Exciting or what? Grazia is teaming up with high-street giant Next and the world’s top model agency, Storm Models, to launch a nationwide competition to find the future face of fashion. Grazia’s style director Paula Reed asks Storm’s founder Sarah Doukas (above) what she’s looking for…
Sarah Doukas loves competitions. It would be natural to expect that the uber agent, famous for discovering Kate Moss in an airport departure lounge and Jourdan Dunn in the Hammersmith branch of Primark, would be a fixture on the front row, with her gimlet eye trained on the latest arrivals. But, she explains, by the time the talent walks the catwalk, it’s too late. They’ve been discovered. By a competing agent. So she has high hopes for this competition. ‘We did one in a South London paper not so long ago and found some incredible new talent,’ she says.
‘I used to be obsessed with finding people on the street,’ Sarah says. ‘Nowadays I don’t get out as much. I have a team and I trust them completely. But casting on the street is a tricky business. Three of my best people are straight boys, and they are as likely to get a slap around the chops as a returned phone call. But you can’t wait for talent to walk in the door.’
Sarah doesn’t get out so much because booking models is now the least of her work. The reach of fashion and the marketing power of style mean her job has changed beyond recognition compared to what it was 10 years ago. ‘It’s an odd thing to say, but I don’t consider myself a model agent any more,’ she says. ‘Kate [Moss] turned a corner for us. There came a point in her career where she’d have been mad to stay with us unless we adapted and learned a different trade. She needed us to know how to help her develop a brand. That was very exciting. So now we work with so many people – chefs (Tom Aiken), actors (we’ve had Emma Watson since she was 14) and many others.’
Sarah is 52, has three children and sparkles with the energy of someone who loves her job. It may look as if it’s all glamour. But anyone who watched The Model Agency on Channel 4 will have glimpsed how much heart and hard work is invested in nurturing talent. ‘A good friend told me recently that I had 25 or 30 good summers left, so if I was going to work like I do, I’d need to love it. That made a lot of sense,’ says Sarah.
Her antidote to one of the busiest working weeks in the business is a farm in the New Forest, where vegetables are served up from the garden, and the kitchen is as likely to be full of models at a loose end as schoolfriends of her daughters and neighbours’ dogs boarding while their owners are on holiday. When her brother – and business partner – Simon interrupts to say hi, she tells him she has finally drummed up the courage to redecorate her daughter’s bedroom there. ‘But it’s a work of art… of history,’ he protests. ‘Everyone has contributed graffiti to that wall [including La Moss]. You at least need to take a picture before you paint over it.’ ‘Hmmm, hadn’t thought of that. Was only thinking of sorting out the mess,’ she says, adding yet another thing to her ‘to do’ list.
Sarah and Simon are safe pairs of hands. I had first-hand experience of this when we served on the Model Health Inquiry panel together. They spoke passionately for their industry and the young men and women they represent. What is she most proud of? ‘Oh, we certainly made a difference, and the single most important thing to come from it is that no one is allowed on the catwalk under 16. Now proof of age must be presented.’
So what is she looking for in the winner of this competition? ‘Height is important,’ she muses. ‘5ft 9in is considered small now [Kate Moss is 5ft 7in]. But it’s the intangible thing that makes the big difference. I mean, look at Kate on the catwalk for Vuitton. Every girl there was taller than her, but she was the one who made the impact. Somebody with that personality walks TALL.’
She is sure about what she is not looking for. ‘Pretty girls are often told they can be models. Every guy I know is gaga about the Middletons. But they are not model material. Models come from an orchid house with some very delicate and strange blooms in it. For that reason the best ones often don’t come forward. People who think they are right are often not right, and people who think they are the last ones who should be doing this are probably exactly what we are looking for.’
The Eastern European girls who have dominated the industry for the past decade are famously different. ‘It’s as if they know they only have one chance,’ Sarah explains. ‘And they are often earning for a family in poverty back home. British girls need more support. The very best have to deal with rejection every day and start to think of themselves as a commodity. That’s a very tough thing to handle. English girls are a tiny part of my business. I only have five who walk the shows right now, but I am determined to find more.
‘This competition is nationwide, which makes it so exciting,’ she adds. ‘And we have no [upper] age restriction. Anyone over 18 can apply. I recently rang an old friend, a model my age, and asked her if she wanted to work again. We are doing amazingly well with her. And look at Kristen McMenamy starting again on the Chanel catwalk at 46. I can’t wait to find out what’s out there.’
If you think you have what it takes to be the next big thing, you have two options: either get yourself to one of the ‘Make Me The Next Model 2011’ roadshows, which will be kicking off at Westfield London on 30 May, before visiting Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow and arriving in Dublin on 11 June, or enter online from 30 May. For more information on dates and locations, plus how to enter and vote online, click here. The two competition winners will each bag themselves £2,000 worth of Next gift cards, an introduction to Storm Models and a starring role in the Next marketing campaign for S/S ’12. So what are you waiting for?