Advising fellow-mothers of would-be teenage models re. pitfalls

Giving yet more advice to fellow-mothers of would-be teenage models about the potential pitfalls: exploitation, anorexia, rejection etc. After feature on our daughter in Daily Telegraph, scores have contacted me with questions about their own kids’ aspirations to become models (seen as an easy source of income in the credit crunch.) Here’s the feature and some advice I sent earlier today:

 ‘Help, my daughter’s a teenage model’

It was the moment when stage-mothers burst with pride and the rest of us start to panic. Our bright, mischievous 16-year-old daughter Madeline emerging from sports-mad adolescence as a gangly, fashion-mad six-footer, said she wanted to try her hand at modelling and sent off some amateurish photos to several well-known London agencies. No problem, I thought. With so many stick-thin, vixenish Russians currently dominating the catwalks surely Madeline with her other-worldly air, dark curls and large-eyed, English rose beauty would have no chance, and just as well, given her demanding academic schedule, studying for AS levels at King Edward’s High School, Birmingham. After all, we reasoned, why should our quirky, bookish teenager suffer so much unnecessary rejection and constant calorie-counting when we are a family of foodies and she has so much else going for her?

I knew the pitfalls of modelling from my television days; the continual focus on size and appearance so often triggering anorexia in vulnerable youngsters, the unsuitable men in search of model conquests, and the ever-present temptations of drink and drugs. At a Sunday Times photo-session in the 1980s, I had met one high-profile model who needed a bottle of champagne before every shoot, another who sniffed a line of cocaine on the lavatory seat of her agency each morning.

As predicted, most of the agencies ignored Madeline’s blurry snaps but Bookings in Shoreditch suggested a meeting. I insisted on going too and after a two-hour journey from Warwickshire, we arrived, she quietly excited, me pessimistic but reluctant to crush her dreams. Five minutes later after a quick Polaroid snap and a muttered conference between the bookers, we were out on the street: ‘Thanks but no thanks’.

She rang round some other agencies, asking if they would see her ‘on spec’. Several agreed but it was the same story at FM and Storm. Another said she looked too young but come back next summer. Thoroughly deflated she was all for scrapping the final ‘walk-in’ and going home. I insisted she keep her appointment (‘Manners, darling!’) and we wearily slunk into Profile Model Management in Covent Garden, where their booker Gemma took a Polaroid and, to our amazement, welcomed her with open arms. Yes, she had the look they wanted and would only work at weekends and holidays as school definitely came first.

The rewards sounded enticing, particularly for overnight teen sensations like Lily Donaldson, Agyness Deyn and Lily Cole: although editorial work for prestigious magazines like “Vogue” brings in only £100-200 a day, advertising shoots pay up to £10,000 a day, more if a girl is part of a high-level campaign or ‘the face’ of a particular brand. Many rank-and-file models, however, only just break even, after funding their own travel and accommodation on trips abroad. This, though was all in the future.

Within days Gemma had arranged a (free) haircut at Tony and Guy’s, announcing airily “all the models go there” plus several test shoots, all at weekends: unpaid but supplying free portfolio pictures and posing practice, developing an awareness of what photographers are after, plus patience and good-humour despite the endless hanging around. The first shoot, in Camden, was the finals show for two Japanese-Americans from a top London make-up academy. Each ‘look’ took two hours to apply, followed by an hour-long shoot, also captured, unnervingly, on video, and had to be perfect. The other model booked, didn’t show, so Madeline ended up posing cheerfully for all three styles, a 13-hour day, finishing with an exquisite geisha-style makeup and elaborate hairdo secured with knitting needles. I was astounded that someone so volatile and sharp-tongued at home should display such self-discipline and Mandarin politeness.

The next shoot, in a freezing warehouse in deepest Hackney also lasted a whole Sunday. I embarrassed Madeline by insisting on staying for the first hour, terrified of white slavers, but earned my keep, fetching car-rugs, takeaway coffees and pastries for the crew and blue-lipped models, posing in thin satin and net. Why do photographers assume body-conscious models live on air?

Every mother, including me, thinks her daughter is beautiful, but I’m not assuming Madeline will be the next Gisele Bundchen. With hundreds of gorgeous girls competing for dwindling levels of recession-hit work, if she acquires some extra poise, does a handful of paid shoots and makes a few thousand to fund for her gap year, I’ll be happy. If by some miracle, her career suddenly takes off after ‘A’ levels, I’ll advise her to take full advantage while the work is there, bank the money then go to university as soon as the fickle fashion world has moved on to the next New Face.

