Modeling Icon Ben Hill Reflects On His Legendary Career

I spoke to Ben late one evening as he called from an undisclosed location in New York. Thoughtful and considered in his responses, his uninhibited Southern charm only served to enhance this natural born raconteur’s tales of his early days in New York, and his musings on the current state of the industry. As one of Models.com’s Industry Icons, his portfolio of blue-chip campaigns and editorials is extensive and the envy of any aspiring model. 

You’re originally from Georgia, right?

I was born in Athens, Georgia and I grew up in a small town called Washington, a lot of people don’t know that, they think I’m from Sugar Hill where my mother lives. I return as often as possible to spend time with her and my family when I can. Unfortunately the pandemic over the past year has meant less visitation as I did not want to risk their health.

When you were growing up was modeling a career you considered?

It wasn’t something I thought to do whatsoever. I wanted to be an actor, and I am still studying toward that goal. I did the college thing—I went to Augusta State University—and then I did an apprenticeship program at Georgia Tech when I was working for an electrical company as an industrial electrician. I started off doing an engineering program before realizing it wasn’t for me. After doing that, I picked up everything I had and moved to New York to try and become an actor.

Is that where you were discovered or did you pursue modeling once you arrived?

Well, that’s the funny thing. I always hear people’s discovery stories and I think, I really don’t have one.  The fact is, when I moved to New York—like everyone else—I was struggling to make ends meet because it was very expensive . I moved to the border of Washington Heights and Spanish Harlem on Amsterdam Ave. & W. 151st St. That area had a lot of culture and I experienced so many things I would not have had the opportunity to experience in Georgia. It opened my eyes and heart to a much bigger world.

I made friends with the locals, and I had two roommates who were modeling, one of them was Swedish and the other was South African. While I was taking acting classes and auditioning, I noticed that they would go out and they would talk about how they made enough money in one day to last for six months while I was beating the streets. Eventually I put acting on the back burner, and the jobs are few and far between. I needed to make money so that’s how it started. I called all the agencies that I could find and started going to open calls. Quite a few people turned me down until two very commercial agencies took me on but I wasn’t under contract as they wanted to see how I did first.

I was 220 pounds at the time—I was a big guy—so I decided that I was going to have to get in model shape to get signed to a fashion agency and to start making money like these other guys. I lost a lot of weight, and then I went to Next Models in New York and they suggested I try shooting down in Miami.  They were my first real agency and I spent a season down there where I met the iconic photographer Bruce Weber.

When you met Bruce was it to shoot for Abercrombie & Fitch?

I went to see him for another project he was casting.  It was stressful for me because I was told that he could make or break your career at the time. I met him and I got along great with him—he is a dog lover, as am I—and he booked me for Abercrombie, and things took off from there.

Was there a point that you realized that you had made it?

When I shot Abercrombie I realized this was something that I had potential to succeed with. Right after that I booked the Polo Blue fragrance campaign with Doug Pickett and Lonneke Engel. They didn’t run my images but it was a blessing in disguise because I did the Chaps campaign right after that before things started to slow down for me.

So, what happened?

I was optioned for so many projects but I just couldn’t seem to get a confirmation, it was really strange. I am not a person that ever gives up; if I start something I’m going to finish it. I had agents telling me I was too this or I was too that and I discovered it was because they didn’t want to hurt my feelings or scare me away. I have heard umpteen excuses, but I believed in myself and I found a few agents around the world I could trust my career with and get positive direction from. 

So what do you attribute your longevity to?

Persistence. There are so many people that will tell you in your life that you can’t do something, that you are not good enough, or you are too this or you are too that, and I don’t accept that as an answer.  That’s an excuse, not a solution. I can hear excuses forever on out, but in my mind, it still doesn’t tell me what the main problem is, in this case why I wasn’t working. Instead of listening to whatever everyone else was telling me I started listening to myself. Everyone seems to have an opinion in this industry, and I respect that, but I also realized the only opinion that really matters is my own and the way I feel about myself. If I am happy and I am confident with myself I can take direction well from those who have earned my trust. 

