There are three big, famous modeling agencies: Ford, Elite and Wilhelmina. They’re the powerhouses, but it’s hard to pivot a large corporate entity in a new direction. 

And fashion, my darlings, is moving in a new direction. Either move with it or move out of the way!

Let me explain:

Fashion used to have a defined cycle: runway, editorial, catalog, fit/showroom, commercial advertising. Each had it’s own time of the year so girls would move one cycle to the next, walk the runway one month, shoot the editorials the next month, shoot the catalogs in the months to follow. Fit and showroom girls were a full size 6 and worked a local market with the Fashion Coterie week every six months. Commercial was a frowned-upon adjective that implied cheesy lifestyle-type work and less money.

Europe was where models built their portfolios, starting in Milan and hopefully ending up in Paris. Germany had the money. Models would only move to NYC once their portfolios were strong and they’d compete in the high-stakes world of ad agencies and department stores. Japan was where models secretly went on six-week contracts to pad their bank accounts.

Fast forward to  today’s GLOBAL commercial fashion market generating over a trillion dollars per year. The Brazilians took over IMG’s booty-market (hello SI & Victoria’s Secret), Anina left NYC as an unknown model to break out as the most recognizable model in China, and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff took NY Fashion Week to Lincoln Center with the intention of making it a year-round event. The high-end fashion economy sunk to new lows and the retail sector reacted with severe downsizing and less-tailored garments; Macy’s acquired May Company, merging over 50% of US department store holdings into a single corporate entity while shuttering Macy’s West corporate headquarters.

Gone are the days of big budgets, trips to exotic locations with full teams shooting 6 shots in a day, and full-length catalog pages. Airfares hiked and models absorbed overhead costs in the hopes of keeping their clientele. Day rates dropped, but more models are willing to work for less, so clients cast a wider net. And then came eCommerce, the perfect solution for a resource-constrained retail world.

Ford NY has downsized to one division of models with a spectrum of ages & sizes. Consolidation is taking place across the entire industry. 

Think I’m wrong? Ford Models NY closed their Plus, Lifestyle and Classic boards on July 1st, 2013. Over 500 models and 20 agents went running for the doors to find new homes. Other agencies have followed suit, downsizing to their strongest, often youngest core of talent. Boutique agencies like DNA, Q Models, One Management and Muse are standing strong with solid, diverse, selective talent. Less models equals less overhead, which equals a better profit margin.

Photographers are shooting everything on white seamless in studio, 40 shots per day. Clothes are shown as still-life shots. Soon, it’ll just be one quick 360 degree video of a model in the clothes, and digital stills will be lifted from there. Faster and faster, until it all ends up feeling nothing like inspired art and more like a mass-production factory.

Fashion modeling has become commercially-driven and Warhol-ian. 
In the end, it’s a trillion-dollar business.

So, how does that affect my choice of agency representation? I’m betting on global commercial fashion and advertising to be the big consistent earners. I believe it’s a trusted relationship between the producer/casting director and boutique-level modeling agency that will prevail in this churning sea of human canvases.  The aforementioned net can’t be cast too wide because clients don’t want to see every model in town; there isn’t enough time in the day. So who do they call? Their trusted sources, their besties. 

It’s no longer about the agency, it’s about the agent’s relationships.
I can’t book the job if I never get the casting call.

Bella Agency was founded in 2004 by Ray Volant, formerly the director of Ford Models’ Commercial Fashion division. He is joined by Abbey Fishman, formerly the director of Wilhelmina Models’ Media division. What do they specialize in? Advertising. Sure, they get catalog work, but their primary focus is models featured in the ads that you see on billboards, in magazines, on television, and on the web. It’s a dynamic, timely division of the business where corporations still allocate consistent, seasonal budgets to broadcast their brand’s single “this is us this season” message.

AT&T, Verizon, pharmaceuticals and beauty campaigns all need to keep their message in front of your eyes… so they advertise.

Reflecting on my body of work I realized that I’m already working in this sector of the industry more than I am in designer fashion. There’s plenty of crossover like my Louis Vuitton ads. They’re a perfect example of what I describe above, a creative and timely campaign for the season with diverse models playing diverse roles. But of course Steven Meisel is always ahead of the curve, masterfully blending art with commercialism.

I may not be so lucky as to shoot Louis Vuitton ads for the next decade, and so it will be with a giggle and humility that I may appear in the next Viagra ad, but I will be a happily employed model. At the end of the day modeling is my job, and as you would strategize where your career is headed I do the same for mine, positioning myself as best I can for a successful future as a working model, not just a featured headshot on a cool agency’s website where I’d never get casting calls.

And there you have it!

Paula Patrice is now represented in New York and Los Angeles by Bella Agency.

Let the games begin!