Jamie Dornan, Cara Delevingne, Cameron Diaz – there are plenty of actors who started off as models and vice versa. It’s easy to see why acting skills are in great demand in the modelling world – what photographer doesn’t want to work with someone who can take direction and is able to tell a story with just a look? So, if you’ve been blessed with great cheekbones as well as acting chops then lucky you. Modelling can be lucrative and your first step should be finding a great agent to help get you the best possible jobs.
London has a great selection of agencies to choose from, but before you go barging in, it’s important to do some research. Ask around – does the agency you have your eye on have a good reputation? What’s their online presence like? Do they represent the kind of model you want to be and crucially, do they do the kind of work you want to do? There’s no point signing up to a big agency with a rep for cutting-edge editorial material if your looks are more suited to commercial work. As with acting, honesty is the best policy: you may want to be the next Gigi Hadid or Adwoa Aboah, but might you actually make a much better foot model? Think about it.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that no reputable agency will ask you for anything up-front, financial or otherwise. If you’re asked to pay for professional photos then take your ridiculously good-looking little bod right out of the door, pronto – this lot don’t deserve your Blue Steel. But luckily, Backstage has done some of the hard work for you, and here’s our list of the London modelling agencies that need to be on your radar.
The Breakdown: A big, well-established international agency that can help you with the whole arc of your career, from mentorship programmes where industry veterans share their experience with new talent, to helping their models to cross over into new areas like acting.
IMG is a big name in the modelling world, with offices in New York, LA, Paris, Milan, and Sydney as well as London. They say they like to challenge their models, but they also pride themselves on acting like a family behind the scenes. An example of this is their mentorship programme, Model Prep, where industry professionals and veteran models share their experiences with emerging talent, as well as an educational speaker series offering advice on subjects like mental health, nutrition, and even self-defence.
According to Forbes Magazine, IMG represented four of the top five highest-earning models in the world in 2018. The agency is home to big names like Karlie Kloss, Chrissy Teigen, Alek Wek, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and it has a reputation for building lucrative editorial careers that cross over from the modelling world into other spheres.
IMG president Ivan Bart says that to cross over successfully, “you have to have a vision for it,” and plenty of IMG talents have proved they do. Cara Delevingne is just one of their models that has moved into acting post-catwalk and it’s clearly a route the agency is familiar with.
Bart also advises models to pay close attention to Instagram: “Your social media page is the magazine of your life, so how you represent yourself matters.” The media-savvy agency has an Instagram scouting account (weloveyourgenes) – a potential way to grab their attention?
IMG attempts to push the envelope when it comes to diversity, pushing for different beauty standards and recently launching Brawn, a division for plus-size male models.
The Breakdown: A big-name global agency with a track record that backs its claim to be “the world’s leading model management” network. Home of the original Supermodel, they are famous for their worldwide talent-finding contests, but they also place emphasis on innovation and non-traditional approaches.
Originating in Paris in 1972, Elite is one of the most famous agencies in the world and has the list to prove it. Big names such as the world’s top-earning model Kendall Jenner, Adut Akech, and Adriana Lima bless their current mainboard, and they also have a history of nurturing and enabling big-name careers of models like Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, and Claudia Schiffer. Yes, Elite is the home of the original Supermodel, so they clearly know what they’re doing!
When it comes to finding new talent, Elite puts its money where its mouth is, organising the huge Elite Model Look contest, a global search for the next supermodel. The competition hasn’t got a bad hit-rate either: in the last 30 years, it’s discovered Gisele Bundchen, Lara Stone, and Alessandra Ambrosio.
Their mainboard showcases lots of high-end editorial work, with lots of fashion magazine covers – good to consider when you’re thinking about the kind of modelling work you’d like to do. They’ve certainly worked with big top-end brands, having booked shows for names like Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Margaret Howell.
The agency claims it “embraces innovative types of management” and wants to “elevate our talents beyond the traditional modelling career.” The agency has its own in-house PR and production services and a talent list that includes non-modelling talent like Courtney Love, Ella Eyre, and Jack Guinness. Elite is an agency not scared to innovate.
When it comes to meeting the agency, their advice is simple: stay away from the makeup and let them see the real you. They’re looking for natural beauty and a personality that clients will want to work with again and again. Based in Islington, Elite runs open casting sessions every weekday from 10am to midday, and 2pm to 4pm, so go meet them!
The Breakdown: A British agency with global clout and an emphasis on welfare and nurturing long-term, sustainable careers. They have a reputation for high-end work and a legendary alumni list that includes supermodels Naomi Campbell and Twiggy.
Established in London in 1968, Models 1 began with just three models on its books but is now one of the world’s most respected agencies, with an HQ slap bang in the centre of Covent Garden.
They represent notable names such as Yasmin and Amber Le Bon, Olivia Palermo, Sophie Dahl, and Erin O’Connor but they also rep talent like actor Luke Treadaway, singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor, and actress Emilia Fox. As well as flying the British modelling flag they also seem to be doing their bit for older models, representing the original supermodel Twiggy, grey-haired goddess Daphne Selfe as well as Naomi Campbell – and if they can keep her happy, they must be good!
Models 1 does editorial and high-end commercial work, booking models for brands like Calvin Klein, GAP, and Ralph Lauren. It’s known for nurturing careers and being in it for the long term, insisting they won’t let baby models in their care “run before they can walk.” The agency stresses the welfare of their models, insisting it puts the “care, safety and happiness of models above all else” – and before you think they’re the Mother Teresa of the agency world, they claim to do that because it’s in “the absolute interests of Models 1.”
The Breakdown: A versatile agency taking a holistic approach to their clients’ careers, advising them on branding and intellectual property. They push at the definition of modelling with a roster that includes social influencers, writers, and actors. Storm has a legendary reputation for spotting talent. Could you be next?
