He’s handsome, intelligent, talented (and married to beautiful socialite/entrepreneur Olivia Palermo). He’s been featured in ads for major brands including Hugo Boss, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, and Donna Karan. He’s been photographed by world-renowned fashion photographers Peter Lindbergh, Mario Testino, Patrick Demarchelier and more. But don’t let his celebrity status fool you: Model/business consultant/photographer/designer Johannes Huebl is amazingly humble, with none of the affectation today’s “beautiful people” so often exude.
Although he doesn’t mind being called an influencer, it’s not a role he set out to play. “I never think of myself as an influencer,” he confides. “I’m flattered that people take inspiration from what I wear, and I guess it’s nice to have fans and photographers waiting to see you. But there are certain responsibilities that go with the job that I take pretty seriously. And I’m still a bit uncomfortable that random people—my mom’s best friend in Germany, my former classmates, our cleaning lady—can view how I dress every day.”
Coming from a small city in Germany (Hannover, population 500,000) with both parents (and grandparents) physicians, Huebl rarely thought about fashion. Growing up, Huebl recalls, focusing on one’s appearance was widely frowned upon. “When I started modeling, people were quick to remind me that fashion is superficial, not something to be celebrated. Fortunately, Americans love fashion and are more supportive. I guess that’s why I live here.”
Despite this lack of encouragement, Huebl entered and won a modeling contest sponsored by British GQ while attending boarding school in Dublin. This gave him his start in front of a camera and a coveted trip to London. “You can imagine my excitement leaving the structured conservative academic environment of boarding school for the freedom of a big city. I still vividly recall the thrill of staying in a hotel with a minibar. I also modeled a bit in college after my mandatory one-year military service (which in Germany is more about learning life skills and discipline than how to drive a tank. I actually studied computers…). At that point in my life, I loved travel and adventure and knew I wanted to do something creative with my life. But I didn’t have the courage to tell this to my parents so I continued to study business and economics.”
Because of his frequent modeling stints, Huebl was 26 when he graduated university. He’d already visited America, England, Sweden, Italy, France, South Africa, and Japan and shares some wonderful stories from his early years of modeling in different cultures. Like his disappointment on his first trip to Plano, Texas, only to discover it was a JCPenney pants shoot where he’d be photographed from the waist down. And how he tried to look shorter for castings in Japan (where they use chopsticks to eliminate wrinkles in the clothing). And his apprehension the first time he met iconic photographer Mario Testino in Paris. “I knew he was famous and I was a bit nervous about my accent so I introduced myself with just one word: Johannes. “‘No need to call me Your Highness,’” Testino retorted. “’Mario is just fine.’”
As fate would have it, a recruiter from Wilhelmina Models ultimately lured Huebl to NYC, even taking care of his visa. He was 27 when he moved to Brooklyn Heights (with all his possessions crammed into two small suitcases) to do full-time modeling and attend requisite film screenings and society events. A few years later, at one of those screenings, he met his beautiful wife, Olivia Palermo, then a 21-year-old student, now a successful entrepreneur. They’ve been together for 11 years and recently celebrated their anniversary in Mustique, “a small private Caribbean island where no one is remotely interested in what you wear. It was so nice!”
Huebl describes himself as open, friendly, liberal, curious and passionate about life. “I can sometimes be a bit stubborn but I’m a good husband and a caring friend with very conventional values like courtesy, respect, treating people well… values that come from my parents.” He also credits his two brothers (the older a philosophy professor, the younger a neurologist) for sharing a healthy perspective on life.
For his fashion sensibility, Huebl credits J. Crew. “I grew up with that casual prep look— an oxford shirt, a classic cashmere sweater—so that’s still my foundation. But I think my advantage now is an ability to pick out the one or two important trends from a vast runway collection—the exact right shade of military green, for example. I’m told I have a knack for putting together well-composed outfits that look modern but still elegant. I’m always delighted when women tag their husbands or boyfriends in my posts. I’ve realized over time what my audience is asking for, and I try to give them helpful information. I also try to respond to as many of their direct messages as possible. But social media occupies only about 15 percent of my time. I’m hired by six to 10 companies monthly to wear their products but unlike many influencers, I have no team of professional photographers following me around. I try to post once a day (and on Sundays, a photo with my wife), but my photos are generally taken by doormen, tourists or anonymous passersby. I’ve been photographed by enough professional photographers over the years; these days, I’d rather be behind the camera.”
And in fact, Huebl is quite the photographer: He’s shot covers and editorials for Elle Spain, Harper’s Bazaar Mexico, Lifestyle Magazine Brazil, Grazia Qatar, and other international publications as well as campaigns for Piaget, Chadstone Australia, Pikolinos and more. His current consulting projects include menswear ambassador for CFDA, global ambassador for Saunders & Long’s skincare launch, a collaboration with Santoni Italy, an editorial feature with The Rake for Omega watches, with many others lined up.
And as if this weren’t enough, he’s launching his own menswear collection. “My dream is to develop my own brand—a modern interpretation of elegant menswear broken down into wearable components. I’m inspired by both British and Italian tailoring: modern pleated pants, shawl collars, military influences. Personally, I wear a lot of cardigans these days and tailored pieces from Isaia, Cucinelli, Santoni and Thom Sweeney, my fabulous custom tailor on West Broadway. An important component of my collection will be well-fitting pants: Trousers are where a lot of men make mistakes, which becomes apparent when they remove their suit jacket.”
At 41, Huebl feels he’s at a wonderful stage of life, combining his fashion and business interests with wellness, family, friends, philanthropy, and travel. He spends 25-30 minutes a day in meditation, balanced by an early morning stretching session at his local Equinox gym. Concerned about the environment, he works toward minimizing his personal carbon footprint. Wanting to give back, he donated prints of his photographs to a UN fundraiser supporting the Maasai tribe of Kenya and Tanzania. Yes, he was named 2018 Style Influencer of the Year by GQ Germany but that’s not his primary focus. “Style is not how you dress but how you live,” he maintains, a philosophy that should inspire us all.