Something Special About Deion
Stars can't shine without darkness, and Deion Smith is an undeniable star. The intensity he ushers through still images and high fashion runways is congruent with his demeanor on the phone. Flexing a South Central Los Angeles accent and quintessential coolness, Deion is self-assured and tells the truth no matter what.
From a young age, his family saw something special about Deion. There is something special about Deion. He doesn't give a fuck.
Deion is a seasoned model who has booked highly coveted campaigns, but the age-old tale is accurate - everything that glitters ain't gold.
Deion Smith is one of those born models. Some people work for it; some have it. Deion describes his look as the "wow factor." His look makes you want to buy anything he is selling just to possess a portion of his cool. "I'm what they need to sell what they got," stated Smith.
Both entries into modeling came from a family member nudging him into it. As a young boy, he modeled for the church around age 5, and in high school, he was a part of the modeling club. These were merely hobbies for Deion but not a career objective at the time. "My mom and dad made me do these little modeling shows with my church when I was younger, but it was pressured on me. It wasn't something I wanted to do," said Deion.
On a whim trip to visit his niece in Douglasville, Georgia, Deion's niece's boyfriend urged him to send his photos off to an agency in New York. "Premo moved in with us, and he was like, Yo bro, I think you should pursue a modeling career. Let me make a phone call for you," said Deion. While many models have stories of being rejected from countless agencies, Deion is different - he was picked up by an agency on his first attempt. "He sent my pictures to Dave Fothergill at Red Models - my first agency," said Smith. He was rushing through Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport to catch an NYC bound flight the next day. It was the beginning of fashion week, so he started immediately. His first show was Hood by Air, and he also shot their look book shortly after. Red Models signed him on the spot. He was now in the concrete jungle to put his face on a billboard - and he did.
Though Deion was booked several times during first year modeling, which is usually a make-or-break-it situation, the payments were scarce. "I made 1,300 dollars the first year modeling...It was kinda a rocky first year," said Deion. The Los Angeles native references an antiquated pay gap in the modeling industry. "We make 10% of what they (female models) make. There is no comparison," said Deion. Smith establishes that he has witnessed it. Even booking large jobs with Adidas and Sean John, Smith's premier year modeling salary didn't cover the average rent in NYC. According to zillow.com, the average rent in NYC during 2019 was $3,450.
With New York City being one of the most expensive cities to call home in the world, Deion began supplementing his income through nightlife promotions. He can still list his favorite clubs, "1 Oak, Up and Down...The Box, Miss Lillies - NYC is party central," said Deion. "My first year, I had my expectations set too high, and I got crushed," said Deion.
Following additional endeavors, Deion took a modeling sabbatical to Miami, where he pursued business endeavors before making his way back to the Big Apple for a life-changing contract with legendary fashion houses like Givenchy and budding brands like Rihanna's Fenty line.
Androgynous bone structure, LA ink, and Belizan heritage quickly made Deion a fashion industry darling. When asked if there was ever any push back about his tattoos, he shared stinging words from a casting director who once told him he 'wouldn't ever be anything' in the industry due to his prominent tats. Deion got his revenge when he saw him at an event honoring Dapper Dan and confronted him about his lapse in judgment. "I said, do you remember me? I did a casting with you one time, and you told me I would never be anything in this industry with my tattoos," said Deion. The photographer denied ever saying the comments, but Deion maintains he never forgets a face. "It was 100 percent a lot of push back...I was getting CC'D on emails saying he is good looking, but we aren't casting for CSI right now," revealed Deion. When your look is your brand - the people paying you may feel like they can control it.
Male models do not navigate, maintaining their weight the same way their female counterparts do. Deion does not feel any demand to keep the same weight. Smith is a naturally slim guy and was never subjected to weekly weigh-ins as many women models are. Some women get weighed every two weeks, and if they are overweight - they get cut from their agency. "I had a friend, and they made him lose weight because he was ripped up and too big - couldn't fit the clothes properly," said Deion. "I go home with myself - you don't, so you aren't about to body-shame me," declared Deion.
