It's not all glitz and glamour on the catwalk
Written by Shobha Nihalani
Models and agents look to cash in on mainland opportunities
Modelling today has become an attractive career option for those with the right qualities, and a highly paid job for established models.
The profession may appear glamorous, with opportunities to travel, but in the glitzy world of fashion there are no public holidays or weekend breaks. Hard work, dedication, perseverance and self-discipline are keys to success in this highly competitive yet short-lived career.
Many Hong Kong-based agencies act as full service modelling and talent agencies, promoting people of all nationalities to the fashion and entertainment sectors in Asia and beyond.
Besides the big brand names in fashion and the cosmetics industry, airlines, banks, retail outlets and even telecommunications businesses are using models to promote their products.
'As a professional model agency in Hong Kong, we work in all aspects,' said Amy Leung Pui-yee, assistant general manager of Dreamodels Workshop Hong Kong.
'Our clients include fashion names, photographers, studios, advertising companies and production houses. Our models work for fashion shows and events, fashion shootings, and advertisements for magazines.'
With Asia becoming an affluent market for western brands, Asian models are getting international attention.
'Europe and America have their eyes on Hong Kong and China for Asian faces,' said Emmanuelle Pouliquen, manager of Model Genesis.
'Six years ago this market was unknown. Japan was the only recognised fashion capital in Asia. But now Hong Kong is becoming increasingly popular, so that some international agencies want to open branches or send their models here.'
While the west was keen on the exotic Asian look, local businesses on the mainland were looking to cast western faces to promote their products globally, said Ms Pouliquen. Models with western faces were cashing in on the abundant modelling opportunities on the mainland.
'Western models are needed if a Chinese garment factory considers launching their clothing line overseas. There are also fledgling local and regional brands wanting to attract more orders from buyers by displaying their latest collections at fashion expo events,' Ms Pouliquen said.
'Recently, China has become a huge potential market. A few years ago there weren't many models in Hong Kong and hardly two or three Caucasians per agency. Now an agency represents a minimum of 20 Caucasian faces. They are looking to the mainland for business,' Ms Pouliquen said.
'But our biggest challenge is that clients complain they have a low budget. We find it hard to lower the rates, as we bring high quality models from agencies in New York and Paris. It is difficult to convince the overseas agencies to send their models if the rates are so low. We pay for tickets and accommodation as well.
'The modelling agencies in Hong Kong are facing stiff competition from each other. We are competing on pricing, the quality of our models and the services provided by the agencies,' Ms Leung said. 'Since the market in Hong Kong is saturated with more agencies opening up here, we have started to target clients from the southern part of China.'
The mainland has become an important market for Hong Kong modelling agencies.
'Sixty per cent of our business is from China and the rest is Hong Kong,' Ms Pouliquen said.
'We explain to the models that when they go to China, they should not have high expectations. The clients are very demanding and expect a lot from the models. Despite the long hours for modelling assignments and their clients' high demand and poor English, modelling agencies continue to show a strong interest in the mainland as there are more shows in China.'
Competition comes not only from international agencies, but also from emerging agencies in the mainland.
'Modelling agencies in China are also part of our competition nowadays,' Ms Leung said.
'There are a few strong agencies in southern China, which were set up a few years ago. Compared with the costs between agencies in China and Hong Kong, we don't have the predominance of low cost. We have to strengthen ourselves by providing good services and quality models.'
Like any other professional modelling agency, Model Genesis is selective: when scouting for models, it looks for those models who took a professional, disciplined approach to their work.
'When the models go for casting, we expect them to look good, be on time and socialise,' said Ms Pouliquen. 'Clients can tell right away if a model is inexperienced. And they would give us feedback if the models' poses are not versatile enough.'
Client expectations when casting models vary from market to market, and Hong Kong is very different from Europe.
'During casting, in Paris and Milan, models require no makeup, but here clients expect to see models in full makeup. They don't have the creativity or patience to imagine what the model would look like with no makeup on. When the model meets them for casting, they need to see the full package right away,' Ms Pouliquen said.
In this business, it is better for models to start young, as their career is generally short.
Book a collection of a model's photos and personal details for clients' reference
Casting a meeting between a model and a client; the model is required to do some poses for the client to determine whether they are suitable for a particular job
Booking an assignment for a model; bookings can range from a fashion show and a fashion shoot to an event or advertisements for magazines
Composite card a promotional tool in the form of a 5' x 7' card intended for clients. It is a selection of the model's best photos and is updated regularly at the modelling agency's expense