That’s a very healthy and balanced outlook to have. Models are often treated as a commodities— particularly the females—there is no concern for their well-being.  

The thing is, I always used to tell myself that I can hear these things, and I can do these things, and the fact is—if it is a business—then it is my business and I am the one that is self-employed and ultimately the responsibility lies with me. I started helping a lot of other models as well by sharing my experiences. The funny thing is that I was actually really good at giving advice to the other models, and putting them at ease, and getting their confidence up. Then I decided to apply all the advice that I was giving to all these guys to myself. I did, and miraculously I started to work again.

How do you feel about modeling today compared to when you first started?

It seemed like it was a lot harder to get into the business at that time as standards for models were quite different than they are today. The industry has changed quite a bit. Social media has pulled back the curtain and the mystery and allure has turned imagery into content intended for likes and not imagination and creativity.

Do you feel like it was a more creative time in fashion?

It was definitely a creative time, but there was a lot of hardship. Back in the day it was all film, it wasn’t digital. Digital photography didn’t really start taking off until about 2004. During that time, of course, the lure of our industry was pretty big, and we were very restricted on what we put out there because we were still wanting to keep things timely, new and exciting. Photographers and other creatives no longer have the freedom they used to have, and models no longer have the time to develop to become “super” and many times are replaced by real people, social media stars, or clients who are always wanting to move on to the next best thing to validate their lack of creativity.

I think, particularly now, modeling is very much an aspirational career. If we go as far back as America’s Next Top Model it planted a seed and shaped what people thought modeling was.

Yes, and the perception of everything changed. If you roll it back to 2008 when Facebook came out, and you think about when the Kardashians started to become popular on TV, that’s where people started to follow rather than lead; everything has become homogenized. The goal is likes and followers to get bookings rather than your look or career status. Luckily, I have been in this business long enough to be able to collaborate with some of the best photographers and designers, and sadly, that type of work is no longer appreciated as the fashion is fast and knocked off, and print has been replaced with a scroll on your phone. I think the pandemic has encouraged us to slow down, take a look at the pace we are moving and how we are living, and social unrest and injustice has brought a greater focus on inclusivity. I hope moving forward that inclusivity will not be just a trend but a part of our DNA no matter what your race, age, or gender is.

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Artist And Model Laura Morgan’s Philosophy on Life is Not to Be Ignored

Laura Morgan the lithe, flaxen-haired beauty with a steely gaze has a philosophy on life many of us should take heed of, “You create the life you live in. No one will give you what you want. You have to go get it.” Before I was introduced to Laura last summer I had a superficial knowledge of her work—most notably as Alexander McQueen’s in-house model—but to define her as just another model would be myopic and underrate a career spanning the past 20 years. In addition to appearing in ad campaigns for Helmut Lang, and Celine she has worked on three Madonna world tours, and done costume design on award-winning video and movies.

Collaboration is a constant theme that runs throughout your career. Talk to us about how you’ve approached, managed, and maintained these types of relationships.

Different projects require different types of collaborative approach. However, what runs through all of my collaborative work is the need to treat everyone as I would like to be treated myself, to be patient, open, and never forget that it takes the hands and talents of the many for a project to be completed. No matter the job title all involved are equally important and should be treated that way.

What prompted you to return to school and study fashion design, film, and music in a more formalized setting?

