It's the arresting new Calvin Klein underwear campaign, on every billboard nationwide, featuring Australian model Travis Fimmel. Clad only in his white jocks, Fimmel gazes out over SoHo like a giant Gulliver, as imagined by the editors of Playgirl magazine. Fimmel, who is 22, has been catapulted to instant notoriety. From relative obscurity, his symmetrical features, attenuated body and accompanying bulge will soon be plastered on billboards and placed in magazines everywhere in the free world.
Travis Fimmel has become the instant talk of the town and the stirring up of the controvercies. Some countries decided to ban the ads, reasoning that it is sexually suggestive anddemeaning to men. However, this didn't prevent this traffic stopper being noticed by American public, and even the celebrities. Meg Ryan first spotted the blonde Aussie on a giant billboard on Hollywood's Sunset Strip. He has since been spotted dining with the real thing at Robert De Niro's Nobu restaurant in New York. Fimmel has a slimmer, more natural look than his preening predecessors Mark Wahlberg, Michael Bergin and Antonio Sabato Jr. His slimmer and boyish charm is what the designers are looking for today, being athletic and slim.
From a bucolic background on a farm 40km outside Echuca, Victoria, where Travis regularly milked cows, Travis is the youngest of three brothers. As a child, he worked on the family farm, rode motorcycles and hunted foxes. He loved his footy and his fishing. "He's always had an adventurous spirit," says his mother Jenny. "He would disappear and camp out for the night. Even now, as soon as he gets home, he jumps on a motorbike and heads out to see what's been happening on the farm. He's always loved it here."
Fimmel left home at 17, moved to Melbourne at 18, and arrived in London at 19, where he remained for two years. After the two-year tour of Asia and Europe, he arrived in LA, eager for a change of scenery. He was down to his last few dollars, so he did what anyone with his genetic lottery ticket would do. He strode barefoot into LA Models, where booker Paul Nelson recognised instantly that Fimmel was a hot commodity. The agency helped Travis out with money, and helped him with a place to stay. They believed in him right from the beginning.
Before that, the modelling seed had already been planted when, in 1998, he was discovered in a Melbourne gym. He was a bit embarrassed about it, net seeing himself as being a star or a beautiful creature that the world craves later on. Even his relationship with Nicole Appleton from "All Saints" is described as just dating another person according to Travis.
Soon enough Fimmel was playing a love interest in video clips for Jennifer Lopez and Janet Jackson, an experience he describes as "cheesy". When the time came to throw his composite card in the ring for the Calvin Klein campaign, he baulked at the idea of modelling underwear. The agency sent along his pictures anyway. A pool of suitably square-jawed and well-endowed models was short-listed for the job in New York. After the introductions to Klein and his creative team, a representative thanked everyone for coming and bid them all adieu, except Travis.
"I felt like a prick," he says, though the guilt didn't last long. "It's good, it makes a lot of people happy." Except you're not entirely convinced he's happy. You can't help but wonder whether Fimmel would prefer to be doing something else. But what?
In LA, there's the inexorable pull of acting. "There is a little pressure," he admits. "Everyone's ringing to ask. I don't have a clue what I'm doing. I might go home straight after this. I might go travelling again. My plan is to make a plan." Studying is not a possibility. "I hated school with a passion, man. It bored me to death. Modelling is so boring, too. It's meant to be a glamorous job, but you sit there for ages. Good food, though." He's studying acting now, he says, because "I love being an idiot, and acting lets you be an idiot."
In the movie Zoolander, Ben Stiller plays a boy mannequin with a handful of freakazoid poses including one called Blue Steel. I ask Fimmel what his signature look would be. He ponders the question for a second. "It would be something friendly." What about Cheeky Monkey?