With fashion month soon to be upon us, models will be attending casting calls in between fittings, shows, and visits to their agencies. If you haven't seen what a casting call for a runway show is like, it can be quite anxiety driven. Girls are literally lined up by the 10's and 20's outside in hallways. Some Casting Directors have pre-casting castings, in which they will see hundreds of girls in just 2 days time, so they can edit down their choices for runway shows accordingly. Just try mentioning the name Russell Marsh to a model and watch her reaction. Because of the timing, I thought it was appropriate to republish an interview I did with Sarah Doukas, the founder of Storm Model Management and the one who discovered Kate Moss at JFK airport. In it, we talked about the impact of style on a models career.
We sat down for a chat at her agency in South Kensington and what follows is a brief glimpse of the modeling world, distilled ultimately into two major categories: how a models personal style can help create more opportunities for them and how press (think my blog here) can help create more opportunities for models as well.
I must add that everyone at Storm Models from their Press Officer Paula Karaiskos to their entire New Faces Division was a pleasure to work with. Many thanks to everyone at Storm who helped me along the way and especially to Sarah for breaking from her hectic schedule for the interview.
THE IMPACT OF PERSONAL STYLE ON THE SUCCESS OF A MODELS CAREER
Craig: Can a models sense of style positively impact her career?
Sarah: I definitely think it can positively impact her career. It's got to be simple but the point about that question is, that if they have absolutely no style and they go out just not looking great, they're wearing very unflattering clothes and things like that, then it's definitely going to have a negative impact.
Sarah: Oh god yes, there's no question. I'm obsessed with finding British girls. It's my big thing....and it's hard to get them to the point of going out to do shows...I know that once they hit that international circuit, and they're sitting in a Paris agency and seeing those Parisian clients, if they don't look the part...you know they're wearing some kind of scraggy old t-shirt...(sighs)..they don't have to go and spend a great deal of money, but style is really important, very simple. So I think it is important.
Craig: so the lack of style can definitely negatively impact
Sarah: Impact. There's no doubt that lack of style can negatively impact. I'm not talking about wearing Balenciaga, but very simple High Street stuff. That elongates your legs and is just flattering.
STORM AGENCY TAKES ACTIONS TO IMPROVE A MODELS STYLE
Craig: do you guys tell models how to dress here?
Craig: for castings?
Craig: So if you don't mind me asking in what? just jeans...stuff that shows their body?....is that what they're supposed to wear?
Sarah: I think if they walked around in a great big smock it would be a bit a problem for a client and I'm not suggesting that they look provocatively, you know wearing sexy stuff but certainly stuff that shows the length of their body and that they're slim. You can get somebody with the most fantastic figure and they come in here and may be in a dress like this (motions wide with hands) the client would say, "well I wonder what's going on there....have you put on weight?"...They can look at their book but they don't really know...so it's advisable to dress in something that can really see, you know show your shape. That's what I think.
Craig: so the key for style...there's not many options if you're having to wear skinny jeans and t-shirts??
Sarah: well you can wear leggings, they are back in fashion. You can still layer up. You can wear a really nice cardi with a longer tightish dress with leggings. There are lots of options. You can wear a short skirt with leggings. With boots. Again with layers. But just not, you can't walk around in sort of voluminous clothes as the clients are going to say "Hey whats going on under there? Maybe she's pregnant?"
Craig: So you do intervene then? On occasion, when it comes to a girl's style?
Sarah: Well I sit at the booking table. I do all the time. I like everybody to be autonomous in their job here and do their thing. I don't want to look over peoples shoulder. I hate that kind of thing because I work at the booking table with everybody and I don't have an office. You know, I'm just one of them, I'm not the boss or any such thing.
But yeah I do because I know its going to have a negative impact if they go out looking like that. And they appreciate it. You can say it in a really nice way. You don't have to say, "listen you have terrible style. We need to completely change you." You just have to say, "now listen, when you go out I want you to look great."
GREAT PERSONAL STYLE CREATES MORE SALES VALUE FOR BOOKING AGENTS
Sarah: You know they go into a French agency or a New York agency, the bookers are looking at them for the first time and at the end of the day we have to be realistic about this job: they are selling a product, those booking agents. So they have to believe in it when they see it. So they have to see somebody looking -- great. The book can look fantastic. But you know what? You need to believe to sell something, of course you do. You can't make any bones about it. It's a human business. And I really like these girls or I wouldn't do it. But we are selling something. So you must look good.
THE IMPACT OF PRESS ON A MODELS BOOKING VALUE
Craig: regarding press as opposed to runway shows, advertising campaigns and editorials, press like a girl gets her photo taken and she's in the New York Times...or interviews...like this is a form of press (I pointed to 1 of 4 of my Teen Vogue solo pages)
Sarah: does it have their names?
Craig: it does
Sarah: Exactly, that's very important. Years ago nobody knew who models were. Apart from those famous models, they were never given credit in a magazine or anything so there were was no credits given. So that was one thing that people were quite anonymous. And i think press is huge and I think it's really important.
