To celebrate Glossy’s one-year anniversary, we’re spending a week profiling the standout change-makers who inspired us in our first year. These insiders are currently transforming the fashion, beauty and luxury spaces.
Like the rest of the fashion industry, the modeling world has undergone great change in recent years: Bloggers-turned-influencers are being featured in high-fashion campaigns, an increasing number of non-white, other-than-a-size-2 models are walking top runways, and models’ Instagrams have widely replaced their portfolios.
Joel Wilkenfeld, who launched Next Models with Faith Kates in New York in 1989 (it has since expanded to the key markets of London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles and Miami), has witnessed the evolution first-hand. In fact, in many aspects, he’s been a driving force. He and Kates were among the first agents to embrace social media stars; they signed signed blogger Rumi Neely of Fashiontoast in 2008. What’s more, though they haven’t been loud about it by launching special divisions, they’ve long represented a diverse range of models. Its current roster includes Arizona Muse, Kate Upton and Binx.
“We represent all different shapes and sizes, but we don’t call out their sizes or put monikers on them,” Wilkenfeld said. “They’re not ‘plus-size’ or any other size. They’re individuals.”
We spoke with Wilkenfeld about what it takes to make it as a model in 2017, how the rocky retail and publishing worlds have affected his business, and the big problem with scouting models on social media.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry between 1989 and today?
Today, the business cycles models in and out so frequently — talent gets thrown in before they’re ready to really be full-time or at 100 percent. They’re not ready, and it’s oversaturating the industry. I think [bringing in new models] has to do with wanting to keep the rates low. Before, you went through certain protocols to learn what it was to be a working model.
But people want the same type of talent they do today: beautiful girls, with just a bit of a twist. That is always based on an outgoing personality, just being present, knowing who you are as a person and having confidence.
Has your role changed?
My role was always been on the talent development side and overseeing the scouting network we have. I don’t see that it has changed, but it has evolved, and I think that’s because of social media and how quickly things move today. You’ve got to keep an open mind and stay one step ahead. If we get stuck in the past, the future’s not coming.
Are you recruiting models differently?
People say that you can recruit through social media. If you’re just looking for quick talent, you’ll find a lot of talent on [Instagram] — people who can do things a certain way. But what has worked for us is meeting face-to-face and speaking with people. You need to make sure there’s a personality there. Social media gives you a certain picture, but then you also need to make sure you vibe together.
So, I would guess you’re not a fan of model booking apps.
I haven’t been on one, but I’d guess it’s like being on a dating app: You don’t know what you’re getting into. It’s dangerous for the talent and the client. It’s a business where you need to connect, and the talent needs to be ready. You can’t go from kindergarten to college and think you’re going to do well. You’re not.
We don’t have an app, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable sending someone to a client through an app. I just wouldn’t do it.
Is your model roster more diverse than ever?
I think the industry has always had diversity. I think it’s becoming more and more diverse, and becoming more open to everyone, which is great. It’s not just the 5-foot-10 girl with measurements of 34-24-30 who’s getting work. You’re seeing it more on the runway — it’s definitely moving in the right direction, but I still think there is a ways to go.
Are clients demanding more options?
They aren’t asking for a certain look. The bigger ones want talent with a background, someone who is not just one-dimensional. They’re looking at personalities, models’ longevity — they want to work with somebody they can use over the next five or eight years. Rather than book for a one-and-done thing, they’re looking to build a relationship.
Is there a commonality you’ve noticed among models who have had long careers?
They all have beauty that can withstand time, of course. And they’re doing the high-end fashion jobs, but they’re also able to make money on the commercial side.
With the modeling and influencer worlds overlapping, how important is it for your model talent to have a strong social media presence?
Models with certain followings are certainly influencers; they can sway people. They work with certain brands, and brands see an immediate ROI on posts and activations. Today, a lot of retailers are looking at those numbers and making sure there’s a return on their investment.
So I do encourage our talent to be active on social media, but to be themselves. If you are trying to be someone else, you are going to be found out — you’ve got to be authentic.
Have fashion’s rocky publishing and retail industries hurt your business?
As for publishing, no. We’re just working in a different medium. A beautiful image is a beautiful image, whether it’s in digital or in print.
I think a lot of retailers are in flux and are trying to make a go of it, but in general, our business has still been really good. Where some people can look at it as, “Well, the catalogs aren’t shooting as much,” or “There aren’t as many campaigns,” it’s really just that everything is different: The campaigns are different, the way retailers do things is different — and in a lot of cases, the clients are shooting much more than ever.
Next has expanded its divisions outside of modeling and related talent (stylists, makeup artists) to actors, musicians and even chefs. What’s your strategy?
At the end of the day, we’re just managing talent, and it’s important to evolve. Most recently, we invested in a company called Métier Creative — it’s a branding-slash-content advertising agency — and it’s been amazing. We see the content business being huge, so that’s what really drove us to partner with them. [Founders Erin Kleinberg and Stacie Brockman] are the best at what they do, and they’re visionaries. They have this drive, and they’ve grown out a fantastic business. Next is just happy to be in partnerships with these types of people.
Where do you see Next going in the next five years?
We have a five-year plan, but we like to concentrate on a shorter period. We try to be ahead of the curve by looking at the trends in the retail and publishing worlds, and trying to understand what’s happening. I do see that content is becoming increasingly important to clients – but in general, we’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing and what we do best.
Image via vogue.com