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Editorial modeling (part 1)

We’ll start with the basics: Editorial fashion models are tall (usually 5’9″ minimum) and beautiful—not just pretty but beautiful and different looking, too. How can you be beautiful and different? Whoa, this is hard! When they start, most editorial models are way too young. Figure 16 or 17 years old as a median age for new faces; there’s no way that women this young can be prepared for the stress of editorial fashion. They are thin—scary thin, like mother-wants-to-take-you-to-the-doctor thin. Claudia Schiffer is 5’11” and was reported to weigh around 118 pounds. The industry takes a lot of heat about creating unhealthy images for young (and not so young) women, but that doesn’t change reality. A 5’7” model that weighs 136 pounds is pretty close to perfect, but that doesn’t cut it in Big City fashion.


Photographer: John Fisher

Are there exceptions? Yes, Kate Moss is not 5’9″ (5’6″ is closer), Cindy Crawford at the height of her editorial career weighed… Well, let’s just say that she weighed more than 118 pounds. So why am I getting into all of this? In part, because most young people who consider modeling are familiar only with editorial models, and so very few should even contemplate an editorial career. Far more up-and-coming models would find more work if they chose commercial modeling instead of editorial (which was the subject of my previous post). But if you want to know about editorial fashion in New York City, here it is…

Commercial vs. editorial modeling

First, there are enormous differences between modeling commercially and editorial fashion models. There are actors, pilots, firefighters, housewives, and students who model commercially—some are very successful and make a good deal of money at it. But they are not commercial models in the same sense that editorial fashion models are editorial models. This is because you don’t build a “name” as a commercial model. You do build a reputation (you show up on time, wear proper attire, easy to work with, etc.) that helps an agency place you. But not a name, like the way an advertiser would want Cindy, Linda, or Kate. This “name” thing is a big deal. Think about it this way: If you’re not an industry insider, can you name a model that is not an editorial model? (Okay, I’m a commercial model and you know me! The big, dumb, bald, white guy who looks like a thug—not a name, just a description.)

The top fashion agencies give only exclusive contracts (usually two to five years for a “new face”). They have the contacts with the fashion magazines to help you build that “name,” and they expect to benefit from that relationship through this exclusive relationship. Their resources are directed solely to the
development of the models they represent, which is why you see the term “Model Management” in so many of the agency names. If you want Karolina Kurkova, you call Women (or Mega here in Miami), but not Ford. If you want Gisele Bündchen, call IMG, not Wilhelmina. The “inventory” of a commercial agency is its clients (e.g., Coke, Kodak, and Xerox), and the “inventory” of an editorial agency is its models (Kate, Gisele, Karolina, Adriana, etc.). In short, commercial agencies have clients and find models, but fashion agencies have models and find clients.

Live the life

Editorial models are expected (as someone here has said repeatedly) to live the “life”—you model, that’s it.

You may wait tables or something else part time to pay the rent when you start, but you still model as much as possible. Furthermore, keep in mind that when you start you’ll have some jobs and work with certain photographers for little or no pay—simply because these assignments or connections might build your name later on and give you exposure. I can think of no other career where the “prestige” jobs pay so little. Most in this field would be stunned to learn how little a model is paid for the cover of Vogue or Elle, or for the purely editorial layouts inside those magazines. So why do it? Because that all helps to builds a name. Then, when an advertiser calls the agency, they are not asking for a “type” (brunette, athletic, Asian, bald, etc.), they are asking for Gisele, Adriana, or Kate.

There may be a thousand beautiful blondes, but there is only one Karolina because of all of her magazine layouts and covers (not ads, but editorial layouts: the ad work comes later, after your name is established). Once your name and image are established, you go to the bank big time doing fashion ad work (commercial modeling). Why? Because the ad agency or designer wants Karolina, not a thin, busty blonde (lots of blondes, only one Karolina, and you pay to shoot Karolina). Every editorial model spends some time in the trenches: go here, go there, shoot with this guy, cut your hair, lose some weight, go to the agency, etc. Had a bad night? Tough. Went on six go-sees yesterday with no bookings? Too bad, here are four more. Live the life. Models do not “try” editorial fashion modeling; fashion tries you. It is hard, but it’s supposed to be hard. It’s great because it’s hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

I am posting this because there has been a lot of discussion about what agencies do and what models should expect. Some of the photographers here are full-time professionals (I’m in that group, full time, not sure about the professional part). Like modeling, this is not an easy business, and those that do it are passionate about what they do. You wouldn’t stay with this if you didn’t love it with an emotion that is hard to describe. However, depending on whichever side of the street you work on (commercial or editorial), your expectations of models and agents can be radically different. I work almost exclusively as a commercial photographer and represent myself as such, but I have worked with fashion agencies and fashion models. I like commercial models, they are gifted and talented people, and they want to be paid. I love fashion models, too. They always want great pictures, but if you can’t deliver, forget about it (trust me on this one, the world is full of fashion models who can’t remember my name).

These opinions and observations are the result of my experiences with both commercial and fashion models (and agencies) over the past twenty years. I hope you find them helpful.

John Fisher

John Fisher

John Fisher is a fashion photographer who does magazine editorial, advertising, catalog and swimsuit photography. He's a member of Canon Professional Services and was recently named as a sponsored photographer for Paul C. Buff Companies. His website is www.johnfisher.com.

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