Zoë West isn’t like most models. For one thing, she’s about half a foot shorter than what most people consider the minimum height for a fashion magazine manqué. And she takes her coffee with half and half. But neither has stopped the West Saugerties native from carving out a niche, not to mention a career, as a full-time art model. That career, she says, got a big boost this month when her decision to make the jump from artistic nudes to racy “erotic modeling” paid off with a 10-page spread in Penthouse.
“I’m looking to make it, basically,” said the petite, pretty brunette with wide-set eyes over coffee at an Uptown Kingston lunch spot. “Penthouse, I saw as a springboard.”
A self-described “weird little art kid” during her formative years in Saugerties, West’s journey to Penthouse started when she was 19. She was working in the old Uptown Cigar Store when local photographer Eric Francis walked in and asked her if she’d like to model for him. With Francis’ encouragement, West embarked on a full-time career as a traveling model. Using social media to find clients, West travels the nation and the world posing for hobbyists, professionals looking to build their portfolios, art magazines and other media. A few years ago she had a brief brush with tabloid notoriety when she was arrested after participating in a nude body painting exhibition in Times Square. The charges were dropped (public nudity for art’s sake is not a crime in New York.) West, with assistance from civil rights crusader Ron Kuby, won a modest settlement from the NYPD.
“I invested some of it in gold, so I was kind of smart about it,” said West of the settlement. “Then I went to Egypt with my dad, then I partied and bought clothes.”
Even as her client list grew and the frequent flier miles piled up, West remained adamant about staying out of the erotic nudes market — she even had an assertion to that effect in bold-face type on her profile at a Modelmayhem.com. That changed when she was contacted by Pennsylvania-based portrait photographer Harry Connor. Conner had a reputation for getting his work into the pages of Penthouse and he agreed to a deal: if West’s photos didn’t make it into the pages of the nationally distributed adult glossy, no one would ever see them.
Once she agreed to make the leap into erotic modeling, the next step was finding a site for the photo shoot. West immediately thought of the circa-1790 Federal style house she once shared with a boyfriend and his mom. The historic home in UlsterCounty, West thought, would be a perfect setting for her Penthouse debut.
“Things didn’t work out with the boyfriend, but me and his mom stayed really tight,” said West. “When I asked her if I could use the house, she fell on the floor laughing.”
The shoot itself, West said, was anticlimactic. The poses were more explicit, but the technique moving a hand a few inches one way, arching the back a few degrees another — was pretty much the same as the nude and clothed shoots she’d been doing for the past five years. And she said, despite its prurient purposes, the work, as opposed to the end product, was distinctly “unsexy.”
“It’s just acting,” said West who along with modeling lists acting and singing on her resume. “Instead of acting like an artistic muse I’m acting like a sexy muse.”
The photo spread went national in the March edition of Penthouse alongside articles on unicycle hockey, Hawaiian marijuana and an infamous Nevada brothel. Since then, West said, she’s been fielding a flood of inquiries, professional and otherwise. She landed a part in an upcoming Esquire TV series entitled “You Lucky Bastard” and garnered even more attention locally.
“Every guy I’ve ever talked to is like, ‘Hey, I heard you were in Penthouse, that’s cool, we should hang out sometime,’” West laughs. “And the answer is no.”
West is celebrating the Penthouse spread with an event at BSP, 323 Wall St., Kingston on Friday, April 4. She’ll be selling, and signing copies of the magazine starting at 9 p.m. The signing will be followed by music from the T McCann Band and dancing all night. For more information on West, check out her page on Modelmayhem.com or zoecwest.com.