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Making faces

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Thursday, February 20, 2014


Sports Illustrated recently revealed its latest swimsuit cover model and she’s a real doll. And by that we mean she is an actual plastic toy. Anybody else think Barbie looked airbrushed?

The editorial decision to put a child’s pretty plaything on what is primarily a men’s magazine makes perfect sense if the intention of said magazine was to induce a pandemic outbreak of the heebie-jeebies.

Otherwise? Well, never mind. The cover did get us thinking about the business of real models, you know, the type with heartbeats and such. While precious few in the world acquire the supermodel status and big bucks of a Kate Moss, Heidi Klum, or Gisele Bundchen, plenty of men and women earn a bit of income posing for the camera.

Justin Habel, owner of Q6 Talent in Portland, has ushered the careers of hundreds of Northwest models and actors since 1989. “Model rates are notoriously better than actors,” he says.

A model working in Portland typically earns $1,000-$2,500 per day. A few national clients, says Habel, pay as high as $4,000 a day. But, of course, most models don’t work anywhere near every day. The Model Alliance, a not-for-profit group advocating for models working in the American fashion industry, estimated in 2012 that the average working model earned about $27,000 annually. Part-time models and men bring in less. And in the Portland market most models work part-time. 

“Retail used to be the biggest employer,”  says Habel. But as stores including Meier & Frank, Bon Marche, Robinsons-May, Macy’s West, Frederick & Nelson, and Mervyns consolidated — or folded — modeling jobs shifted. Now a few large umbrella companies produce advertising images, usually in New York, to distribute nationwide. Daily, full-page, regional retail ads, once the staple of newspapers, have dwindled.

On the other hand, Habel points out, the proliferation of new media opportunities have made up for the initial slack in model bookings. Before only the big guns could afford the costs of ad production and placement. Now that it’s relatively inexpensive to target customers through Web sites and social media avenues, more small independent companies can afford to incur the cost of producing those images with professional photographers, stylists and models. 

And the hunger for new images is insatiable. Portland models are also fortunate to have apparel companies including Columbia Sportswear, Icebreaker, Nike, Norm Thompson, Pendleton, Sahalie and others that hire models not only for photography campaigns but also for in-house runway shows and as fit models. In addition, the many ad agencies in town often need model talent for less glamorous but lucrative modeling jobs.   

“The lines (between models and actors) are sort of blurring. New media is dominating everything,” says Habel.
It’s not enough, says Habel, for a model to look good posing for still photography. He or she must also be comfortable moving, if not speaking, for video to broaden his/her perspectives.   

Even so, any model who really wants a shot at the big time must leave Portland. Q6 works with several prominent models’ agents in New York placing models in that market. An agent is primarily responsible for finding and booking jobs for models and handling the billing. For that service, they earn a 20 percent cut of the model’s income, and bill the client an additional 20% fee. Say, a retailer hires a model for a shoot for $1,000. The agent will earn a total of $400.

Q6 has three bookers, including Habel, and an office manager. They represent about 210 models. And while most are part-time, Habel says a few work full time. Additional Portland-based agencies include Muse Models, Option Model and Media, Ryan Artists, and others.
If a regional agent helps place a model with a bigger market agency, the original agency continues to earn half of the 20% cut of the model’s income.  For how long depends on the relationship between the two agencies.

Q6 placed Grant High School and University of Oregon graduate Kate Goodling with Ford Models. Goodling moved to New York City in June 2013 after college and hit the ground running. Already, she’s walked in almost every major designer runway show in New York and Paris, and has appeared in numerous editorial and advertising images.  Q6 agent Jonny Shultz who “discovered” Goodling, recently joined Ford Models as a talent scout. He’ll remain in Portland but will travel frequently in search of new faces and to look after Ford Models on the road.

The speed at which Goodling’s career took off is rare, says Habel, and she has the maturity and perspective at age 23 to handle it. “As long as the industry is ok with bringing in the girls who are older, I think it’s a great trend,” says Habel.

But please, no Barbie Dolls.


Vivian McInerny blogs on popular culture for Oregon Business. 



0 #1 Another strong agencyGuest 2014-03-12 00:21:36
Another part of the modeling business in Oregon that I find interesting is the market for super fit athletic models.. I wrote about the Sports + Lifestyle Unlimited agency in the past for another publication and find them really intriguing. They were early to spot the need and have a stronghold on the market.
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