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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. Keep Reading »

john casablancas collage

His reputation had its ups and its downs, but nobody can deny that John Casablancas was an icon in the fashion modeling world.

In the late 1970s, when John founded Elite Models, the big players were Wilhelmina Cooper and Eileen Ford, both of whom acted motherly towards their models, chaperoning them around the city and making sure they didn’t get into trouble. John Casablancas encouraged models to live glamorous public lives in the fast lane.

Wilhelmina and Ford groomed some great models, but Casablancas created star personalities and big names. He created Supermodels.

When John sold his share of Elite Models in 2000 the agency had 500 models on four continents with bookings of over $100 million per year. Models had become commodities and modeling a big business, in large part to his marketing vision.

Read More: NY Times Obituary – John Casablancas, modeling visionary, dies at 70.