Thursday 12 December 2019

Models keep brave face on it

Ireland's top model agencies have been feeling the pinch in the downturn. Behind the glitz, there have been high-profile casualties as well as new entrants ruffling feathers

Thalia Heffernan
Thalia Heffernan

Simon Rowe

Ireland's top model agencies are putting a brave face on it but they've had to tighten their belts to survive the downturn.

With budgets slashed across the board and fashion retailers devising marketing wheezes and photoshoots "on the cheap", professional model agencies have been feeling the pinch, according to industry insiders.

Behind all the glitz and glamour, there have been several high-profile casualties in recent years.

While the closures were blamed on the economic slump, the decision by former top model Andrea Roche to open her own agency AR Models dealt "the killer blow", say insiders.

Roche's arrival shook up the industry and she was soon joined by a number of Ireland's top models from rival firm Assets -including Rosanna Davison and Georgia Salpa.

Roche appears to be laughing all the way to the bank. With a roster of models that includes Katie Larmour, a pal of golfer Rory McIlroy, Roz Purcell, the girlfriend of Voice judge Bressie, and reality TV star Nadia Forde, it's clear that the former Miss Ireland has commercial fire-power.

Her firm posted an annual turnover of almost €500,000 last year, which is staggering in the current downturn, and AR Models Limited is sitting on a cash pile of €68,000 after four years in business.

But these figures demand closer inspection. Indeed, despite the plus-size turnover of €490,000 recorded in 2013, Roche's firm posted waif-like profits of just €28,540 as administrative expenses totalling €150,000 trimmed the firm's profits significantly.

While publicity-shy Roche declined to speak to the Sunday Independent, the well-respected super-agent Derek Daniels was more forthcoming.

With over 20 years' experience of running Assets Model Agency, Daniels, who nurtured the careers of Rosanna Davison, Glenda Gilson, Georgia Salpa and also Roche, knows how fickle the model industry can be. But he believes the sector is finally on the rebound after the recession. "In the last seven or eight months the figures are starting to come back, they're much better. There has been a huge improvement," he said.

"Marketing people were so terrified for so long to spend money. Everything was being done on the cheap. Everything was being done with amateurs and obviously when you do things with amateurs you don't get the same results as when you use professionals," he said. "But marketing budgets are slowly coming back."

Industry veteran Celia Holman Lee, of Holman Lee Agency in Limerick - one of the longest-established modelling agencies in Ireland - agrees with Daniels' assessment.

"During the middle of the crash it was disastrous. The industry fell on its knees," she said.

The former model and TV presenter specialises in staging fashion shows for her firm's roster of big name retail clients. With more than 30 years' business experience, Celia Holman Lee says: "I'm an enigma. I've turned a very busy modelling agency into an event management company.

"We work the length and breadth of the country. We are a modelling agency but primarily we are a catwalk agency."

New entrants such as Andrea Roche's firm and Dublin-based Distinct Model Management, which set up over a year ago, have shaken up the industry and challenged the dominance of the likes of First Option Models, headed by Jules and Trish Fallon, and Assets.

But Daniels warns of a bigger threat to the industry's recovery: "We need to be careful that we don't return to the exorbitant and ridiculous fees that were being charged going back six or seven years ago."

Yet even in the downturn, models still earn a pretty penny. Typically, a photocall model earns €150-€250 per hour. This figure can double to €500-600 for more well-known models such as Rosanna Davison or Georgia Salpa. Model agencies take an industry standard commission of 20pc on that fee.

But the real money is on the international model circuit. For Irish models working for global brands, fashion shoots can earn them €1,000 to €5,000 per day. And for those at the very top, the rewards can be even greater.

Rosanna Davison, for instance, currently Ireland's most famous model, is sitting pretty on a cash pile of €130,000 according to accounts filed by her company Zanadoo Productions. Her firm is still raking in about €70,000 per year, a decade after Davison was crowned Miss World.

In an industry where agents dream of finding 'the next big thing', Rebecca Morgan, boss of Morgan the Agency, has maybe the hottest property in Irish modelling on her books right now - Donnybrook teenager Thalia Heffernan.

"Thalia just came into one of our weekly open casting sessions four years ago," recalls Morgan.

Heffernan, who is widely tipped to become one of Ireland's biggest earners in the business, has done shoots for online fashion retailer ASOS and works with Premier Model Management in the UK - the agency behind supermodels Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington - and is also on the books of top US agency Ford Models.

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