This is the sixth post in my series of monthly posts where I speak with people in the creative industries and ask them questions about the things that "I Wish I Had Known" when I started out as a creative myself.
Today I talk to Joseph Tenni, a Model Agent based in Sydney, about his career in the modelling industry and the role of the model agency nowadays:
1. You are a Model Agent for one of Australia’s biggest agencies; you have been a talent manager in what it seems like since forever, and you are also responsible for the discovery and successful careers of models of the likes of Andreja Pejić and Adut Akech. Where did it all begin?
I grew up in Melbourne and I was always interested in fashion and magazines. I moved to Sydney when I was 21. Originally I got a job at a fashion-focused photo library (years before google searches) and after that, I started booking models at a small agency. A short time thereafter, I started at Chadwick (April 1999).
2. Is this a career path that you choose or does it choose you? How can one become a Model Agent?
I think a bit of both. This job encompasses a bunch of things I really like—fashion, magazines, looking at the internet, teenage pop culture, gossip, foreign language. Basically, it’s a job of connections—knowing people and having the ability to use those connections to score bookings.
3. With the growing interest in “everyday people” from brands and markets, the scope of an agent has broadened from just working with models and actors to also include working with bloggers and influencers. How has this transition been for the agencies?
Good question. The job has been changing in recent times. Many clients are interested in the social following of a model. Agencies are also signing people who are not necessarily traditional models but they still obviously have marketable appeal. In order for an agency to remain relevant, it must evolve and be in touch with its clients’ needs and demands.
4. How is a model discovered? What can someone who wishes to become a model start doing right now to call the attention of an agency?
The old-fashioned way. Sending simple pictures into an agency with measurements. Preferably not professional pictures.
5. What makes a good model? How much of a model’s success depends on personality, talent and skills versus having notoriety as a celebrity or having the right social media following?
Aside from having a great look, desirable measurements and being photogenic, a successful model needs to have the ambition to succeed, have patience, be willing to be in unusual working environments and be charming. The ones who reach the top generally have a decent understanding of fashion, cool personal style and an individual personality. There is a current fixation with model or celebrity offspring. Those girls and boys would be successful without social media in my opinion, but they wouldn’t have experienced the fast track or the insight without social media, I guess.
6. We have come very far in terms of democratising the access to the industry of models with what until now were considered atypical ages, body types and ethnic backgrounds. Where do you see the industry going?
I see that the rules are changing and I think inclusivity is here to stay. That can only be a good thing.
7. We have talked in the past about how the Australian market is so different from the markets here in the UK and in other countries in Europe. With the shift in demands from the audiences in different parts of the world towards a more diverse spectrum of faces, why do you think that there are still markets that remain very specific in terms of the types of talent that they want to cast?
I guess tradition has prevented a diverse spectrum of talent in some markets, but that’s changing. Adut Akech was on the cover of the September issue of L’Officiel Singapore. African models have seldom been in demand with Asian clients, so times are certainly changing for the better.
8. The fashion industry has been in the spotlight over the last couple of years for the allegations of mistreatment and discrimination of models by some agents and clients (James Scully has been very vocal about this) and for concerns about the health and well-being of models (France’s BMI law, or Kering’s and LVMH’s joint Models Wellbeing Charter). What mechanisms do you think agencies must put in effect to protect the integrity of their talent and put an end to all these issues?
A good agent is one who cares about the model he/she represents — fighting for rates and for fairness. The models and agents need to speak up when there is a problem. I feel that the platforms to do that and to be taken seriously have been improving thanks to models like Sara Ziff and Cameron Russell.
Amazing! Thank you so much, Joseph, for taking the time to answer my questions and for explaining what a career as a Model Agent is about. This is everything that "I Wish I Had Known"!