Evolution: David White

When his modeling career was smokin' hot
By Kevin Cowan
Thursday, November 1, 2007
original source: Knoxnews.com

David White's red-letter moment also had a hint of blue.

In August 1978, White graced the cover of the men's fashion bible, GQ. That cover is featured among dozens of others in the magazine's 50th-anniversary edition. The "Blue, It's Everywhere" front is part of a covers retrospective.

Furthermore, it is shown again in conjunction with an article about famed photographer Bruce Weber, who took the shot of White almost three decades ago in California.

"It was huge," said White, who is a native South Knoxvillian. "It really helped my career."

The photo set the then-22-year-old on the way to becoming a top male model.

Before the GQ cover, White caught the eyes of millions in ads for Winston cigarettes.

The gig basically floated into his life. While a lifeguard in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1977, White was spotted by a modeling-agency scout out of California, who was in search of someone to become the Winston Man.

"The guy took a couple of shots and gave me his card," White recalled. "He said, 'I'm looking for this type of guy. I was like, 'Get … out of here. Yeah. Whatever.' A week later, an agency in L.A. called and said, 'Can you be out here in a week?' So I packed up everything and drove across the country. I'm telling you, I was very lucky."

In the Winston magazine ads and billboards, White sported the rugged, natural look - a flannel shirt and jeans, long hair, a heavy mustache and wild, bushy eyebrows that framed piercing blue eyes. He was the picture of the quintessential '70s hunk.

Not long after the Winston break, White went to a GQ magazine casting. GQ liked what it saw but wanted to make a few changes.

"They said, 'You've got to shave the mustache and cut the hair,' " White said. "I was like uh-uh."

However, the rising model caved in to their requests and got the job.

"It changed my whole career," he said. "I got Armani. I got Versace campaigns. I did all of the editorial stuff. I was traveling to Europe once a month. I got to see the world because of modeling."

About year later, he did a second GQ cover that didn't quite make the cut.

"It was yanked off the shelves after one week," White said, "because it was so bad. They got so many complaints about it. I was wearing the ugliest red floral shirt you've ever seen, with a pair of yellow shorts, hanging upside down on some monkey bars. Then they reversed it. It looked really funny. My eyes were bugging out. I think the art director got fired after that."

White's success continued in the '80s, when he scored a major campaign as the face of Aramis cologne. He was the Estee Lauder company's go-to man for four years.

That high-profile job earned him an appearance on "The Merv Griffin Show." During the interview, Griffin asked if White wore Aramis.

"I said because we help advertise the product doesn't mean we use it," he remembered. "I said I don't smoke and I don't use that stuff either. Then I thought about what I said, and told him that my friends and family wear it, though."

White paid the price; "I got chewed out by Estee Lauder," he said.

Griffin is just one of the luminaries White met during his model walk. In New York, where he lived from 1977 to 1983, he danced with the stars at the legendary Studio 54.

"I met Andy Warhol ," he said. "He was so cool. He was always taking pictures. You'd see people like Bianca Jagger, the who's who. You're going: 'Oh, my God. If they could see me now back home.' "

While in the Big Apple, White did more than hang with celebrities. He also indulged in his passion, bike racing.

"When I went to New York, I needed an outlet, he said. "I started racing the Central Park Circuit on Saturday mornings. I started winning some of those races."

This led to other, bigger races, including the Pepsi 24-hour Cycle Marathon, which covers 540 miles. White won the event twice.

After his New York stint, he moved to California, where he continued modeling and biking, and later got into the fitness game as a personal trainer. Among the celebs he put through their paces were rockers Ozzy Osbourne and Lita Ford. White also worked with Jane Fonda and Raquel Welch on their workout books and videos.

White left modeling in 1987. He was with the top agencies - Wilhelmina and Nina Blanchard - and made a good living, as much as $1,500 a day for catalog work.

"There's nothing worse than being an old model trying to be 25," he said. "I made a promise to myself that if I wasn't in front, it was time to walk away. I knew it was time when I walked into the agency and there were 100 of me, all 15 years younger."

White returned to Knoxville 10 years ago. He lives in South Knoxville and owns The Gym, a fitness facility on Homberg Drive off Kingston Pike. White is also the proud father of 22-year-old Eric White, a senior at the University of Tennessee who will move to New York after graduation to pursue a career as a graphic artist.

White said his son is the mirror image of the GQ cover. However, it is unlikely he will follow in his father's footsteps.

"He's never really shown any interest in it," White said. "Eric's really into his art."

And his dad isn't to keen on the idea of getting back into modeling himself.

"I probably could still be doing the Father's Day stuff with the kids sitting on my lap," White said. "Never again. I was at the top. You can't get back to that level."

Kevin Cowan may be reached at 865-342-6426.


David White now

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1 comment:

Shana said...

Yes, a little campy...but fun!

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