NEW YORK, NY December 1, 2017
In no particular order here they are:
“Güerxs is the loudest scream I could give about a fashion industry that was reproducing beauty standards instead of creating a more inclusive panorama,” says Güerxs founder Maria Osado. The Mexico City-based agency street casts “faces that are hardly seen in the main Mexican fashion scene” and Osado’s vision is extending to the U.S. too. Güerxs model Angelica Ballesteros walked for Barragán and Hardeman at NYFW Spring 2018.
JAG Models broke ground as the first agency to truly #droptheplus when Jaclyn Sarka, Adam Hughes and Gary Dakin left Ford to start an agency devoted to representing women of every size without dividing models into special categories or distinctions. Curvaceous JAG models like Iskra Lawrence, Sabina Karlsson and Diana Veras celebrated body diversity at NYFW Spring 2018 on the runways at Michael Kors, Chromat, Christian Siriano, Project Runway and Tome.
Throughout her career as a designer, Nailah Lymus encountered models who were asked to expose their bodies despite religious and other personal reservations. “Knowing these supermodels were actually uncomfortable wearing certain garments and felt they had no voice was insane. They thought expressing how they felt would jeopardize their career,” she says. That realization was the motivation for founding Underwraps, an agency which represents women who dress modestly as part of their lifestyle, especially Muslim models who wear the hijab.
London-based Anti-Agency is a home for street-cast models who purposefully avoid the rigid standards of traditional agencies because “they don’t want to be told to lose weight or how to dress, to not have tattoos, to not color their hair,” says director Lucy Greene. Models like Camille Jansen and Marina Ontanaya, who recently shot a Hermes campaign, are emblematic of the way Anti-Agency puts personality and individuality at the forefront. “They have something to say, they stand up for what they believe in, they’re unique and fabulous — and it shows through in the way they look.”
“We won’t stop until every woman realizes she’s beautiful,” says Briauna Mariah, founder of We Speak, a New York City agency on a mission to showcase diverse women of every shape and size. Its lineup of what Mariah describes as “bright lights with a healthy lifestyle and a positive attitude” was cast in NYFW Spring 2018 shows like Snow Xue Gao and Barragán.
Another agency that promises to prioritize its models’ personalities over their image is State Management. “We really want models that have something to say,” founder Rene Gonzalez told WWD. And if you paid any attention to NYFW Spring 2018, you definitely got the message. State models walked for The Blonds, Alice + Olivia, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Rosie Assoulin, Ricardo Seco and Chromat, to name just a few designers.
“If we see all-white castings, everyone everywhere should take to social media and just express that it’s not acceptable,” Lorde Inc. founder Nafisa Kaptownwala told i-D. That or start a modeling agency focused on fighting racial hegemony in fashion by representing exclusively models of color — which is just what she did.
“We’re here to slay and we’re here to stay!” is the mantra at trans-exclusive agency Slay Model Management, whose talent strutted at Elie Madi, Sir New York, Stevie Boi, Adrian Alicea and Marco Marco for NYFW Spring 2018. (The agency is also the subject of Oxygen’s reality show Strut.) “My talent are models first and trans folk second. While we are here to slowly change things, we are also here to walk and pose alongside cisgender models and just showcase that trans is beautiful,” says founder Cecilio Asuncion.
When agencies pinched model/actress Vera LeSavoy’s hips and told her that she didn’t have “the right measurements,” her friends Ashley Smith and Alex Tsebelis thought, “Why don’t we just start our own modeling agency?” No Agency was born, a dynamic nonagency with a roster of girls who, they told Purple magazine, they prefer to call “muses” rather than “models”: Yulu Serao and Katerina Tannenbaum, who walked for Sandy Liang this season, Seashell Coker, who danced on the runway at Gypsy Sport with Torraine Futurum, this season’s breakout transgender model who has been cast by Shiseido, Urban Outfitters, Proenza Schouler and Adidas — and who you might recognize from Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Boy Problems” video.
Those weary of runways filled with teenage models wearing clothes marketed toward much older women will applaud Oldushka, a Russian agency that won’t sign any models younger than 45 — in fact, its silver-haired goddesses are as old as 85. “Appearing as themselves is an instrument to fight stereotypes,” founder Igor Gavar told Vogue. “They are an inspiring example to show that it is possible to look beautiful and be your age.”
The fashion industry’s shift toward street-cast, “alternative” looks has had the unfortunate side effect of fostering underrepresentation and even exploitation of nontraditional models. One agency that has stepped in to make sure that these fresh faces actually get paid is Midland, co-founded by Rachel Chandler and Walter Pearce. The agency’s kaleidoscopic roster of diverse talent has been appreciated by designers like Maryam Nassir Zadeh, Vaquera, Helmut Lang, Eckhaus Latta and Matthew Adams Dolan.
Campbell Addy told Dazed about the experience that led him to found Nii Agency: he cast an albino model for a shoot and later recommended him to another agency that turned him down with the explanation that it “had one of him already.” Addy’s definition of diversity includes more than just skin tone; Nii’s models, who were seen at NYFW Spring 2018 walking for designers like Molly Goddard and Ashley Williams, span a range of ages, ethnicities, body types and talents — “real people not perfect Adonises.”