Breaking Into Modeling, from small town to big city
Breaking into modeling might seem like mission impossible these days when runways are wrought with celebutantes and socialites such as Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid. But an emerging small town agency, Prim Management, is turning this nearly impossible dream into a reality for aspiring models in Oklahoma. Prim Founder Philip Washington, who has worked from San Francisco to New York with brands such as Gap and Oscar de la Renta, is on a mission to help young talent in his small town, to gain modeling opportunities in big cities.
“I decided to bring my skill set back home to Oklahoma, in hopes of sharing that knowledge and sharing those kinds of experiences with young people here, who don’t know where to begin in doing it on their own,” he says. Washington launched Prim in 2015 and has already landed his clients coveted modeling gigs in major fashion magazines such Marie Claire and Teen Vogue. I recently caught up with him for intel on breaking into modeling for a new generation of talent.
There is so much to learn outside of working as a model if you really want to make it to the top.
What are some of the brands your talent has worked with? Prim models have appeared in “Teen Vogue,” “Marie Claire,” “Nylon,” “Paper Magazine” and walked for brands including Yigal Azrouel, Desigual, Rosie Assoulin … Other brands include Simple Skincare and Marc Jacobs.
What advice do you give new models that you sign? I never stop telling them how hard it’s going to be. I never stop telling them that it is a huge gamble and a rollercoaster of ups and downs, down and ups. I tell them to trust me and believe what I tell them about their potential, until they start believing and trusting in it themselves. As a mother agent with knowledge and experience. I am truly an open book. The journalist in me loves to do research, so if they ask, I will find an answer.
Do’s and don’ts that everyday girls can steal from models:
Do moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. SPF is key.
Do be memorable, make an impression, preferably a good one.
Do let rejection roll of your back. Sometimes the best thing that can happen to you is a “no,” because there is often a greater opportunity waiting for you in the wings.
Do pay attention so you don’t miss your moment.
Don’t wear makeup unless you have to.
Don’t let other people define you, because they will never stop trying.
Don’t invest too much in the opinions of others, because you know what they say about opinions.
Don’t date male models until they are 25+, until then, their brains aren’t fully developed.
Don’t be afraid to let go and get weird in front of the camera. Looking pretty isn’t going to get you anywhere.
With many brands relying on celebrities and socialites to sport their brand goods, how do you believe this impacts professional models? Like any industry, the trends of ours ebb and flow–models will always have runways and the majority of campaigns because the clothes are samples and were built for model proportions. I do have an issue with models who don’t put in the work, but find overnight success, because they end up not knowing how to deliver when it’s time to work. You have ‘supermodels’ saying things like, “I’ve only been doing this a year and a half, and people expect me to show up and know how to walk, but I’m still learning.” That is frustrating because girls who don’t have famous parents or families have to know how to do the job before they book it. The celebs and socialites take work from girls who have been in the game for three or four years, or who actually need the money to feed their families in Eastern Europe. For them, it isn’t about Instagram and fame, it is about making money to make a life and survive, just like any other career.
How do you believe the industry is moving forward diversity-wise in color and size? This particular pendulum is swinging in the right direction. Globally, we as humans are more diverse than ever. Whether that means size, skin tone, features or gender, there are more cultural tribes now than ever, but we are also closer than ever. One of my favorite parts of my job is finding what makes people unique—what sets them apart. I’m fascinated by the way genetics manifest physically. As the world gets smaller, beauty becomes more and more complex as people with different features procreate. Models of multiple backgrounds can be chameleons, but are also the first of their kind. It’s beautiful to witness, if you’re an aesthetics nerd and the son of a biologist.
What is a myth you would like to dispel about the modeling industry? That it’s easy or glamorous. It is really, really hard work and no one else can do it for you, whether you have the look or not. Rejection is inherent in this business. It takes strength, dedication, and discipline to become successful. There are models who spend years going to castings, with little happening, before their moment comes. A lot of them don’t even stay in long enough for their moment to happen. A model’s first show season is the hardest. There is no way to prepare them for the pace of fashion week castings.
I spend a lot of time on the phone, keeping their heads in the game, answering questions, being a cheerleader, and then by the second or third season you mostly hear from them when something great happens. I also wish I could do away with modeling schools. There are lots of schools disguised as “agencies” that just take a lot money from their clients. They don’t book the models, they will tell anyone they can model if they are willing to pay, and it gives actual booking and management agencies a bad name. People come into my office constantly with horror stories about spending thousands of dollars to learn almost nothing. That’s not how a real agency works. At Prim, if my models don’t make money, I don’t make money, and they don’t pay the agency for anything.
If you were a Chic Spy Agent, what would be your code name? Prim and Proper.
Philip Washington’s tips for break into modeling
- If you’re going to spend money before submitting yourself to agencies, spend it getting really healthy and fit–no matter your size–not on photos. An agency should want to build your book to suit their clients or target markets, so a lot of what you do beforehand is going to go in the trash.
- Follow the instructions, whatever they are, when submitting yourself. For me, that is the first impression I have of a potential model. If you aren’t interested enough to follow some basic instructions and give it your best, modeling probably isn’t for you because a model is their own business.
- If you have the look, the height, etc., and really want it–don’t stop submitting yourself. Like any creative industry, modeling is subjective. Not every agent gets the look of every model, but it only takes one agent or one team that gets it, to sign you and get you working.
- Don’t be afraid to let go and get weird in front of the camera. Looking pretty isn’t going to get you anywhere.
- Educate yourself about the fashion industry, fashion history, designer’s names, etc. There is so much to learn outside of working as a model, if you really want to make it to the top.
Cover image: Kris Atomic