Though Deion has the natural physic for modeling, there were pressures in other regards. Deion mentioned other requests to alter his look. "My agency said since my look was androgynous and I had long curly hair - they told me to look how female models model," said Deion. The Hood By Air model mentioned not enjoying the constant demands to feminize his aesthetic. "They (the fashion industry) like to emasculate men," said Deion. Smith expressed a desire for the industry to present men as men and not as women in shoots. Brands would want him to don makeup for a job, but it is not something that always made Deion feel comfortable. "I get it; it's a part of the industry, but when you book someone for how they look - don't change them," said Deion. Smith experienced harsh criticisms from audiences questioning his sexuality after several feminine styled modeling jobs. "I'm comfortable with myself, but they aren't, so it throws them off," said Smith.
Since the Me Too movement and sexual assault claims about notable photographers like Terry Richardson, Bruce Weber, and Mario Testino - the modeling industry is cracking down to ensure models feel comfortable on set. "If you don't feel comfortable (modeling nude), it's not for you," said Deion. Smith feels it is a level of maturity models must possess to complete these requests.
Deion is of Caribbean origins, more specifically Belize, but he didn't feel a comradery from persons of color in the industry. The designers Deion worked with never made a special effort to pull him first for a job. Deion never felt any unity in that regard. "I feel like everybody is just selfish - no one is trying to help anyone. It is a dog eat dog world. It is a very aggressive business," said Deion.
Though he loved working self-proclaimed bad gal Riri on the Puma Fenty collection and boasts "she is the sweetest person ever" - he still highlights the two and a half year Givenchy campaigns as his favorite experience in modeling. "Givenchy was like - the black boy with tattoos from South Central - this is the one. It was a complete and total blessing.," said Deion. Two and a half years working with a brand in fashion is comparable to 10 years in any other career. This 6"1' model doesn't get phased quickly. "It was all organic...I'm from LA, so being around celebs doesn't shock me," said Deion.
Inclusion seems to be a fashion industry talking point regularly, but Deion still feels like there is a lot of work that needs to be done. "You have your Pat Mcgrath, of course - that was the only significant person of color behind the scenes. It's kinda sad," said Deion. Ensuring diversity in every regard is vital to the West-Coast bred model and showed special love to disability activist and model Jillian Mercado. "That's the homie, she is a major inspiration," exclaimed Smith.
We are well into the age of Instagram models, and some may argue that it has hit its peak. "Certain people are doing it for the clout, and there are certain people (who) made sacrifices, and they get shut down by influencers just because they have more followers than them," said Deion. Smith hopes to start an in-depth conversation about what Instagram models are versus "real models." He feels there needs to be a clear distinction for the benefit of the industry.
The preferred form of modeling shifts depending on your coast. Even in male modeling, Deion notices a difference in the NYC modeling scene versus the LA market. "It is just a lot slower here (LA)," said Smith. The LA modeling scene is notorious for nurturing a more digestible commercial look than the high fashion jobs on the east coast. "If you have a day with five castings, you will at least spend 50 bucks on gas (in Los Angeles)," said Deion. He also notices a warmer reception in Europe. "(In Paris) I was better received and more looked at as a celebrity," said Smith. Walking out of Givenchy shows and being shot by the paparazzi in Paris catapulted his career.
Deion has found another true love, and it comes just as effortlessly to him as runway modeling did. He is a biking aficionado. Two years ago, Smith began riding 29-inch BMX seriously. The bike company Throne bikes make his favorite cycle, and he models for them as well.
"In this time right now, things are really slow - waiting for things to pick back up," said Deion.
As far as advice for modeling rookies, Smith has plenty. "You have to find your lane and stick to it - People look at my story and want to use it as a template to follow, and you can't do that - you can't walk in my footsteps and expect the same results." Deion looked to his faith to guide him in tough situations and still does.
Name, Instagram Followers, Agency, Instagram Handle, and Age are the top five questions they ask during any booking. The numbers are essential.
Though Deion does admit, he had a natural advantage noting that when the designer dressed him, it rarely required any alterations, and he also works fast. Time is money in fashion and any industry.
"Modeling isn't going to last forever. People have the idea it's going to take them somewhere above and beyond - that's not happening.
"Modeling is a predominantly white industry - there's very few that get the chance to book campaigns and do something major." Deion urges aspiring models to come in with that understanding.
Deion is in the process of shooting a TV with Quibi.
By Von Edmonds