New York Fashion Week may not begin until Wednesday, but some people are already hard at work—specifically, a fresh crop of eager, lanky teens hoping to become the next Daria Werbowy. They’re readying themselves—not to jump on a balance beam, with a pineapple on their head, while doing their best “Blue Steel”—but to shake hands with Marc Jacobs, open the Alexander Wang show, and present themselves to Steven Meisel. This is real modeling.
IMG ranks #1 on Models.com’s list of top ten agencies. Think Gisele, Kate, Lara, and Miss Werbowy. With outposts in Paris, London and Milan, the IMG team (several of whom have been there for seventeen years) live and breathe full-scale, personalized management. So personal, in fact, that Senior VP and Managing Director Ivan Bart and David Cunningham, VP of Development, got together a couple of years ago and came up with an orientation for the newbies. “Fashion Week is kind of a wacky experience…it brings out the best and worst in the business,” David says. “Hopefully there will be highs, and there will definitely be lows, because it’s a totally subjective business.” The goal of the evening is to prepare girls for the stresses, manage expectations, introduce them to the team and each other, and be healthy…during what will be, for many, a most unusual first job (aside from babysitting).
Victoria’s Secret angel Lily Aldridge spoke as a “big sister”, offering her email address to the room and urging girls to reach out to her if they need any guidance. “This is the best job in the world, if it you treat it like a job—not a lifestyle,” she said. Several of the speakers—including two casting directors, a voice coach, therapist, and a pair of models-turned-counselors—stressed that Rome wasn't built in a day. “I’m twenty-five and I didn’t ‘make it’ until I was twenty-three,” Lily says. “I got cancelled from Dolce & Gabbana last season and I was devastated. But you just have to realize it’s a business, and that’s normal, and it’s okay.”
The whole “not taking things personally” attitude can’t get more complex than making a living off your looks, but Ivan points out that “It’s about the look, and you might not have the look for that particular show.” Social worker Betsey Selman-Babinecz suggested the girls change their attitude from ‘“Will I be chosen?” to, “What can I learn about myself in this business?” because that will pay you dividends for life.” And who can’t learn from that, regardless of looks?
Taking care of yourself was the biggest message of the evening, from Aldridge’s suggestion of stocking up “on comfort foods and snacks, so you have things in your purse, because there’s not very good food at the shows,” to Ralph Lauren icon and OrganiceYourLife.com founder Lonneke Engel’s recommendation of powernaps and water intake (“Always carry a 1.5 liter bottle of water—this way you can see exactly how much you drink in a day.”) Dutch beauty Anne-Marie Van Dijk introduced her new organization Cleanse, a models-only service offering nutritional, health and wellness guidance at a deeply discounted rate. The longtime friends credit their careers’ longevity (fourteen and seventeen years, respectively) to a healthy balance in their lives and respecting their bodies. Betsey instructed the girls to remember “HALT” when they’re feeling overwhelmed: Hungry, Anxious, Lonely, Tired...to check in with yourself and ask, “Am I any of those things?”
Court Yakabuski, a sixteen-year-old from Celebration—yes, Celebration—Florida, was definitely none of those things as she and seventeen-year-old Ellen Flanagan tore through their huge gift bags full of Tata Harper skin care, Sally Hershberger hair products, Aldo shoes, Fiber One 90-calorie brownies and SmartWater. “Ellen’s near tears,” she laughs, sampling CoverGirl’s “Hot Passion” lipstick. “It’s like Christmas!” Both girls said Calvin Klein is their dream show to walk next week.
I made my way up to the agency’s roof deck last night expecting canapés and a great view, sure, but didn’t know what else. I left with a spring in my step even though I’m not prancing down a runway anytime soon, because of how uplifting and empowering the evening was…for models, but also for young women, and even for the agents. “These are life issues, not just model issues,” David points out, while Ivan admits, “I’m forty-seven years old, and I still remember to HALT!”