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Parts models gain the upper hand

Dorchester woman, New York man make names for selves in specialized field

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By Billy Baker
Globe Staff / April 7, 2011

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“When I go out with a guy, I always look at their hands,’’ Devon Diep said as she reached across the table and picked up Adam Lundberg’s hand for a bit of a reenactment of their first date 3 1/2 years ago. “But when you’re in the industry’’ — she’s a hand model — “you don’t look at hands the same way.’’

Very gently, she peeled open his fingers, as if they were so delicate one might snap off.

“When you’re a hand model, they’re so picky about palms, but his are flawless,’’ she said as she ran a finger across his creamy skin, her voice still aghast at the near-perfection. “It’s almost like it’s Photoshopped. There’s like no wrinkles. I said, ‘Honey, you’ve got to go to my agency.’ ’’

He did. And that’s how this Dorchester woman went from being an up-and-comer in the “parts’’ industry to one-half of what is known as the hottest couple in hand modeling.

It should be noted that Diep and Lundberg find all of this quite funny. They both consider themselves to be, first and foremost, “regular’’ models. They are, as the title character in the modeling industry spoof “Zoolander’’ would say, “really, really, ridiculously good looking.’’ But it just so happened that the genetic lottery has also given them ridiculously good-looking hands. And, as Lundberg explains it, “not only can you sell the whole model, you can sell every part.’’ Abs. Backs. Lips. Legs. Feet. Breasts. Everything has a market, especially hands.

“The heyday for hands is right now, because of the glut of electronics we have,’’ said Danielle Korwin, who represents the couple through her agency, Parts Models. “If you see something flat on a page, say an iPhone or an iPad, you have no idea of its scale. But if you put a hand into that image, you can say, ‘Hey, I can carry it; look how thin it is.’ ’’

Diep, 30, grew up in Fields Corner and now splits her time between Boston (her “regular’’ modeling agency is here) and New York, where she shares an apartment with Lundberg.

She said people have always swooned over her hands. “Some of my girlfriends would die over them,’’ she said recently over breakfast with Lundberg at the Flour Bakery & Cafe in Fort Point. “My mother always told me I had gorgeous hands and I should be a pianist.’’

One day, when she was at a modeling shoot, someone saw her hands and suggested she cash in on them. “I thought, ‘That’s crazy,’ ’’ she said. “How ridiculous is that, to be a hand model.’’

But when a photographer asked to use her hands for a stock photography shoot, she decided to give it a try. He had her do things like hold money, wear a Band-Aid on her finger, and throw gambling chips. The whole thing took a few hours, and she was paid $600.

After that, she said, she thought differently about hand modeling. And her hands.

“I became careful,’’ she said as she held up her hands, which feature long, gleaming nail beds. “You have to when you’re up against Ellen Sirot, whose hands haven’t seen sunlight in 15 years.’’

Diep soon found herself in a world where careful is taken to extreme. Sirot, the biggest name in the business, is known for wearing elbow-length gloves 24 hours a day, applying moisturizer constantly, and refusing to do most anything with her hands, including shake (she says her husband did not hold her hand until their wedding night). Like many in the business, Sirot touches elbows instead.

Lundberg is a 24-year-old from Hawaii whose first parts job was being a hand-double for Ashton Kutcher in a big Nikon campaign, making $2,800 for 40 minutes of work.

He and Diep say they don’t go to extremes. “You take that extra five seconds to be careful when you’re taking something out of the oven,’’ Lundberg said. “But we’re not afraid to shake hands.’’

Still, when there are thousands of dollars on the line, they do what they need to do. She got him to stop biting his nails. The night before a big shoot, they sleep with bamboo-fiber gloves on, hands lathered in lotion. Before they go in for a casting, they “drain their veins’’ by holding their hands up like a surgeon entering an operating room.

They explained these things over the sort of hearty meal that all models seem to eat when being interviewed: bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches for both, with a scone for her.

But their explanation came with a wink. They’re in on the joke that has long followed hand models and their pampered paws.

On “Seinfeld,’’ George Costanza wore oven mitts for protection after his “smooth, creamy, delicate, yet masculine’’ hands were discovered by an agent. In “Zoolander,’’ the “world’s greatest hand model’’ protects his hand in a homemade hyperbaric chamber to keep it from aging. And Sirot’s hands-off lifestyle has been parodied in a FunnyOrDie video, “The Creepy Hand Model.’’

But the jokes and the caution are a small price to pay, they say, for the chance to make $4,000 for a half-hour of work, as Diep recently did for a Sky Vodka ad. .

Diep has landed campaigns for AT&T and for Shreve, Crump & Low and has applied makeup to Heidi Klum’s face for a “Got Milk’’ ad. Lundberg, the “it’’ guy of the moment in the industry — he was recently profiled in the fashion magazine W — is doing a ton of work in the tech market.

“He has a really young hand,’’ Diep said of Lundberg.

Christina Ambers, a friend of Diep and Lundberg, is hoping that the couple someday produce a “kid hand.’’

Ambers is one of the big names in the hand game and gets a lot of gigs that call for “glamour hands,’’ while Sirot has more of a “mom hand,’’ Diep said.

Ambers said, “I told Adam that the two of them are so gorgeous that they need to have kids and not waste their gene pool.’’

Alas, that’s going to be tricky. At the end of breakfast, Diep and Lundberg announced there had been a development.

“We broke up,’’ Lundberg said.

“Yeah, right as we were moving in together,’’ Diep added. “It’s complicated.’’

Billy Baker can be reached at billybaker@globe.com.