Imagine growing up in a small town village. The same people passing your kitchen window every day. The same conversation with your family around the breakfast table. The same streets in your town that you know every corner of. What happens when you are pulled out of this and thrown into a new world where every day brings you a new experience?
I meet Fabian Gray again after four years - he hugs me with genuine enthusiasm. Now 22, he has a new maturity about him, as photographer Gigi offers her lens to capture an evolved version of the British model. I observe on the sideline as Nathan Henry dresses him in all the colours, and he explores Clapham Common as his own private playground. This is one of those rare days where everybody knows each other, so everything flows effortlessly and the long grass embraces all of us.
Growing up, Fabian had a good life at home and was wrapped in the comfort of his safe village, yet somehow he felt rushed to get out to experience some sort of turbulence. Yearning for independence, he wanted life to educate him. Coming into modelling at 17 years old, meeting a not so humble fashion industry, he was all of a sudden living in this new world. He got to travel to new countries and constantly meet new people to expand his horizons. New people, new places. Waking up to someone new from a different background sharing the room next door to you on a regular basis brought a new perspective to life. Constantly adapting, meant he quickly expanded his understanding of what it means to be human. So he got hungry to learn, hungry to understand the human ways and yearned to grow deeper. This is Fabian's second chapter.
You’ve been modelling for quite a while now, tell me a bit about your journey.
From the very beginning, I wanted to travel, so when I signed as a model - the first thing I asked for was to travel. I was kicked out of geography class more times than I can remember in school, so I didn’t know much about the world - but when China was mentioned, it sounded like an immense experience. I really enjoyed it and travelled quite a lot, until I finally decided that I needed a more consistent base where I could build my own room, build a life and have some stability and security.
I started working with regular com clients like Mr Porter and Burberry for a couple of years, which provided me with a regular income and helped me feel financially stable. But once I got to that place, I remember walking to work thinking: 'now what?’. I had money in my pocket, was able to afford food and enjoy time with my friends, but I yearned for something deeper. I had travelled to so many countries, which was great, but I wanted to be even more fulfilled.
Coming from a small town, how did you experience entering the fashion industry?It definitely shook my very core. There are so many things that have happened to me that I wouldn’t have even been able to imagine, and I’m so much stronger for it. It’s a different world and you constantly live in both. You try to remember what the real world is like while you are wrapped into this one.
I finished school when I was sixteen, so modelling kind of saved me in a sense and gave me a purpose in the world. It was like; this is what you are going to do now and I was fully into it. My brother started a year and before me. I remember seeing the shows he walked and the things that he was doing, and I was envious of the fact that he was able to travel and have these experiences. When finally the time came for me, it was quite a ‘wow’ and invaluable experience.
How has it shaped you as a person?
Moving into model apartments has been the biggest learning experience of my life. You end up living with all types of people and I learned to have a backbone, to vocalise my opinions and being more in tune with how I feel. I think I am very understanding of people and their pain now, more able to understand the reason behind the way people do things or why they do things. Whereas at the beginning there was a lot of anger and resentment behind a lot of the things I went through. Then I realised my passion for learning. I wasn’t a good kid in school, so I didn’t learn too much, but through these new experiences I got hungry for information and I wanted to learn. So I started to pick up books that were going to benefit my future as opposed to fictitious stories, like philosophy, finance and about people in general.
I guess when you are constantly moving and meeting new people, you can either pull the blinds or embrace it. It sounds like you have done the latter.
Yes, I certainly embraced it. It was very exciting for me in the beginning. I remember coming to my very first model apartment when I was seventeen. I would see the boys go into the agency and they seemed so confident, laughing and joking with the agents, and I thought that this was where I needed to be. This was how I needed to be for me to work. So I came back with the boys to the apartment and was like: “you guys all live here? You live here with no mum? No dad?”.
Tell me a little about your hunger for knowledge.
If I go through a certain amount of torment, whether it’s with A or B, I won’t just accept that. I will delve deep into the reasons behind why it’s happening, trying to equip myself for the world and what’s ahead of me. We get a lot of time as models, where we are simply waiting. Left with nothing but our minds and a lot of time. I think sometimes it can be quite dangerous - so picking up a book by a good author that you can learn from is invaluable.
What are some of your favourite books?
I love Anthony Robbins’ ‘Awaken the Giant Within’. Paulo Coelho, I have read a couple of his books, ‘The Alchemist’ was one of them. ‘Aleph’ was another. And Napoleon Hill’s ‘Think and Grow Rich’ was an incredible book.
You mentioned being stuck in your mind whilst having a lot of time to wait for that agency call - how do you deal with that?
You have to find hobbies and things you are passionate about. Whether I would’ve found mine or not had I not been a model, I’ll never know. And I’ve gotten pretty damn good at chess. I’ve been playing a lot of chess and like picking up a book.
What have you learned about the world?
It’s very cruel. But I think, you know, you don’t grow in comfort. We want everything to be all sweet and dandy but if it is, then we’re not going to progress. The happy times are good, but the difficult times teach you the most. So you have to sit back sometimes and just be grateful for things that have happened.
What has been your happiest moment that you can remember?
I think it was when I was financially able to support myself. It’s such a simple answer, but to go and have breakfast at a cafe with friends and be able to do these things freely without worrying about what was in my bank account felt great when I was able to do it. Very simple. I had yearned for that for such a long time, so it felt really good. I fully remember that this was all I wanted at some point.
You talked about asking the universe for things. What are those things?
I yearn for independence, for sure, and for having the capacity to help people. Although sometimes when you are buried by your own demons you can’t really, I would like that. I mean, I have personally asked for success and I want to delve into the acting scene now and see how that goes.
How would you like to explore acting?
It’s almost like the stepping stone from modelling. It is a wish that has grown over time. My dream right now would be to find a TV show role where I could spend a lot of time with the same cast and crew and become comfortable with. Even if I’m at a photo shoot, for the first 30 minutes I’m nervous. And then, once everyone knows who I am and I know who everyone is, I start to relax and I’m ready to do my job. Yeah, acting would be a great way to explore myself and express myself. It’s tough, as I do worry too much about what other people think of me. But that’s also diminishing as I grow older.
What is it about acting that makes you feel drawn to it?
I think the impact that movies have on me, they make me feel something. And I like to make people feel things, I’m a very emotional person.
I’m excited for you.
Yeah, I’m from this small town and it seems so unbelievable that I would be able to like break into this place but…stranger things have happened.