A visionary manager at DNA Model Management for five years, Trudi Tapscott brings over 25 years of industry experience to the talent she currently manages. Praised by insiders as “a legend in the industry” Tapscott is renowned for her intuitive savvy and masterful, personable approach in developing potential and launching the careers of countless models, even prior to her six years as a Model Editor at American VOGUE. While at VOGUE, Tapscott worked alongside the Editor-in Chief, Anna Wintour and Creative Director Grace Coddington, coordinating amongst fashion editors, photographers and models to orchestrate editorial photo shoots. Tapscott’s gifted eye and talent were instrumental in launching many successful modeling careers, including Gisele Bundchen, Carmen Kass, Liya Kebede, Karolina Kurkova, Oluchi Onwegba and Natalia Vodianova. Trudi now runs her own model management agency from Texas and talked to Emily Sandberg and me about her career, what it takes to make it in the world of modeling and why her girls are dear to her heart.
During your tenure as a model booker at DNA Model Management, what qualities did you observe girls possessed that helped them with longevity in their careers?
There are so many qualities that come into play for success as a model. I observed so much. First, let me say that I never referred to myself, or any of my colleagues, as “bookers”. It is a term that lends itself to booking airline tickets or cars or theatre tickets. I prefer the term managers because it encompasses the totality of the job from A to Z. My observations are the subtleties that so many take for granted. Models can’t be imposters in the game. Photographers, editors and designers have a sixth sense about determining the truth when a model is really what they are looking for. You can’t fake it; they see the cues. How you photograph is obvious, but the other elements are who you are and how people relate to you. You must have an understanding of fashion and the business, a natural curiosity for the work and history of what has come before you. It is naïve to think that you can survive in an industry you have no knowledge about. Thick skin, having a sense of humor, people skills and actually caring about the people you work with but not a forced character help. Good energy that makes others comfortable helps, because everyone won’t like you for a job right now, but an impression is good. Minds change in this business. It is funny because all models reach the intended level of their potential in the end. Knowing HOW to model, understanding fashion, and what makes a great picture help too. All photographers and teams are different and models work with different teams every day for the most part. This requires a curiosity, imagination and listening, for flexible adjustments. Models are a part of creating the mood, but it is a subtle inspiration.
Do model bookers set the standard and trends when discovering new models or are they merely a conduit for designers?
Scouts and agencies bring the best of talent to the table. Sometimes the timing is not what designers are dreaming about at the time. There is no way to set the trend with only the model in mind. They have to inspire or fit into the collection inspiration. The fashion mood and trend is the dictator. This is the beginning. There are so many factors to consider when developing a model. So many times it takes several seasons for a model to “catch on”, and that is because designers, editors and photographers all “fall in love” on their own time line. The model has to fit into the concept of their brand. Once a model gets started and is in the casting “mix” and clients are able to see the possibilities she offers, her image is seen as more flexible and not just one frame. That helps for a designer and casting director to push for a model. That is not to say that when someone exceptional walks in the door, she could not be the must have inspiration for someone; It happens.
As obesity increases, the BMI of the population increases. What is considered normally thin today will be considered abnormally thin tomorrow. What role do you feel the fashion industry plays in setting the standard of the ideal body type?
This is such a tricky and complex subject. I believe that the fashion industry has extended themselves as a group to address the subject. The Council of Fashion Designers of America and VOGUE magazine have made guidelines to assist and put the subject at the forefront of a conversation. Agencies are always aware and on guard to help models who are in danger with their body image. That being said, I don’t think that the modeling industry is responsible for the body image of individuals. We could also look to Hollywood in this equation as well. The point really is that if the industry of image making does not photo shop images to ridiculous standards, which is deceiving and unacceptable, they are in a business of selling clothes, products and image. The truth is that models need to fit into a concept for a job. This is not going to change; Any evolution takes time. Parents and young women are responsible for their body image. There are many examples of successful individuals larger than a size zero. Idolize and emulate whoever you like, but you can’t expect a designer or a magazine to take full responsibility for your feelings about your body. It is my understanding, and I have been a part of many projects with experts, that an eating disorder is primarily a psychological issue of a complex nature; Obesity is the same. Everyone knows what is needed do in order to decrease his or her BMI. This should be a concern for our overall health, heart and mind. Because I work with young teenage women, I talk about this subject quite openly, but with caution. No need to create a problem that is not already predisposed. I also think that our society should not give so much power to beauty and perfection, and value the individual character. All trends have an end, and hopefully we will become less fascinated with the exterior of others. For the sake of our young generation, we need to change.
American VOGUE is marketed toward a specific socio-economic, predominately white audience. As a former Model Bookings Editor at VOGUE, how much of this did you take into consideration when booking models to appear in the pages of the magazine?
I am not sure I agree completely. I think the demographics of the readership reflect a mix and a socio economic issue comes up in the price point more than anything. There is always a leader or top-tier in fashion. That is no surprise, and merchandising has always followed the “elite” of the design world by emulating them. During my time at VOGUE and working for Anna Wintour, she was actively aware of who her readers were and was a leader to make change in ethnic diversity. We launched Liya Kebede and Oluchi during my time there. It was a serious element that Anna always wanted to focus on. I will say, that if a model isn’t a VOGUE model, she isn’t regardless of ethnicity. Trends and vision take time to hit the market, and models are no different. As the evolution occurred, and the opportunities opened up, the magazine had more model choices. It has taken a long time and a spectacular moment for Asian models to be so prevalent in fashion. VOGUE magazine went to those markets developing their brand increasing overall exposure and gaining outlets. Models and their looks or “types” are a part of larger trend than just “the model”.
