I sat down with my unassuming cousin and model Geron Mckinley and got candid about his Mexican heritage, skepticism with modeling, $1 pizzas and how he went from Compton to Paris. At only 19, he personifies humbleness, focus and wisdom beyond his years. Here's our interview:
A: When you were growing up did people ever look at you and say “You should be a model?”
Geron: No. I would suggest more so when I was older like when I got into high school. People started saying stuff. It went from “Oh you’re cute” to yeah...
A: How did it make you feel when people started saying to you “Oh you should model?
Geron: You ever heard of ‘STFU’?
A: No. What’s that?
Geron: It means Shut the Fuck Up. I mean that’s just being humble though. It’s kind of weird, ‘cause I’ve never been one for the spotlight. And when women are saying yeah you should do this and that, it’s like what are you telling me? Are you trying to give me a compliment or do you really mean it?
A: So only women that we’re interested in you said anything to you about modeling? No one in your family said anything?
Geron: No. Well my except for my cousin Alan and then that’s how everything took off.
A: So how do you go from not thinking about modeling to having an agent?
Geron: Well it didn’t happen so swiftly. It took alot of convincing on his behalf. Only because I was so skeptical, like what do I look like modeling? Honestly, also thinking about homosexuality in the modeling world. Although I am accepting of everyone it upped my skepticism. But then it came down to let’s just take these pictures, what else are you doing, if you have nothing to lose let’s go for it.
A: So is there this sort of, de-masculinity that comes along with being a high fashion male model?
Geron: Yeah. The pants get tighter. Shirts become blouses. You wear heavy makeup. They start wanting to do your nails. You start feeling like a woman. High fashion is more like, we want to see if you can still be a man in women’s clothes. I mean that’s what I feel it’s like.
A: What’s the first thing you had to do to embark on a modeling career?
Geron: Get some headshots done. You know everyone asks me that all the time. Go to Google, it’ll tell you everything. But it’s not a difficult thing. I didn’t even start with a professional photographer, it was her first time holding a camera.
A: And you used those pictures to get into a modeling agency?
Geron: Yeah. My cousin [Alan] sent them out to Envy modeling agency and in two weeks they called my phone at 6 in the morning and asked me to come in. And it just kinda went from there.
A: What are the perks of modeling or how has it changed your life for the better?
Geron: It definitely opened me up. I was a really shy person. I still sorta am. I’m more so to myself. I really don’t like talking. The only reason you get this conversation is because you’re my family. It opened me up to a different variety of people. You know when you’re from Compton, California you’re mostly around Blacks and Latinos. When you start meeting people from different cultures and hearing different people’s accents you’re like wait, this ain’t just it. I don’t have to be in the hood with people who don’t want to do what I do. There’s actually people out there in the world you can relate to. You’re not the only one. It [modeling] definitely opened me up to a new world.
A: Are you the model that’s like hungry, always grinding to get a casting or are you the model who’s more nonchalant and says Oh I missed this one no big deal. What category would you fall into as a model?
Geron: I think I’m in my own lane. I never like to categorize myself, even that goes all the way into race. I try not to categorize myself, that’s only not to limit myself. For the most part, I don’t feel like I’m too into it I don’t feel like I’m or not too into it. I feel like modeling drags me back into it. If it was up to me, I would be the one more laid back, you know I don’t want to do this casting. But when you see names, you see Calvin Klein, you see Tommy Hillfiger, Michael Kors you know, you’re like why not. Haha. I would just label me as an upcoming. I’m hungry, I want it, and at the same time I’m my own person.
A: You mentioned something interesting that you don’t categorize yourself, not even in the sense of racial identity. What’s your background?
Geron: I’m Black and Mexican. And the only reason I say ‘black’ is because I don’t know where my family is from in Africa. I grew up Mexican, I was raised by my mom and my older brothers who are full Mexican. So it’s kinda like I got that Spanish life, I got that Spanish feel growing up in a Spanish household. We didn’t really speak Spanish so I didn’t really see myself as Mexican.
A: Do you speak Spanish?
Geron: Oh yeah. I can understand more than I can speak it though.
A: What would you say are some core values that you took away from your heritage and how would you say that translates into your work being a model? What did you learn growing up that was very valuable for you?
Geron: I learned that, well if you think about it now, it’s just reality, Mexicans are the hardest working people right now. Mexicans have the right mindset. They know they have to work, work, work you know? My mom worked 2 jobs my entire life. I barely saw my mom when I was growing up. That gave me the mindset if I’m not getting it, somebody else is going to get it. That’s when I learned the value of work. You know Mexicans know how to get it, they’re gonna go out there and work 10 hrs a day and only make $9.00/hr you know, if they’re lucky. So it’s like if they can go and do that, then I can go do this [model] for a rack and I might as well go and do it and do it to the best of my ability and make this money.
A: That’s such a great example to learn from because everyone doesn’t get that and that work ethic is something that is really serious. And I think anybody that lives in Southern California can agree with you because you see that.
