I wanna, wanna be a male model: Josh Hillman cracks it
Diesel, Burberry, Uniqlo ... European fashion’s new 'it' boy is a skater and wannabe muso from Cape Town
How did a young man from Rondebosch in Cape Town capture the attention of Burberry creative director Ricardo Tisci, walk the runway alongside Kendall Jenner, and feature in campaigns for Woolworths, Diesel Jeans, Office London and Uniqlo – all while working to overcome his own fears of being in the spotlight?
Josh Hillman is painfully shy. When uncomfortable he squeezes his face in his hands and shakes his head, as if trying to rid himself of the physical sensation of anxiety.
“I don’t like interviews,” he says, exhaling hard. “It’s just … scary.” Knowing this, it would perhaps be impossible to imagine how this 20-year-old former engineering student managed to audition for some of the jobs he’s landed, let alone actually book them. That is, until you see him.
At 191cm tall Josh towers over his 161cm tall Zimbabwean mom who accompanies him to most of his public engagements. His face is a constellation of delicate freckles framing almond eyes, and a natural pout that no “beauty filter app” could possibly enhance.
Josh was scouted in July 2017 by Twenty Model Management founder Robin Fryer while he was watching a rugby match at SACS Boys High School. When asked: “Are you a model?” His reply was: “No, but my mom wants me to be one.” Josh’s mom, Astrud Meintjes, always knew her son had model potential, but convincing him to pursue the career was difficult.
“He has always been very academic and very shy. His big dream was always to be involved in electronic music production. He had his first track on iTunes at age 15. I told him he needs to use the opportunity of modelling to further his other ambitions and he finally agreed to give it a try.” Ironically, though, it was Josh who convinced his mom to let him put his engineering studies on hold so that he could travel with his new career.
“It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make regarding my son’s life – but I realised that this is now or never. I would have jumped at an opportunity like this when I was young,” said Meintjes. Two weeks after signing with Twenty, Josh booked his first job – a campaign for the shoe brand Office London.
“I was so scared. I didn't know what to do with myself when I got to set. Then I met the camera assistant who said he was a long-boarder like I am. We started talking about skating and then it didn’t seem so scary.”
It wasn’t long before other big brands took an interest in Josh. Campaigns for Diesel Jeans worldwide, Japanese fashion label Uniqlo, and retail behemoth Woolworths soon followed.
“I remember the first time I saw myself in a shop window. I was with my mom and my aunt in the Waterfront, Cape Town. My aunt was shouting at the top of her voice: ‘That’s my nephew! That’s my nephew!’ It was very embarrassing.”
After a plug on models.com, more international offers came thick and fast. “We’ve honestly never had such a quick response to a model as we’ve had with Josh,” says Twenty’s Robin Fryer.
Twenty quickly placed Josh with several agencies worldwide, among them Storm in London. Upon arrival in London, Josh was snapped up by iconic British brand Burberry, which shaved off his now famous white blonde locks before sending him down the runway for their latest collection.
“Your cheekbones are too lovely to be hidden by all this hair,” said Burberry creative director Ricardo Tisci before instructing his stylists to cut and colour Josh’s hair.
“I was excited then,” says Josh. “I was ready for the change. And strangely I wasn’t nervous on the runway at all. Probably because the lights were so bright I couldn’t see anyone.” He laughs before adding: “It was a pity because apparently the Kardashians were in the front row. Kendall Jenner was in the show with me. But she has her own area. We weren’t allowed to speak to her.”
When asked if he has managed to get any free garments out of the high profile clients he has worked with Josh says with a laugh: “We get to keep the socks and the underwear, but that’s it!”
After three months in London Josh returned to his family for the Christmas break. “I've seen such a change in him,” says his mom, beaming with pride. “He’s independent, he’s confident, he’s excited. I’m positive now that we made the right decision.”
Josh now has his own modelling ambitions alongside his continued desire to make more music. “I’d like to work with Gucci, Versace and Adidas. All the big ones,” he adds with a smile.