After competing on Bravo’s “Make Me a Supermodel,” contestant Ronnie Kroell made the move from Chicago to New York City where he continues to model and to pursue a career in acting. He also contributes to philanthropic ventures for several causes. Kroell recently agreed to appear nude in the June 2010 issue of Playgirl. Kroell will be in Baltimore on Thursday, May 20 for the all-male swimsuit fashion show, Hunks in Trunks.
The Washington Blade talked with Ronnie about his life in New York City, his philanthropic work, posing for Playgirl and more.
Washington Blade: Since you competed on “Make Me a Supermodel” you have moved to New York City, what has life been like for you after the move?
Ronnie Kroell: You could say it’s a dream come true. Following “Make Me a Supermodel,” which I can’t believe was over two years ago, I went through a scary time because I moved from Chicago to New York to follow “the dream” and not really knowing what I was getting myself into and I didn’t have any safety nets to catch me if I fell.
Coming to New York City was one of the best decisions I think I’ve ever made in my career. I love the city and all it has to offer and I take it one day at a time. I’m working hard at my passion, which is primarily the fashion industry and modeling but also expanding into the acting arena and being a humanitarian. I’m trying to get as involved as possible with the charities I think need the most help and that I feel are the closest to my heart.
Blade: You participated in Fashion Week in New York in February. Can you give a few details of your experience?
Kroell: There is nothing more thrilling than fashion week in New York. I love to be under the tents in Bryant Park, although this was the last year to be held in Bryant Park. The entire event is being moved to Lincoln Center for September’s Fashion Week. I especially love seeing designers like Malan Breton, Christian Siriano and other designers that are really making names for themselves. I feel really close with Malan because he and I shared in the same experience because we were part of the Bravo TV family. As passionate as he is as a designer and having that incredible opportunity to be on Bravo’s “Project Runway,” there are a lot of challenges to overcome from being on a reality show like that to then become a legitimate designer and be taken seriously.
I was also able to participate in Naomi Campbell’s Relief for Haiti event, which was so much fun. You really won’t find a community that is more dedicated and more passionate about getting involved when such major disasters happen or when there is a need to help other humans American or otherwise. The fashion community is really tight knit and comes together in such a huge way and raises awareness and the money it takes to help.
Blade: Which charities have you been focused on lately?
Kroell: Right now I’m working with a charity out of Africa called Womankind. What they do is try and protect women’s rights and are trying to prevent female genital mutilation in Africa. My business partner is a member of the board of this not-for-profit and we are hosting a charity event here in New York City on June 7 at La Palm to benefit Womankind. I’ve also been really involved with GLAAD, HRC, and the ACLU in various ways.
Blade: Speaking of GLAAD, you recently attended the GLAAD Media Awards. Describe your experience at the event.
Kroell: The GLAAD Media Awards were phenomenal! It’s incredible the work that GLAAD is doing and I know they just transitioned to their new president, Jarrett Barrios. GLAAD is working so hard and really revamped their image in the community and they’re really a watchdog and are increasingly so. They make sure the LGBT community is fairly represented in media and that the people that are doing a great job are rewarded for their contributions.
It was just so fun to meet people like Sigourney Weaver, Joy Behar and Cynthia Nixon. They are the most humble people who are in positions to really bring home the message of equality and take the stance that we are all human beings first and that hopefully one day we can get beyond the labels of sexual orientation. It’s inspiring to me because I have nowhere near the career that some of these people have so I’m learning from them, they’re my role models. Having the chance to be in the same room with them, listen to their stories, and hear about the work they’re doing inspires me to continue to do the things that I love to do.
Blade: You’re going to be in Baltimore on May 20 for the “Hunks in Trunks” fashion show, which benefits Equality Maryland. How will you be participating in the show?
Kroell: I got involved with Hunks in Trunks last year thanks to my friend Ted Hart who is one of the lead organizers of the event each year. I was really impressed with the level of dedication that his organization has for the community and I remembered what a great event it was to be a part of last year. So when Ted asked me to be a part of it this year as basically a master of ceremonies I couldn’t say no. It’s a great time with a great group of people that gather together to raise money for worthy causes.
