The Other Mother

The Graduate Rockridge 2016Almost everyone who knows me, knows that the child graduated from high school in June and moved to New York in August to pursue a modeling career. And for those of you that don’t, she graduated and moved to New York to pursue a modeling career 😉

I’ve received mixed responses from people when I tell them what Karis is doing—and any parent of a recent grad will know exactly what I mean. You cannot get through a conversation where post-high school plans are not discussed. Reactions to Karis’s modeling plans run the gamut from barely veiled disapproval to genuine excitement and support. I’m pretty sure a lot of people are silently thinking, “Thank GOD I don’t have to deal with THAT,” relieved that their child is safely ensconced in some temple of higher learning—though I feel compelled to point out that this is a costly endeavor with no guarantees either.

I’m not going to waste a whole lot of time on the haters (especially since I’m pretty sure most of them don’t read my blog) but suffice to say that yes, we thought long and hard about this; no, this was not a spur of the moment decision because she got bad grades (she did quite well thanks very much); yes, we have been planning this with her mother agent Liz Bell of Lizbell Agency since she was fourteen and no, she is not working illegally as a slave or forced to go to nightclubs to earn her keep. Though that does happen. Just not if you’re with a proper agency. And most people do ask me if I know about that.

Karis has a US work visa and a social security number and it’s all quite above board. The majority of her costs are covered because she is working with people who believe she has a very good chance of success which is what Liz has told us from the beginning. In the early days I demanded that Liz “be honest” and “tell me what you really think” in terms of Karis pursuing modeling as a career. At which point Liz gently reminded me that this was her business (and not some obsessive hobby that she spent ALL her time on) and that if she thought Karis should pursue academics instead of modeling she would most certainly let me know in a timely manner. #gotit #secretlyhopingshewouldsayno

Anyway, I digress. Many people have asked me how this whole modeling thing works and I will attempt to address this in a variety of blog posts, hopefully in a logical order. Well, it will be logical in my mind at least. To begin at the beginning, we must start with the Mother Agent.

Karis has wanted to model since she was eleven. I was initially skeptical for most of the reasons any parent would be skeptical—it is a recipe for eating disorders, exploitation and superficiality—and she was too short and too shy anyway. And she had braces and a lime green retainer. Furthermore, it seemed a strange choice for a child who didn’t particularly enjoy or demand to be in the spotlight. However, she persisted and I reluctantly started looking at local agencies when she was thirteen. We submitted photos online to Lizbell Agency as instructed. And heard nothing. Ultimately, a mutual friend (thanks Karen Delaney-Wolverton) contacted Liz and we got our meeting.

After the meeting, Liz told us Karis needed to be at least 5’8” and preferably 5’9” and to contact her again when Karis was fourteen and had her braces off. One month after Karis’s fourteenth birthday (no, she still hadn’t forgotten about it), we met again with Liz and signed with Lizbell Agency that week. We did look at other agencies but chose Liz for a variety of reasons:

  • Liz is a former international model and knows the industry.
  • She is well-connected and has current relationships with agents and casting directors in New York and Europe (Milan, London, Paris). This is important.
  • She is a mother herself (bonus points from me) and understands that this is your CHILD, not a commodity (well, she’s a commodity too, but also your child).
  • Lizbell Agency is a boutique agency meaning each model gets a lot of personal attention.

TIP #1: If you have ANY connections at all to a modelling agency, use them. Agencies are inundated with photos and don’t always get a chance to have a close look at all submissions. Alternatively, check out social media channels (mostly Instagram and Snapchat these days) for open calls for new faces as it is a sign they are actually looking to sign new models OR if there is a live scouting event GO. It’s a great opportunity to actually get a face-to-face meeting with the agent…not always an easy feat.
TIP #2: Do your research. Ask friends for recommendations. Almost everyone will know someone whose daughter is a model and they’re usually happy to answer questions (I’ve met with four parents of ‘prospective’ models). Local photographers, stylists and make-up artists (MUA) are also a great resource as they often work with agencies to develop new faces and have some fairly good intel on the local agent scene. That being said, meet with agents, ask questions and consider your ‘gut’ reaction as you will have a close relationship with this person for a long time and you need to be able to work together.
Tip #3: READ THIS E-BOOKThe Guide for New Faces It only costs about $2 and is very informative about the modeling industry. Also follow their blog as it’s chock full of relevant information and plus they’re Canadian! I found out about this from a Scottish model while I was in Tokyo with Karis.

fullsizerender-19Also, funny story. After I found out about them, I followed them on Instagram. They posted a photo of one of our favourite restaurants (Mamma Luisa’s Table owned by an Italian guy who only speaks Italian and Japanese) in Tokyo which was just around the corner from the model apartment we stayed in. So of course I commented on the post which initiated a dialogue and ended up with me writing an article for their blog.

But what IS a mother agency you may still be wondering and why is it different than any other agency. Basically pretty much ANY agency can call themselves a mother agency in relation to a specific girl. It means that they ‘discovered’ and developed the model and arranged or facilitated her being launched with other agencies in other markets worldwide. A Mother Agent usually has input (in consultation with the model and her other main agency) on career direction and choices and has a ‘mother(bear)-like’ relationship with the model in that they will protect their model’s interests.

