“I got a little too personal,” said J. Alexander — aka Miss J — about his recent book “Follow the Model.” “Someone who was going through it with me said, ‘Jay, this is getting too deep and this is not going to fly. This part you have to take out,’ because I went to the gutter with it.”
He makes it sound dirtier than it actually is, but “Follow the Model” doesn’t hold too much back, as Alexander candidly describes his meticulous and inspirational ascent from a dress-wearing teenager from the South Bronx strutting his stuff in the decadent heyday of Studio 54 to the globally recognized and openly gay runway coach, model and fashion consultant for TV shows such as “America’s Next Top Model.”
Alexander said he worked on his book, which alternates between his life story and a guide to unleashing your inner attention-getter, little by little for about a year until it was finished.
“When I was finally approached about it, what I did was I sat down at home in Paris,” he said. “I would spend two hours per subject. It took a while and, once I got it down, I sat down with a writer to put it together. It was a long process.”
Alexander also said that while the fashion industry is always a factor in his life and livelihood, the book isn’t necessarily about fashion.
“Everyone expected a book on fashion. I didn’t want it to be on fashion, as I’m not a fashion expert,” he said. “I just love fashion. I know what I like and I have quite a bit of knowledge on it. But I would never say that I’m going to write a book and tell women how they should dress, even though I have done that, and give advice in the book. It’s tips more than advice.”
It’s a surprising stance to hear from someone who was signed to Elite Model Management as a teenager, walked on runways all over the world and coached supermodels like Naomi Campbell and Kimora Lee Simmons, as well as designers like Valentino and Chanel.
If J. Alexander doesn’t qualify as a fashion expert, who does?
But he said he avoids this label because reality television has worn it out.
“So many people have ruined that title in the business,” he said. “All of a sudden, a person who used to work in a department store gets a celebrity that comes in. He helps the celebrity and then that celebrity decides that person may have a good eye. The next thing you know, that person is saying that they are a stylist to the stars. When I hear them misuse words in fashion on a show, I realize that these people on these fashion programs don’t want people who know fashion. They want people just to say that it’s a pretty dress. They really don’t want anyone who has knowledge within the business because it makes the producers look idiotic. I don’t want that title. It’s great that people say that about me but, in the end, I just know fashion very, very well. But I wouldn’t call myself an expert.”
He could have fooled us.
“It all happens so quick for people that they just run with it and not realize you need to make sense to people,” Alexander added. “Reality TV has given us all a great position, even myself. But I came onto ‘America’s Next Top Model’ with already a lot of information and a lot of expertise under my belt. A lot of it is trial and error. It’s being in some of the most incredible design houses, watching designers working together. I live in Paris. So I smell, I feel it, I taste it, I see it. And I can educate [others] from what I learned.”
Alexander has been involved with “Top Model” since the beginning and a judge on the show since its fifth cycle. But he said he is stepping down from the judges’ table on the upcoming season (with “fashion expert” and Vogue editor-at-large Andre Leon Talley taking his place) so he can focus on working with the contestants more.
“As of this cycle, it all has changed,” he said. “I’m there, I’m working more with the girls. I’d rather teach them how to get the walk right than judge a picture. There was so much more that I wanted to say but I really couldn’t say it because I wasn’t working with them. I was just judging a picture. So, I thought, if I’m going to tear you apart, I want to have a reason because I visually see it. It’s really difficult because these girls are in a position. They’re excited they’re on TV. They get homesick. It may not be what they wanted in the end. There’s a freakout moment where the girls just don’t learn anything and shut down. I thought that the more that you can encourage them, little by little, you can build them up. But of course I can always be a guest judge on the show, which helps because then I can verbally say what really is wrong because I’m always working with them constantly.”
When it comes to the new batches of hopeful models that come on the show every season, Alexander said he is amazed when they arrive thinking it’s going to be a walk in the park.
Really? Don’t they watch the show?
“It’s hard work,” he said. “It’s not easy. This is just the beginning for them if they would like to have a serious career. I’m always surprised at the people who still think that this isn’t hard work.”
With Alexander’s high level of visibility on TV in the fashion world and the fact that people who are far less famous are getting their own reality shows these days, it’s hard to imagine that someone hasn’t tried at least once or twice to spin Miss J off of “Top Model” and onto his own series.
Actually, Alexander said the idea has been brought up — but so far, he’s not ready to bite.
“When I feel it and it’s right, then I’ll go with it,” he said. “I’m not going to do it because people think I should. I was told I should have done a book five or six years ago because the show may not last. Well, this is cycle 14. We’ve been doing the show for six years. Then it has to be the right show. I don’t want to be up on TV for the sake of thinking I’m losing my popularity and I have to do a show right now. For me, I have to feel it in my soul that this is it.”
It would be easy for someone in Alexander’s position to get a big head about his success, but in reading “Follow the Model,” it becomes clear that he is level-headed and down to earth, even though he’s immersed himself in industries driven by fame, money, ego and trend chasing (or setting, depending on who you talk to).
Alexander said his personality enables him to stay grounded.
“It’s a job. Things change. The characters change. Positions change. It really is that kind of world that we are in. I take what I do seriously, but I don’t take myself so seriously in the end where I make myself crazy about what’s happening within the world of fashion. Just me not living and breathing everything fashion helps keeps me grounded. I do what I do and then I go home. I’m not at every single party or event. I don’t try to be in everyone’s face. I’m slightly crazy by nature. That’s who I am, that crazy person. But there’s a part of me that needs to detach myself from that as much and as often as possible.”
“Follow the Model” is in stores now. The next season of “America’s Next Top Model” starts March 10.