I had got to the point with modeling where I was so stifled I got sick. I basically had a nervous breakdown. I left New York City and went back to the U.K. to be with my family and friends. I have never ever in my life felt so empty. Looking back the emptiness gifted me space to fill myself with new experiences, and I was so raw I could feel what was right. Life had seen me leave school earlier than most, and my trust in the system was virtually non-existent. However, I was at a loss, exhausted, and needed some guidance. There were three things that I loved: music, characters, and design. I really enjoyed the film and music courses I took but once I was at Saint Martins doing design I discovered how much I had learned from working with Lee and his team, and all the other designers I had had work relationships with. I also recognized how much I enjoyed building characters through clothes. I decided that was where my interests lay, and I noticed my money was rapidly running out. I left and went back to N.Y. and became first assistant to Patti Wilson and then to Lori Goldstein. I worked on editorials for Vogue, W magazine, music videos with artists such as Missy Elliott, fashion shows, and ad campaigns. That was my transition to being on the other side of the camera career wise. I continued on that track for the next 12 years. I have associate costume designed three Madonna world tours, four studio movies—of which one was Oscar nominated. I was a stylist and costume designer in my own right for Vogue, ID, and Vanity Fair. I won two prestigious awards for my costume design work for short film and music video. My own art benefited from the lessons I learned with film and music, and continues to support me in what I create today. I have not gotten any better in being in formalized settings. I’m a real hands-on learner which has its pluses and minuses.

Talk to us about the importance of art in your life and what it means to you.

I would kill myself without creating it and experiencing it. It is not a choice for me. It’s as
essential as breathing.

How did the Situationist and Dadaist artist movements influence your approach to life?

It validates my belief that all life is art.

Having worked across many mediums do you feel that one is a better expression of your self than others and why?

No. Since I quit working 24/7 nine months of the year for someone else, I have a lot more time to see my own artistic process. I go to whatever my body tells me is the best form for the expression to be released. I’ve really noticed how apparent this is from the project I am working on with my brother, Will Morgan, who is an incredibly talented artist. I don’t want to say too much about the project as we will be having an exhibition and a book release for it. I see the feeling and I want to share what it is that I am seeing. For example, I have a feeling—let’s take rage—I connect with it and ask how it needs to be released into a physical manifestation. My mind and my body work together to get the rage released. It could be to go out and photograph something that represents that feeling, it could be picking up a pen and allowing that rage to draw, it could be creating a scene of moving images, it could be sounds compiled together, or words spoken. I renovated a broken 1800s house—a livable sculpture that allowed me to physically demolish some of the issues I had around having a home—to create my very own safe space. I had no idea consciously that was what I was doing, I just knew I needed to do it. In hindsight I could see what it was about. I want to grow my skills of expression, I want the voices inside of me to be seen and heard, no longer caged within. I know how much it helps me in my life to see and hear other people’s voices being released. As I said earlier, all life is art. All we do is a creation.

You said “You create the life you live in. No one will give you what you want. You have to go get it.” For anyone reading this who feels stultified, what advice would you give them to actualize their dreams?

Meditate. Be kind to yourself. Acknowledge that going for what you want is scary and it can make you feel vulnerable. We don’t make mistakes, we make choices that are correct at the time. Maybe later they don’t make the same sense as they did but that doesn’t mean they were wrong. Every experience expands your growth. Seek out people who support and love you and reach for them when you don’t feel strong enough to keep the demons at bay. Stay connected to your dreams. Write them on paper or keep them as a screensaver. Keep coming back to your guiding principles and trust that the universe has you. I have received most of what I have wanted and it has always shown up in a way that was different to how I thought it would look! Be open, say yes when it feels right and say no when it doesn’t. Rest, and laugh at yourself a lot.

How do you find balance in a world with so much noise?

My mainstays everyday are to journal on three pages of A4 paper as soon as I wake up followed by yoga—even if its just 5 minutes, it’s imperative to feel my body—and meditate for at least 5 minutes. I spend at least an hour on my own in nature. I discuss things a lot with those I can be my true self with, and I often binge watch too much telly.

What do you hope to achieve in the next chapter of your life?

I want to carry on building, learning, teaching, experiencing, expanding, meeting, digging, and sharing.

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Georgia Moot On Mental Health And Diversity In The Fashion Industry

After being spotted at a McDonalds on her lunch break, Georgia’s life took a detour that landed her on the runways of Paris and in campaigns for Coach and Sephora. With a sociology degree in tow, Georgia has used her voice and platform to address mental health issues and to challenge the idea of what diversity really means in the fashion industry.

You were scouted while working at a radio station in London. Was modeling a career path you had considered before?