Once a model is signed with their first agency—AKA their Mother Agent—the agent will work to develop the model over a period of years. This involves education about the industry (meetings or handouts from the agency), walking lessons and photo sessions (known as ‘creatives’ or ‘testing’) to get images for a portfolio. The agent will take what used to be known as ‘Polaroids’ but are now ‘digitals’ or ‘digis’ in a basic outfit (tank top and jeans or shorts) and bikini shots to post on the website. Digitals are also taken without makeup as it is necessary to see the bone structure and skin clearly. (Before I knew this, one of the shots I submitted was Karis with stunning makeup done by a senior MAC artist. I thought it was lovely, but they want to see bone structure. Live and learn.) Models will also have their measurements taken for height, bust, waist and hips. *Not even going to open this can of worms as any discussions of weight and measurements in the modeling industry results in a highly charged emotional discussion. It’s a personal decision.*

However, I will offer this advice, if your daughter (or son) has any issues at all around eating or body image, do not even think about allowing them to model. The industry is not kind. Karis regards fitness and healthy eating as part of her job: much as a university student needs to study, she needs to stay in shape. I think this is probably the healthiest way to think of something that could, and often does, go badly awry for many models.

Images above are from a short video Karis did with Liz for Fashion One

To develop a model, you need to think of it as a training program—it is not a way to make easy and consistent money, especially in Vancouver. When you factor in your time as the parent (and yes, it will take up YOUR time driving to castings, shows and shoots), parking and money spent on clothes you will NOT be in the money at the end of the year. If you cover your costs in the first year, consider that a roaring success.

That being said, in Grade 11 and 12, Karis did make a decent amount of money, though this is not really the name of the game. Learning how to model, how to walk, how to deal with clients and agents, building confidence and interpersonal skills and learning how to manage your own correspondence is the goal of modeling during high school. The secondary goal for some girls is building up a portfolio that is comprehensive enough to support a Visa application to pursue a modeling career in the USA after high school graduation. (That whole paperwork thang is another story. OMG. The trees that died for Karis’s career.) Anyway, throughout the years, Karis has done many creatives; fashion shows for Blanche MacDonald, LaSalle College, Eco Fashion Week and various charities; Lookbooks (fancy word for ‘catalogue’) and campaigns for local designers all in the name of honing her modeling skills and creating content for her portfolio. See below for images.

TIP #4: Do not ever pay anything for modeling or personal development courses or to ‘join’ an agency. A good agency will work with new models to teach them the business and will have relationships with local photographers who will do creatives/testing in exchange for images to develop a portfolio for free. The only thing we pay for is a small annual fee to maintain Karis’s portfolio on the LB website and for any comp cards, printing costs or courier charges. We also buy a basic model wardrobe, some of which is suggested by Liz (would likely vary from agent to agent) and some items that are necessities.
Basic Necessities: Model bag, portfolio & comp cards (provided by the agency) black thong and strapless bra; nude thong and strapless bra; black and nude bras with no padding and no underwire (bralette); black bikini; plain black heels, casting outfit #1 (usually something simple that shows the lines of your body like a tank top and jeans); lip gloss and cover-up; hair elastic and hairbrush.
Options: plain nude heels; ankle boots with low heel; casting outfit #2 (simple black dress).

Now you’re probably wondering WHY an agency would bother to develop new faces and act as a Mother Agency especially since I’ve pointed out that it takes years and if the model isn’t earning much money, the agency certainly isn’t either. Cost/benefit analysis = FAIL.

It’s true, scouting and developing a model takes a lot of time and does not pay well. Most US and Canadian agents charge 20% of the model’s fee and 20% on the client side…so if a model earns $1200 in a year the agent will make $480 and the model takes home $960 before tax as (N.B. models file taxes as a contract worker not an employee). That’s not much money when you consider the time and administration necessary for new models.

The payoff for a Mother Agent is when one of their models starts working internationally and earning real money. And that is because the Mother Agent receives an ongoing commission, paid out of the booking agent’s cut (in that particular market) for every job the model does. If you have a good eye, good relationships with international agents and you train your development girls well, a Mother Agent can make a decent income from ‘her’ models who work internationally.

Before you decide you’re going to rush out and open a modeling agency to get a jump on this passive income stream, let me tell you that being a Mother Agent is not easy. I’m not sure what the exact numbers are but you have to develop a lot of girls in order to produce a working model.

Many things can go wrong. Some girls hate it; some aren’t good in front of the camera; some choose sports or dance or school; some are unable to deal with the insensitivity of the industry as a whole; some girls do not grow tall enough or cannot maintain their measurements in a healthy way; some parents change their minds and a myriad of other reasons can make a girl opt out of modeling.

