Sunday, 5 April 2009


In an age where small is beautiful, IMG stands above the parapet of the modelling world. Boasting branches dotted around the globe (Paris, London, Milan and New York), IMG is a fashion colossus.

It is responsible for some of the most famous faces in modelling. Its roster of past and present faces reads like an encyclopaedia entry under ‘modelling’. Naomi Campbell, Jessica Stam, Kate Moss, Gisele Bundchen, Tyra Banks, Erin Wasson and Maggie Rizer have all been affiliated with the agency at some point in their careers.

With an international agency of this size, you could be forgiven for assuming that new talent could get lost in the crowd. Not so with IMG. It could very easily stick with a dozen or so trusted faces – some of the names listed above would comfortably ensure the agency’s survival for the next five years – but instead of resting on its laurels, IMG strives to move on. It takes chances and readily gambles on models that fall outside the mainstream fashion trajectory.

Daria Werbowy, Gemma Ward and Alek Wek are models, who under a different agency at a different time would not have gained any further appeal than with the most avant-garde designers. Now they are well-known in the wider arena of the fashion world, winning international campaigns with big designer brands and cosmetic companies. IMG has exploded the misconception that fashion is a local business: what is popular with London-based clients will not translate to Paris and so on. IMG has made modelling a truly international industry.

A multi-strand corporation diving into many areas of traditional and virtual media, IMG has applied what it has learnt about promotion, management and development from the worlds of sport and entertainment. Where this principle has succeeded most is where models have themselves become their own brand.

Gisele Bundchen is arguably the most recognisable face in modelling today. She has walked runways for every major designer, appeared on countless magazine covers and editorial spreads, but it is the application of her name and image to advertisers outside the immediate fashion industry that has made her globally recognised. (Having a look that can be applied to virtually any product on the planet doesn’t hurt either). Gisele has sold everything from perfume to watches, all with equal aplomb. Even landing small acting roles in films such as ‘The Devil Wears Prada’, continues to boost her profile – just in case there’s anyone left who doesn’t know who she is.

IMG has transformed the modelling industry’s goals and aspirations. It is no longer enough to be ‘just a model’. The smart kids entering the modelling world today know that modelling in itself is only a finite career. With an ever-shifting aesthetic, even if you’re the hardest-working model in town, you can be literally in fashion one week, and out the next.
To last, and maintain any level of success, one must think bigger: what is it about me that makes me different? To turn yourself into a brand to be marketed and developed is a relatively new concept, and one that IMG is compellingly good at.

It has taken advantage of the fact that the world’s media now feed off each other, with an ever-circulating exchange of information. Rather than making it a cynical exercise in profiteering, IMG has placed the PR game in a very intelligent way.

Playing to models’ (and clients’) strengths, models can now be equally well-known through a variety of avenues. Heidi Klum, another noteable IMG name, is just as well known for her long-standing affiliation with lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret, as she is for producing her own fine jewellery line and presenting perennial fashion TV favourite, ‘Project Runway’. Having Heidi onboard has secured the programme a level of kudos highly unusual for a television series dealing directly with the world of fashion. The two worlds have not traditionally had a happy time of it together. But ‘Project Runway’ is an example of how careful management can get the balance right. Part of the programme’s appeal can be directly attributed to the impressively high-profile guests who regularly appear on the programme. A television show that has Michael Kors as a regular panel judge, and designers like Diane Von Furstenberg and Francisco Costa appearing as guests, must be doing something right.

IMG offers up a valuable lesson in how to make the most of every opportunity, and more crucially, playing to your strengths. The days of models routinely retiring at 22 are long gone. IMG has grasped the mettle of the world’s media and has defined for an entire generation, how a photogenic face can become a fortune.


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