“Shine” is Yuri Pleskun’s nickname inked on his left arm in red and black letters. It was anointed in the streets of Co-op City where the fair-skinned kid stood out long before becoming a male model. Recall the dark-eyed, cloth-clad figure behind Gisele in Balenciaga’s Spring 2011 campaign. That was Pleskuns, er, Shine. Campaign aside, he has quite the oeuvre (from Italian Vogue to the runway at Rick Owens) for a twenty-one-year old discovered three years ago on the two train headed back to the Bronx.
When I meet Yuri, he is wearing a grey t-shirt, black jeans and Nike Dunks. A silver cigarette hangs around his neck and square diamonds sparkle in each of his ears (“twenty dollars on Delancey Street”). His sister’s name, “Lena,” is tattooed on his right arm. She now lives in Westchester, but the two grew up together in Co-op City, the children of Ukranian immigrants. Pleskuns still lives there where he takes care of his grandfather. We’re on our way to East Village restaurant Veselka to pick up authentic Ukranian fare after a day of shooting. He likes pelmini and potato vareniki, a sort of dumpling also known as pierogies. This is where Pleskuns goes when his grandmother’s in town from New Jersey, a sort of throwback to old times.
“Being a kid is tough, everyone knows that; everyone has some rough issues,” Pleskun says of growing up. Before finding his way to fashion, he worked at Burger King, as a carpenter and a school janitor. He shows me his license from the New York Board of Ed, pointing out the title description, which reads simply, “Clean.” Post-janitorial work, it was on to the more dangerous métier of window washer (he once polished the entire exterior of the downtown W hotel). “Pretty scary, but beautiful,” is how Pleskuns describes the dangers of this last gig before he was discovered as a model. He’d never paid much attention to clothes (“we heard the brands in rap songs”) but he decided to give it a go despite being self-described camera shy.
Pleskun’s first big purchase happened only recently, a suit from “some super classy British designer” and YSL black patent leather tap dancing shoes. His prize piece is a big Dunhill sheepskin coat given to him by Kim Jones. Still, he usually goes for the jeans, Dunks and leaves the rest to character. “People respect you by your aura,” he says.
Where do you go from here? Pleskun’s references a television show he’s just watched about mogul Richard Branson. “I want to be able to be on a beach and make money by smiling.”
Funny, he’s kind of already there.
– Stephanie LaCava