Meanwhile, after driving hundreds of miles to shoots, car laden with Hamlet revision and low calorie fillers; mushrooms, carrots and grapes. (‘I can’t afford another half-inch on my waist, Mum!’)  the summer holidays should see the first pay-days; no doubt something glamorous like Damart Thermals or verruca cream. And will Mum get the odd tenner to cover all that petrol? No way!

 Life as a Fledgling Teenage Model by Madeline Grant, aged 16

Glamour, what glamour? The first thing you learn at shoots, often in pretty grim surroundings, is how to keep very still, altering your position between shots and your expression by just millimetres, with the photographer looking objectively at you through the lens, not as a person but for the picture you make. You learn patience when the makeup team spends hours stippling on absolutely perfect eye-liner or lip gloss, and force yourself to be chatty and friendly to everyone even when you’ve got up at six and are starting a cold. No chance of Naomi Campbell-type diva-ishness when you’re trying to get on the first rung of the ladder and do your History revision at the same time.

You also have to learn to cope with rejection and develop a thick skin. On my first shoot, the makeup girls joked about my slightly bushy eyebrows, then plucked them minimally, and the photographer joked “Send Frida Kahlo out now” which made me laugh as I don’t have a mono-brow. I’m pretty modest and had to get over the embarrassment of wearing just a wisp of chiffon across my top in a couple of shots

I kept quiet about the modelling at school but word got out (bit embarrassing.) They saw my pictures on the Profile website so now everyone asks about it, and offers to carry my bag at Paris fashion week, even though most of the shoots are in Shoreditch and Hackney.

I’ve been lucky so far, though; no bad experiences and I think having your Mum in the background for revision practice and cups of coffee definitely helps. It’s such a competitive world I’m not expecting to make a fortune but I love fashion and a few shoots will give me useful experience and some extra money when I’m a penniless student.

**A longer version of this article appears in the education magazine “First XI” 

Dos and Don’ts for would-be teenage fashion models.

Do send agencies simple snaps first; usually one head shot, one full length, no make-up.

Don’t pay for ‘portfolio shots’, ‘modelling courses’ or places on dodgy casting websites. If you’re suitable (over 5’9, clear-skinned and size 6-8, with the requisite ‘look’) a good agency will represent you free, taking 15-20% of your earnings – but read the small print!

Do take a friend, or Mum, to shoots if possible, for moral support, safety and snacks. (Starvation diets leave you looking dreadful.)

Don’t consider modelling if you can’t handle rejection, disappointment and discomfort stoically. A model with a friendly professional attitude gets more repeat bookings than a sulky strop-thrower – unless her name is Naomi.

Today’s advice in response to an anxious email from the mother of a wannabe model, aged 15.

Hi Juliette,

Interested to hear about your worries over Samantha being approached on the tube by a potentially dodgy man, offering her a modelling course and portfolio shots for £600. If she is only 15 and a size 14 as you said, I should be extremely careful over the whole business, however flattered she is to be approached. Most fashion models are also size 10 or below, so beware of anyone trying to make a teenager lose a lot of weight simply to do some modelling as this can so easily lead to anorexia, bulimia etc.

I’d also recommend you not to pay any money for portfolio pictures, for a so-called ‘modelling course’ or to be represented by an agency. If a reputable outfitthinks they can get you work, they will represent you for nothing, taking a proportion of any fees you earn – usually 15 to 20%. If they don’t, they won’t take you on, which is why the top agencies have only a limited number of people they handle. Agencies that want an up-front fee or are one of the widespread modelling/casting websites, (which often taken around £10 a month and don’t guarantee any work) will usually take on innumerable ‘clients’, simply for the income they can get from the thousands of wannabes, leaving them to supply their own details and pictures, with very little chance of getting worthwhile paid work.  (There are endless chances to model for nothing but most do not lead on to anything better.)

Our daughter who is getting a steady but not hugely well-paid stream of jobs, but only in the holidays and at weekends from her agency Profile has already realised that most models, even with reputable agencies, don’t earn a vast fortune but are if lucky can make a reasonable amount to help out with college expenses etc. Following several jobs, she has had one or two dubious direct approaches, from designers wanting her to model for them (in one case topless) without going via her agent, to save the designers the 15% commission fee. We have always insisted that all her work is channelled through the agent and at this point, most of those that approached her direct then melted away as if by magic, suggesting that their intentions were less than honourable.

