A modeling agency is a company that represents fashion models, to work for the fashion industry. These agencies earn their income via commission, usually from the deal they make with the model and or the head agency.
The top agencies work with big-budget advertising agencies and fashion designers. They invest money into developing their talent so they can increase their status within the industry. These top agencies will help train models, get test shoots, layout portfolios, and put together comp cards (composition photo cards) and other printed materials models need.
The agencies find work for models by presenting them to designers, photographers, and ad agencies. The agencies are also responsible for booking the jobs, billing for the jobs, and eventually paying the models for their time. By handling the details, an agency allows a model to focus on modeling and not on the business end.
Because modeling is a very competitive, fast moving business that extends beyond the traditional 9 AM to 5 PM business hours, an agency generally conducts business 24 hours a day, to handle emergencies such as cancellations or rush jobs. Most agencies have a service or an operator to handle emergency issues after hours.
Booking agents Vs Managers
A popular and conventional way for models to build their contacts and get booked for gigs is through model management companies or agencies. As mentioned, an agency specializes in finding gigs for models that are signed with them, while managers are there to guide their models and help them start, develop and establish successful careers. There are differences between modeling/talent agencies and modeling/talent managers that many people are unaware of. Casting Director Amy W of CBH Model Management emphasizes that “a modeling management company does not need to obtain a license nor is required by law to secure employment for modeling, theater, film, radio, or television work” . The role of the manager is to manage their client’s business affair and advise their models on appearance, style, and overall career direction. However, they are still equally motivated as modeling/talent agents to find gigs for their models.
Most agencies sign their top talent to exclusive contracts in each market, which vary in length based on the model's industry status and experience. However, because a good agency finds their models work and negotiates top price for their talent, they earn a management commission (between 10% to 20%) from every job they book on a model's behalf. Myriam Chalek, managing partner at Creative Business House precises that "fees for the agency’s services to place jobs are limited to 10% by law, in most instances".In addition, an agency usually bills a client an additional 20% service charge for booking the model, so a typical agency will make between 10-40% on each booking of which no more than 20% comes out of the model's pocket. This varies outside the US due to each country's law and taxes. Other contracts offered by modeling agencies are the mother agency contract and a non-exclusive contract. A mother agency tries to sign you with larger agencies, while non-exclusive agencies allow you to sign with other agencies (usually outside a certain city radius). Contracts typically last from a year to three years. A mother agency agreement can range from five to ten years.
Mandatory height requirements
High fashion modeling agencies contract with a diverse group of models, however nearly without exception (unless a model is young enough to still be growing), agencies stipulate women to be between 5'9 (minimum) and taller and men must be between 5'11" and 6'2" as well as be fit or in reasonable physical condition across all heights.
Auditions and open calls
Modelling agencies will require new faces on a regular basis. The number of models in an agency depends on the demand brought in by its agents and changes throughout the year. To this end, modeling agencies advertise in local phone directories in order to remain visible.
Each new model-screening process is different from one agency to the next:
- A casting call is where models show up by appointment to be considered for a specific job.
- An open call is a time specified by an agency for any prospective models (or those interested in becoming models) to show up and be considered for future work.
- A go-see is an appointment for a model to meet with a client for consideration for future work; like an open call, it is not for a specific job, but unlike an open call, the model is being specifically requested or sent.
- A dry call is where models mail unsolicited comp cards to an agency. While this may work with smaller agencies, larger agencies host open calls where men and women can come into the agency and get seen by agents who may or may not be interested.
Fashion shows and fashion weeks
Agents and talent managers work together to prepare and develop models. One of the most important assignment for models is to work or attend fashion shows or fashion weeks.
A fashion show is a runway event put on by fashion designer(s) to showcase their upcoming line of clothing. Each show requires anywhere between 15 and 60 models, depending on the size of the collection and the importance of the designer(s). Fashion models walk the runway (or catwalk) dressed in the clothing created by the designer(s). Participation in these events is essential for any model.
A fashion week is a series of shows by different fashion designers. Each show books their own talent, though many models are able to land jobs with multiple designers. This is a model's chance to really get noticed, which can lead to big contracts and very lucrative jobs. Fashion weeks occur twice a year; one for spring collections and one for fall collections.
The fashion weeks in major fashion capitals such as New York, Paris, and Milan can have over 100 designers showcasing their work. These weeks are also sponsored by big names, such as Mercedes Benz or Olympus.
Models vie for the prestigious fashion campaigns, where they get to model for a particular designer. One of the most sought-after campaigns is the fragrance campaign, where a model can earn a substantial amount of money. Some of the most competitive fragrance campaigns include Calvin Klein, Giorgio Armani, Chanel, Valentino, and Gucci.
