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Nigel Barker: the man behind the lens

Stud model turned fashion photographer turned TV personality, Nigel Barker is unstoppable. We chat with him on his life and career.
by Rita Bhattacharya

Nigel Barker

You know him as one of the good looking judges on the hit CW Network show "America's Next Top Model." Aside from being a noted fashion photographer, Nigel Barker is no stranger to being in front of the lens as well as being behind it. He's modeled for Giorgio Armani, Jean Paul Gautier, etc. He started his modeling career when his mother entered him to be a contestant on a British TV show called "The Clothes Show." This was a nation wide model search, which landed him in the top three. After being in front of the camera, Nigel ventured behind the lens and used his knowledge of the industry as a fashion photographer and eventually got his role as a judge on "America's Next Top Model." Voted as one of Reality TV's Sexiest Men of 2005, Nigel's unique look attributes to his Sri Lankan, Irish and Portuguese background. DesiClub now brings you an exclusive interview with Nigel Barker, the man behind the lens.

Rita Bhattacharya: Most people aren't aware of how you had a lengthy career as a model and worked with fashion heavyweights like Giorgio Armani, Valentino and Jean Paul Gautier. How did you get a break in the fashion industry and was it something you were always drawn to or did you fall into it by happenstance?
Nigel Barker: A bit of both really, I went to an English boarding school called Bryanston where I studied Biology, Chemistry and Physics with the aims of becoming a Doctor. My parents already had a Banker, Real Estate and Insurance Broker, so being a Doctor sounded good. In my own personal time I attended fashion design, pattern cutting and tailoring class at school. My friends made fun of me as I was the only boy in a class of twenty girls. However, it was the best way to meet girls even if it wasn't the best way to concentrate! As for my modeling career, my mother is really to blame for my becoming a model. She was an avid watcher of an English TV show called "The Clothes Show," which put on an annual model search. My mom entered me in 1989 or was it 90? I don't remember. She entered me into the competition and to cut a long story short, I became a finalist and ended up in the top three. I decided to take a year off between High School and University and what was only meant to be a sabbatical, turned into a career move.

"(Aishwarya) is a truly beautiful woman and neither I, nor anyone else, could keep our eyes from slipping in her direction..."

RB: It seems like your mother has had a strong impact on your career. Your mother, who is Sri Lankan, was a former beauty queen herself. How has she formed your perception of beauty in terms of fashion and the way you see things esthetically?
NB: I grew up with photos and magazine articles about my mother everywhere and I was always conscience of how attractive a person she was. What she taught me was that beauty, real beauty, comes from within. She worked very hard from an early age using her modeling success to bring my Grandmother and Aunt from Sri Lanka to the UK and always supported her family. After meeting my father, she continued to work in the educational field and proved to me that beauty plus wisdom combined is truly charismatic.

RB: As an avid watcher of "American's Next Top Model" I saw the episode where you had your mother on the show and she truly is stunning. This was the episode where you did a Bollywood inspired show where the contestants had to dress up in a Bollywood themed look. What made you come up with the concept behind the shoot and was it hard to explain the over the top attitude of what Bollywood is like to the models?
NB: Well, originally we wanted to go to India for the whole season but England had to suffice! Perhaps we will get to go to Mumbai in an upcoming season, hopefully my producers are reading. England has such a large South Asian population and influence that it made sense to have an Indian inspired theme for a photo shoot. What other then Bollywood movie posters to inspire the models. With their over the top poses and colorful palettes, it was a pleasure to shoot. We brought in lots of Indian extras to spice up the shots and all in all it was a success.

RB: Speaking of Bollywood, are you a fan?
NB: I'm a big fan of all creative mediums and although I cannot confess to watching many Bollywood movies, I do love the art direction and style portrayed in many of the classics.

RB: What do you think of Aishwarya Rai, who is one of the spokespersons for L'Oreal, she's had quite the impact on mainstream fashion, which is great as a South Asian woman.
NB: I met her briefly at the Sabyasachi Mukherjee show in New York, which was great. She is a truly beautiful woman and neither I, nor anyone else, could keep our eyes from slipping in her direction even when the show started.

RB: This past season, you had Anchal on as a contestant who caused a lot of controversy because of her self esteem issues, was it real or an act? What made her last longer than her South Asian predecessor?
NB: Anchal lasted purely on her own merit but she was also eliminated on her own merit. Having the looks is one thing but believing in yourself and allowing yourself to grow is another. Also, for the fashion industry, she was overweight and not really large enough to be a full figured model. A healthy diet and exercise are always important.

RB: Do you have any advice for aspiring South Asian models that are looking to break into the mainstream modeling industry?
NB: Actually, the fashion industry is screaming for more Asian models. The problems are you really need to be 16-19 years old. You have to be 5'9 or above and willing and able to wear bikinis in a photo. South Asian society often looks down on their daughters doing such things at that age. As for the height, 5'9 is tall for non South Asians and extra tall for the Asian community. The whole sexy, lingerie bikini thing, tips the balance for most. Sure, you can be lucky and make it if you are short but on an average, you need to be realistic with your chances in such a cut throat industry. I would love to discover a true South Asian Super model.

RB: We will keep an eye out for you Nigel. On a final note, any more words of wisdom for DesiClub readers?
NB: Believe in yourself because if you don't, no one else will. Confidence not conceit is a very attractive attribute, regardless of your size, height, age or IQ. You have something to contribute to this world; it is up to you to take the first step.

Check out Nigel Barker on "America's Next Top Model" and on his website at www.studionb.com

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