I enclose the list of agencies recommended by the Association of Model Agents – (Yvonne Paul and Samantha Bond handle quite a few glamour models so we opted not even to approach them.) There are other agencies, not on this list, that handle promotional models, an area which demands a lively, outgoing personality rather than a specific, mainly tall, ultra-skinny look needed for editorial and fashion modelling. These also tend to get work by the day and pay by the hour and are not brilliantly paid.)

Many of the agencies on the list will take a look at one or two specific jpegs to give advice on whether they think someone has potential before seeing them in person – usually asking for two head shots, minus makeup – one full face, one in profile, and a full length shot in a vest/T-shirt. Some, like Profile, will see people off the street at ‘walk-ins’ where the bookers take their own Polaroids and judge within a few minutes whether or not they might want to handle someone, but most prefer to see jpegs in advance. Several said to our daughter that she had the potential to be a model but not the right look for them.

It is a very subjective business and you need a thick skin to cope with a lot of rejections and spot the con-merchants, sleaze-balls etc. I have always said that it’s a very long shot but that if Mads wants to give it a go in the holidays, I’ll come to all the shoots to start with.(The girls seem to be shown rather more consideration and respect if they have an adult in the background for at least part of the time.) If this ‘agent’ wants to take some photographs of Samantha, do insist that you are present too – and if he objects you can be pretty sure he’s a wrong’un and you can steer clear of him.

Good luck!


The Association of Model Agents issues a list of a small group of reputable fashion agencies

Alba Model Information gives advice on all areas, including child modelling, plus-size, promotions agencies, beauty pageants and potential scams:

Association of Model Agents information line on 09068 517 644

List of Reputable Agencies:

BOOKINGS                         7 Cotton Gardens, E2 8DN.

BOSS MODEL MGT          Half Moon Chambers

                                                Chapel Walks Manchester M2 1HN               T:0161 834 3403                                F:0161 832 5219

ELISABETH SMITH           81 Headstone Rd Harrow HA1 1PQ                T:020 8863 2331                                F:020 8861 1880

                                                (children,teenagers & families)

FM                                          122 Brompton Rd SW3 1JE                              T:020 7225 1355                                F:020 7581 2113

FM MEN                                122 Brompton Rd SW3 1JE                              T:020 7584 9974                                F:020 7581 2113

IMG MODELS                 Bentinck House 3/9 Bolsover St  W1P 7HG                  T:020 8233 6770                             

M&P                                      lst Floor 29 Poland St W1F 8QR                     T:020:7734 1051                                F:020 7287 4481

MODELS 1                           12 Macklin St WC2B 5SZ                                T:020 7025 4900                                F:020 7025 4901

MODELS 1 MEN 12 Macklin St WC2B 5SZ                                T:020 7025 4940                                F:020 7025 4941

NEVS                                     Regal Hse.198 Kings Rd SW3 5XP                T:020 7352 9496                                F:020 7352 6068

NEVS MEN                           Regal Hse. 198 Kings Rd SW3 5XP               T:020 7352 4886                                F:020 7352 6068

NEXT MODELS  175/179 St John St EC1V 4LW                     T:020 7251 9850                  F:020 7251 9851

PREMIER                              40/42 Parker St WC  B5PQ                            T:020 7333 0888                                F:020 7323 1221

PREMIER MEN    40/42 Parker St WC2 B5PQ                         T:020 7333 0888                  F:020 7323 1221

PROFILE                              1/4 Langley Court WC2E 9JY                         T:020 7836 5282                                F:020 7497 2255

SAMANTHA BOND           326 Upper Richmond Road West                     T:020 8487 1222                                F:020 8487 1333                                              SW14 7JN

SELECT                                17 Ferdinand St. NW1 8EU                               T:020 7284 5600                                F:020 7284 5685

SELECT MEN                      17 Ferdinand St.NW1 8EU                                T:020 7284 5622                                F:020 7284 5686

STORM                 5 Jubilee Plc SW3 3TD                                   T:020 7376 7764                  F:020 7376 5145

STORM MEN                       5 Jubilee Plc SW3 3TD                                     T:020 7376 7464                                F:020 7376 5145

TAKE 2                                  6 Willow St. EC2A 4BH                     T:020 7836 4501                                F:020 7836 0140

YVONNE PAUL   Unit 21/H.

                                            Heathmans Rd. SW6 4TJ                      T:020 7384 0300                                F:020 7736 2221HeHHHHeath                            MODEL TEAM OF

SCOTLAND                         180 Hope St Glasgow G2 2UE                           T:0141 332 3951                                F:0141 332 1915


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