The History of Plus Modeling by Guest Contributor Catherine Schuller.
The widespread use of online promotion and marketing tools has become ever popular and accepted as a viable way to “get yourself out there” and provide an opportunity to gain exposure and “be seen.”
As in any sort of packaging and presentation genre, the end doesn’t always justify the means, and gaining valuable forays must be done properly and professionally, just as it was in the “old days” when I first began plus-size modeling in the 80’s with Plus Models and then with Ford in New York City.
During that era of the newly burgeoning area of “special size modeling”, the model was expected to do testing and experiment with photographers who would try their hand at shooting the full gal and attempt to interpret her as a fashion icon in her own right.
Building one’s hard copy portfolio or “book” and having a great comp card was just about the only way to develop promotional tools of the trade. Every once in awhile, someone would come up with a calendar idea, or a coffee mug or a campaign, but for the most part, a model was expected to have three portfolios at the ready…one for the agency, one for herself, and one to be ‘out there’ in the field on a client’s desk.
Sometimes half of my paycheck for the week would be eaten up in Federal Express charges to get my 8 lb. book sent across the country or just up the street.
That portfolio was the visual representation in cibachrome print (C print) photo form of how the model and the camera melded. The portfolio and leave behind comp showed the client how the model photographed and displayed her “look – showing versatility, beauty style, and just how photogenic she was and how she could “work the lens.”
There were a handful of reputable photographers whom everyone tested with…
they would deliver consistent results, if not cookie-cutter renditions, of every model whom the agency wanted to have photographed. The agency in turn also created a “head sheet” which mostly consisted of the “best of” test and tear sheet (work from catalogues or circulars) shots that showed all the models in all the divisions on the agency’s current roster and who were represented (signed) by them.
The model and agent would sit together and would select the “best of” photos for that head sheet. Another fee was charged for inclusion in that book and it included “mailing” it to a client list of thousands and thousands of clients…so with the tests, the blowing up of shots, and the head sheet (sometimes comp cards were included with that fee)…the amount of cash outlay was outrageous. And this would have to be redone every year!!!
The model would be asked to be on this “head sheet” as a privilege, too.
There were stats and unique features listed in the head sheet, with a little rate chart in the back of the book that was totally arbitrary depending on how popular the model was. The agency would always rationalize by saying “Yes, it’s expensive, but you’ll make it back if the client books you for a few days at your day rate.” Wow, what a crapshoot.
Some models couldn’t afford to go in the book, so they would get a comp card made up and pay for the agency to send it out for them.
And what was in that head sheet stayed out there in the marketplace for a long time. That was a typical practice, especially, if the model joined the agency midway between when a new head sheet was going to be produced. The deadline for shots and payment loomed large on everyone’s head. Paying for tests, printing up shots, creating comp cards, doing mailings, messenger services, paying for portfolios..it went on and on…and it was like that for DECADES! And, suffice it to say, it was only in updating one’s portfolios and getting to go-sees did “new stuff” get shown.
Keeping one’s look and book “up to date” was a constant battle and struggle.
Printers and printing houses and photo reproductive companies flourished. Since everything was a hard copy, it was important that the quality be good. I personally put a few of their children thru college with just my monthly costs alone.
I always remember it being a great hardship and a source of much anguish and discussion at bookings. All promotions were paid for by the model and sometimes, if an agency believed in the model, the agency would front the model for the costs of being in the head sheet, to be reimbursed later when “she got work.” It was assumed the total cost would be recouped but, with modeling as in life, there are no guarantees.
Many agencies also complained about this whole ongoing procedure and actually used it as a way to make a profit from models who weren’t working.
They would put lots of models in the head sheet and inflate the charge to be included, thus gleaning a margin of revenue even before commissions from bookings were garnered.
Okay, that gives us some historical (hysterical) perspective! Yes, it was tax-deductible costs of doing business…but YIKES! ….re-reading that I wonder how I lasted in the business for 15 years with that insanity. Chalk it up to “ignorance is bliss.”
Photo Credit Plus Model Georgeann Faulkner Photographer Luke Jones