Aussie supermodel Jordan Barrett refuses to play by fashion's rules

Jordan Barrett reclines by the pool of a Sydney mansion sucking in his stomach. By anyone's measure, the 21-year-old from Byron Bay has a perfect rig, but you can imagine how unforgiving the fashion editors of New York or Paris or Milan can be. "I'm not over-exercised," Barrett says when I ask if he feels pressure to look like the other male models: rail thin or super buff. "I've never really had an athletic body, you know? It hasn't really happened. But I'm OK with it. I'm definitely comfortable with the way I look ... I don't want to be too ripped, or too freaked out about looking like that. Things are going fine how it is."

They certainly are going fine. After being notoriously "discovered" by a talent scout while shoplifting a packet of matches from a Gold Coast convenience store aged 14, the feline-faced It Boy has risen the ranks of the international fashion world, appearing in campaigns for top brands such as Balmain, Versace and Tom Ford shot by photographers such as Steven Klein, Mario Sorrenti and David Sims. His agents, New York fashion power-broker Jen Ramey and top Sydney model stable Kult, are on the phone constantly. More recently he has captured headlines for his party lifestyle and famous mates, all artfully documented on his Instagram account, (he has 907,000 followers and counting).

Russh magazine editor Jess Blanch was one of the first to notice his potential when she saw him strutting around Bondi aged 15. "He obviously has an incredibly strong look but it's his presence that ensures you never forget the first time you see him or meet him," she says. "His success has been due his undeniable star quality. He literally lights up a room."

Blanch says Barrett is nothing less than the face of his generation. "It's a generation who believe in total freedom and have no interest in doing things the way they've always been done," she says. "They live deeply in the moment and are revolutionary thinkers, all of them activists in their own way ... he doesn't apologise for being himself and he runs like he has nothing to lose."

Barrett exudes a magnetic, slightly devious energy, prowling around the pool for the 51698009 shoot, looking for validation but keen to offer an opinion. He makes a big show of eating some fruit salad, then I catch him stealing chips from the stylist in the dressing room. When the time comes to pose for the camera he snaps into position – a true professional. When he's being interviewed, his attitude changes entirely. He sighs, whistles, huffs, puffs, fidgets and sounds catastrophically bored. I wonder if he enjoys this crazy life of photo shoots and ruthless scrutiny? "[Modelling] has opened so many doors and opportunities in life," Barrett says. "It's not like: let's go to a shoot and let's go home. It just opens so many doors to everything that I'm doing. It lets you do whatever you want, and be wherever you want ... And I have access to do whatever I want."

[Modelling] has opened so many doors and opportunities in life ... It lets you do whatever you want, and be wherever you want.

He flicks his mane of hair and blinks at me, eyes as blue as the pool. Next question? I attempt to ask about the prison-style "stick and poke" tattoos all over his body. There's "0% interest", "Psycho", "Only The Good" and, most curiously "Monica Lewinsky". "I've answered that question too many times," he says, then rolls his eyes and takes a breath. "[My tattoos] remind me of great times with people that I love, and lots of fun times. Each one is with different friends and different moments that I'll remember. They're such long stories."

I convince him to tell me about one and he points to a tattoo reading "007". "[This] happened with two of my closest friends, who I'm not going to name [reportedly fellow models Lara Stone and Bella Hadid] … we were at Cannes Film Festival in the south of France – have you been? So they close down the whole f--king thing at the bottom of the Hotel du Cap, and they won't let you off ... so we ended up throwing ourselves onto a boat, like a moving one ... So three of us successfully pulled off this mission and we have 007 to remember it."

Barrett grimaces, and seems to regret what he's just said. "Can you please not repeat that?" he asks. "I just don't want it to be in some stupid rag like the Daily Mail." It's true, the tabloid publishes Jordan Barrett stories with a slavish zeal – in fact it's already run a version of this 007 story. "They've almost ruined Bondi for me," Barrett moans. "They're just always in Bondi and I'm always in Bondi and I'm always barefoot and I'm always not wearing much clothing … I'm an easy target."

Luckily for Barrett, he's in Bondi less and less these days, as his schedule takes him all over the world on a loop of pools and parties and private jets. He officially calls Manhattan's SoHo home, where he lives alone with "about 47 plants". "[New York] is a bit claustrophobic at times, you know, especially in the summer. The heat. In the bricks and bricks and bricks and bricks and bricks … I've had to build my own little park in my apartment."

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He shows me a photo on his phone: a clawfoot bath holding at least 20 different plants. "There's an elevator that opens into the loft and then it's got like a proper jungle of trees," he says, seemingly relaxed for the first time since the recorder went on. "And there's, like, a bed and then my couch and, like, a studio space up the back. It's just mine, and that's all that's in there. It looks ridiculous."

Barrett is the leader of his own brat pack in New York, starring a rotating cast of party kids, many of whom he photographed in a series of faux mugshots for the recent September issue of downtown bible Paper magazine [he appeared on the cover last year]. "All my friends were in New York that day, I just sent them a text and we did 10 people," he says. "The next day Paper called and …" he yawns and sighs at the same time. "I was having lunch with Emily [Ratajkowski, megastar model] in Soho and they called and said, "We don't have a cover for the magazine yet", and I wanted Emily for the mugshots and they said she'd be great for the cover then they called the agents and they ..." he stops suddenly, corrects himself. "Actually I'm not even going to say it. Can we move on?"

Such is life talking to Jordan Barrett: thoughts are started and never finished, and he's so wary that anything he says will end up a tabloid gossip item that he ends up saying not much at all. You can hardly blame him – he's been burned before. I've been told not to ask about his family or relationship life. Still, Barrett is not nearly ready to get off the ride. "I like the idea of being in Sydney today, Melbourne tomorrow, then flying into Burning Man three days before Fashion Week, getting to Fashion Week, leaving Fashion Week, getting to Paris. I'm OK with the hecticness of the schedule. If it's still, then I get a little bit antsy."

Things are anything but still for Barrett. The question is, can he keep up the pace?

"People raise eyebrows at his partying. Is he any different from other 21 year-olds?" asks Russh's Jess Blanch. "His global lifestyle probably affords him more interesting parties but I think the only difference is that he's honest about this lifestyle. He doesn't tone down his sexuality on his Instagram or show us a filtered life of gym, green juice and meditation … he shows it as it is, which is pretty compelling."

Barrett has just been to Africa for Tiffany and Co's Save the Wild Elephants campaign, there are exclusive deals with Frame Denim and Lux eyewear to spruik, and he's the face of Paco Rabanne's One Million Fragrance. He's also taking acting lessons. "I think [acting] will go well, with the right roles, with the right people." He has a movie offer in the works but the shoot keeps getting pushed back because they can't find the right actor to play his dad. "But I'm sure it will be fine," he says with another yawn. "Everything always works out. Like I force everything to make sure that it works out."

Shot on location at La Piscine, Darling Point thanks to Contemporary Hotels, visit contemporaryhotels.com.au

Styling: Sarah Starkey

Grooming: Joel Phillips