Model Talk Radio: Plus Size Modeling, Fit and Showroom Modeling with Susan Levine from MSA Models New York
Susan Levine is President and CEO of MSA Models, a full-service model management company in the heart of New York City’s garment district. Founded in 1947, MSA helps designers launch lines for straight and plus-size fashion, representing models for fit, commercial, print, showroom and lifestyle. Their impressive client list includes Ann Taylor, Carolina Herrera, Derek Lam and Victoria’s Secret, and they were recently honoured with the Plus Model Agency of the Year Award at this year's Full Figured Fashion Week Awards in New York City.
In this week’s episode, Susan explained what it takes to become a fit, showroom or plus-size model. Listen to MSA Models Episode on Model Talk Radio
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN THE INDUSTRY?
Susan worked in the accessory market for many years before MSA’s original owner hired her to manage the business when he retired. Eventually, she purchased the business from his heirs.
When she started working for MSA, Susan developed great relationships with the models and clients. She loved helping customers succeed and watching models progress in their careers, and decided it was something she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
WHAT KINDS OF QUALITIES DOES A PERSON NEED TO RUN A GREAT AGENCY?
Before you own an agency, you should work in the industry for a number of years. It’s best to have more of a business background, but a combination of business and modeling experience is best.
Running an agency is an extremely competitive business with tremendous risks—you need a sizable investment to get started. You also have to have a strong support staff, be able to work long hours and have a strong personality that allows you to relate with all kinds of people. In addition, you need to have the right models, accounting system and technology. Running an agency is not an easy thing to do!
HOW DOES MSA FIND CLIENTS FOR THEIR MODELS?
MSA is located in NYC’s garment center, so it’s only moments away from the designers it serves. About 90% of client contact is done through email—taking people out to lunch is a thing of the past.
MSA treats their models extremely well and has a great reputation, so many clients and models come to them by word of mouth. They also advertise, sponsor events and hold open calls for models every Tuesday.
WHEN MSA LOOKS TO HIRE AN AGENT, WHAT KINDS OF THINGS DO THEY LOOK FOR?
MSA looks for people with experience, personality, passion and staying power. People who stay in the job show they can weather storms and maintain a level of business! It’s an incredibly detail-oriented job where everything happens at the last minute, so you have to be able to handle stress well. During interviews, Susan often asks prospective agents what they would do in a situation where a model is stuck in another city due to weather or travel issues. There’s no right answer, but agents should be able to satisfy both the client and the model in tricky situations.
WHAT EXACTLY DOES PLUS-SIZE MODELING MEAN?
Plus size caters to anyone that is size 18 to 24. A lot of the models are diversified, meaning they can do fit modeling, catalogue or showroom. A successful plus-size model must have perfect proportions for her size and she has to keep her body in check at every single moment so her size doesn’t deviate.
If you have the right proportions and are 5’8 to 5’8 ½ , you can be a fit model (junior models can be a little bit shorter). Commercial plus-size models can be taller, but also need to have a pretty face. Plus size models are very much in need and are paid the same way as other models.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A FIT MODEL?
Fit models are women with perfect proportions. Missy fit models are size 4 to 10 and have heights of 5’7 to 5’8 ½, but there are also junior fit models and petite fit models. Up and coming designers tend to fit smaller sizes, while many other companies use the average American size of 8 or 10.
When a manufacturer makes a garment, they try it on a fit model instead of a mannequin because it looks better on a live person. Fit models often have a long history in the garment industry, including degrees in designing and pattern making, so they can give helpful feedback as to how the garment should be made.
WHAT IS A TYPICAL DAY LIKE FOR A FIT MODEL?
On an average day, a fit model will see 5 or 6 different clients. They’re hired on an hourly basis, usually for 2 to 3 hours at a time depending on what product the manufacturer is working on. The hourly rate varies with experience and manufacturers, but a fit model just starting out can expect $75 to $125/hour.
If a manufacturer gets used to a particular model, they might see them 3 to 4 times a week. Some fit models, usually pattern makers, have worked for clients for 10 to 15 years! If manufacturers have a fit model that knows what they’re doing, their returns will be less and their sales will be higher.
CAN A MODEL SUBMIT A PHOTO ONLINE TO MSA MODELS?
Yes, many models submit their photos online! Our agents analyze them, and if they’re interested in seeing a model they’ll ask him or her to come in for an interview (models should come dressed in everyday clothing). In person, the agents will analyze the model’s body and determine what they can specialize in. For example, some specialize in jeans, some in dresses.
WHAT IS SHOWROOM MODELING?
Once a client has their garments ready, they need to hire a showroom model to present them to buyers and department stores. Showroom models walk around, model garments and even talk about what they’re wearing—they need to be intelligent! They should also be taller than fit models, a size 4 or 6 and young and pretty. MSA has a very strong showroom agent that tells each model beforehand how they should walk and what they should do.
In the second half of the show, Aaron gave tips on creating the perfect resume.
WHAT SHOULD YOU PUT ON YOUR RESUME IF YOU DON’T HAVE ANY EXPERIENCE?
Instead of resumes, models use composite sheets because people are most interested in their photographs. Actors do need a resume, but they should also attach it to the back of an 8x10 headshot by stapling all 4 corners together (but don’t staple over important words). Some actors print their resume on the back of the headshot, which is fine if you’re only printing a few, but it does make it difficult and expensive to update your resume.
Resumes take a lot of time and effort to build, but you can create one even if you’re just getting started. Here are some must-haves:
Your name. People need to know who you are in case they want to bring you in for an audition or possible book you directly from your headshot. Don’t forget that your headshot has to look like you. When you are beginning to not look like your picture, get a new one.
Contact information. People need to know how to reach you! If you have an agent, include their information too.
Experience. If you don’t have any experience, put down absolutely everything you’ve done, but be honest about it. Include your education (any acting classes?) as well as any special skills related to the acting world, like if you’re good at martial arts, musical instruments, foreign languages, sports, dancing or singing. A lot of people can’t drive in New York, so if you have a driver’s license, put that in too.
A good resume will open up doors, but don’t forget that the most important part of getting an audition is your look.
Next week, Model Talk Radio welcomes Stacy Collins, the Executive Editor for Playboy Special Editions.
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