A journalist by trade, Gabriel Santos-Rocha’s foray into the world of fashion was fortuitous. From his hometown in Brazil to New York City, Gabriel’s path to being a model manager at Trump Model Management was long but incredibly rewarding. I caught up with him as he talked about his journey, what it takes to make it as a model and his continued passion for writing.
You studied journalism in your hometown of Porte Alegre, Brazil. How did you transition into scouting models for Marilyn?
That’s actually a funny story. One of my best girl friends was approached by Simone Lopes, who was a director at Marilyn in Brazil when we were out one night at a Madonna themed party. My friend asked me to come with her to the appointment. I knew nothing about the modeling industry. I was really into movies and music at that time, so I came, not thinking anything of it. A couple of weeks later my friend called me to say that Simone had asked her for my number, which we both thought was strange. It turned out that Simone had seen me around at parties and social functions and decided, for whatever reason, that I could be a good scout for them. So, I went in and realized that Marilyn was a fabulous opportunity and Simone and Zeca de Abreu, their President at the time in Sao Paulo, were unbelievably great people. We had a great time working together, they taught me so much, and still do. My girl-friend though, you might wonder, decided modeling wasn’t for her and is now a successful lawyer. She just visited me in New York last week.
After a successful run at Marilyn your talents caught the attention of Ford Models which eventually led to your position as Model Manager at Trump. Tell us about that journey.
You know, moving from Marilyn to Ford was one of the hardest things I ever did. I really felt like a part of a family at Marilyn, but making that move also meant growing up and taking actions toward building a career. At Ford I was given freedom to build something really cool with a very talented group of individuals, some of which ended up at other New York agencies like me and remain close friends and others have become very successful artists, like Andre Azevedo, etc. After a long run in Brazil, I owned my own company and was very successful in what I did there and that reflected a lot in my relationships in New York and Paris particularly, so it was only natural for me to make that move. I always wanted to live in New York, so I came here, and I had three very good offers, but the one I really wanted, which was Elite, was taking forever to get back to me. I went through a lot of my savings because I wanted to wait for them and had to pay the bills and I am glad I did. Elite was a phenomenal experience; I was able to work with some of the top agents in my field and learn many important lessons. Trump is an established company with a very experienced team of agents and somehow manages to maintain a family feel to it, which I love. We work hard here to build and nourish long-term careers and we are very selective with who we represent because we are smaller and we like it that way; we love that the girls walk in and feel like this can be an extension of their home.
What does a typical day look like for you?
There are many phone and email conversations and negotiations all day long. A typical day at the office is not nearly as exciting as one would imagine. We have a lot of interaction with the models who are constantly in and out of the office. Sometimes we go to their photo shoots. Many times we take clients or models out for lunches and dinners. If we’re lucky we get to go to a fun industry event after work every now and then, but trust me, we have a desk job like most people, it only involves a much more animated crowd with music playing in the background. And snacks, lots of snacks.
Modeling requires a certain physicality but beyond that what makes a great model?
A great model has to have a great personality, there’s no way around it. Some of the most successful models in the world are the ones who are playful, who understand fashion, art, etc. The girls who understand that they are a part of the creative process and make the best of their ability to collaborate in that process are the ones who succeed.
Tell us about the process of scouting a model to developing them to launching them.
Generally the scouting is all done by a specific team of people, in our case at Trump, Duane Gazi spearheads that team. Once he finds talent that he believes in and understands would be a great addition to our roster there is a process of development in which we work with the assets the girl already has from physicality to personality, to create a career plan and a path for each girl individually. Everyone is different and careers evolve according to each individual’s journey, that’s the fun part of the process. Sometimes girls need assistance in putting together their wardrobe, need a change in haircut or need English lessons, etc. Many times they don’t and it’s only a matter of tweaking their personal style to meet what the market is asking for at that particular moment. The team works together diligently to make sure that it all comes together for the time when the girl is put in front of the client; sometimes one chance is all they get.
How do you feel about criticism leveled at the fashion industry that there’s a lack of diversity?
I believe there could be more diversity, but I don’t believe that is only for the fashion industry, it happens across the board in the entertainment industry. Look at what just happened recently at Saturday Night Live. Yes, there needs to be more diversity in the fashion industry, but let’s not be mistaken, all ethnicities are represented and hopefully that won’t diminish and only grow; our fashion campaigns, runways and editorials should reflect the world we live in.
What advice would you offer someone thinking of embarking on a modeling career?
I would advise them to be patient and to not give up easily. I’ve seen some of the biggest careers happen after years of struggle and rejection; it happens when the time is right. Oh, and always listen to your agents, of course!
The Internet has contributed to the democratization of fashion and helped demystify the industry. Do you feel this has helped or hindered fashion?
It has made fashion more accessible to the masses and it has helped build bigger stars faster with the use of social media, but it has also played a negative role. Printed material is becoming extinct, and with that those types of rates and usages. The industry hasn’t evolved quickly enough to keep up with the velocity of the Internet unfortunately and it’s a fight we have to pick daily in every agency. We understand the value behind the work that is shot for the Internet and it has been a struggle to convey that message to clients. That’s how models make a living, from their image. Internet used to be an afterthought years ago and today is a major part of our business.
What are your short-term and long-term plans?
God, what does that even mean? My short-term plans are getting girls ready for the next season. My long-term plans include a home on a beach somewhere and feet in the sand, but I don’t think I will ever be able to stop working, my mind is restless and needs a good outlet.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
Probably that one of my biggest passions in life is to write and that I love movies more than I love fashion (sorry!).