It seems that The Model Agency may be our new guilty pleasure to replace the much missed My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. This fly-on-the-wall documentary reveals the bitching, backstabbing and body bullying bookers behind the scenes of the most glamorous industry – modelling. Founded by Carole White and her brother Chris Owen, the world-famous, Premier Model Management, are leaders in their field. They have nurtured some of the world’s greatest models including Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Claudia Schiffer and Linda Evangelista. Unapologetic in their pursuit of perfection, Carole and her team of bookers must juxtapose the pressure of the office with the glamour, sweat and tears of the models at work. This new seven-part series offers unprecedented access to the world of modelling revealing the reality of daily life in the world’s most glamorous industry.
A colourful cast of characters inhabit the high-octane world of The Model Agency. From bookers, scouts, office assistants, to the models who pass through the doors of the agency, this series follows them all during the adrenaline-fuelled weeks of Show Season – in the office, at the fittings and on the catwalks of the Fashion Weeks in New York, Milan, Paris and, most crucially for this British agency, London. The Model Agency is an intimate and revealing look at a very private world where youth, beauty and money rule; and an industry that is envied, scrutinised and criticised in equal measure.
Carole White established Premier Model Management in 1981, and has represented some of the world’s most successful models. Here, she speaks to 4Beauty about racial diversity in modelling and the size zero debate.
How has the modelling industry changed during your career?
With the arrival of the internet the global market has opened up. Now, all agencies scout all over the world – before it was more parochial. Then, when the Eastern Bloc opened up, the world was flooded with very beautiful eastern European girls. They’re tall, they tend to leave school earlier, and they have a strong work ethic. So the modelling world has more product, if you like – the competition is much more fierce.
Why are successful black models so rare?
In the 80s and early 90s, black models were used a lot – and then the demand just stopped. When you have a recession, the industry starts playing it safe and, traditionally, blonde models with blue eyes sell better. In high-end fashion there are still opportunities but it takes longer to establish a new black model than a white girl. Unfortunately black models have to be very special and very determined to win work. I don’t think it’s a racist thing; it’s led by money. Magazines are scared to take a punt on something that might not sell.
Do you think that your models are too thin?
No. There are two sides to our business: we have the very high-end side where we’re looking for androgynous, tall girls for the catwalk. Here, the demand is for the unusual – 5’10” girls with no curves – and so we tend to use 16-year-olds who haven’t developed into women yet. This doesn’t mean they have eating problems – it’s their age. They can eat chips and burgers, but they don’t put on weight because their metabolism is fast. Then, we have the other type of model, who is the curvier, 34B, C or D-cup girl. These girls do catalogue and e-commerce work, and those clients do not like skinny girls; they want womanly bodies. This is where the bulk of our work comes from and it’s where we make our money. A lot of the models who start off being skinny young girls turn into curvy, beautiful women when they’re about 19.
How do you promote healthy body image?
The way we look at models’ shapes is different to the way we looked at them 10 years ago. We’re very well-educated on nutrition and exercise, so we say to them, “You have to imagine that you’re going into the Olympics.” We encourage them to go the gym, have personal trainers and eat properly. You wouldn’t expect to find an out-of-shape ballet dancer or athlete. We want our models to be healthy and fit, not flabby – which is something all of society should aspire to.
Do you think you’ll ever get out of this business?
Only in a coffin! I love it and I never cease to enjoy it. I couldn’t think of anything worse than not working.
The Model Agency, starts tonight, Wednesday 23rd February, 10pm on Channel 4
For behind-the-scene clips, exclusive interviews and Q&As with the team at Premier, go to www.channel4.com/modelagency