Sunday, 8 March 2009

Agency profiles: STORM

Storm, one of the modelling industry's most established fixtures, can sum up its mission statement in one word: risk.

No other agency has worked so tirelessly at pushing the boundaries of modelling and fashion. If this weren't enough in itself, Storm has succeeded in changing how an agency's role is perceived. Recognising that opportunities come in all shapes and sizes, Storm has gone further (and faster) by extending the shelf-life of its models, by working with them to create new and lucrative opportunities.

Agency founder Sarah Doukas, after working for another agency for seven years, decided to risk it all and set up her own modelling agency. After impressing Richard Branson with her business acumen, she secured financial backing to make Storm a reality. In 1987, operating from a tiny house in Battersea, Storm was open for business.

Sarah Doukas was very clear on how she wanted Storm to differ from other agencies. Her aim was to launch the first UK-based modelling agency that represented new talent she'd discovered herself. It was this principle that underpinned the entire business. Luckily for Storm, Doukas soon secured a reputation on her ability to spot a face. Not just any face, but that one-in-a-million, unforgettable face. Walking through a New York airport in 1988, Sarah spotted a girl on her way home after a family vacation. The girl was Kate Moss, and that discovery single-handedly ensured Storm's survival in an ultra-competitive industry.

Doukas' lucky find should not be under-estimated. Before Kate Moss, the very idea of a supermodel under 5' 8" was laughable. Sarah's willingness to take a chance on the girl from Croydon changed the course of modern fashion.

Storm's eye for diversity has launched some of the most striking and original faces in the industry. The landscape of the modelling world would look very different without Storm discoveries such as Alek Wek, Devon Aoki, Jourdan Dunn and Lily Cole. Storm, more than any other agency, has made a point of consistently challenging the boundaries of the fashion industry. These faces, while representing very different takes on beauty, all have one thing in common: without them, the trajectory of the fashion world would have gone in a very different direction.

Storm also expanded to become the first UK agency to market and book models directly with international clients. It was a radical departure from the role of traditional agencies that paid off: this worked so well that overseas agencies began trusting Storm to look after their own discoveries. But Storm's key strength is its ambition to diversify and grow, even in challenging economic times.

Storm took their know-how of marketing their models and branched out into licensing and branding. A model could quite literally become a brand. There is no better example of this than what Storm achieved with Kate Moss. By the turn of the millennium, Kate was at the top of her game - the model every designer and editor wanted to work with.

Sarah Doukas, along with Moss, made an intelligent leap of faith. Kate Moss, is synonymous with high fashion and modelling, but her own look, how she steps out of the house each morning, has been exhaustively profiled and replicated within the fashion press. Part of Kate's popularity with designers has always been her keen sense of personal style. Doukas knew that there was something in this. The idea blossomed into the hugely profitable collaboration between Moss and Topshop. It was an immediate success, with teenage girls everywhere being able to buy into the 'Kate Moss look'. Striking a fine balance between aspirational and attainable, this collaboration has taken off in ways far beyond anyone's expectations.

This highly lucrative sub-industry of Brand Moss has developed in turn to launch perfumes and a haircare range in conjunction with Moss' close friend, hairdresser James Brown. Everybody can buy a dress, or a bottle of perfume or shampoo, and feel that they are buying a little piece of Kate's style. This daring and innovative idea has made millions, and changed the face of the modelling industry forever. It is now no longer enough to scout talent, it must be nurtured and developed.

Thanks to its bold, risk-taking approach, Storm in the space of just 20 years, has carved out a unique place for itself in modelling history. It has transformed fashion, and more importantly, the fashion world's notion of beauty. Ethnicity and diversity have become celebrated as the subject of desire and aspiration. Faces that twenty years ago, would never have stood a chance of breaking into the modelling industry, are being given a chance thanks to the vision of Sarah Doukas. This is perhaps Storm's most remarkable and enduring achievement.


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