Bouncer becomes world-famous model

By Lauren Bishop:

Pick up the latest issue of GQ or Details, and you'll see a multipage ad for Calvin Klein Collection Featuring a platinum-haired, blue-eyed, steely-gazed guy, wearing a neon pink suit in one photo and a gray jacket over a white T-shirt in another.

He's also all over the designer's Web site, in international magazines and ads, and No. 2 in the current ranking of the top 50 male models in the world on modeling industry Web site

But just a few months ago, he might have been the guy checking your ID at the Cadillac Ranch in downtown Cincinnati.

His name is Ahmad "AJ" Abualrub, he's 21, and he lives in Erlanger. Thanks to a combination of the right agents (WINGS), the right look and the right timing, he landed an international ad campaign for one of the world's top designers only a year into his career- a feat that rarely happens in the modeling world, his agents say.

At 18, Abualrub moved out, got an apartment in Erlanger and a job rounding up shopping carts from the parking lot of the Florence Home Depot. To supplement his income, he started working as a bouncer at local clubs, including Jeff Ruby's Tropicana, the Exchange, Blackfinn and Cadillac Ranch.

Around the same time, he and a friend used to go to teen nights at Kings Island, trying to meet girls. One night, they stumbled upon a "hot guy" contest sponsored by a local modeling agency and entered as a joke.

Abualrub thought the whole thing was stupid, but a mentor in the local club scene urged him to visit JAKE LANG, owner of WINGS MODEL MANAGEMENT, downtown. Lang says he saw potential in him, although Abualrub didn't sign a contract with the agency until a second visit about six months later, in early 2008.

Things happened quickly after that. Lang sent Abualrub's photos to ad agencies and other modeling agencies and entered him in a male model search competition, sponsored by Ford Models and Vman magazine, in May in Los Angeles. Out of 3,000 entrants, Abualrub became one of three finalists, all of whom Ford signed.

Then Calvin Klein Collection- the highest-end of Calvin Klein's lines- chose him to walk the runway in a June 2008 show in Milan.

"It's like winning the lottery in the modeling business," Lang says.

But male models earn nowhere near lottery levels when they're first starting out.

Abualrub says he was BROKE when he flew to Milan for the runway show and couldn't afford cab fare to the dsigner's office. (Calvin Klein paid it.)

For an editorial spread in a magazine, models receive about $125-$200 an hour for a shoot that lasts just a couple of hours but provides valuable exposure, Abualrub says. Harder to get are catalog jobs, which pay about $2,000-$10,000 a day, and ad campaigns, which can pay anywhere from $3,000 to $250,000 for a shoot that lasts just a couple of days.

After the Vman contest and the Calvin Klein Collection runway show, the designer chose Abualrub as the face of its new international ad campaign, helmed by photographer David Sims.

Abualrub fit the image Calvin Klein was looking for this season in both the U.S. and Europe, say Sam Doerfler, Abualrub's agent at Ford's New York City headquarters. "He's just got the right look, the right personality and the crossover appeal for every market." Doerfler says.

But the work is still far from stead. Abualrub doesn't know when he might get a call one day asking him to fly to L.A. or New York or Milan the next. And he says he's still surprised when those calls come.

If his modeling career ends, he wants to open a restaurant in downtown Cincinnati. But he's hoping modeling will be a gateway to acting, a fantasy he's had since he was a kid and that now seems within his reach.

"Twenty years from now," he says, "I'm going to be the next James Bond. That's what's going to happen."



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