Modeling agencies are the glue that holds talent, advertising agencies and fashion designers together. They are involved in all aspects of the talent development process, and they employ agents to professionally manage models' business affairs. Because the fashion industry is highly competitive, agencies are in great demand to keep the process running smoothly from start to finish.
Modeling agencies naturally evolved with the industry. When Charles Frederick Worth first established fashion design as we know it in the late 1800s, the industry immediately took off and became a powerful force in the economy. Eager to capitalize on this opportunity, savvy businessmen began handling models' professional affairs and collecting a profit for their troubles. The profession didn't obtain the legitimacy it so desperately sought until Jerry Ford, founder of leading modeling agency Ford Models, came onto the scene in 1946. It was in the 1970's that Ford created the first modeling contracts linking talent to specific brands, and models' clout skyrocketed.
For agencies, models are a long-term financial investment. They will put forth a great deal of time and money to make sure their clients reach their top potential. Agencies are involved in all areas of a model's career, such as training, booking, billing and - most importantly - contractual negotiations. They make their money through commission (between 10 percent to 20 percent), which is why they are so invested in their clients' careers. If models don't make money, agencies won't either.
There are two main types of agencies - top modeling and boutique modeling. Top modeling agencies are large-scale and usually located in fashion meccas like London, Paris and New York. Boutique agencies are smaller in scale and provide more personal attention to clients. Agency specialties include high fashion, glamor, petite, plus-sized, child and teen, mature, male, catalog, promotional, editorial and body parts (like hands).
Agencies will often pair a model with an agent who matches their individual skill set. Some agents can also focus on a subset of the industry, like print or runway. Having this type of specialized attention can greatly benefit a model's career. It is often assumed that agencies simply negotiate contracts and then disappear into the woodwork. However, agencies are involved in all stages of a fashion campaign. Their presence is a major asset for models who want to focus on modeling and not on the business side of the industry.
Being part of a modeling agency is necessary to succeeding in the fashion industry. Because of this, numerous scam artists have developed ways to take advantage of aspiring models with limited knowledge of how the business works. A legitimate agent will put a model in contact with top photographers, public relations executives and marketing professionals - and he will never ask for money. Unsuspecting men and women who don't realize agents only profit from the work they obtain for their clients often fall for this ploy.