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MAC FOLKES, The Model Muse

BY DAVID LIPPIN
PHOTOGRAPHY WILLIAM LORDS

Talk to any of the top agencies these days about how to train your girls and they’ll send you to one man: Decorsey “Mac” Folkes.

You may have seen him on television shows Ford Supermodel of the World, Elite Model Look of the Year, or Holland’s Next Top Model. You may have seen his instructional YouTube videos, or even attended one of his fashion week catwalk sessions.

Mac is an unlikely miracle man. Most of what he really does has little to do with techniques for walking the runway. But talk to any of his pupils – Coco Rocha, Chanel Iman, Iselin Steiro, Selita Ebanks (to name just a few) – and they will swear by his methods.

“Models are made” Mac says. They’re not born with it. They can’t fake it. What 16 year old tall, lanky girl with no life experience is ready to walk down that runway with millions of eyeballs focused on every inch of her body?

Mac stands about 6’4” and seems to fill the room with his presence when he enters. He has a hearty, infectious laugh that immediately puts you at ease. Unlike many in the fashion world he is approachable and speaks with humility and a sense of openness. He looks deep in your eyes as he speaks to you and is incredibly direct, even if it isn’t what you want to hear. But you can always tell that his words come from a place of authenticity.

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Mac describes his job as one third runway coach, one third life coach, and one third sports psychologist. With agencies today increasingly looking for girls who are easily bookable, Mac builds models so that they have a lasting, successful career. He brings vision. He brings an aesthetic. But most important: he inspires women with a sense of confidence. Confidence begets authenticity. And authenticity allows a model to shine on a job. “What these models project comes from the inside” – and that is precisely where Mac begins.

In many cases, Mac is the first person in a model’s life who is not trying to get something from them. He develops an empathetic connection and allows his clients to open up to him. Mac serves as a mentor for these young women, helping them find their way as individuals in a world filled with pressures from agents, parents, boyfriends, and the industry. If they come to accept themselves, these women can channel their beauty. “Success is when a girl leaves my apartment and looks into my eyes, I look into hers, and we see one another [as individuals]”.

Mac is not the obvious coach for these women – he himself was reluctant to get into this line of work.

Mac is a gay black man in his late 40s. Born in Jamaica, he moved to New York at the age of five and instead of playing with other children, he enjoyed reading the encyclopedia. He graduated from high school at age 16 and went on to attend Cornell University. After graduating from Cornell, Mac left for Berlin where he spent nine years working as a doorman at nightclubs where he honed his aesthetic, cultivating a select group of regulars to ensure ongoing nightclub popularity. But mainly, Mac was struggling with himself: he was black and gay at a time when it wasn’t socially acceptable to be either, and he was trying to find his place in the world. Yet, it is precisely this journey with his own identity that allows Mac to connect with his clients, who often feel that they face similar identity challenges as they are coming of age.

When he returned to New York in the 1990s Mac had no fashion experience whatsoever, but met leading agency owner Michael Flutie at a cocktail party and impressed him with his inside knowledge of the stylist on a high profile shoot. “How did you know that? There are people who work at my agency who don’t know that,” Flutie told him. “Well maybe those people shouldn’t be working at your agency,” Mac quipped. Three weeks later Flutie called and offered him a job.

Mac got his start at Flutie’s agency Company Management, a boutique agency that focused on non-traditional beauty at a time when non-traditional looks were just coming into vogue. Mac eventually became an agent at the legendary agency Elite Model.  After several years with models at Elite, he left the agency and found he didn’t have a strong desire to return to the world of fashion.  A friend first asked Mac to help train a girl, but he was reluctant: “oh, I’m not that queen.” But he needed to pay the bills, so he gave it a try and found training far more rewarding and enjoyable than he had expected. It allowed Mac to pour himself into each girl, using years of fashion experience and personal struggle to help these women develop as individuals.

As we celebrate Black History Month, we are proud to profile Mac, who uses his personal journey with race, sexuality, and as an immigrant to help models develop professionally and personally. “I can’t fix the whole industry, but I can be a light to the girl on my couch”. And for Mac, that is enough.

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