We started with PR in 89 or 90. Because I just thought it was hugely important and Richard Branson was my partner for many years and he was like, "Sarah" we know he likes the press...he was like "it's really important"
I think it's important. Kate Moss is the first one that we did it with. And I build press books and I've done it on all my models. Whether it be Sophie Dahl, Lily Cole, Devon Aoki, Jourdan Dunn, Behati Prinsloo, Liberty Ross....
Craig: one thing that really gets me about press is, yeah it's cool because the model gets her name circulated in the public, but how does that impact the booking value of a model?
Sarah: Huge, because you know you've got a model "Ann Smith" who doesn't get any press, who is a great looking girl, and works alot. And you've got somebody else, say "Paula Reed" who gets press, is out in the public domain, if you went and asked somebody in the street do you know who this is? They'd say yes. Well that's what market research is. So then you get a big company going, "I want a name." So you put this beautiful girl up who hasn't got press and you put this one up who has got press. Who are they going to choose? Does the general public know this person? So they sell masses and her value is much higher than this one's is. Way higher.
ALL THINGS EQUAL, THE MODEL WITH MORE PRESS GETS MORE OPPORTUNITIES
Craig: so everything else being equal, they both walked the same amount of runway shows, they both did the same advertising campaigns and editorials, but one just got the press, that one is going to be the more valuable one then?
Sarah: yes, much more. Look at our magazines. Look at the campaigns. They're all celebrities. Actresses. Somebody well known, they take up what, 80-90% of fabulous campaigns. You know that's because that's the power of somebody whose got a name....
But if you're in the business. If you see your chance that somebody can go that route and if they want to, you've got to take it because it's going to be a huge benefit financially to them and it's going to be a benefit to the agency...it feeds on itself. As soon as you do some press, it's unbelievable. You get so many opportunities open. People are calling. It opens doors.
Craig: so being that press is so important, do you train models in self-publicizing?
Sarah: There are definite pitfalls. Of course you say to them "look, don't open up too much about your private life, or things you don't want to say." You have to learn how to talk to press, but you need to keep it professional but you still need to keep it real. They need to be interested in you as a person. At the end of the day you've got to understand that you can just chat away and end up saying something that you wish you hadn't said. So you do have to be guarded. Open but guarded...Paula would sit in if it was somebody young. Like when Jourdan had done press. She would sit in....
PRESS MUST INCLUDE A MODELS NAME TO BE IMPACTFUL
Craig: Regarding press, it's valuable as long as it includes the models name?
Sarah: Oh it has to. It has to be all about her.
Craig: So just a photo without the name isn't necessarily valuable?
Sarah: nobody would know who you were....if they don't have the name, then the general public just don't know. It's interesting now when people ring and they say they, "Ah, I want somebody well known." Well it's not easy. Not that many models are well known anymore. They're just not -- for the general public. For our world, we know who they are, but the man walking down the street doesn't. They have to constantly see the image of a person and interviews on her, with her name, with her name, constantly for it to get into their head and they suddenly say, "Oh I know who this person is"
WORDS OF WISDOM TO THE COMMERCIAL MODEL
Craig:....commercial versus high fashion...who makes more money in the short-term?
Sarah: the commercial girls make a fortune
Craig: they make tons
Sarah: they make tons!
Craig: why is it then that every girl aspires to the high fashion?
Sarah: because we all want to be driving a Ferrari don't we?
Craig: but you don't necessarily make as much money do you if you go the high fashion route?
Sarah: no, You know you always get these girls that make a load of money. You know they're fantastic looking girls and they're doing brilliantly. And they're like, "you know what, I'm going to cut all my hair off. I'm going to go seriously edgy. I want you to get me into...." And I'm like "You're taking a massive risk. You're going to ruin your market in the short-term" And it happens. It does happen. I can mention lots of girls who it has happened....I always think, "You should be glad for what you've got. I understand wanting to aspire to better and greater things. But, you could in the short term lose your whole market "
Craig: so a girl can start off as a commercial model and then go the high fashion route?
Sarah: it happens
Craig: does it really?
THE MONETARY VALUE OF OPENING AND CLOSING A SHOW
Craig: when a model opens and closes a show, do they get paid extra?
Sarah: well I don't know that they get paid extra per se, but if a model is good enough to open and close, she may well be on a much higher rate than somebody else. I mean it's negotiated. It's all negotiated.
NEW MAGAZINES NEED GREAT PHOTOGRAPHERS WITH A GREAT TEAM TO BOOK TOP MODELS
Craig: I've got another question for you. A new magazine, a start up magazine in London calls you up and they say "we want your top girl" What are the credentials that someone has to bring for a new magazine?
Sarah: They'd have to bring an amazing photographer, stylist, hair and make up...all the jazz.
Craig: What if they don't have a famous photographer?
Sarah: You would have to be very careful with the top talent. Because you don't really know what it's going to look like. You'd ask for a dummy copy. And this that and the other but you wouldn't give top talent.