So You Wanna Be a Supermodel?

With the launch of IMG and "W" magazine’s second model search, top scout Jeni Rose shares the secrets to modeling success

These days, becoming the next face of fashion is as easy as uploading an Instagram image. Well, kind of. Last week, W magazine and IMG launched the second edition of their national model search, and one lucky lady will have the chance to sign with the modeling giant, and also appear in W’s March 2017 issue. 

“With the model search, we are looking for the next iconic model, a fresh face for W and for the industry,” said Edward Enninful, creative and fashion director of W magazine, who last year helped to select Alexis Primous as the competition’s victor. She’s since gone on to walk in a number of fashion shows, pose for Mario Sorrenti, and nab a MAC cosmetics campaign. “Finding and mentoring new talent is not only part of W’s DNA, but it’s also very important to me personally,” Enninful continued. “It’s about giving models from all over the country an opportunity to be discovered.”

But what does it really take to get discovered? Technically, one could just submit an entry form and images here, and keep her fingers crossed. But Jeni Rose, who not only helped found IMG’s Paris division, but also worked to launch the modeling agency’s Instagram-focused We Love Your Genes scouting initiative, says there’s a bit more to it. Here, the expert scout talks the evolution of the modeling industry, how she spots the next big thing via her social feed, and why being a model these days takes so much more than just a pretty face.          

Katharine K. Zarrella: With the W Magazine and IMG Model Search, you’re on the quest to find the next big face. What does it mean to be a “big” model in 2016? What do you look for? 

Jeni Rose: Every client and every photographer is looking for a girl with a story, with something behind her. Just seeing a beautiful face is almost not enough anymore. It’s become about who [the models] are, and it’s really hard to get a sense of that through pictures. So normally, [prospective models] don’t just submit a picture. They submit a video, they tell us about themselves, and we give them questions that we’d like them to answer, like, “Who are you?” “What do you like to do in your spare time?” “Where do you live?” What’s been your best vacation?” You can get so much of an idea of someone when you hear a little bit of what they’re all about.

KKZ: Does a model need to be more well-rounded today than she did 20 years ago? Because back then, you could just be a pretty face and make it big.

JR: When I started in this business, you didn’t even know the names of models. It was the Carol Alt and Kelly Emberg era, and you knew a little bit about those girls via Sports Illustrated because they published little [stories on] the girls. But in most fashion magazines, you had no idea who the models were. There wasn’t a personality that was attached. I think it’s a good progression in that now, who that girl is has become equally as important as how beautiful she is. 

KKZ: It’s definitely a refreshing shift, but what was the tipping point that made having a strong personality so important?

JR: The start of it was the Linda [Evangelista], Christy [Turlington], Naomi [Campbell], and Cindy Crawford era. But it’s really a combination of everything. Plus, you have the girls that are self-curating and self-publishing who they are. You find out who they are in their own words via social media, rather than via any sort of managed output. 

KKZ: Why did you decide to cast the W Magazine and IMG Model Search primarily via Instagram?

JR: We launched the @WeLoveYourGenes [Instagram] account because I was realizing that on my own personal account, I had a whole group of teenage girl followers. And looking at their Instagram feeds was a fantastic way to scout, because their social media was usually about their normal life, which is really what we want to see. Generally, when girls submit stuff to us, it’s not what we want to see. We don’t want pictures that are retouched or with tons of makeup. We want to see them the way they are, naturally, no makeup, just normal. And through the Instagram feed, I realized I could see the girls that they were and not how they thought I wanted to see them. 

Contacting them one-by-one was a difficult process, so we decided that we would launch an Instagram-specific scouting vehicle. A group of us came up with the name We Love Your Genes. And then through that, we have a WLYG hashtag, which we look at multiple times a day. And a lot of the times, [girls] direct message me. It’s fantastic that I’m now able to connect with girls from all over the world. I never would have had the opportunity to do that prior.

KKZ: Has Instagram made your job as a scout easier?

JR: No, it’s definitely not easier. My daughter was watching me the other day go through [Instagram posts], and she was like, “Oh my god. This is so labor intensive.” It really is. So it’s not easier, it’s different. And I don’t think that one way is better than the other. We still do the traditional things that we always did. What’s really nice and different is connecting with the girls directly. That’s been fantastic. 

KKZ: Several stories have come out recently claiming that social media is ruining modeling, and that magazines need to stop trumpeting models’ social media followings. What is your response to that? 

JR: Often times and historically, the choice of which girls broke through was between a few. Only a handful of people were making that decision. But now, it’s a bit like the people’s choice—and that’s not a bad thing.

For an advertiser and for a customer, it’s nice to be able to understand how a certain person would resonate with the population. If you’re a brand and you’re trying to figure out who to pick, you’d want to know if somebody has a 100,000 or a million followers. I think that’s sort of an insurance policy for them that their message is going to get across. And a lot of the girls who have a super big social media following, it’s always organic. 