Blade: Aside from modeling you are also pursuing a career in acting; can we expect to see you in any forthcoming movies?
Kroell: Well, I’m being considered for a few independent films right now that are in the works. I have become very involved with the off-Broadway productions in New York. I’ve done a few readings at the Manhattan Theater Source but I’m really excited to say that my boyfriend has been cast in an off-Broadway summer stock production of “Equus” in the East Hamptons this summer with Alec Baldwin. They are currently in rehearsals for that so I’m really looking forward to attending the opening night of “Equus” which will be June 11 of this year.
Blade: “Equus” is a great segue to the next question — can we talk about your appearance in the upcoming Playgirl? What led you to bare it all for Playgirl?
Kroell: [Laughs] Well, it’s kind of a funny story. We received an e-mail out of the blue from the Playgirl camp basically feeling me out to see if I would be interested in doing a Playgirl pictorial. At the time, upon initial contact, it wasn’t really something I saw myself doing. It took me about three months to get to ‘yes’ as a decision. I’m really happy and it was really a fun experience for me because Playgirl immediately saw upon meeting me the artistic vision that I had and what I really wanted to do. The Playgirl people allowed me to share creative control in the process, which allowed me to bring in a high-fashion photographer, and a full fashion team. So on May 15 on Playgirl.com the first 15-20 photos will be released then the actual print edition will come out June 15. It was quite a fun time, we shot at the Grace Hotel in New York City and it was all high fashion. There are a lot of surprises and I feel it will take Playgirl to a whole new level.
Blade: Had you done any nude modeling previously?
Kroell: Nothing other than something for my book and to build my portfolio and nothing really that was seen in any major way by the public. Doing this photo shoot was definitely taking a lot of risks in a lot of people’s eyes. The fashion community is definitely open and willing to see nude females in the industry but Tom Ford says it best that the fashion community and Americans at large are afraid of male nudity. For me, this was an art project. It was a way of taking a calculated risk, have fun, and making the statement that I’m dropping my labels for Playgirl because at the end of the day we all have the same human body; we’re all just as vulnerable as the next person. There is something really beautiful about the human body when it’s at its most vulnerable, natural state. As Americans, we view sex, sexuality, and the nude body as something scary and perhaps dirty but for me it’s the exact opposite. My body is my work and my art form so I’m really excited to see people’s reactions and hopefully they will see the perspective and angle I used with this project. I hope people appreciate the pictures for what they are and that is as an art project.
Blade: You mentioned that you sided with leading fashion designer Tom Ford regarding his stance on male nudity in fashion photography. Do you feel that such industry heavyweights as Tom Ford will start a change in trends?
Kroell: I talked to my business partner and to my circle of friends and the reason, we concluded, why male nudity doesn’t receive such a warm welcome is because it is still such a heterosexual, male normative society. The people in charge, those that make the decisions, are the people that want to see female nudity and have no problems with exploiting females in the industry. I think because of this, it is an uphill battle. Although if you look throughout the course of history, like at the ancient Roman and Greek times via the sculptures created or Michelangelo’s David there was no issue with male nudity; both female and male were held in the highest regard. I think there is still a distance to go on the subject but with people like Tom Ford speaking out, I felt like I had the opportunity to continue with the statements he made and just say ‘It’s OK’ because the human body is beautiful and something to be appreciated and not looked at like something that is dirty. I’m excited to see where this project will lend itself into conversation because, more than anything, I like to start conversations.
Blade: Taking on a project like this could definitely be considered, as you said, a ‘calculated risk’. Are you afraid of the potential negative backlash?
Kroell: Anything is possible but I’m an artist and throughout the course of history artists have had their ups and downs and taken risks that could lead to failure. Later in life I don’t want to look back and think ‘what if?’ This was just a really exciting art project for me and just one of many I currently have going on.