Former top model Sylvester Ulv: Being comfortable in not knowing what the next week will bring

Sylvester Ulv was one of the most wanted models in the world by the age of 19. Now, he is looking back at a chaotic youth in the fashion industry but into a future, narrating his own story. The dreamy Copenhagener on appreciating dingy gay bars and managing his own faith and face.

By Emma Kjær Lauridsen.
Photographed by Stefan Wessel.
Video by Anders Lindved.

With the risk of being too live, love, laugh-philosophic, Sylvester Ulv highlights the ability to be whoever he wants as one of the essential things in life.

It’s a bit cheesy, he knows, but nevertheless the truth.

Sylvester sits on the kitchen counter in his apartment in Copenhagen with his arm and a cigarette hanging out of the window while explaining why it matters to him.

From the outside, you can hear the buzzing city and the streets of Vesterbro where his apartment is located. Yet, the mattress on the floor, the unpacked bags and content of his room reflect the temporality of home and infinite days of travels.

He is very Danish, perhaps a bit humble, when describing himself. He does not like to call himself a world-renowned model or use overwhelmingly positive terms when asked about his past.

However, Sylvester is 25 years old, he has been living in Paris, London and New York, he was named one of the top 50 most wanted models in the world and has been described as an Instagram-phenomena during a TED-talk.

Sylvester prefers to call himself a “former IT-girl”, if having to describe himself but emphasizes the word former. There is the right amount of sarcastic distance from the fact that he has been one of the hottest models in the world.

- I would just probably describe myself as a good and genuine guy.

- A floating existence who ended up in an industry that I never imagined or dreamt of. An industry I have tried to distance myself from to become in charge of my life and story again.

"I have been the face of other people for so long. Now I am trying to regain control of my image and to express myself by presenting a more real me."

Regaining control of his life

Sylvester’s chaotic past in the fashion industry is among one of the reasons why he mentions the ability to be whoever he wants as essential to him while sitting on the kitchen counter.

Everyone else but himself had narrated his story for a long time when he was a model.

- I have been the face of other people for so long. Now I am trying to regain control of my image and to express myself by presenting a more real me, Sylvester explains.

Wearing his pink pair of H2O-sandals, white socks and loose shorts is indeed a contrast to the way he is usually portrayed in fashion magazines and on large commercial sites.

The pictures on his Instagram differences too. On Instagram, Sylvester decides what to publish and how to portray himself and what story to tell.

- It’s a tool I use to distance myself from my job, the industry, and my status. I do not want to be defined by my work or my look, so there is a minimum of that on my profile.

- So, in that respect, I try to be real and honest, but it is still a courter of my life and a surface I choose to show off for you to see. But most importantly, I am the one in control, not an agency or a fashion brand, like it has been for years.

Never knowing what the next weeks bring

Today, Sylvester’s work primarily involves castings and setting up a fashion show, not modelling. He has quit the industry several times, but he has never managed to leave it for good.

The networking, the never-ending small-talking, the champagne-receptions, the chin-kisses and constantly having to be fierce, turned out to be….exhausting, Sylvester tells.

- I am not good at small-talking, I hate forced networking and socializing - which is a pretty big part of the job – so, regarding that, the industry is terrible for me.

- However, I enjoy my own company, travelling, and changes from day to day. In that respect, the industry has suited me well, as I don’t wake up in the morning and automatically be like “let’s go!”, self-motivated, and inspired, he laughs.

That’s probably why he hasn’t left the industry altogether.

- Now, I might be working 24 hours a day for a month, as I did recently on a fashion show in Milano, but at the same time, there might be months consisting of no work at all.

A schedule like that suits him perfectly. Not having to clock in at 9 am every day, knowing what the day brings, is brilliant to me, Sylvester explains.

- I would never be able to sit in an office for 12 hours every day. It is ideal for some people, but not for me.

It is a matter of being in charge of his own time, and he doesn’t mind not knowing what the next weeks bring: Which job, country, or people he ends up working with, he explains.

"I would never be able to sit in an office for 12 hours every day. It is ideal for some people, but not for me."

A story of adapting and accepting the circumstances

The story of Sylvester’s life is a story of adapting and accepting the circumstances, he points out. Creating a sense of home, no matter where he ends up.

But common for most of Sylvester’s decisions are also a story of following his heart and immediate feelings.

After only attending one day of college, he dropped out and moved to London, where he started modelling fulltime.

- I did not fit into the classroom. It was not the right place for me to be, and since I have always followed my feelings. If I felt like going left, then I went left. So, I did, Sylvester explains.

Within half a year, Sylvester became the face of the major fashion brand Balenciaga and then his career intensified.

While working with the most prominent photographers in the world, Sylvester lived in a suitcase for 8 months straight in London. For a long time, his life consisted of partying five times a week, waking up super hungover, already being too late for work, doing jobs for major fashion brands.

- London is fucked up. It’s a messed-up city, and a messed-up lifestyle people are living. In the gay community, you work like crazy, but your party just as hard.

- It’s a hard-core industry, especially as a young person as I was.

There is no doubt that Sylvester’s time as a model has affected his current view and recent decisions in life, he explains.

- Now, I do not rush into decisions based on my feelings solely now. I am wiser, more reflected and matured, you might say.

Not comfortable fitting into the Danish uniform

The workload as a fulltime model was heavy, and the lifestyle was not only accompanied by long hours, late nights, and hangovers but a lot of bad relationships and people too.

- There has been a change in how people saw me when I started modelling. It takes time to navigate in people’s agendas and sort out who is right for you and who is not, and that has been tough on me.

He is now trying to turn the negative experiences from his time as a model into something useful.

- Otherwise, the memories will turn into ghosts that will haunt you for the rest of your time. It is important to me to always be in constant personal development and reflect on the past to grow.

In that matter, Sylvester cherishes his life as a floating existence, not knowing what his future will look like: Whether it will be setting up more fashion shows or exploring a different direction like designing jewellery, whether he will stay in Copenhagen or end up elsewhere.

Despite that, he is still struggling a bit fitting into the Danish uniform after returning from London.

- There is only one way to look and act compared to London. It is a shame, as to me, the definition of a good life is the freedom to wear a skirt, if I want to wear a skirt, Sylvester explains.

However, he appreciates the low key-environment in Denmark, like bad gay pop in a crowded and dingy bar on a night out with his friends in Copenhagen.

- There is a sense of anarchy in a tacky gay bar, it’s not solemnly or fancy in any way. It’s so much fun. It is disco lights, Britney Spears, K-pop, and colourful drinks.

- It is one of those rare places where you can do whatever you want, wear whatever you want and be whoever you want, Sylvester tells.

Sylvester is wearing