Geron: Most definitely. You go to a Chinese restaurant and you see a Latino cooking. It’s no mistake, because they do what they have to do. I’m not going to say “Oh I didn’t learn that from my Black side, Black people are lazy” -that’s a stereotype. I know some hard working Black people. Whether it’s legally or illegally, they get it. It is what it is, that’s reality. But I will say, seeing Mexicans work... like they’ll jump over the border just to come over here a make $9.00 an hour, you feel me? That’s something else. It’s just a whole other ball game.
A: I guess what else I want to know is, take us now through modeling
A: So recently you did a show for Givenchy in Paris?
A: Was that the first time you traveled out of the country?
Geron: Yes. First stamp on the passport!
A: Nice! So what was that experience like?
Geron: Ooo. Paris speaks for itself. You definitely can see where Americans come from or the White man I should say. Of course we come from that whole European side. It’s so detailed. It’s so nice. I would say ‘petite’ is the word for Paris. The petite women, they speak for themselves, you see their curves or whatever and the little details and that is what makes them. Everything is.. it’s not too much it’s [architecture] not too little. But the decor and detail is where it really speaks. You see these buildings and it’s like damn look at the detail. It’s the smallest stuff, like the railing on the roof, the steps to go inside the building or even the tallness of the door. It’s just really something else. The culture is great, the people are great. It’s a really laid back city. If you’re a laid back model, if you’re one of those...it’s perfect.
A: I’ve heard alot about Parisians and the Parisian woman. Everyone talks about Parisian women. They don’t eat too much, they always wear perfume, I hear they’re big lingerie wearers. I guess I hear they’re the epitome of what a woman should be; very classy.
Geron: Well I guess you have to understand...we come from them. We come from the Europeans as Americans. So that’s what we look up to. That is what’s ideal. That’s the American standard. But I will say, women are women. You can find a nice woman in the street and she’ll be wearing nice perfume you know? She’ll have her nails done, makeup on and wearing lingerie, whatever it is she has to do. I don’t think it’s just Parisian women but I do think their ideology of how women should be; that’s what we look up to as Americans.
A: Well said.
A: What was it like to shoot for Steven Meisel, a world renowned photographer that not many people can say they’ve been shot by?
Geron: Meisel is his own person. If you look online there aren’t many pictures of Meisel himself, only his work. So when I met him it was more of an anonymous kind of thing. I think they do that for a reason. But he’s a cool dude. He knows what he’s looking for and he knows how to set the mood for what he’s looking for. He’s just really professional. He’s the best of the best. And what he wants he gets. His work speaks for itself. He must be a humble dude to even give a guy like me an opportunity. I’m only 19. There’s models that are 24, 25 who have been in the game for 10 years that haven’t shot with Steven Meisel.
A: So what is your end goal?
Geron: With modeling or life?
Geron: Well you have models like Tyson Beckford who make this game last a long time for themselves. But me right now I’m definitely realizing this is a lane that I can take in life. So I’m kind of at a fork in the road but leading down one of the roads more than the other. I want to take modeling as far as I can. I can’t predict where it can go. Of course I can predict and say to the top but that’s cliche. I’m taking it wherever it leads me. I’m not expecting anything, I’m not leaving anything out. I know what I’m going up against and I know what the possibilities are. And that’s what I leave it at. I’m not saying “Oh I want to be top model!” And let’s say, I come up with an invention and then I don’t need modeling anymore! Haha. But it’s fun and I like doing it. It’s a great lifestyle. As far as life I can say I’m taking it to the top! I’m really trying to live it to the fullest and not let the little things bother me so much.
A: Even though I would never know little things bother you.
Geron: Yeah, but that’s just because everybody wears a mask over their face. You can’t show weakness. And that’s another thing I’ve learned with modeling. You can’t really show weakness because the next person will take it and use it against you. I don’t give people too much, I don’t give ‘em too little. When I need to speak I’ll speak a little...sometimes too much haha.
A: What would someone not know about modeling or not expect because when people look at your pictures and they see you on the Givenchy runway or in a spread it looks so glamourous. What’s not glamourous about modeling?
Geron: Well you know, New York is the Mecca for modeling and alot of people go there but you gotta know New York is very expensive for the average person. And me from where I come from, New York is very expensive and we don’t have Manhattan money at that. And that’s where I’m supposed to be [as a model]. That’s where the $1 pizza comes in. It’s not a great lifestyle in that it’s unhealthy as heck but you’ve got to eat. I’ve got to make it. People get into modeling and think it’s glitz and glamour from the gate. I would say a high percentage of models that you see don’t live the life they project, whether it’s on Instagram or any other social media. And model apartments are worse than being in college and sharing a dorm. You’ve got to understand, if you’re a male, a male doesn’t want to be sharing a room with 6 other males. And one bathroom?! People have this idea and say “Oh model apartment! How many rooms? It’s in the middle of Manhattan! Like anything it has its pros and cons. But I try not to look into the bad stuff too much because that makes me not want to do it. I try to just look at the good but there is so much people are unaware of. If I made a documentary I promise it would be No. 1 because people want to know. I feel like people should know. This isn’t an easy thing to do.
A: And of course when you buy the dollar pizza you Don.t Throw Away the Crust?
Geron: Oh no no no. My favorite part is the crust to be honest! So if anything that’s the part I eat first.
Here's a look at Geron featured in Vogue Italia's July 2014 issue shot by Steven Meisel: