. With a population of over two million, Paris prides itself on being a mecca for not only food, art and history, but for fashion as well. Despite his new career, he may not have fit in with the fashion-savvy residents.

“I have terrible style,” he said. “I’m comfortable wearing a pullover sweatshirt and sweatpants.”

However, he experienced the celebrity treatment in the city.

“I would be served everything, never having to lift a finger,” he said. “It was a difficult adjustment coming home, to say the least.”

Thrust into the fashion capitol of the world, Witts was given a first-hand experience of the elite fashion industry. Over the summer, he worked with many other famous models, such as Adriana Lima, whom he posed with in Harper’s Bazaar. Another spread found him alongside Cara Delevingne and Ashleigh Good, in the editorial “Heroines Couture” in Numéro #146.  Taking advantage of Witts’s freshness to the scene, Lagerfeld featured him in multiple ads, including the Dior Homme campaign for the fall of 2013.

Witts’s work was most recently featured in this month’s Harpers Bazaar, in an editorial styled by former Vogue Paris editor-in-chief Carine Rotfield. The piece, titled “Romeo and Juliet,” was created both to highlight Resort 2014 essential pieces, such as sheer tops by Givenchy and impeccably tailored suits from Saint Laurent, and to shine light on some of the biggest faces in fashion, including Lima, Miranda Kerr, Noah Mills and Brad Kroenig.

Following his summer abroad in Paris, Witts feels the need to continue working and gaining exposure in the fashion industry.

“I know this career has an expiration date, so I need to do all that I can right now,” he said. He hopes to move to New York City for the upcoming semester, in order to gain more notoriety in the industry while also becoming more immersed in the sports journalism field.

While the quintessential life of a top fashion model includes travelling from one international city to the next, Witts does feel intimidated by that part of the job.

“Waking up tomorrow and possibly working in Japan sounds overwhelming,” he said. “But I cannot imagine not modeling after everything I have done.”

Deirdre Cedrone­­ can be reached at dcedrone­­