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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Ford Models

Last week, we solicited your questions for John Caplan, the president of Ford Models. Amidst all the Fashion Week furor, he took the time to answer.

Q: Have models truly gotten smaller over the past, let’s say, 30 years? Is it a result of demands from designers, editors, and/or advertisers, or did it start with the kinds of models that scouts have been signing?

A: I really believe that designers, editors, and the entertainment industry drive the body image ideal. We develop and manage models that are healthy, and should our models develop any health problems, we work with the models to solve them. If we sign models that clients don’t want, then they don’t work; so our incentive is to find talent that meets the criteria of our clients.

Q: Recently, we’ve seen the practice of importing models from places in Latin America and Eastern Europe. Many are very young, come from impoverished countries and face reported threats of exploitation. Does your agency employ the practice of importing such models? If so, what safeguards do you have in place to protect their rights as workers?

A: The reality is that living conditions in some third world countries are awful. We try to recruit great models and give them the opportunity to develop careers. Later, when they become successful, many of them work to improve the living conditions for their families back home. As for protecting their rights, we are very vigilant about ensuring that our models are paid by and work for reputable clients.

Q: Why do Ford and other agencies put commercial interests above the health of teenage models? Why encourage a fifteen year-old girl to diet down to a size zero when, as an adult, you know that such behavior is unhealthy, even dangerous? Do you think that adults should take some responsibility for the choices made by kids, and that it is irresponsible to encourage teenage models to over-diet?

A: Parents, teachers, agents, and clients all share responsibility for the health and well-being of models, particularly those that are underage. Ford doesn’t ever encourage models to “diet down to size zero.” That’s just not how Ford works.

Q: As a freelance Web designer/developer, I’m curious what role personal Web sites play in the careers of upcoming models and actors. Would you say such sites are necessary for aspiring models? Do they make things easier for industry professionals such yourself? How would you advise models asking you about the value of a personal site?

A: The Internet has become an important marketing tool for the talent we represent. We have a big group on staff dedicated to developing these tools. Web video casting and personal profile pages help clients across the globe get comfortable with talent, and allows them cast virtually. Our TV destination and distribution relationships with YouTube, MySpace, iVillage, and Verizon, among others, help to market our talent. In fact, a number of advertisers have seen our videos and then sought content and talent sponsorship agreements.

Q: There is a branch in psychology that studies the appreciation of beauty. Researchers have developed quantitative measures, such as length of nose relative to width of chin. My question is twofold: a) Does your agency systematically follow that research? b) Do you use such measurements to estimate an applicants potential in the market, or do you rely on your feelings and experience?

A: We rely on the experience of our scouts, talent managers and clients to develop the new faces we represent. In my opinion, beauty that is defined exclusively by metrics is like a painting that is created to appeal to the broadest market: dull.

Q: How would you rank criteria such as facial features, body shape, poise and hair when choosing a model, regardless of designer?

A: Designers and their casting agents make selections for talent based upon overall look, attitude, movement and personality. They are seeking talent that helps to bring to life the vision and creativity of their collections.

Q: Has the recent surge in reality shows about modeling and the fashion industry (i.e. America’s Next Top Model, Project Runway, etc.) affected the quality or quantity of your models or applicants?

A: The shows are purely entertainment and produced with that in mind. They haven’t had any impact on the quality of the talent we represent, nor have the shows developed or discovered stars. We do see thousands of people applying every day to us via our Web site. An aspiring model knows that, if he or she is signed to Ford, he or she is more likely to work in the industry.

Q: Do you think the rise in popularity of “candid,” “real-life” fashion Web sites such as The Sartorialist and Facehunter will affect what constitutes a model in terms of appearance?

A: I think they are terrific Web sites and that they offer really interesting ways to observe the means in which individual style is created every day. They have no impact on talent selection, though.

Q: I’m a 24-year-old model based in Toronto right now. Most models’ careers seem to peak at a much younger age. Have I missed the boat, or there still a chance to have a successful modeling career? Secondly, do you think there will be a “return of the supermodel,” or will most models always remain anonymous, nameless faces?

A: Generally models begin their careers when they are 16 to 20 years old. You can always apply at our Web site, and one of our scouts will review your materials.

As for your second question, I do believe that society is getting tired of the unpredictable behavior of celebrities, and therefore supermodels will return.

Q: How did you become involved in the modeling industry, and what are you suggestions for getting started as a booker, agent, etc., in the industry at a young age?

A: I joined Ford after working on the team that built I was ultimately president of the About Network (which is now owned by The New York Times Company). To get a job and start at Ford, we have a terrific intern program in each of our offices, and bookers frequently get their start assisting in one of the divisions.

Q: What percent of non-models in the industry (management, etc.) used to be models themselves? What do models usually do when they retire?

A: Very few models become agents. Many move on to entertainment and acting, while others go on to production, design, and photography.

Q: In your opinion, how did Ford rise to the top of the market (and stay there for decades) despite the heavy competition and fast-paced industry trends?

A: Culturally, we’re focused on innovation, client and talent service, and teamwork. In addition, the breadth and depth of the talent we represent, our global geography, the introduction of integrated service offerings, our proprietary technology, our branding, and our reputation have all contributed to our consistent results over the past six decades. Most importantly, we represent the right talent, and employ the best managers in the industry.

Q: Would you encourage your own daughter (or son) to become a model?

A: Yes, if she wants to. She’s only two right now, so she’s got some time to grow before she’s ready.

Q: Can a moderately fit, six-foot-tall economist with slightly above-average looks and slightly above-average body hair make it as a model? Just curious.

A: Anything is possible.