Modelling can be a difficult concept to comprehend, probably because for the vast majority of us, it’s something that we’ll never experience as a career. It’s also a profession that’s primarily based on how you look, and with women today more vocal than ever about the issues that engulf our gender, it’s easy to find yourself conflicted—is it empowering or degrading for the width of your hips to dictate how much you work in a week? It’s a lazy chain of thought—models aren’t coerced or forced into modelling, they do it because they want to, because the possibility of what can be achieved is beyond their wildest dreams.
“I learned that when models have confidence they grow more beautiful,” says Premier Model Management co- founder, Carole White, acknowledging that while discovering new faces is initially based on looks, it falls on her agency to grow and nurture talent into successful models. “We take girls for full time modelling around the age of 16,” she explains. “We teach them how to walk, how to dress, and how to become confident, which comes with working, then they get an aura around them that brings more work.” The role Carole’s agency plays in the lives of these young women isn’t just booking jobs or taking headshots, it’s to guide and mentor, to give financial and health advice, to help heal broken hearts and set them up as best they can for the end of what is often a very fleeting career. “Modelling is a fast and furious job,” she says. “It can be lonely at such a young age getting on and off flights, dashing from one city to the next for jobs. We become part of their family structure and they know they can call or email us at any time of the day or night.”
It’s something Carole has firsthand experience of – she started her career as a model before moving into booking, and then ultimately launching her own business – which allows her to be empathetic, and also innately aware of whether or not modelling is the right path for a girl. We talked to her about what it took to launch the agency, how she’s shifted focus with social media rather than become derailed by it, and how conquering her own insecurities has kept her at the top of her game.
ON STARTING HER CAREER AS A MODEL BEFORE BECOMING A BOOKER: That was a long time ago! I don’t think scouting was invented! If you wanted to become a model, you went to modelling school to learn how in those days. I decided I wanted to try to become a model so I went to The Lucie Clayton School of Modelling and learnt how to walk tall with a book on my head, how to get into a car without showing my knickers in a mini skirt, how to apply a ton of makeup expertly, how to do my hair, how to sit in a chair in a ladylike way and how to walk down a catwalk and show off a dress. I am afraid there were no highlights – I did a bit of photography and I did some showroom work and quickly realised it was not the career for me. I actually began my training as a booker at the Lucie Clayton agency for models. I had to stack all the model cards in alphabetical order every day to post off to clients. Then I was allowed to answer the phone and learnt how to do go-sees for the models. I began to progress from there and learnt my trade as an agent. I looked after many top girls of the time and thoroughly enjoyed the job. I had found my niche. I was good at negotiating rates and selling to clients. It is like playing poker and I am good at that!
HOW REDUNDANCY LED TO THE LAUNCH OF PREMIER: I moved from Lucie Clayton to an agency called Bobtons. There I learnt how to have an ‘eye’ for spotting unusual girls. I found out from my boss Gillian that not all models had to be conventionally beautiful; that you can find photogenic beauty in many faces and I found that interesting. You could find a girl with a quirky look of the time and she could zoom. I also learnt that when models have confidence, they grow more beautiful. It’s strange but true. My boss eventually had to close her business and I had no job so I started my own agency in my brother’s apartment and it took off immediately. I had 20 models the day we opened, which is unusual for a new agency!
ON WORKING WITH SUPERMODELS LIKE NAOMI, CHRISTY & CLAUDIA: That was an amazing era for me. It is when I learnt how to raise my game. I found out how to book private jets, helicopters and boats. Very handy to know those things. It was a different world. I met so many interesting people like Nelson Mandela and Quincey Jones. I went on the Blue train in South Africa with them and met Mia Farrow, Imran Kahn, Jemima Kahn, Desmond Tutu, Brian Adams, Prince Albert of Monaco, George Michael, Boy George, Pele and many more. Representing most of the supermodels was very empowering for me. The era was awash with money and the agent was king.
ON BEING HANDS ON IN HER BUSINESS OVER THREE DECADES LATER: I have three scouts who are really good and we generally go through the girls we have found on a regular basis. I think eventually I am the one who decides if a girl should stay with us or move on to a different agency or simply give up modelling if I feel it’s not for her. I’m hands on but I have such a good team here. I still scout girls on the street, usually when I’m in a car whizzing by and can’t stop. Those are the girls I remember – the ones I missed. Kate Moss was the one that got away. I turned her down for being too short and didn’t sign Heidi Klum either. All agents make mistakes. Over the years, I have found girls in supermarkets, airports and train stations but it is not so easy finding the right type of girl now. They definitely do not grow on trees!
SHE HASN’T ALWAYS BEEN CONFIDENT: I was quite shy in the beginning and had to learn how to conduct myself in a business where confidence is key. I learnt all this by observing what people did and said at parties and copying them. My brother is very outgoing and I used to watch him charm the pants off everyone and wish I was more like him. Eventually, I conquered my insecurities and realised I am good at speaking my mind and now I just say what I want if I believe in it! Now I just enjoy everything I do. I love my job.
THE BIGGEST REASON SOME MODELS DON’T MAKE IT BIG: Often girls don’t realise that when the time is right, you grab it. Usually they have a boyfriend that holds them back or they lack the drive to move around internationally. To make it as a top model, you have to work in all markets, especially New York.
