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Modeling: Making it in Milan

One of the most rewarding things about being a writer is that I am always involved in fascinating research. A short while ago I walked into the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in London, England, to research a particular designer when I was overwhelmed with nostalgia at the sight of a huge wall-mounted photograph of Twiggy and another of Jean Shrimpton, two of the greatest models of all time.

They both soared to fame in the swinging 1960s. Twiggy (born Leslie Hornby) and Jean (nicknamed The Shrimp despite being 5’ 9 ½” tall) were supermodels of that era before the term had been coined and before Naomi, Linda, Christy and Tatjana had even been born. After a superlative career, Jean retired from modeling, did some acting and then became an antiques dealer and innkeeper in Cornwall in southwest England. Twiggy became a dancer, and an actress appearing on Broadway and in films and more recently as a judge on America’s Next Top Model

Fifteen minutes before walking into the V&A I had been in a department store in fashionable Oxford Street where Twiggy’s lovely face looked down from advertisements. She is a spokesmodel for the store. Her career has spanned 50 years, which in the modeling and acting industry has to be a record especially for a woman. Agents, casting directors and photographers agree that Twiggy’s success and longevity are not only the result of her looks and figure but of her reputation for being charming, versatile and having a great attitude.

As I went through my mail for this column all of this was in my mind as I read questions from young people wanting to be models. Paraphrased, they all came down to the following question:

 

Rare Form

Q. What does it take to become a successful model in today’s very competitive world?
A.
As you can imagine there are several requirements but at the top of the list these days is a good personality and the right attitude. Modeling is a tough business. It is the most sought after career in the world. Many agents have told me in so many words that a beautiful face and perfect body might take a girl to the top but personality will keep her there.

I asked Simone Riva, a former model (also a classical pianist and champion water skier) who scouts globally for his agency in Milan, 2morrowmodel, for the criteria for his agency. He told me: “The first thing we look for in a model, male or female, is a good attitude. The competition is very high in Milan. It is a very hard market. Models must deal with rejection gracefully. This is not a job everyone can do. You have to be beautiful but even more important than this is that a girl must act professionally. We have a lot of beautiful girls but if any one of them does not behave properly in front of us at the agency, or in front of the clients her career will be very short. She must smile, be gentle and be polite. The mood a girl shows to a client is very important. Even if the girl is amazing the client won’t book her if her attitude is bad. Some girls think that because they are beautiful they can do what they want. They become snobs. The client will quickly tell them ‘as beautiful as you are there are thousands of other girls just as beautiful with nice dispositions who we know will be a pleasure to work with.’ This is a very important lesson. I instill this into all of my girls.”

We discussed other requirements for a model who wants to have a successful career with 2morrowmodel. “The age range for our agency is 15-24, with some exceptions, for women; and 18-30 for men. Height for girls is at least 5’ 8”- 5’ 11”; 6’ 0 is a little too tall. Guys must be 6’ 1”- 6’ 2”, but if a guy is 6’ 0”, is very good looking and has a strong book, we will take him.

“We develop very new faces and make contracts immediately if we are sure that the model will behave professionally. We take measurements every week be to make sure they meet our requirements. Hips cannot be more than 34”- 35”, and that is the maximum. We work a lot with commercial models and also with editorial and high fashion models for catwalk.

“Americans can only come to Italy for three months. Then they must return and renew their visa. If a model comes for one season and does not work a lot we will not take her back. If she does do well we will continue to develop and promote her.”

We discussed the economy in Milan pertaining to the industry. He said: “The economy crisis caused a lot of changes in the business but for our agency they were for the better. It meant that clients who did not want to pay the high fees demanded by the bigger agencies for their top models came to us. Our business has increased 40% over last year.”

Selena Wallace who owns Wallace Model Management (W) in Vancouver, Canada, modeled all over the world but found her niche in model management. Selena discovered 14-year-old Noot Seear in a shopping mall in 1996. Noot’s upbeat outlook on life contributed to her amazing success story. She started modeling in Vancouver and a year later went to New York to advance her career. In 1998, she made her debut in New York Fashion Week wearing Calvin Klein, Daryl K, and Ralph Lauren. The same year she became famous, styled as the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, in an Yves Saint Laurent ad campaign. She went on to become the face of Giorgio Armani and to grace the covers of all of the top fashion magazines. Five years ago, Noot decided to pursue her passion for acting. She took acting lessons and during fund raising charity work (another top priority in her life) in Cambodia, she received a call from Vancouver to audition for a part in the sequel to the phenomenal film saga Twilight. She won the part of Heidi in New Moon. Her acting career was launched.

Selena has seen many changes in the industry in Canada in the past years. She is concerned about actors who don’t want to admit they got their start as models and about the stigma that still hangs over models who go into acting. She told me: “There has been a great cross over between fashion, modeling, television and films. The lines are completely blurred. This means that models need to be able to act and develop themselves into a package of talent. I have established my girls with Los Angeles based agencies for film and television. It is amazing but there is a bit of a stigma attached to models crossing over into acting. I am trying to change the attitude towards models in my little part of the world, and I tell models to be proud of where they got their start. When you look at the fashion industry and the acting world, seven out of ten actors had their start as models. They just don’t talk about it.”

Her advice to models and parents who are newcomers is: “Models and parents need to be educated about this industry. Not every kid is going to be a star. People who are successful in either fashion or film are only two percent of the population and everyone has to take that into consideration. We work in a small population of very gifted people and very lucky people.”

 

Eve Matheson is the author of The Modeling Handbook, a bestseller in the industry. She has been writing about the modeling and acting world for over 20 years. The newest edition of Model Scoop And Acting Info is now available and provides a wealth of information on how to have a happy, successful, safe career. Eve is a journalist and the mother of a former international model. She has worked as a model, and in radio and television as a writer and presenter. Eve lives with her husband, Ian, a plastic surgeon, in Tampa, Florida.

 

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