Established in London thirty years ago by Sarah Doukas, with the backing of Richard Branson, Chelsea-based Storm’s track record for finding new talent is hard to beat. They discovered Kate Moss (in an airport), Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn (in Primark), Lily Cole…and the list goes on.
Despite its success, Storm hasn’t rested on its laurels, continuing to evolve by offering its clients varied in-house services such as branding and licensing, artist-management, and opening new departments like Storm Vision, which manages the careers of social influencers. Excitingly, Storm wants its models to get involved in the business side of their careers, encouraging them to keep an eye on the ownership of their intellectual property and brand.
Storm wants to help its models develop their career, whether that’s modelling or developing in other areas. If they see potential, they sign people in all sorts of professions including bloggers, vloggers, actors, writers, and presenters, giving them wide-ranging perspective and expertise.
Doukas told Vogue Magazine: “You have to be a strong and inspiring influence as well as a brilliant business agent. I try to employ really caring people and not just people who are good at being agents.” You can test their niceness at one of their open castings from Monday to Friday 10am to midday and 2pm to 4pm at their Chelsea office.
The Breakdown: A big-name modelling agency set up by a model for models. They believe “flawed beauty is often the most interesting,” and they offer “full-spectrum management” that includes full-figured models and children. With a booking every three minutes, it’s an agency with a progressive approach that is clearly succeeding.
Founded in 1967 by the late Dutch supermodel Wilhelmina Cooper, Wilhelmina is now a well-established name on the global agency scene. Alongside their London base, they have a network of American offices which can bring in exciting work opportunities for an aspiring Kate Moss or Winnie Harlow. Their corporate client list reflects this, with notable names including MAC, L’Oréal, and Donna Karan.
Following its founder’s lead, the agency emphasises the idea that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and that “flawed beauty is often the most interesting.” They offer what they call “full-spectrum management for women, men, full-figured, fitness, and children models, as well as entertainers and musicians.” They’re also keen to stress that every three minutes, a Wilhelmina model is booked somewhere around the world.
Wilhelmina have represented names such as Anjelica Huston, Beverly Johnson, Isabella Rossellini, and Gia Carangi, and now rep models Karolína Kurková, Makala Johnson, and Roosmarijn de Kok. As well as the mainboard, Wilhelmina operates a curve department, a kids and teens section, and a successful talent management operation which now boasts names like Nicki Minaj, Shawn Mendes, and Niall Horan.
You can see the lucrative results of its talent division’s work on billboards and ad campaigns everywhere. Wilhelmina is a big name and is looking to get bigger still by moving further into talent management and digital content creation. It’s ambitious for its business, and that means it needs new talent – like you! If all this sounds good they have open casting calls at their Dalston office every weekday from 10am until midday.
The Breakdown: With clients like Stella McCartney and Prada, this is a high-end agency with a reputation for edgy editorial and breakout catwalk stars. They have a strong and interesting male board too, and an artist management division with major names from the world of music.
Founded by Carole White and her brother Chris Owen in 1981, Premier Model Management is now one of the world’s top model agencies. Premier models can be seen on catwalks and billboards globally: In 2019, names like Achenrin, Evie Harris, Liza P, and Ruinan caught the eye of top clients like Stella McCartney, Victoria Beckham, and JW Anderson.
As with many agencies, the Premier Women’s division drives the agency’s definition of itself. It’s become synonymous with edgy editorial, breakout catwalk stars, and trendsetting stances. Premier’s top names like Luna Bijl, Malaika Firth, Lara Mullen, Marjan Jonkman, Lily Stewart, Phillipa Hemphrey, Luma Grothe, and Hailey Clauson regularly feature in Vogue and Dazed as well as campaigns for Prada, Chloe, Armani, JW Anderson, Coach, and Paul Smith.
The mainboard of the Men’s department is also thriving, with top male models like Fernando Lindez, Jun Young Hwang, Filip Hrivnak, Ty Ogunkoya, and Nils Butler doing well under Premier’s guidance. And like many forward-thinking agencies, Premier has an artists management department featuring names such as Kelis, Bar Refaeli, and Banks. And worth noting: with their emphasis on new talent, they publish photos of their scouts on their website – so no chance of dodgy encounters with middle-aged men claiming to be top scouting staff!
The Breakdown: British agency with a global network but a boutique philosophy. The client list is top-notch client list, as is their female talent, though they are particularly noted for their male board.
It’s been a big year for Select, with 2019 seeing Select merge with MP management to become the “fifth-largest global model and talent agency network.” Founded in 1977, Select is an agency with international ambitions, known for its very British board and its talent for scouting male models – especially off the street.
Top names Select have found are David Gandy, Oliver Cheshire, Ben Allen, Jacey Elthalion, Danny Beauchamp, Finn Hayton, Sacha M’Baye, Paul Sculfor, and O’Shea Robertson. Jamie Dornan started at Select, so they clearly know how to make a career happen. Plus, the women’s board isn’t too shabby, with Select having a hand in the careers of Sienna Miller, Agyness Deyn, Sam Rollinson, Stella Tennant, Primrose Archer, Jess Hart, and Eliza Cummings, among many others.
Their client list is top-notch, including prestige British brands like Burberry and Paul Smith as well as global names like Valentino and Hugo Boss. Select offers “one-on-one” care for its models and markets itself as a boutique-style agency. If that sounds like your kind of thing then why not pop in to their weekday open-call casting sessions 10am to midday and 2pm to 4pm Monday to Friday.
Here are some related articles from our US edition. Apart from their strange habit of spelling modelling as “modeling,” most of the advice will be as relevant in the UK as it is in New York or L.A:
For more from Backstage UK, check out the magazine.