It was something that had vaguely crossed my mind. I’d been scouted when I was younger, but it hadn’t amounted to anything. So I decided to go to university and study media and sociology, putting the idea of modeling behind me. I knew I wanted to work in fashion in some capacity but I wasn’t sure of how it would turn out.

What have been some of the highlights of your career so far?

Walking in two Jean Paul Gaultier couture shows was definitely a highlight.

On an episode of your podcast series Talking Tough you address diversity in fashion masked as tokenism. What does diversity look like to you, and what actionable steps do you think the fashion industry needs to take to address this?

Diversity looks like a genuine representation of society in the fashion industry. It can be hard to gauge the authenticity of diversity in fashion as it’s all about commodification, but caring just as much about representation as selling should be the goal. To help with authentic diversification of the fashion industry I think there needs to be more accountability and transparency. Numbers and stats need to be regularly published and discussed.

Talk to us about your involvement with the nonprofit Women in Fashion.

Women in Fashion was a nonprofit organisation which discussed equality in the fashion industry. I started working with them a year ago, and it just closed at the beginning of the lockdown. Daisy Walker, the founder, felt the message had been conveyed and wanted to let a new generation continue the discussion. 

What types of resources did Women in Fashion provide to help men and women in fashion navigate the industry?

We would do small intimate events and meetings, with each event having a different discussion point/theme e.g. money, Fashion Week etc. It was a safe space for all genders to come and discuss their experiences. We also had a radio show and social media pages that hosted these discussions.

Talk to us about why advocating for destigmatizing issues around mental health is important to you.

It’s important because there is still such a stigma! Holding space for conversations surrounding mental health is so important. It’s something we all have and mental health issues affect 1 in 4 of us in the U.K. It’s so common but yet it still has a cloud of uncertainty and stereotypes surrounding it. Struggling with your mental health is not a failure. Dealing with mental illness can be difficult enough, let alone when you add societal pressure on top of it.

What have you discovered about yourself through modeling?

I have discovered that I’m resilient, independent, and I also enjoy getting my makeup done.

What are your goals for the future?

I want to branch more into presenting and journalism within fashion. I would also love to expand my charity work and help out in my community.

What upcoming projects are you working on that you can share?

Things are starting to come up now that the lockdown has eased. There’s not a lot of things I can share but there might be another podcast popping up soon.

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Kim Peers On Modeling And Her Band Skemer

As one of the most in demand models of the 90s and 2000s, Kim Peers was at the forefront of the Belgian Wave of models that dominated the runways, editorials, and ad campaigns. From her multiple covers of Italian Vogue, to campaigns for YSL and Prada, Kim’s presence was ubiquitous. After making her return to the fashion industry Kim divides her time between family, modeling gigs, and her band Skemer.

Tell us about your childhood in Antwerp.

I was born and raised in Antwerp, and I grew up in a musical family where a lot of my family members play instruments or DJ. My parents love reggae but I was more interested in grunge, punk, and metal, and I later discovered electronic and new wave music. I was very interested in music and after hanging out with musicians I eventually started making music too. When I was about 19 years old I met Inge Grognard and Ronald Stoops, and so began my life in fashion and all of the traveling.

You were at the forefront of the Belgian wave of models in the late 90s. What was that period in your life like?

It felt like a roller coaster ride—fun—but sometimes it was too much. I didn’t have a lot of experience and I spent a lot of time traveling alone without a mobile phone, as in those days our call sheets were sent by fax. I think it’s much better now.

After a period away from fashion, how did you feel reentering the industry?

After working as a stylist in Belgium and giving birth to my two children I was eager to start traveling again. I enjoy modeling a lot more now than I did before.

Talk to us about the connection between music and fashion.

There is a big connection between the two and I wouldn’t know where to begin.

Tell us about the role music has had throughout your life.

Music has played a very important role in my life. I’ve always felt the need to express myself creatively so I started writing poems when I was 16 years old, and I painted and made collages while listening to my favorite music. Ultimately, music is my preferred form of expression. I write my own lyrics, sing, and create the music.

Tell us about the formation of your band Skemer.