I am looking at the current V magazine Model Issue and it is an explosion of current, modern beauties that reflect the business now. All of these efforts give scouts, casting directors, agents, models, photographers and designers new inspiring options. Diversity is extremely important for our culture, humanity and our creative influence and I think it has now become a huge part of the exceptional.
The fashion industry is often criticized for perpetuating a limited ideal of beauty. Do you feel this is a fair assessment and why do you feel that way?
I think we have decades or years of a “type” of model who is considered an exceptional beauty. When we look back at the history of modeling, the trend is fairly obvious, and then someone like Lauren Hutton comes along and breaks the mold. This has happened many times, and now I feel like photographers and editors have a wide range of the ideal beauty. But it is not just because you are “pretty” in an average way, you have to be exceptional to win their eyes, hearts and minds. It is not as obvious anymore but I think we know it when we see it. Creative people are inspired by visual elements and a model is part of the vision.
Models are often discovered at a young age and expected to conduct themselves as adults before their peers. What do you consider too young to model?
I will comment on this subject in a general way because we are talking about young human beings who are individual and should be managed in that manner. My experience has always been that to model in New York City or Paris on a full-time basis, you should be able to really handle all aspects of your life on your own, personal and professional. I would never expect a 14-year-old to do that and I am not comfortable with models starting in a large market that young. The pressure is too much and the rate of failure is too great. I prefer they start outside of their hometown a little bit at 16, if they are truly ready, inside and out or a show season after a bit of experience. They should not quit high school, or start home school or online classes immediately to be available to model. Once a model has been introduced to the right people in the business, the business dictates the decisions about the timing. The models family background, maturity, as well as confidence, also determine when the time is right. I don’t mean because you are in the business of modeling you should dictate the next step, I mean the demand of jobs and the level of people who are asking to work with the model qualify and determine the work and the career choices. That is the best determination. This is like a layered cake, and if you try to work on the top before you have secured the foundation the cake will collapse. I am not always the most popular when holding my clients back until they are ready, as teenagers they think they are ready. My experience has made me very aware of this incredibly competitive business of beauty and I want them to be as successful as possible. Age matters and timing is everything.
Models are commodities easily replaced. How do maintain your sense of humanity with the models when operating in such a money-focused environment?
I never see my clients as easily replaced. I truly see them as a brand from the beginning. We may fall short, but if I downgrade my efforts to less, I am not working hard enough for them. In the industry, yes, others exist who can do the job and we are all hyper aware of that element. How you do the job determines your demand. At some point, agents, casting and scouting are a silent support, and it comes down to the model. Period. It is easy for me to be a part of their development, as I love the challenge of starting a new model. When I talk to them about staying grounded and not letting it all go to their heads, I lead by example. Being vulnerable and not expecting perfection is part of life and when grooming new talent it helps to show it. The world is money focused, that is unavoidable, but it isn’t the almighty power unless you allow it to be. Slowly we see leaders who lead from a deeper place. It may not be obvious, but the true stars in any field are very relaxed at what they do and make it look effortless. The truly talented are authentic, honest, and gracious. They make it all seem easy, but they have found their center and have fun with what they do at the same time. The money is great in this business. There is a lot to make and a lot at stake for that reason, but your work really should be your passion or you may be blocked from doing your best, and certainly not happy. I try to be a mentor and advise along the way.
Why did you want to get involved with the new show Scouted on E!?
I can’t comment on the show until it airs. So we shall see…
You recently established your own modeling agency Trudi Tapscott Model Management. What do you feel you can offer that is different to other modeling agencies?
My experience. I wanted to create a scouting and development company in the United States that focused on teenagers who had true potential and not charge them money up front. There is a business model in the US that was created years ago and has been very lucrative but created false hopes and did not teach what the business was really about. Charging young girls a lot of money for modeling classes, or makeup classes or walking classes to prepare them for modeling which they do not fit the requirements for is irresponsible and taking advantage of them and their parents. If you want to help your daughter with her confidence by putting her in a modeling class, that is a different subject. However, to promise a model who is 5’6” that she should take a class and pursue modeling is unrealistic. I scout and I work with Erin Olson, who scouts in Utah, and once we find someone with potential we work with them one on one to prepare them for the real world of modeling. I manage their careers and placement with models worldwide. I wanted to accumulate all of my experience and pass it on in a meaningful, and hopefully, profitable way.
Why do you think models such as Stella Tennant, Raquel Zimmermann and Edita Vilkeviciute, to name but a few, value and appreciate your judgment so highly?
That is kind of you to say. Actually, it is mutual respect and time that creates trust as well as appreciation. I was very fortunate while at VOGUE magazine to be surrounded by the top people in all areas, and that includes models. I cherish that experience, and it is when I first met Stella and Raquel. At DNA I had the opportunity to be a part of the team that managed them. My relationship with Edita developed beyond business and it is extra special to me. It is a unique experience to speak about someone all day, and in order to do that with passion, you really need to know what is important to them so the goals are met. It is an immense responsibility to manage their relationships with their clients and make good choices. Being a model manager is an all-encompassing job and includes business and their personal well-being. I take that very seriously.
Follow her at @tapscout