Sunday, 10 May 2009


Their name means prestige and privilege; the best. It is a tough remit to live up to, but Elite model management has secured itself an unshakeable foothold in the modelling industry.

First, the statistics:

Elite is a 35-agency-strong network, managing over 800 models across 5 continents.

It has bases dotted all over the globe, including New York, Milan, Paris, Barcelona and Copenhagen.

It is responsible for the most influential model-scouting process in the business. The ‘Elite Model Look Contest’, launched in 1983, has found some of the most significant names in the industry, and in turn, has helped shape the look of successive generations of models. What Elite finds, the fashion world wants.

Elite’s list of clients includes Chanel, Dior, Versace, Prada, Yves Saint Laurent and Louis Vuitton. With a client roster like this, there is no chance of an Elite model working under the radar.

A year’s contract with Elite is offered as the grand prize to contestants of ‘America’s Next Top Model’. It is a prize beyond monetary value in terms of what it can do for a new talent’s career, which is goes some way to explaining why the competition between the contestants has a tendency to get a little ugly.

Elite has also recently celebrated its 5 millionth booking – perhaps the most impressive statistic of all.

Elite has a stellar pedigree within the modelling community – a history based on its unflinching pursuit of excellence. But it still tempts the best of new modelling talent onto its books. Recent signings have included two of the hottest names in contemporary fashion: Ali Stephens and Coco Rocha.

The process of an agency can be best understood by the career trajectory of one of its brightest stars – and Coco Rocha is in danger of eclipsing them all.

Born in Canada in 1988, growing up, Rocha had no real handle on the world of fashion. It wasn’t until she was discovered by a modelling scout at an Irish dancing contest, that Rocha began to learn her own value in terms of high-fashion currency.

Signed with Elite, Rocha met with photographer Steven Meisel, which lead to a Vogue Italia cover in March 2008; the highest accolade the industry has to offer any new model. Elite’s expertise in nurturing young stars, coupled with the agency’s heady international presence within the fashion world, ensured that Coco’s rise within the ranks was unimpeded.

She racked up appearances on numerous catwalks for designers such as Prada, Marc Jacobs, Dolce & Gabbana, Balenciaga and Chanel. With such an impressive hit-list, anyone this much in demand must be doing something right.

Where Elite succeeded with Rocha was taking her from fashion girl to the fashion girl, and in doing so, they played to her rather unusual strengths. Securing her a spot in the Jean Paul Gaultier A/W 2007 show, Coco knocked everyone sideways with an unforgettable appearance. Gaultier found out about her dancing background and insisted she start and finish the show – an honour in itself. But she wasn’t to walk down the runway – she had to dance it. Her exuberant Irish dancing caused a sensation, with American Vogue dubbing it the ‘Coco Moment’.

Signing Rocha was a particularly smart move for Elite. Her popularity with fashion editors and photographers boiled down to her unflappable instinct when it came to interpreting stories for editorial shoots. Her intelligent approach to movement and an awareness of how the body creates lines and shapes on camera can be directly attributed to her dance education.

Normally, a model with dance training doesn’t do that well. His or her formal training with emphasis on good posture gets in the way of creating avant-garde shapes and just doesn’t translate on film that readily. But Coco had the best of both worlds, and together they worked in perfect harmony. Rocha had the modelling instinct, and that is what has kept her, and her agency, ahead of the pack.

Elite have surpassed their competitors by being bold enough to take risks on signing faces that do not necessarily fit the fashion mould. On paper, Coco Rocha was a potentially shaky investment. The disparity between dancing and modelling alone would have put many other agencies off that contract. But Rocha is a rare breed; a dancer whose skills add to, rather than impede, the modelling package.

Elite has risen to the top by focusing not on the good, but on the great. In aiming for the best, they have achieved a level of success unrivalled in the industry, and it was all done on instinct. Yes, industry know-how played its part too, but listening to an instinct, however wrong it may seem, is what has put this agency at the top of the game. Elite acted on that instinct when signing Rocha, and it is that very same instinct that is responsible for each and every of one of those 5 million bookings.


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