In this era of much-discussed masculinity, toxic, fragile and otherwise, won’t you please consider Fabio? Trends may come and go, but the timeless model and “actor”, now 62, has remained a benchmark for a certain standard of male beauty — bronzed and shaved, hard-chested but soft-hearted, and with that signature mane of golden hair.

This is a man whose extraordinary physique has advertised Gap, Versace and Nintendo — although many feel his most enduring campaign was for I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! — and who arguably paved the way for successive generations of male models, everyone from David Gandy to current fave Jordan Barrett. He has long been a one-word byword for the most swooning, sweltering, silly romance — and today he doesn’t disappoint. You can’t have good sex without good love, he tells me.

“I’m gonna make a car analogy, OK?” the Milanese native booms. An unholy mix of highly motivational personal trainer-slash-influencer on Instagram and a hero on The Bold and the Beautiful (one of the many TV shows he has appeared in, always as himself because frankly he can’t really be anyone else), he is speaking to me from upstate Washington near one of his homes, and his voice remains thickly, richly accented, despite almost four decades spent living in the States.

I’ll have what she’s having.

“Ask me, ‘Fabio, do you think you will love a Lamborghini with a beautiful body, the most powerful motor — and no wheels?’” He chuckles. “I’ll be like, ‘You know what? It’s a beautiful car, but with no wheels I’m never gonna go anywhere!’” You need “everything” to make a relationship special, he decrees. “That’s what makes a Lamborghini a Lamborghini.”

Fabio first shot to fame in the late 1980s, adorning the covers of trashy erotic novels with names like Gentle Rogue, Savage Thunder and — my own favorite — Wild Scottish Embrace. By the early 1990s he was popping up everywhere: modeling for Mediterraneum perfume, listed by Cosmopolitan as “Sexiest Man in the World” and doing cameos in films such as Dude, Where’s My Car? and Zoolander. He has had his own calendar, jewelry and T-shirts, and even a personalized hotline. And then there’s the album he released in 1993, Fabio After Dark, a selection of his “philosophies” purred over syncopated grooves and screeching sax: tracks like On Inner Beauty, On Films and On Tropical Islands, where he growls that “the only music is the music we make together”.

He has long been a one-word byword for the most swooning, sweltering, silly romance.

His latest venture, meanwhile, is a hair-care range with some Australian entrepreneurs, which hit a slight bump when he appeared on an Aussie TV show earlier this year and told the presenter, happily, that the women there are “more domesticated”. Or maybe it wasn’t a bump at all: maybe his hard-core fans love him for it. From what I can tell from the clip, he still looks good, if decidedly monolithic, like a camp fifth addition to Mount Rushmore. I don’t get the chance to check him out myself — his agent tells me he’s “not camera-ready”, so he tunes into our Zoom by audio only.

Fabio was the middle child of Sauro Lanzoni, the owner of a conveyor-belt company, and Flora. He was scouted aged 14 while working out at a gym in Milan to model for a teen clothing line, and, determined to get to America since he was a child, he finally moved to New York aged 19. He was swiftly signed up by the Ford modeling agency and hired for one of the biggest campaigns in America at the time: the launch of the Gap, for which he was paid a reported $150,000. But it was those romance novels that really gained him a fan base — apparently he did 1,300 covers in total. At first he appeared on them in clinches with women, which made for a fun working environment, he honks: “Kissing different girls all day long — another day in the office, right?”

Fabio has been the spokesmodel for I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! since 1994.

However, it was then discovered that whenever he was on the cover sales were rocketing by “60-plus percent”, so soon he was plonked on them alone. This led to more modeling and appearances on billboards across America. He then tried to use these as a launchpad to storm Hollywood, but Hollywood didn’t see him in quite the same way. Most of his appearances have been as himself, and not a little kitsch. Did you feel typecast, I ask delicately. “Yeah,” he admits, “but, you know, you can always diversify. You can go from one business to another.” To be fair, he seems to know what he is talking about: he tells me he has been fine during Covid because he bought stocks very early in Moderna and BioNTech. AstraZeneca was “a total failure”, he tells me. Um, I got AstraZeneca. “It was a total failure!” he plows on.

Of course I feel compelled to ask about the state of masculinity these days, as well as his own regime, which has included not only working out but dirt biking (“You can lose up to four to six pounds in four hours,” he once told Sports Illustrated). He sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber, “to reverse the aging process”. He agrees that men are more sensitive now, but also shrugs — “Fashion comes in, goes out of fashion, right?” As for his diet, it is shockingly commonsense: fish and vegetables, and carbs only at breakfast. As for his hair, it never changes and is lovingly tended to — sleep, protein, minerals (he lurrrves minerals) and biotin (vitamin B7) are all part of the care regime.

His agent tells me he’s “not camera-ready”, so he tunes into our Zoom by audio only.

It’s arguable, though, that one of Fabio’s greatest encounters was with George Clooney. The notorious tussle, a fracas in an LA restaurant back in 2007, was given a new lease of life last year by the National Enquirer, suggesting that, as Clooney has moved back to LA, “their rivalry has reared its ugly head once again”. The way he gleefully recounts the details, you’d imagine it might.

The long and the short of it is he was at a restaurant having dinner with some war widows he was raising money for (yes, really), and Clooney was at another table. He thought the women were taking his picture and took umbrage (allegedly). In one picture he appears in the background and may or may not be giving the finger. Fabio clearly thought so: “He was not a gentleman,” he starts ominously. “He was very rude.” Fabio went over and schooled Clooney: “I said, ‘You know, I don’t know where you learnt your manners, but probably you were, like, raised in a barn!’”

Fabio attends an event at Mar-a-Lago. The model is among the few public figures who actively supported Trump.

What happened next remains unclear, but there seems to have been some shoving, which really pushed Fabio over the edge. “I say, ‘You know what? You started your career in ER and you will finish the career in the ER!’” Eventually others intervened to separate them. “He got really scared,” Fabio chuckles. “He goes to me, almost crying, ‘Go away, you big … thing!’” When asked by Esquire in an interview later whether he thought Fabio could beat him up, Clooney replied, “Yeah, that’s probably true. He’s a big guy.”

Oof! After 90 minutes I feel a bit like one of his fictional conquests: exhausted, bewildered but surprisingly in love. Speaking of which, what is his romantic situation right now? “I love a lot of women,” he laughs, but no single one. His parents were married for 67 years and it’s a hard act to follow. “You want something that is good or otherwise I don’t want it. You know, sometimes people settle for OK or mediocre. No! You should always settle for what’s best for you.”

He always says that he is not really over a relationship with a woman called Jennifer, which ended in the early 1990s because he was too callow and immature. “I still love her now,” he sighs. No, I cry back in turn. “Love is forever, buddy,” he exhales. “Love is forever.”

Louis Wise is a freelance journalist covering culture