KKZ: Has a prospective model’s social media following, or lack thereof, ever influenced your decision of whether or not you’ll work with her? 

JR: Absolutely not. For me, my barometer is what I think and what my colleagues that I work with think. We all have an extremely effective relationship, we all weigh in, and we really respect each other’s opinion. But, if a girl has zero following, I could care less as long as I think she’s great. There are plenty of kids that make accounts just to be scouted, which I think is not right because I’m really looking to see those photos of them hanging out with their friends.

KKZ: You’re not interested in any Facetuned selfies.

JR: Yeah, I want to see them naturally. What people don’t realize is that as soon as you have a group picture with five kids together, you get the height. If I see a picture of them by themselves, shot in their bathroom mirror, I can’t tell if they’re tall or short or you know, where they fall on the spectrum. 

KKZ: Can a model’s social media following be a determining factor for a client?

JR: It is. More and more, we’re hearing from clients that they’re looking for girls with at least 50,000-plus followers.

KKZ: What does it take for a model to have longevity these days? It’s easy to be a social media sensation, and then disappear really quickly…

JR: It’s not even just for social media. I would say that, just when you think you know what that model’s all about, you have to switch it up. That’s what keeps it really interesting. However that is done – whether they appeared in magazines that you never imagined them to appear in, or they start working with brands you didn’t think they would work with, or if they change themselves physically. What a model needs to flourish is to be multifaceted. Make sure they’re never boring—there’s always something that you never imagined them doing. Going forward, I think that really has to do with the quality of the creative management. At the end of the day, you can have a beautiful girl that just keeps going and going, and that’s how a great model is when she has great management.

KKZ: What are the most prestigious places for models to appear these days? Clearly it used to be print and runway, but with all these new platforms, it feels like that’s starting to change.

JR: That also takes a lot of creative management. In the ’80s, photographers and magazines made models. But now, it’s really brands that make models. And that’s not even the only way, which I like, because sometimes it’s not a hit the first time out. You have some girls who went and saw x, y, and z casting director, and nobody bit. There have been so many girls and superstars who have cried on our [casting] couch, and we always say, “If that couch could talk…” But I always say to the girls that every single time they hit a low point, which they all do, anything can change everything. A new haircut, one right meeting, one right photographer, one right show, one amazing picture that somebody sees, one anything can change everything. You could have the worst season in the world, but then you get booked for some fantastic exclusive, and all of a sudden, you become the talk of the town.

KKZ: You made an interesting point when you talked about how photographers made the models. I instantly thought all the way back to Richard Avedon and Dovima. Do those kinds of relationships still exist these days? And if so, are they still important? 

JR: I would say yes, but it used to be that photographers had studios, and you would call them up, and you would say, “Hi, can so-and-so pass by and meet you today?” And they did. Now, photographers are international. They don’t have a studio per se that they work out of. So a lot of times, the casting of models for specific photographers goes through other people. It might go through a casting director, it might go through a bookings editor, it might go through an agent. If you wanted Avedon to see a girl, you called [his studio], and then he saw the girl. But it doesn’t necessarily work that way anymore. It’s not just the photographers that are seeing models. It’s a varied group of people, and a lot of times, the easiest way to see a model is to see her on the runway. 

KKZ: Do you think the modeling industry today reflects our current cultural landscape?

JR: I’m really excited about the industry and the inclusiveness. I feel that the traditional way people looked at models and cast models, that’s wide open now. I love the fact that there’s a lot of diversity and that there’s a lot of inclusion. I love the fact that there are girls that are doing fantastic things. That’s really modeling for me. I love looking at people’s beauty and having it be so varied. And I think that’s great. 

KKZ: What do you hope to achieve through the IMG and W Magazine contest? And how do you think it might be able to help push the modeling industry forward? 

JR: It’s really nice that you can sit in the middle of nowhere and have modeling agencies hours and hours away from you see you. A lot of people don’t have the money to walk into an agency, or to get someplace, or to find people to make a career happen. I think you can be anyone, anywhere. And I like that—it really levels the playing field for everyone. 

KKZ: With that in mind, is it easier to become a model today than it was a few decades ago?

JR: I think it is easier. Because of social media, you don’t have to have great photos – you just have to have a laptop. You don’t have to mail your pictures anywhere. We always find that the reason Instagram scouting has worked so well for us is that it’s a really low commitment for the girl. You can hashtag your pictures and you get seen or you might get scouted, but you don’t have to do anything. And a lot of times when we’ve contacted people, the girl goes, “Oh my god, I can’t even believe it. Somebody told me to put the hashtag, and I can’t believe you guys are actually contacting me. This is amazing.”


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