ON TEACHING HER MODELS THE VALUE OF MONEY: When a girl begins to make money at the age of 16, they really do not understand money values. I once had a girl who was making so much money at 16 that she would pay other models £50 to hold her hand bag at a club while she went off dancing. You have to basically talk to them all the time and tell them that if they are earning say £30,000 for one day’s work, that is a normal person’s salary for a year. It is hard to instil that in a young girl and they often blow the lot and regret it later. I always encourage the models to buy a property or two while they can as the career is relatively short-lived but it can set you up for life if you are clever.
THE MODEL-AGENT RELATIONSHIP: We take girls full-time around the age of 16. We then teach them how to walk, how to dress, and how to become confident, which comes through working. They then get an aura around them that kind of brings more work. We try and stop the ones doing well from getting a big head. There is nothing worse than a big-headed vain model. This business is very fickle. You can be flavour of the year and then go out of favour very quickly. It’s quite heart-breaking when that happens. As a good agent, you can turn it around by moving the girl to another market and building her up again. We really talk to our models and help them with many little things. If they are really busy, we will arrange their dentist or doctors’ appointment. We are there to make their lives less stressful. Modelling is a fast and furious job. It can be lonely and at such a young age getting on and off flights dashing from one city to the next for jobs. We become part of their family structure. They know they can call or email us any time, day or night.
BUSINESS 101: We are sent briefs by casting agents, clients and photographers. It is our job to get the best deal for the model and the best kind of job for them so we negotiate. We often turn jobs down if we feel the girl can do better with a different, maybe cooler, image for a campaign so we can easily turn down £50-100K if the brand is wrong for a model. Sometimes the client will come back if they really want a girl with a better offer, which we may or may not take. We are also careful what editorial work we take We basically have to look into the future and gauge where we think the girl could be in a years’ time. Will she be a high-end girl or will she be a money girl? That for me, is the best part of the job; knowing from your experience where the girl could end up.
THE REASON SHE SIGNED UP FOR REALITY SHOW, THE MODEL AGENCY: I was very wary about reality shows and turned it down twice but the producer, Jilly Pearce was amazing, so I agreed to it. Originally it was supposed to be an hour documentary but it ended up as a 7-episode series. After I signed the contract, they told me it would be filmed with remote cameras. Everyone freaked out except me, as I realised this would be much easier than having camera men hanging around for 3 months during fashion week. I loved the programme and it was very successful. It has been shown around the world and we still get girls wanting to join us from other countries who have watched it. It was the best thing we ever did. The Model Agency was unscripted unlike most programmes that are made around modelling. I think people are quite scared to enter a modelling agency as it is all about how you look. Agencies are a mystery to the public. How we do our job and assess who becomes one of our models or not fascinates everyone. We are just, after all, normal but clever people who work here. We are sensitive and kind but also tough!
THE DIVERSITY ISSUE: High fashion designers will always want straight up and down girls to show their designs with no bumps. That is why the girls are often in their teens, before they develop curves. High Street brands are different. They don’t really want the girls too skinny. They like to see a bust. For years, clients only asked for a ‘B’ cup and now they can be asking for ‘DD,’ so diversity is changing slowly in some areas, particularly with e-commerce.
HOW SOCIAL MEDIA NUMBERS IS BECOMING AN INCREASINGLY IMPORTANT FACTOR IN BOOKING MODELS: More and more clients are asking how many followers a model has and now there is a fee for a girl placing a picture of the clients’ shots on Instagram. Social media is very important today. Models are of interest as everyone wants to know what they buy, what they eat, what restaurant they go to and where they go on holiday. They are not just silent people; they have a story to tell.
ON INSTAFAMOUS GIRLS STARRING IN CAMPAIGNS: At first I did not understand it. In fact, it made me angry as I thought, ‘these girls are not models’. But if you notice, the more they model the more beautiful they get. I understand now that social media has opened the world to the fact that if you have something to say and you are young and interesting, anyone can be a part of the modeling world. Every young girl has their own story on their Instagram and Facebook so we all live in this social media world where we are all a part of it and not much is private.
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A SUPERMODEL TODAY: Supermodels have drive; they have balls and demand a high rate and the lifestyle that goes with it. Are there supermodels now? Possibly, but it’s a different now compared to then. In my opinion, you have your Cara Delevigne, Kendall Jenner and the Hadid’s but my new crop are so exciting: Luna Bijl, Kris Grikaite, Marjan, Malaika. These girls are wow! Just going places.
ON PENNING HER MEMOIR: I was asked by Random House to write the book and so I went about finding a ghost writer. I found a girl called Alison Taylor who has my sense of humour and we began the long task of unravelling my life. She would come in first thing in the morning for 2 hours and I would laugh and tell her to go away! Once I got started I would speak into the tape about everything. I got all my years muddled up, often could not remember the names of people and things that happened and would have to ask my brother Chris to remember for me. We got through this book with lots of laughing and it was strangely therapeutic. I think it is the kind of book you can take on holiday. It’s an easy and funny read. It just seemed a good idea to follow on from the TV programme to do a book. Maybe I’ll make a film next!
THE KEY TO PREMIER’S SUCCESS: We are very skilled at reinventing ourselves at Premier. I listen and observe and learn from all the wonderful young people that surround me. I think if you love what you do and keep yourself busy, you can’t fail.