Ashton Kutcher has a lot going for him. Looks. Six million Twitter followers. Demi Moore. But in late 2008, after he became the pitchman for Nikon’s digital cameras, his new partners discovered a last-minute glitch: unattractive hands. Not only were they “really bulky,” according to a person familiar with the shoot, but the nails were “flat-headed,” the beds “shallow,” and the knuckles “plump.” Wide shots were fine, but the company wanted to emphasize the Coolpix S60’s new touch screen and special features, like the ability to finger-swipe through photos and scrawl messages, Perez Hilton–style, on the tiny liquid crystal display. So out went the casting call—for “Ashton Kutcher–like hands.”
Adam Lundberg answered. A lanky Japanese-American 24-year-old, Lundberg had moved to New York to pursue traditional modeling in 2007 and found some success. He signed with the Wilhelmina agency, opened for designer Paul Smith during Paris Fashion Week, and graced billboards for Benetton and Missoni. But life as a male model, even a relatively successful one, is always precarious. So when a girlfriend suggested he rent out his hands—“the most beautiful I have ever seen,” she gushed—he signed a deal with Parts Models, one of the leading all-appendages agencies. Nikon was his first big tryout. When he whipped out his hairless, poreless, veinless honey-brown hands, the director closed her appointment book. “You’re it,” she said, and the next day Lundberg made $2,800 for 40 minutes spent manipulating the device.
While companies will always want the fair of face to lend their products an appealing aura, the explosion in mobile devices means that male digits are more in demand than ever. Male hands make products seem smaller, lighter, and more portable, and they connect with the intended audience of mostly male technophiles.
“The heyday is now,” says Danielle Korwin, the founder of Parts Models and self-described “Frank Perdue of modeling” because she’s “all parts.” Korwin has ridden the new wave of male mitts to more billings and a larger talent pool, and she casually refers to her most successful models as “one-namers.” “Tom”—as in Tom Nikko—for example, has shot for Apple, Canon, HP, Samsung, Sony, and Verizon. “All my life I’ve just been blessed,” he says. “It’s that simple.”
Now Lundberg is hoping to join their ranks. Since leaving Wilhelmina, where, he says, his agent uncharitably dismissed hand modeling as “B-work,” he has booked gigs for Dell, Samsung, and Sony. In contrast to the real-life hands of a tech obsessive (imagine pale, fishy things with a patina of Cheetos dust), those of a professional model are long, straight, and immaculate, without wrinkles, creases, or calluses. Because they’re perfect, you aren’t supposed to notice them at all, allowing the product to shine. “It’s the oddest kind of modeling,” says Lundberg—“you’re trying not to grab attention.”