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I’ve been a modeling agent for nearly a decade at two of the most prestigious agencies. Let me tell you, working at a modeling agency is not glamorous. It’s the opposite — there’s a saying that we’re the bottom-feeders in the industry. It has also been said that we are like pimps, minus the sex.
Many of my coworkers have been absolutely insane. I think most modeling agents are unhappy with their lives because our lives revolve around lives that are not our own. We are forced to be incredibly selfless with our clients, yet act selfishly on their behalf. It’s a weird balance. I don’t think I can be truthful with most of them. There are a lot of egos.
There are some positives about the industry, of course. For one, there’s the money. It can be very lucrative. I mean, we work hard enough for these girls that it can really pay off. A recent development this season happened when a lot of agents banded together and demanded that models need to be paid for runway shows and not receive a trade allowance. In the past, a lot of models have been paid in clothes, but now many of our models are actually getting cash for a catwalk appearance.
People get negatively affected very quickly by working in modeling, however. There is one girl I used to represent. She’s really famous now, but when I first met her at age 16, she was sweet as apple pie. After a Vogue cover here and a top couture campaign there, she now has the reputation of being an unruly bitch. She used to be so sweet. That’s the thing — people need to have their heads on straight when getting into modeling. Your head can and will most likely grow. It’s pretty rare to find a top model working today who does not think she’s the Queen of Sheba.
These days, any agency will sign a tall, thin person. Finding a great model is not just about looks. It’s actually all about personality. A designer can easily fall in love with a face and body, but that will just be replaced next season when a new face, who’s even thinner, taller, and younger, shows up. What’s harder to forget is someone’s personality. The other day we had an open call of about 100 people, and we signed two. Yes, those two had the physicality of being a model, but what made us remember them in the sea of pretty faces were their sense of humor.
It’s very rare that we can “turn off” once out of the office. I am always on call for my clients, my models, and the companies they work for. We are, essentially, at their mercy. We may seem to play hardball with our clients, demanding ridiculous fees for our models, but the truth is, given the current climate of the industry, with an overabundance of modeling agencies, we need them more than they need us. I think that’s a major part of the problem with industry. There are too many agencies, many of which make very little money, and there are too many models. Everyone is very disposable, with the exception of just a handful.
I will never forget my first boss. She had this odd thing about never, ever wanting people to walk behind her. If you did, she would berate you. I think she was paranoid about people looking over her shoulder. She was also great at treating people badly; I remember at least one person crying weekly, usually models.
Although many of the people of the people you meet in the business can be extremely superficial (surprise, surprise), the good ones really are some of the most intelligent and creative people I’ve ever met.
My favorite memory is the time I had to pick up one of my models from prison after she stole a banana from Whole Foods. Working in modeling can be really insufferable at times, but it can also be a boatload of fun. Just make sure your head is on straight and you’re firmly rooted in who you really are outside of this big, wild world of fashion.
As told to James Lim.