From the moment I met Mathieu we wanted to spend as much time together as possible. After a few months of knowing each other he let me hear a few of the tracks that he made 7 years ago and asked me if I would sing on them. We are both experienced musicians so the process went quite fast.

What inspired the sound and direction of your band?

Mathieu and I both share a love for dark wave and post punk. We started with the tracks Mathieu created that were quite dark/cold wave and we continued in that direction. The process is very natural.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

Not a lot of people know that I can sing more aggressively, which I did in my new wave/punk band Crimpers that is currently on hold. I’m also starting a similar project with a friend because it’s so much fun.

Are there any upcoming projects you’d like to share?

Mathieu and I are working on new material with Skemer and are going on tour in March.

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In Conversation with Trudi Tapscott, Founder of The Model Coaches

 

As a veteran of the modeling industry, Trudi Tapscott has parlayed her extraordinary experience into launching The Model Coaches, a scouting, development, coaching, and management company.  Her innate ability for recognizing potential earned her a coveted position at American Vogue and she has shaped some of the most iconic careers in the modeling business. With The Model Coaches, Trudi provides a critical—but often overlooked—intermediary step where potential models are given access to established models, coached, mentored, and given the opportunity to grow and develop before being thrust onto a global stage.

Talk to us about the genesis of The Model Coaches.

The Model Coaches was an idea in the back my mind for years and progressed during my scouting years, when I observed a need for accurate information. My experience in the business includes scouting and managing models as the Booking Editor at Vogue, as well as being a Mother Agent.  Using my experience to help a model on her journey is a passion. I love being a manager, coach, and mentor. The game changer for The Model Coaches was recruiting successful models as coaches, as their coaching is based on personal experience. It is a major part of our foundation. Models need support at all levels, but especially at the beginning of their career, and I knew my experience would be beneficial. Young women are at the forefront of media and branding in every business, which has an impact on models. We coach and mentor them into the business, helping them to build confidence and acquire digital skills.

What challenges did you face starting on this venture?

It was a new idea. The unknown opportunities required curiosity and a growth mindset in order to try new methods. My biggest challenge was reaching the right audience with the right message, which continues to evolve and requires our daily attention. No one really teaches you how to be a model. You learn on the job. Any professional model will tell you there are many things they wish they knew when they started. There are a lot things to learn and understand in this very unique business. You must stand out in order to improve your chances against the competition, and you must always know what to expect in order to be prepared. Modeling is not an easy job where you just stand around looking good. Modeling is more than just posting a selfie on Instagram. For years, our industry told models not to pay for any kind of model training or instruction. However, scouts need eyes everywhere, and so finding models on a local level is vital. In order to do that effectively, we sought local sources and supported modeling schools and conventions. Models pay to get access to agencies in order to learn and gain information. This process makes perfect sense and has been a traditional method of scouting for years, but this can lead to a model receiving conflicting information or being a victim of a scam. Knowledge, preparation, coaching, and confidence building from the right source can make the difference. Making the experience affordable and focusing on development that is age appropriate is my goal in everything we do. It is important to receive accurate information about changes and trends that have shifted every aspect of our business. For example, what do you do if you are under 18 and have heard you should start young but other sources say you are too young to begin modeling? How should Instagram be utilized to get attention from agencies? How much of a financial investment should I make in order to gain experience?

What can a model starting out expect when they join The Model Coaches?

To get started right away. Development is more than physical, and our guidance will give them confidence. We take out the guesswork so that they can learn quickly in a supportive environment. The results of coaching, both virtual and in person, have exceeded my expectations. It is about more than just what happens in the photographs, although that is the ultimate goal. We also help identify if this is the business for them. We don’t want to encourage anyone if this is not going to be good for their individual growth. Each model has an amazing library of talents and creative ideas that blow me away, and we encourage all of those aspects of their life as well.

One of the unique aspects of your company is the access to established models and the experience they bring. Talk to us about why that was important for you to include as part of your coaching.

