By Miachelle DePiano
Photos by Erik Johnson
Many will remember Antonio Sabàto Jr.’s jet black hair and deep dimples, especially from the time he exploded onto the fashion scene as a Calvin Klein model. Yet, many may not know his story as a child emigrating from Italy to the U.S., and many probably do not know about his ties to Arizona. His story is one of hard work and the pursuit of a dream.
Sabàto’s parents, Antonio Sabàto Sr. and Yvonne Kabouchy, believed that for Sabàto and his sister Simonne to have the best opportunities, they needed to move the U.S. Saving their money, the Sabàtos left Italy and moved to Los Angeles in 1985 to begin a new life when Sabàto was 13.
Sabàto proudly recalls his time assimilating to a new culture and a new life.
“It was exciting and scary,” Sabàto says. “I’ll never forget it. I didn’t speak the language. My parents both worked two jobs. We stayed together as a family. We loved being here and wanted to be a part of this country.”
Sabàto’s father was an actor in Italy and starred in many movies, most notably the 1966 Oscar-winning film Grand Prix. In that movie, Sabàto Sr. was coached by Phoenix’s very own legendary race car driver, Bob Bondurant. Sabàto grew up watching his father’s career and was inspired to be an actor himself.
“My father was an actor, and I fell in love with it as a little boy,” Sabàto says. “I grew up watching musicals and wanted to be like Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire.”
Sabàto took acting classes and performed on stage, trying to show his parents how much he wanted to be an actor.
“My parents helped, but at first my dad didn’t want that for me,” Sabàto explains. “I had to show him how much I wanted it.”
Once his father realized how much Sabàto longed to be an actor, he helped him whenever opportunities were made available.
Breaking into the Industry
Sabàto’s first big break came as a Calvin Klein underwear model in 1990, appearing on a 90-foot-tall billboard in New York City’s Times Square, as well as around the world. Sabàto remembers seeing himself blown up to gigantic proportions in Times Square.
“I used to live in New York, struggling,” Sabàto says. “I used to walk past the billboards. It was really surreal and cool and exciting.”
Sabàto’s next gig was appearing in Janet Jackson’s music video for Love Will Never Do Without You, shot by famed photographer Herb Ritts. Sabàto would work with Ritts again in the second of three Calvin Klein campaigns he appeared in, and he developed a deep respect for Ritts’ expertise.
“He [Ritts] was the biggest photographer at the time,” Sabàto recalls. “He was a great man, a genius. He was soft-spoken, bright, and knew what he wanted to shoot and how to shoot it. He knew exactly how it was going to be. He’s missed in the fashion world.”
On the heels of Jackson’s music video, Sabàto joined the cast of the soap opera drama General Hospital from 1992 to 1995 as the character Jagger Cates. He also was a part of the science fiction series Earth 2 and the nighttime soap opera series Melrose Place.
Looking back at his early modeling career and comparing it to today’s industry, Sabàto believes social media has had a huge impact on the fashion industry.
“We didn’t have all the technology and social media,” Sabàto says. “I was the first model to have tattoos. Then it was different; today it doesn’t matter. Fashion has changed because of social media. It was simple, and now there’s too much competition. It’s hard to keep up because everything moves so fast.”
Sabàto has steadily continued to appear in many TV series, movies and reality shows. In 2014, he was in both Dancing with the Stars (DWTS) and Fix it & Finish It, a reality TV series in which Sabàto and his renovation team surprised home owners and renovated a space in their home.
On DWTS, he was partnered with Cheryl Burke, and together, they lasted seven rounds. When asked if DWTS was easier or harder than he expected, he admits it was a little bit of both.
“Cheryl Burke was a great coach,” he says. “I loved the training. But I was doing two shows at once and traveling the country doing both. I’m amazed I lasted two months.”
Sabàto enjoyed his experience on DWTS and took away many positive lessons.
“The dancers and people I had a chance to compete against were phenomenal,” he says. “Being under pressure, you really want to stick around and be on the next week. We fought hard, and we had an amazing fan base. I learned a lot about integrity and professionalism under pressure.”
Today, Sabàto has a number of projects that keep him busy. One is his clothing line, Pirata della Strada, an activewear line for men and women. He’s also very passionate about health and anti-aging, and has been busy with speaking engagements promoting anti-aging, health techniques and products.
“I like to motivate people and help them with anti-aging, fitness, health and wellness,” Sabàto says.
Sabàto’s career has brought him back and forth to Arizona several times. His first experience in Arizona was for the 1991 filming of his second movie in Scottsdale, originally titled Fuga da Kayenta, also known as Arizona Road. He also spent time in Tucson filming Fix it & Finish It.
His newest project, which may bring him back to Arizona, is another creative endeavor. He’s working on a manuscript for a dark thriller titled Exit 187 and anticipates its completion soon.
“Arizona is one of my favorite states,” Sabàto says. “It’s my other home. I enjoy the weather, and I enjoy the people.”
Scottsdale is an especially favorite city.
“I love the city,” he says. “It’s so clean and beautiful, and there is so much to do. It’s peaceful and yet there is still a lot of entertainment. You get the best of both worlds.”
For information on working with Sabàto, contact him via LinkedIn at