This may seem like an obvious question, with an even more obvious answer, but on closer inspection, determining which agency you want to aim for says a lot about the kind of model you want to become.
Most people think of modelling purely in terms of high-fashion. But the faces you see, such as Liu Wen (pictured), in editorials for W or Marie Claire, are only one small section of the modelling industry. If you take even a brief look around you (billboards, promotional events, even television adverts), it suddenly becomes clear that modelling is a much larger industry than you may have first thought. This is ultimately good news, as when you assess your weaknesses and strengths as a model, you may find you’re suited to more than one style of modelling, or even belong in an entirely different category than you might have first imagined yourself in.
Being flexible about your career aspirations is the key to being a great model. Being realistic about where you can place yourself in the industry will save you a lot of heartache and rejection, and may even get you started sooner than you think.
Fashion / editorial
Has a well-deserved reputation as the toughest section of the industry to crack. If you’ve even watched one episode of any ‘Top Model’ series, it becomes self-evident that the requirements to get even a foothold in this sector are often exacting and complex.
It sounds strange, but being beautiful isn’t an automatic right of admission. This corner of the market is notoriously competitive, and agencies are always looking for the next face that will become the darling of high-fashion. If you’ve watched ‘Top Model’, you will know that the ‘cheerleader’ contestant – the girl who turns heads in real life – isn’t always guaranteed success. It’s a harsh truth that conventional good looks do not always translate well in the world of high-fashion. Many models prosper when their look offers something a little off the beaten track. Having features that photograph well is a must, along with height (usually at least 5’ 9” although exceptions are sometimes made), and a body that’s slim and evenly proportioned (the famous ‘clothes hanger’ body type).
Having a body that’s born to wear haute couture is a definite plus, but with model agencies looking for high-fashion faces, it’s all in the x-factor; that indefinable quality that makes someone memorable.
This can be an advantage if you’re quirky rather than pretty and tastes change so fast in editorial fashion that you can quite literally be ‘wrong’ one week and the absolute ‘face of the moment’ the next. It goes some way to explaining how a catwalk model can work for months, sometimes years, and suddenly become the girl everyone wants to work with.
However, rejection is a guarantee when trying to break into fashion modelling. The spots available are limited, as editorial is so specific in what it asks of new models. This is the sharp end of the business, and it’s not unusual to find yourself retiring before the age of 25.
But if you really think you have what it takes (and be brutally honest with yourself), you could end up working with some of the best photographers, stylists and editors in the world. Your time in the limelight may not last long, but a good career specialising in editorial could provide opportunities you never thought possible.
Catalogue / commercial
Once considered the poor cousin to editorial, commercial modelling is rapidly becoming one of the success stories of the industry. If you have good, photographable features but think you’re too old / short / girl or boy next door to get into high-fashion, this could well be the best option for you.
This type of modelling spills over from print ads into TV work and you don’t have to be an expert to figure out that there’s a lot more work to go round. Think of the number of adverts you see in any one day: toothpaste, lingerie, sportswear, hair-care – each one requires a face to sell that product and that person could be you.
The requirements listed by any commercial agency are similar to high-fashion, but with one crucial difference: you must have a look that is photogenic, warm and accessible. A great smile could quite literally make your fortune.
Having the basics – good skin, hair, teeth and nails will help you get through the door of an agency, but personality and flexibility is what could get you signed on the spot.
Just as with high-fashion, the client rules. What they want, you have to deliver. Being a good listener, and more crucially, able to work quickly and effectively with a creative team is an essential for this type of modelling. It’s a misnomer that ‘catalogue’ is for models that weren’t good enough for high-fashion. You need many of the same skills, and pressures of time and budget are just as high. Getting the right look on camera is a non-negotiable, and the only difference is that you could be modelling catalogue rather than couture. But making cheaper fabrics look just as good on film as their pricier counterparts is all about attitude. Wear catalogue with the same panache you’d reserve for Chanel, and your career will soar.
The key difference with commercial modelling is the work, or rather the amount of it. If you’re a success you will definitely know about it, because you will be working around the clock.
As I said earlier, catalogue has been one of the most resilient sectors of the modelling industry when it comes to bucking the economic downturn. In order to buy a product, we have to know about it in the first place, and the smarter companies have kept their advertising budget the same or even increased it during the recession.
Commercial modelling may have suffered from a self-image crisis in the past, but with commercial models finding themselves in constant demand, this area of the industry has finally had its Cinderella moment.
The good news for any budding commercial model is that your career could indeed have healthier long-term prospects than your editorial counterpart. Look at many of the big-brand beauty ads and they’ve been in the habit of using models that are a similar age to the consumers who will use the product. Gone are the days when an 18-year-old would advertise anti-ageing face cream. Everyone’s more media-savvy these days and that includes us, the consumers.
Advertisers have latched onto this, and it is now not uncommon to see models in their thirties, forties and beyond fronting campaigns for names like L’Oreal, Revlon and Nivea. Want to work in an ever-expanding industry? Commercial modelling may well be your best option to that most elusive thing in modelling: longevity.
Body parts modelling
One of the newest sectors of the industry, this is exactly what it says it is. Watch any advert for washing-up liquid and you’ll instantly spot a pair of perfectly-manicured hands. These will almost certainly not belong to the commercial model fronting the ad, but will belong to a model that specialises in body-part modelling.
Hands, legs and feet are usually the most in-demand and if you have hands that get regularly complimented, there might well be a career in it.
The work can range from the kitchen sink to beauty editorials or accessory shoots (very often a hand-model is drafted in to assist with fashion shoots where close-ups are required and the main model’s hands may not be up to such scrutiny).
This type of modelling can be extremely lucrative, but it requires a lot of patience on your part as it can involve repetitive, sometimes uncomfortable, awkward poses. If you’re low on patience and your tolerance for discomfort is set at zero, this might not be the best modelling option for you.
The downside to this kind of career is that you have to be extra vigilant when it comes to knocks, scrapes, bruises and falls. If you fell and bruised your hand, the worst case scenario would be no work, no bookings or even go-sees until it had fully healed. Some established body-part models even have separate insurance policies taken out in case of even more serious or prolonged injuries which can seriously impact on their ability to make a living.
The good news is that this kind of modelling provides regular work, and just with normal modelling, if you work well with creative teams and deliver results that clients are happy with, you can make a name for yourself and a very comfortable living into the bargain.
Finding your niche in modelling can take a while, but doing some preparation and groundwork is never a waste of time, in fact, quite the opposite. Whether you want to aim for the giddy heights of high-fashion, or want to opt for a more commercial angle, knowing your strengths in relation to what an agency is looking for is crucial if you want a career with a game plan. In the world of modelling, a little well-aimed self-promotion goes a long way.