As a 6’ 3” male model, Mark Reay has walked the runway for some of fashion’s biggest names. As a photographer, he’s also shot for some of the biggest names. As a part-time actor, he’s had small roles in well-known shows and movies. He’s seen much of the world already and lived the kind of spontaneously free life we all wish we had.
But while he has the appearance of a care-free “wealthy silver fox,” as he describes it, secretly for much of that time, Reay was virtually homeless.
Now 56, Ray spent most of his recent years working as a fashion photographer by day and sleeping with nothing but tarp over his head on the roof of a New York City building by night. His life is the main subject of a recent documentary titled, “Homme Less.”
In raw detail, Reay told Jane Ridley of the New York Post about how he struggled as a poor model surviving in Europe and New York:
“The ‘wealthy silver fox’ is my signature look. So the irony isn’t lost on me that I dressed for the shoot in the public bathroom at Tompkins Square Park, where I shaved, brushed my teeth and rinsed out my mouth with a bottle of Poland Spring.”
In 2010, Reay had a brief, two-second part in Martin Scorsese’s ad for cologne Bleu de Chanel. You wouldn’t be able to tell since he cleans up so well, but at the time, Reay had been living in a nook on the roof of an East Side building since 2008, which he would secretly continue to call home until the summer of 2014.
In his mid-20s, Reay walked the runway for Gianni Versace, Franco Moschino and Missoni in all the fashion capitals of Europe, from Paris to Milan. The young model also appeared in French Vogue for $60. Around that time, he made about $10,000 a year. He said:
“As anyone in the fashion industry knows, the six- and seven-figure paychecks are only for the lucky few.”
When he moved back to the U.S., he modeled and acted on the side but eventually took a job at a visa-coordinating company in San Francisco. Unfortunately, that lifestyle just wasn’t for him:
“I was never the type to settle down or save for a deposit for a mortgage. I longed to live in Europe again.”
When Reay moved to New York City, he catered and found small acting jobs here and there. In the late 90s, Reay starred as an international playboy involved with one of Carrie Bradshaw’s friends on the HBO series “Sex and the City.”
At the time, he was living in a $175-a-month single room in Chelsea. When he was offered $30,000 to vacate because of gentrification, the free-spirited Reay took the cash and ran with it. He explained:
“I took the cash, flew to Rio de Janeiro for a vacation and learned my craft as a photographer. I also had fun. That’s the sort of guy I was — no strings attached.”
By 2008, Reay was back in New York working as a mostly unpaid photographer for the magazine Dazed & Confused while also making a few hundred to thousands of dollars photographing for designer Diane von Furstenberg. “The salary wasn’t regular. I put the money into my bank account, but I had no savings,” he said.
When Reay had enough cash, he was off again, this time to France for the summer:
“I planned to take pictures of rich people on vacation. But none of them needed my services, and I had to scrape by. I’ve never let not having money interfere with my adventures.
“I couldn’t afford a hotel, so I’d sleep on the hillside, hiding my laptop computer in the bushes. Because of the image I projected, I fit perfectly into the affluent Riviera setting. I’d sit on the beach flirting with gorgeous women.”
Once Reay returned to New York a few weeks after, he began shooting for Fashion Week, but a dilemma soon arose — he had nowhere to stay. A youth hostel in Brooklyn gave him bed-bug bites all over his body and after a couple days, he opted to secretly sleep on the roof of a building one of his friends lived in. He never told anyone in the building he lived there and would pretend to talk on his cell phone whenever someone approached him.
“With a tarp pulled over me and a plastic juice bottle to pee in during the night, I could get a pretty good sleep.
“I didn’t think that I’d wind up spending the better part of six years sleeping there, but that’s what happened. Amazingly, I got away with it without ever having to tell my friend what I was doing.”
From August of 2008 to July of 2014, Reay completely lived, worked and survived in the city and on his rooftop. He explained:
“My paltry income just about covered my gym membership, locker rental, cellphone, health insurance and food.
“I’d eat breakfast at a deli — maybe a bacon-and-egg sandwich for $3.50 — and then have lunch and dinner at noodle shops for $7.95. About my only indulgence was drinking a beer at the Veselka Ukrainian diner on Second Avenue.
“Even in the winter, when it was cold and snowing, I’d be OK. I’d just make sure I wore extra warm clothes.”
With his $90-a-month YMCA membership, Reay would shower everyday and work out for much of the week to stay in shape for his gigs. During that time, he landed small roles as an attorney in the show “The Good Wife” and an FBI agent in “Men in Black 3.” He recounted:
“I owned a few decent suits, which I kept in my gym locker. I’d wash stuff like underwear and shirts at the Y, using the swimsuit spinner. I even had an iron in my locker.
“During the day, I’d buzz around fashion shows, taking photographs of models. At night, I’d sit in Starbucks retouching in Photoshop before sending the images to the magazine in London.”
Then, in 2010, Reay reconnected with his old friend Thomas Wirthensohn, also a former model and now filmmaker. Fortunately for Reay, Wirthensohn was looking for a new subject for a documentary and Reay opted to be that subject.
Today, Reay is now living part-time with his elderly mother in northwest New Jersey and couch-surfing in Manhattan while still picking up modeling, acting and photography gigs on the side.
Since the documentary began screening, Reay has been forced to change his lifestyle, hopefully for the better.
“By making this film, it meant I had to give up my spot on the rooftop because my cover was blown. The last time I stayed in my little space was July 2014, before the documentary started showing at film festivals.”
“Homme Less” opens at New York’s IFC Center on August 7.