Top modeling agencies
Some criteria for an agency to qualify as a top modeling agency are as follows:
- The agency must be located in one of the top fashion capitals, for the simple reason that the most lucrative and prestigious modeling assignments can only be found there. These cities include: New York, Milan, Paris, London, Tokyo, Sydney, Rome, Los Angeles, Prague, Toronto, São Paulo and Barcelona.
- The agency is well-known and respected in the fashion industry and has a good reputation, insofar as monitoring agencies or governing bodies in their respective country, like the Better Business Bureau in the US and the association of fashion designers and the group handling the city's fashion week.
- The agency has directly provided a model with a lucrative assignment for a top fashion design house (for example Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Calvin Klein, Prada, Valentino and Giorgio Armani among others).
Some of the top modeling agencies in the world are:
- DNA Model Management – New York City
- Elite Model Management – New York City, Los Angeles, Miami and Toronto
- Ford Models – New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Paris, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Miami, Toronto, Chicago and Milwaukee
- IMG Models – New York City, Paris, London, Milan, Hong Kong, Sydney
- D'management Group - Milan
- Marilyn Agency – Paris
- Models 1 – London
- New York Model Management – New York City
- NEXT Model Management – New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, and Paris
- One Management – New York City
- Premier Model Management – London
- Select Model Management – London
- Storm Model Agency – London
- Viva Models – Paris, Barcelona and London
- Wilhelmina Models – New York City, Los Angeles, and Miami
- Women Model Management – New York City, Paris and Milan
- Why Not Model Agency – Milan
Aside from "fashion" modeling, many agencies specialize in commercial advertising that do not require high fashion models. This can be located in any region where print ads are produced. They often fill calls for product packaging, catalogues, textbooks, billboards, etc. which require a more "real person" look or even a "character" look. Chicago, for example, has a large need for these types of models although little call for high fashion models.
Because of the necessity for an agency in a constantly changing industry like factories, where old agencies close or merge and new ones pop up in their place, scam artists have many opportunities to prey on new, unsuspecting models. A legitimate modeling agency should have knowledge of the market place and honestly evaluate models for their market. It will have contacts with photographers, graphic designers, and printers to prepare a model's marketing materials. Texas, Florida, and California have online resources listing licensed agencies.
In the United States, the Better Business Bureau registers complaints against agencies that conduct dishonest business practices and scams. Scam artists and untrustworthy agencies generally demand long-term contracts up front and use high-pressure tactics to con models into committing to high-commission percentages or signing over unnecessary rights.
An example of a modeling scam is when an agency claims to have work but really what they are doing is trying to sell photoshoots and modeling courses to aspiring models. A legitimate agency should only make profit from agency commissions.
A highly-publicized scam was exposed in 2009, when a Louisville-based male modeling agency called "Models-Today, LLC," owned by a convicted felon  named Russell Claxon  was exposed as having never obtained any jobs for the models despite fees in the hundreds of dollars. Due to the unusually large number of consumer complaints filed against the business, including solicitation for gay male prostitution, this story was disseminated across the Better Business Bureau national networks and provides information on how to avoid such scams.
It should be noted that due to a lack of regulatory oversight, particularly in the United States, scams can be easily carried out and sustained. As an example, Models-Today's owner has recently begun operating similar companies called Active Male Models, LLC.
- Break into Modeling for Under $20. St. Martin's, 2008, pp. 121–122. 2008. ISBN 0-312-37260-4.
- "Talent agency license database". Dir.ca.gov. Retrieved 2010-11-11.
- List of Claxon's Convictions (Page 2): http://opinions.kycourts.net/COA/1996-CA-002114.pdf
- Listing of Claxon's businesses registered with the Kentucky secretary of state: https://app.sos.ky.gov/ftshow/(S(3lrr5canpej4vlespuztat34))/ioffsearch.aspx?search=RUSSELL%20CLAXON
- Models-Today, LLC and CLaxon Exposed by WHAS 11 News, Louisville (Part 1): http://www.whas11.com/news/iteam/WHAS11-Investigation-Modeling-agency--72010757.html
- Models-Today and Claxon exposed by WHAS 11 News (Part 2) http://www.whas11.com/news/modeling-investigation-67302242.html
- Collection of Public Documents and Photographic Evidence on Models-Today, LLC and Russell Claxon's New Company Active Male Models, LLC: http://activemalemodelsexperience.blogspot.com/
- Articles of LLC Organization (Kentucky) for Models-Today, LLC: https://app.sos.ky.gov/corpscans/63/0645963-06-99999-20060829-AOG-1190106-PU.pdf
- Articles of LLC Organization, Active Male Models, LLC, and I-Models Promotions, LLC: https://app.sos.ky.gov/corpscans/89/0758489-06-99999-20100311-KLC-4293142-PU.pdf