How to be a supermodel
Kate, Naomi, Christy, Cindy, Linda ... supermodels don't need surnames. And those whose job it is to discover them don't need first names. Ellis is the talent scout in search of an Irish girl to join the ranks of international supermodels in RTE's new reality TV series, The Model Agent.
No doubt, teenagers countrywide with stars in their eyes will be hurling themselves on to the catwalk in their quest to become the first Aoife, Bridget or Siobhán to enter the rarefied world of the global supermodel.
But before she steps into another woman's Jimmy Choos, she might be well advised to remove the rose-coloured spectacles and look at what supermodels have become. They famously don't wake up for less than $10,000 and some of them hit the headlines for hurling things at people or getting caught in alleged drug-taking offences with rock star boyfriends. Underneath the glamour, the supermodel is not always a super role model.
"Would you want to be someone who's up in court for assault? I wouldn't!" says Rebecca Morgan, founder of Morgan, the Agency. "The cult of the supermodel is really nothing more than media hype. We have girls who are doing very well in New York, Milan and elsewhere around the world.
"Ali Dunne was the first to make a great living as a model abroad. She's six feet tall and ultimately got more work abroad than she did at home, doing advertising campaigns, fashion shows and photo shoots in Hamburg, Milan and New York.
"Alison Canavan does a huge variety of work abroad -- she recently did a very successful Lux soap campaign. She's coming up to 30 years of age and is based in New York."
But even if Ireland is exporting successful models, they're not exactly household names in the same way as Naomi or Kate. Why not?
"We have the potential to produce an international supermodel, but I don't recommend the route that some of the so-called supermodels have taken to get there; the deprivation they have put themselves through to meet ridiculous requests to be stick insects. I always urge models, 'Don't compromise your health for the sake of a magazine cover.'"
Derek Daniels, founder of Assets Model Agency, agrees. "If you have to diet, you're not a model," he says. "Either you have what it takes naturally by the age of 16 to 18, or you don't."
So what does it take to be a top model? "Brains and beauty," says Derek. "You have to have business acumen and personality. This is a confined market and if clients don't like you, they won't book you.
"One of our great successes is Caitriona Balfe, arguably the biggest model to come out of this country. She was in the top 20 models in the world and has opened shows in Paris, Milan and New York, where she is now based at the age of 28." The average career span for a model is 10 years, he says, and while she may earn €90-€150 an hour, the work is not remotely glamorous.
"She could be shooting in a beautiful location, but she'll be working from six in the morning till six at night with just a quick lunch break. There's no partying because she has to be up early the next day."
As a former editor of the weekly magazine Woman's Way, I remember the unrelenting nature of the quarterly cover shoot. Photographer, stylists, make-up artists and models would gather together for a day of intense back-to-back cover shoots in a cold, sparse studio with a corner for a dressing room.
While celebrities grace the covers of today's magazines, back then it was models all the way -- and on a shoestring budget. To get our money's worth, we'd book at least one blonde, one brunette, a redhead and a couple of extras. One girl cleverly brought a wig to give her versatility. Each model would have four changes of clothes and make-up. It was conveyor belt stuff and at the end of the day we'd have enough covers to rotate over three months.
It must have been a comedown from the slick campaigns shot in Milan or Tokyo, but our girls never complained. Mari O'Leary, Sharon Bacon, Sonia Reynolds, Laura Bermingham, Marie Staunton and Corina Grant are all names that spring to mind as beautiful, versatile, professional models that everybody loved to work with.
After 10 years as a model, Mari O'Leary was on the international map, in constant demand in Italy, Germany and Japan. Yet, at a time when she was considered one of Ireland's most beautiful women, she packed it all in at 28 and a few years later set up O'Leary PR and Marketing.
"I wanted to leave before I was too old and, to be honest, I had got a bit bored with the routine," says Mari. "I was working consistently, but a sameness had crept into the job and I wanted to do something different.
"I had a travel bug, so working abroad suited me, but I notice Irish girls are less inclined to go away these days. Caitriona Balfe and Alison Canavan have done very well abroad, but most girls stay at home. That's why we have no Irish supermodels.
"Ireland has no big campaigns that would offer anything like $10,000. In the States you have a huge population and mega-bucks. We never had that power and we never will.
"I would advise anyone thinking of modelling as a career to take advice from the credible industry experts. The big four are Morgan, Assets, First Option and Compton. They will tell you the truth, whether you can do fashion or commercial work, or whether you have a future in modelling at all."
The Model Agent starts on RTE Two on April 20