Model agent Anne Morgan: 'I do not allow diets at all’
Model agent Anne Morgan tells Joanna Kiernan about the pros and cons of the fashion industry
I love Kate Moss because I think she was just so different when she came along in that 1990s supermodel era; they were all quite classic beauties and quite sexy. But Kate came along and she was really different looking and she was smaller and she turned the industry around," says Anne Morgan, one model agent who is acutely aware of the power and appeal of standing out.
In fact, Anne created her modelling agency, Distinct Model Management, to cater specifically for high fashion and unique Irish models.
"I love really defined and unusual features; bigger eyes or ears or a gap in the teeth," she tells me. "I suppose I like to champion the people who might not have been told in school that they were beautiful, but who there is something really unique and distinct about.
"The main criteria is that they be over 5'8' and for the guys it would be over 6ft," Anne adds. "And obviously if they come in with loads of fake tan on I will look at them and think 'I don't know if this is going to work!' If they come in like a blank canvas, it is just so much easier to see who you are going to work with."
Anne's transition to model agent was down to instinct rather than ambition at first. She freely admits it was something that she "fell into".
Originally from Leixlip in Co Kildare, Anne has lived in Dalkey for the last 20 years. She started out in the industry by modelling part-time, while studying for a degree in psychology, but describes her own fleeting experience as "daunting".
"I did a beauty pageant when I was about 21. I didn't want to do it, I never had an interest in modelling at all.
"The pageant was for Miss Ireland, but I didn't get through, which was probably a good thing because I was quite traumatised having to walk out in a bikini as I had never done that before! From there I just got some shots done and went into an agency and they took me on."
Anne never felt truly comfortable in front of the camera, but over time found that she had a keen eye for scouting models.
"I was asked to be on the judging panel of Elite Model Look - a model search they do in a number of different countries, which had come to Ireland," Anne explains.
"So we got to go around the country and meet all of these new faces. It was only really then that I started to see these really unusual looking girls; really natural, very tall; the type that I had always seen in magazines or when I was watching international high fashion shows.
"When the competition ended, I kept in touch with the girls and I found that I was almost mentoring them a little bit," Anne adds. "I was giving them advice from my own experiences and what to look out for and what to avoid."
After a number of months spent acting as these girls' unofficial agent, Anne decided to go professional.
"I thought 'why not try it for real? How hard can it be?' But it was hard," Anne laughs. "It is a business that you are running, it's not just representing the models."
Anne had just finished her masters in psychology and psychotherapy when she set up Distinct Model Management in November 2012. In the small Irish market, already congested with numerous rivals, it was time to make an impression and either sink or swim.
"There was a lot of photo call work at the time and I had done that myself and enjoyed it, but I suppose when I was looking at my girls I just instantly thought they were more international; so that's the direction I went in.
"I felt that that was a niche at the time," Anne tells me. "Before I launched I actually went over to London and made appointments with agencies over there to pick their brains and see what they were looking for."
Distinct has had huge success scouting high fashion models in Ireland who have gone global, including Laura O'Grady from Castleknock, who took London Fashion week by storm two years ago at just 17. And more recently Distinct's Li Ann Smal, a 19-year-old model from Greystones, landed a major international Burberry campaign.
"Within Li Ann's first season she booked an international modelling campaign and that is really unheard of, especially because you have Cara Delevigne and all of these big names who are associated with Burberry," Anne smiles. "They rarely take a chance, so it was a big endorsement."
However, Anne approaches the international modelling industry with caution.
"It takes me a while before I will send a model abroad because it is very different in the international market. Girls will always say 'I want to do it now!' but you have to almost rein them back because psychologically they need to be ready for it.
"The international industry is tougher, you know people don't spend as much time getting to know you - the model - they look at your book, throw it back at you and that is it, you don't get any feedback a lot of the time," Anne says. "So to be young in that industry - I grapple with it a bit - I want them to do well, but I also really want to protect them."
As her career as a model agent has progressed, Anne has noticed how complementary her psychology background has been.
"When I was doing my placement as part of my masters I always preferred working with teenagers; they really want to change things and grow and they want to enjoy being young.
"So I suppose when I started representing girls of teenage ages then it was very natural for me because I had been around people of that age. They know that they can come to me and talk about whatever is driving them mad about the industry or if they have had a bad day. We have that kind of a bond and I really think that has helped massively.
"They know that I am there for them and it does help me to understand them and to be able to look out for them especially when they are abroad," Anne adds.
"I am their mother agent when they go abroad, so they may be placed with other agencies, but I am responsible for them so it is really important that we have that relationship."
A healthy body image and good eating habits are areas that Anne is very strict on with her models. She has witnessed the pressures of the industry on young girls.
"One of the reasons that I love working in Ireland is that clients here are so good with the models, there isn't a lot of pressure on them to be super skinny," Anne tells me. "People often ask me if I would consider working as an agent abroad and I am not sure that I would have it in me. I haven't got it in me to be the agent who tells an already slim girl that she need to lose more weight. I do not allow diets at all.
"It is very difficult when a model goes abroad because it is stricter, sample sizes can be so tiny abroad, so that is why I make sure to say to the girls to make sure that you are ready for that difference between the Irish industry to going abroad where you don't really have that."
So what does Anne do in her spare time?
"Normally, when the weekend comes I just want to get into bed and watch Netflix, but I have two retired race horses on my dad's farm in Co Meath, so on a Sunday I would go down and spend time there.
"Although I was thrown off the last time, so I haven't done it for a while," Anne smiles. "I am not in a relationship at the minute, but I'm perfectly happy and I have a really nice, very small circle of friends.
"I suppose I am still trying to find that work/life balance, which when you run your own business can be difficult to get right, especially because I really love what I do."