I am so grateful each one decided to join me as a team in this new concept. They offer unique insight and perception. They are incredible women. The coaches are sharing what they do every day for a living, and that is incredibly powerful and organic. There is no substitute for experience. Who better to coach a model than a top model who has first-hand experience, knows the pressures and challenges on and off the set, has stories to tell, and has worked with all the top people. A top model knows how to command the attention of a room and hold it. I coach each of our clients on the basics of the business. I know how an agency works, what agencies are looking for, how models should present themselves, how they can build confidence, and what they should expect. Sharing our knowledge is of incredible value to any new model stepping into the world of modeling.

What are some of the common pitfalls you’ve witnessed in a model’s career and how does personal coaching mitigate those risks?

As scouts and agents, we get really excited about the potential in a young model and what we know is possible. They may look the part physically, but chances are they are not prepared emotionally or don’t have the strength to manage living as a model yet. Jumping in too young can be damaging to their potential success in the future, so we try to avoid that by ensuring they are prepared. There is no loss in having a model wait until the timing is right for them to step onto the big stage. In the meantime, we coach them up until that moment and support their individual growth. If a model isn’t ready to be accepted by an agency in a big market or lives far from a legit working market, we can coach them from a distance. Technology has made it possible to connect with our models all over the world and prepare them for the unknowns of working with an agency.

How is managing a model’s career different now than say a decade ago?

I think it has changed a lot and yet stayed the same. For a model at the highest level, it appears the same from the outside. However, as brands change strategy, so do creative concepts and technology in order to attract new audiences. So that changes the choices for agents and models. Traditional publishing has changed, as well as retail formats, and media. Social platforms like Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and YouTube are game changers for content and creators as brands compete to get our attention. Top-level models are working with top-level creatives, and brands will always hire at that level. However, there are new modern formats that are super exciting to witness. Many models have their own platforms, create their own content, and connect with their audience in independent ways.

What advice would you give an aspiring model looking to break into the industry?

It is a really fun and fast action-packed business. This industry is filled with incredible people and places to go. When it’s going well, it’s amazing. But it is a business with natural ups and downs and can be confusing at times, especially for the inexperienced. Do your research. Learn first and then take action. Your beauty will be part of your success, but it is not all of it.

Talk to us about what it takes a young model to succeed in this industry.

It’s a business that is creative and exciting, but it is still a business. Go after opportunities and don’t take them for granted. Absorb, learn, and be a professional. Tolerate the challenging times with a bit of humor.

What are the common misconceptions young models have when beginning their careers?

“As soon as I get signed with an agency, I will start working right away, get my own apartment, and be successful.” I hear this every day. Getting signed with an agency is a vital step in that process and is a super exciting milestone goal. Not many models gained their success, wealth, or notoriety overnight, although this does happen and is not impossible. However, they all worked hard to get there and stay there.

What can we expect to see next from The Model Coaches?

We are focused on reaching a new wider audience. We are establishing ourselves as the “go to” for the truth about the industry. We work with great agencies and build a positive perception of what they do for the models they represent. We know there are negative aspects to every industry, and so we want to be a part of the solution. We love this industry, and all of us are grateful for the opportunities we have been given. Model Talks is our new platform that was created so that our audience can hear directly from our coaches and learn from their stories. In addition to my Model Prep sessions, we are adding more coaching opportunities such as On Set Coaching with Beri Smither, a model with an extensive history and work, and Social Branding with Jessica Surowiec, who coaches on brand building for the beginner. Allie Ayers, model and CEO of Bissy Swim, highlighted for her appearance in Sports Illustrated, is a model coach with us. Emily Sandberg, model and CEO of Twice Social, has been a coach and consultant since our beginning and is always available to aspiring models. And we have more to come!

New to the mix is Club Model Talks, a membership club, in which we share information and allow teens a safe environment to share their stories. We are super excited about it because we love making that personal connection. It involves a lot of content creation and guidance from our coaches. We are planning our next Model Talks Live event in NYC in April. Our first one was a huge success, and we had a blast hosting seminars and having live coaching sessions.

Learn more at The Model Coaches