Even if a model makes it to that magical gatepost of graduation and is launched in New York and internationally, there are still no guarantees they will be successful or even if they are successful, if they will continue to work. Modeling is HARD work and many girls give up before they achieve their potential because they’re too homesick, they miss their boyfriends or they simply can’t manage the lifestyle because of the uncertainty and inconsistency associated with the industry.

All these girls—the development girls and the working models—represent hours, weeks, months and years of time invested by a Mother Agent who has no guarantees and no compensation if a model decides to quit.
Also as a side note, if you like to sleep regularly and through the night, being a Mother Agent is not a great career choice. When your models are working in Europe, most of the frantic emails about options, jobs and other incidentals occur from 11pm -9am PST. It’s easier when they’re in New York #justsayin’

Models can, (and usually do), have different agencies in different markets worldwide unless you are signed with an agency with a global network like IMG or The Society/Elite Worldwide. The Mother Agent is the link to all the agencies representing a model and they all need to work together once a model gets busy in various markets. When I say the Mother Agent is the ‘link’ it also means that they have developed and continue to nurture relationships with the bookers at these agencies (not necessarily the agency themselves, though sometimes this is the case). THIS is the most important thing. Someone could be the most organized and well-intentioned person ever but if they have no key relationships in the industry, they aren’t able to secure the best contracts for their models. So as you can see, a good Mother Agent is invaluable as their particular experience and skill set is not easy to come by…I don’t think there’s a course anywhere for this. Their key relationships aside, they are are also meant to provide input and suggestions to ensure that the model is casting for, and getting work that reflects their ultimate career goals.

For example, consider the following scenario: A model is in London doing editorial work (not much pay if any, but good exposure). She gets an option (an option means that a client is interested and is inquiring as to availability, but does not guarantee anything) to go to Paris for two days to work on e-commerce (well paid, no prestige); an option to do an editorial in London for a top designer (no pay, product in kind=free clothes); or a trip to Singapore to do a fashion show for a local designer (paid, plus expenses and clothes). All the dates overlap. How do you prioritize and choose?

This is not as easy as you might think as it is not solely about the money. A mother agent would sort through these options with the model’s main international agent which, for most Canadian girls, would be an American agent, ideally in New York and the agent in the particular market. Now back to the options, there are factors to consider for each one that range far beyond the money.

  • Who is the client? Sometimes it’s about building relationships for the future more than the money or prestige. Perhaps the designer or casting agent likes the model and may want to work with her on a lower profile job before offering something bigger.
  • Who else is on the job? Sometimes it is strategic to place a model in a job that doesn’t seem like much in terms of prestige or pay but it may be an opportunity to meet a top stylist, photographer or Makeup Artist (MUA).
  • What is the exposure? If an editorial is unpaid but is in a decent publication with a large social media following it might be worth considering. Sometimes flight and hotels are covered and sometimes models are paid in kind (clothes). Sometimes not.
  • On the downside, money and potential relationship-building needs to be weighed against the reach/exposure of poor images on the market. Because once you’re noticed, Models.com keeps track of everything you do. Which is GREAT. Providing that all the work you do is of the same calibre…otherwise, you’ll become known for lower-level work and it’s hard to work your way up again. Probably impossible.

So as you can see, decisions are rarely straightforward and this is where the importance of a well-connected and up-to-date Mother Agent cannot be overstated. All these options must be designated 1st, 2nd or 3rd or just a flat out no; however, the industry is small and one must also take care not to offend anyone. Because they’ll never forget that either. The importance of having a Mother Agent that can collaborate intelligently and strategically with other agents is a career necessity.

fullsizerender-22
Liz with her girls in NY

So the Mother Agent is like a mother…overworked and unappreciated and always tired. Having to deal with other parents who may or may not be crazy (Not me of course. I am eminently reasonable #bahahaha) but still having to be polite. Ultimately though, the Mother Agent is fiercely on the side of her models in navigating through the crazy, unpredictable but potentially rewarding fashion industry. #thanksLiz

 

Any feedback, comments, corrections and questions are welcome 🙂

GLOSSARY: (There will be a short quiz in the next post)

  • Mother Agent
  • portfolio
  • creative
  • testing
  • Polaroid(s)
  • digitals /digis
  • Lookbook
  • comp card
  • bralette
  • commission
  • bookers
  • option
  • casting agent
  • stylist
  • MUA

6 comments

  1. I stumbled across your blog via a mutal Facebook friend’s comment on your post. Not sure if you remember but me but I was Karis’ grade 2 teacher – when she was that shy, quiet little girl!!! I read your blog post with awe at what Karis has gone on to achieve – what a beautiful girl she has grown into and has an obvious passion and talent for her career! Also, as a mom of a girl myself, I loved the honesty of your blog. Wishing Karis continued success and happiness!

    Like

    1. Mrs.Dowle! I guess I don’t have to call you that anymore 😉 Of COURSE I remember you. One of Karis’s very favourite teachers at Mulgrave. Yep, she grew up and is now in London all by herself and heading back to Paris next week. It’s so strange to have her away…she is still 17. Is your daughter about 10 now? Are you still teaching? Hope all is going well for you and thanks for your kind words 😘

      Like

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