(FEATURED IMAGE BY KRISTOPHER KELLY)
I remember coming home from class to find a package from River some time in early 2012. In it was a brand new pair of jeans from the Versace for H&M Cruise collection, for which River led the campaign. It was the release of this collection–the lovechild of Donatella Versace and H&M–that successfully mimicked the frenzy over newly-released iPhones, with overnight lines that went around the block. Thankfully, River saved me the trouble.
Like most teens would, I snapped a photo of the jeans and posted it online.
“Thanks @riverviiperi for the sick jeans!“
“what the fuck?! River Viiperi the model?!“
It wasn’t surprising that the mere mention of his name could elicit such a response. River, after all, has been known for many things in the media, from being a “top male model” in high-fashion magazines, to being “Paris Hilton’s boyfriend” in the tabloids.
But despite the many labels, one thing is for sure: there is a lot more to River Viiperi than meets the eye.
Anyone who’s at least slightly au fait with the fashion industry probably feels that River–whose middle name is Delfin, or “dolphin” in Spanish–has been around forever, considering his constant presence on the runway, in clothing stores, and in various forms of media, from V Magazine to TMZ. But the 23-year-old model did not explode into the scene until 2010, when he first traveled to New York after being in London and Paris for a couple of months. “My agent [told] me that it would take three to four years to get recognized in the industry,” River tells me when I ask him about his early modeling career. That prediction, as everyone would soon realize, proved false, when River booked an exclusive with fashion house Calvin Klein within three months. “From that point on, there were lots of ups and downs, but at least I skipped the three to four year window and turned it into a three to four month window,” he adds.
The ups he mentions about being a model are pretty obvious: world travel, photoshoots, magazine covers, hobnob with the VIPs, and the constant reminders that they’re some of the most genetically-blessed human beings on the damn planet. It’s the downs–and they’re some scary downs–that nobody ever hears about. “If you come from money, it’s easier to support yourself,” he says. “[T]ravels, food, accommodation, etc… for those who don’t, which was my case, it made it a bit more challenging as you had to ‘survive’ while hoping to book jobs and do well to be able to live a bit more comfortably.”
Has any instance ever made you almost give up or quit?
I got pretty lucky from the beginning, yes, but it’s a hard industry. It’s a very lonely industry too, and I hate being alone. So, yeah, I have tried to stop/quit a few times. I’m sure lots of models go through the same thing but nobody really opens up about it.
What makes River stand out from his fellow 6’2″ runway strutters is his willingness to demystify the mysterious world of modeling. During the dawn of his career, River started a blog called Never Back Down, which chronicled his life as a model. “When I first started modeling, let’s say life wasn’t ideal for me, so I needed some type of support to help myself keep going; to #NeverBackDown. Explaining my experiences helped me get stuff off my chest and made my life a bit more entertaining, and apparently not just for myself,” he explains, adding some hahas at the end, when I ask him about his reason for starting the blog.
Sharing details about his life would turn out to be a big part of the Spaniard model’s career. As social media became more prominent over the years, so did River’s presence in every outlet possible, amassing a solid fan base in the process. “I got yelled at many times for being too overexposed, but look at it now. Everyone is obsessed with social media, me included, and it affects my job a lot. It’s a smart way of getting out there, exposing yourself to all those who might be interested in your life or anything you do.”
River’s entrepreneurial side has become a bit more obvious at this point. Indeed, times have changed. There is now a phenomenon known by some in the fashion industry as the “Kendall Jenner Effect,” in which a model’s influence and follower count actually affect whether or not they book jobs. Many big brands don’t want you if nobody follows you online. So it turns out, River’s not just another narcissist screaming “look at me!” on social media, but rather someone who’s quietly building a brand.
But despite his biz-smarts, there is still a huge personal reason behind his reign as the social media king. “Social media is a way of not feeling so lonely in hotels, planes, castings, etc. It makes me feel like there is always someone awake I can talk to, whether it’s on Twitter, Instagram, or even Snapchat.” And with a follower count in the hundreds of thousands across these platforms (despite being hacked several times), River sure is guaranteed to find someone who’s awake.
Hey, it’s always 5 PM somewhere.
With his social media acumen, River Viiperi’s brand, which he describes as “non-ending dream chaser,” has witnessed a meteoric rise by 2014. And like any good businessman, River knew just how to leverage that name recognition: he launched RV, his own clothing label. Although undoubtedly a good move for his overall brand, River sees RV as a creative outlet for him that goes beyond pictures, quotes, or captions on social media. “RV started due to me wanting to express the need everyone has of believing in themselves, [and to] express my support for all those going through a hard time in their lives to not give up and keep going.” Throughout his career, River has always been a vocal advocate for a consistent theme: dreaming, and chasing that dream. “Hard work pays off,” he says. “I wanted to prove it.”
River’s Snapchat video story is now showing a pigeon pacing around his table somewhere in Milan. What’s up baby? Helloooo, hellooo, he says in the same high-pitched voice one would use to talk to a puppy. You want some food? The pigeon does not respond.
Seeing that River has become a role model for many young people (my Twitter timeline was flooded with many Teen Choice Awards nominations for him), I thought it was appropriate to ask who he sees as his role model.
“Me, myself, and I.”
He offered a further explanation before anyone could roll their eyes.
“[It] might sound dumb, but after my six years away from home and all the good and bad times I have gone through, I have learned that I have to focus on myself, love myself, and encourage myself to keep going.”
Maybe, just maybe, the Italian pigeon was standing there not to receive food, but to hear words of wisdom from Mr. Viiperi.
River has been bouncing around the world since he was 17. And when you’re constantly going from hotel to hotel in different countries, it becomes harder to decide where “home” is. “I haven’t had a place to call home in a very long time, and I still don’t feel like I have that place,” a situation that many working models probably go through. “My apartment in New York is where I spend most of my time, but it’s far from being called home, haha.”
In your six years of modeling, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned, both in the industry and in life in general?
To always be yourself, not to be fake. There are so many fake people in the world, it is something I can’t understand…it’s so easy to say things to the face, not lie, and keep things simple, but people seem to like complicating their lives.
While River is against being fake in real life, he’s totally down to do it for the camera through acting. “It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time, and I think the time to begin is getting closer.” As for what kinds of movies he’d like to star in, he says a “romantic comedy with a twist/cool factor” would be to his liking. “A mix between The Notebook and Limitless,” River specifies.
The move from modeling to acting is not a strange one, considering it has been successfully done before by stars like Ashton Kutcher, Josh Duhamel, Ian Somerhalder, and Jennifer Lawrence.
At the end of the day–despite having experienced both the glamours and the uglies in this world by his early 20s–River is just like any other millennial enjoying life day by day. He still credits the same people he left six years ago in Spain as his main social circle, saying that “they will always be [his] best friends.” And despite the runways and the designer clothes he deals with regularly, it’s still the little things that make him smile. “I recently laughed more than I had in a long time to the point my cheeks got cramped, but I can’t remember why.” He was with his friends when “something in the convo made [him] crack up.”
Happens to the best of us, River.
I’m glad you never backed down.